BootsnAll Travel Network

Two significant steps towards home: the Nullarbor Plain and the boat to Singapore

November 18th, 2006

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HOT OFF THE PRESS: Alastair Humphreys (the friend who I cycled through Siberia with) has just published a book about his ride through Africa in 2001-2002 – the first leg of his epic “round the world by bike” expedition. It is a brilliantly written account of the ups and downs of life on the road. Ranulph Fiennes (aka: Guiness Book of Records ‘world’s greatest living explorer’) has written the foreword for the book in which he describes Al’s journey as “probably the first great adventure of the new millenium” !!
The best way to order a copy (for yoursef or as a good Christmas present for someone) is at:

My Current Location meanwhile, is: Singapore

“You aren’t old until the day that you find more pleasures in the past than
in the future”
– Nicolai the Danish Cyclist

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark”– Charles Spurgeon

Before the Nullarbor - coffee in Adelaide

Setting off from Adelaide I felt fit again (and well recovered from my bout
of malaria) and ready for Australia’s final challenge: cycling westwards
across a vast 2000km plain of bushland to Perth where I could catch a boat
to Singapore, and hence re-enter Asia.

Throughout my time in Australia, people had told me eyebrow raising tales of
this road to the west known as the Nullarbor Plain. It is famous for being
very long, and rather empty (an occasional road house, but otherwise nobody
lives there). The early explorers spoke of it in nightmarish terms: most
famously Edward John Eyre, the first European to make a successful crossing
(in 1841), described the Plain as “a hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of
Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams”. A more recent
traveller was a bit less flamboyant and emphasised its unbearable tedium by
pointing out “there is a reason why the last 3 letters of Nullarbor are
BOR”. The name Nullarbor actually means “no trees”, though I was intrigued
to discover soon after I set off that there are in fact lots of trees (they
are just a bit stubby and thirsty looking).

I was also warned that this was snake territory (and I did spy quite a few
of them sunbathing by the road), but that my greatest threat would be the
“road trains” – giant articulated trucks with three trailers moving at high
speeds. These are a genuine hazard (and in the past they have unwittingly
knocked off foolhardy cyclists), so I soon learnt to use my ears to give me
enough warning to swerve onto the dirt roadside and brace myself as the
blast of noise and wind thundered past.

_black snake.JPG

_road train.jpg

As I sweated and pedalled onwards through the empty scrub land I also tried
to stay aware of how far to the next road house to replenish my water –
approximately every two days. Under the increasingly warm spring sun I
needed 8 litres each day for drinking and cooking, which meant that on some
days I had to carry an extra 16kg of weight (the spokes of my back wheel
certainly did not appreciate this, and were inclined to snap on a
frustratingly regular basis).

_dirt track1.jpg

Riding across such an empty space included boring times and lonely times,
frustrating times (when the wind was against me) and exhilarating times
(when it blew with me), ponderous times and scary times. But my progress was
steady, and despite the monotony I have fond memories. At night, as I camped
hidden behind a tree near the road, I sometimes felt a little spooked and
uncomfortable to realise that literally no-one in the world knew where I was
(though I was greatly comforted to remember Psalm 139!). Probably my most
frightening night “on my own” was when I stumbled into an abandoned
homestead down a dirt track about 80 km from the main road (half way down a
short cut I was taking). It had been built by hardy settlers in the
nineteenth century, but long since abandoned, it could now be used by
passing travellers. A fireplace, a rainwater tank and a couple of very
mouldy beds – after my sweaty days on the road and dusty nights in the tent,
it was pure luxury. My only big scare came as I was preparing to sleep and I
found a mysterious scribbled note (from a previous traveller?) advising me
that there was a tiger snake living in a hollow in the wall – and thus I
should be careful. Needless to say, the snake did not appear, but I was glad
when the morning arrived!

_road hazards.JPG

If this all sounds rather melodramatic, my own worries (and illusions of
heroism) were dealt a firm blow of perspective when after a few days of
riding the Nullarbor I met a a nineteen year old Japanese chap who had just
spent the previous 4 months WALKING across the Plain, pushing all of his
survival needs before him in a baby buggy! He seemed very cheerful, pointing
to his big supply of cookies overflowing out of the pushcart, and explaining
in broken English that he even carried a puncture repair kit for if his
buggy got a flat.

_japanese walker 2.jpg

Other pilgrims of the plain included the “grey nomads” –
retired Australian couples who have decided against the lazy retirement
option, and instead set off in a comfy camper van to do a lap of their home
continent. I must have been passed by a hundred such couples every day, and
they would often stop for a chat and to offer me a drink.

_bunda cliffs.jpg

_Australia puncture.jpg

After a couple of weeks of steady progress, and increasingly salt saturated
clothes, I had made it across into the lusher western corner of Australian
farmland. In that last week of riding I spent some nights staying with
farmers (the farmers of Australia had shown me great kindness throughout my
journey), and then eventually over the brow of a final cluster of hills and
down into the peaceful, wonderful liveability of Perth. I was here looked
after by a delightful English family for 2 weeks whilst I awaited my boat to

The boat was neither a yacht, nor a ferry, nor a dive boat (the boats I had
hitched on my way to Australia), but rather a giant German owned freighter,
piled high with containers destined for Singapore. I had decided to actually
book a bed on this freighter as a passenger (through an extremely efficient
Swiss shipping specialist travel agent ). This was expensive
(roughly double the cost of a flight to Singapore), but I did not want to
fly, and I felt I could justify the extra expense as I badly needed to get
some momentum into the trip after all of the delays of the previous year
(and I had earned a bit of money in Australia too).

The voyage itself was very comfortable (I had a luxurious suite of cabins)
and the crew and officers were bemused to have a cyclist on board. We
ploughed noisily over smooth seas, survived the melodramatic (but genuine)
pirate waters of Indonesia and then landed at the tiny South Eastern country
of Singapore (barely the size of England’s smallest county, it is an
economic giant – safe, busy and wealthy).

_on freighter.jpg

_lowering bike.JPG

I arrived here 12 days ago, and then a week ago beautiful Christine arrived
for a week’s holiday. She left on a flight back to London this morning, and
of course I now feel rather sad and am back to my questioning about the
point of continuing this journey. But there is plenty to keep me busy, and
my panniers are now packed and ready for a ride north to Malaysia tomorrow,
the tenth country of the expedition.

_singapore sky.JPG

As always, many thanks for all of your emails, prayers and kind donations to
my chosen charity, Viva Network and their work with children at risk. I was
recently reminded of Edmund Burke’s famous saying that “nobody made a
greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”.
Your donations really do make a difference to lives of children who would
otherwise have very little hope or future in life, so thank you very much
(to support Viva Network please visit

Please stay in touch and God bless, I should be home in a year or so now!


O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you…
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting

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A second year in the life of a Siberian Cyclist

September 26th, 2006

Current Location: Streaky Bay (South Australia)

“There were so many fewer questions when stars were still just the holes to
-Jack Johnson, On and On

“Isn’t there something in living dangerously?”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Some comparative stats for all you statisticians (some of these are

Distance pedalled:
Year 1: 12,652 km
Year 2: 8123 km
Total: 20,775 km

Distance by boat:
Year 1: 2000 km
Year 2: 4500 km
Total: 6500 km

Year 1: 39
Year 2: 11
Total: 50

Total audience of slideshow presentations:
Year 1: 4000
Year 2: 8500
Total: 12,500

Nights in tent:
Year 1: 39
Year 2: 37
Total: 76
(incredibly, this means on nearly all the other nights I have been hosted by
incredibly generous people… apart from twice in Russia and about twenty
times in China, I have never stayed in hostels. Before I set off on this
journey, I thought I would be in my tent every night, as it turns out, the
opposite is the case)

Money raised for Viva Network:
Year 1: 8100 GBP
Year 2: 5053 GBP
Total: 13,153 GBP

Days since left home: 740
Days until I get home: 400 ?!

Distance to home: I have no idea!


The first year of this expedition was a big challenge to me, in that I had
to learn to survive extreme weather conditions (in Siberia), how to live a
life constantly on the move, and how to cope with the fact that virtually
everybody I ever meet is a “new” acquaintance (though often a very nice new
acaquaintance, I am pleased to say!).

The second year has been full of different sorts of challenges: I can
firstly say that the cycling has been the easy bit, and the hardest parts
have been logistical – organising boats, visas, routes and dates. This time
a year ago, I was still in Hong Kong, scrutinizing maps and trying to find a
plausible route for getting to Australia without a plane. Even with the help
of the internet, there seemed to be a lot of things I could not find out: is
there a ferry from the Philippines to Indonesia, and if not, can I hitch a
ride on a cargo ship ; if I arrive in Indonesia by boat, will they give me a
visa ; is there a road along the north coast of Papua New Guinea ??? It
seemed the only way I could find out would be just to go and try – nothing
ventured, nothing gained.

By October I was committed to a plan, and began it by sailing with fellow
Englishmen John and Steve across the South China Sea to the Philippines. In
November, I did find a cargo ship to Indonesia, and the port officials even
let me sleep on the floor in their police station for 3 nights. In Papua New
Guinea there did turn out to be roads (though sometimes only suitable for
carrying/pushing the bike along), and then, quite to my suprise, in March I
finally stepped off a dive boat and onto Australian soil.

Australia has been rather hectic in a different way. Administratively, I
think this expedition has now outgrown my capabilities, and in order to
organise charity events, paid work in schools, and meeting of contacts along
the way, I often spend entire days just rattling the keys of a computer. For
a little while I became rather grumpy about this, but now I see it has been
another good learning curve… there is a season for everything and this
trip was never intended to be a holiday (though I have had several lovely
holidays with Christine in the last year too).

Australia also lobbed a couple of unexpected bonus adventures at me in the
form of Cyclone Larry and more recently a bout of tropical disease – in both
cases the Australians came to my rescue – Nikki and her family gave me
shelter in their house the night of the cyclone, and Tom in Melbourne kindly
had me to stay as I regained strength after the malaria. All that remains
now in this land of long roads is a 2000 km ride across the empty Nullarbor
Plain to Perth … and then I will be hiking a boat ride back to Singapore
and the intoxicating, headspinning wonder of Asia.

Fromthere, the next 365 days will hopefully bring me right to the
heartlands of Europe, but there are quite a few final challenges to
negotiate in-between: a winter in Tibet, the Karakoram and Pamir Highways in
summer, the unpredictable border crossings of the Near East… but I am also
looking forward to simplifying life again – life on the high roads of Asia
where I can camp behind any boulder and do not have to constantly race to
get to my next appointment.

I mentioned in my last email that I am making a conscious effort not to
worry about things that lie ahead, and I find it helpful also to recall some
of my moods from the last year – where the way ahead looked simply
impossible (or insane!), and yet, with a bit of perseverence and help from
all sorts of quarters, somehow everything worked out well. I hope and pray
everything works out ok this year too!

Many thanks for all your support and prayers,

Best wishes,

To support Viva Network and their heroic work for children at risk around
the world, please visit

This is a little reflection from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin which I thought
was rather good:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are all, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being
on the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that is made by passing through
some stages of instability-
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually –
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.


Farthest South: On from Sydney, holiday in New York, unexpected illness

August 31st, 2006

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Current Location: Hamilton (a country town between Melbourne and Adelaide)
Nights spent in hospital in Melbourne: 3

_Australian camping.jpg

“I told him where I was staying and he asked after Tim. I said I thought Tim was a man who had reached his limit and needed a rest. ‘Ah’, he replied solemnly, as if I had hit on a notion of key importance. Then he lit a cigarette, and a coil of smoke spiralled upwards before his face. ‘If a man does not reach his limit,’ he pronounced, a flicker of enquiry surfacing into his eyes as if released from great depth, ‘how can he discover the way to go beyond it?’ “-Jason Elliott, An Unexpected Light

“… who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” – Jesus

In May, I hurried on south to Sydney, pedalling the hours away, often from dawn until darkness. I had prior arrangements to visit schools along the way (to give assemblies about the expedition) though I came to realise that I had often been wildly over-optimistic in estimating how long it would take me to get from one appointment to the next, resulting in some very late night rides under the moon, and all too brief slumbers in my tent. Pressing on through sheep filled valleys and deeply wooded hillsides, I was at last sucked down a speedy motorway to the Sydney Harbour waterfront. The white floodlit shells of the Opera House gaped towards the sky, the water rippled affection and confidence to the night, and the bridge towered majestic and crownlike above us. Arrival in iconic cities by bicycle (after many months of sweating and trouble) is always a surreal yet satisfying moment – I briefly enjoy the wonder of seeing a famed landmark under its own stars, and breathe a sigh of relief at having got this little bit further on down the road.

I had been looking forward to Sydney as a symbolic half way point for the trip, though it turned out there was little time for thinking and reflection. Each day I bustled around the city – speaking at schools and rotary clubs to earn money for the ride home or raise funds for Viva Network, and I felt priveleged to meet or stay with a great variety of inspiring people (including old school friend, Nige Swain, who I had not seen for almost 10 years).

_sydney arrival.jpg

From Sydney, I also took a complete break from the expedition. Not to go home (as this would have disrupted my momentum to the extent that I think the cycling could not have continued), but rather to fly to Manhattan. Christine (the beautiful girl who I had met a year previously in Hong Kong) was now working there as a corporate lawyer, and she had already come to see me twice (in the Philippines, then Brisbane), so I decided that taking a holiday to see her in the Big Apple made a lot of sense at this point. It was great to see Christine again (and in such an extraordinary place as New York) but after 3 weeks, as she flew back to London to resume work there, I was flying back to Sydney and preparing for the next stage of “Cycling Home From Siberia”… (Just for the record, I AM still trying to complete my route overland/without flying the route itself… this plane journey was a holiday away from the expedition, not a part of it!)

A few days later I left Sydney in the rain and cycled initially towards the Great Dividing Range and the little-known capital of Australia. Canberra seemed a very serene and sensible sort of place with wide roads, noble buildings and sculpted stretches of water – all nestled within a cluster of scrubby hills. A brief rest and stay with some kind hosts there and I was off again, hammering the wheels through icey winds, rolling forests and coastal valleys – steering for Melbourne and another busy schedule of schools.

Shortly after arrival, however, I was to have an unexpected experience whilst in this atmospheric and likeable city. During my first week in Melbourne I started to develop a bit of a headache. Being the sort of person who normally shrugs off most kinds of illnesses by just ignoring them, I just pressed on with my speaking engagements, hoping it woud go away. After a few more days the headache was getting worse and I was feeling a bit fluey. Then came the day that I had to run to a school as I was late, and I arrived there feeling very strange, but still started to give my presentation … however, with a few minutes left of the assembly, I had to bolt out of the room to be sick! I realised that it was time to take to bed and try and shake this illness off (whatever it was). But then things got worse… a cycle of fevers ranging from violent frozen shivering (despite manifold duvets) to ridiculously sweaty. I staggered down the road to the local GP, who confidently told me it was the flu, and that I should just stay in bed. Then, thanks to some excellent advice from a doctor friend in Hong Kong (Aric) I was persuaded to go to hospital for a tropical diseases checkup. After a blood test in the nearest casualty ward, I was told it was actually malaria – apparently hiding in my liver since Papua New Guinea, where I had been bitten by lots of mosquitoes. Three days in hospital with a drip in my arm, and an assortment of pills, and I was on the road to health. However, because of all this, I was not strong enough to cycle for a while (I had lost 8% of my body weight) and so had to cancel my intended ride around Tasmania (how our well laid plans can crumble into dust!). I spent a week recuperating in Melbourne, and then took another holiday, leaving the bike in Australia and flying over to see old school friend, Jim Dick the carpenter, in New Zealand. Back in Melbourne, and feeling much better, I was then ready to set off on the bike again.

As I thought about it during my recovery, the malaria episode was perhaps not such a bad thing. It forced me to stop and reassess my goals and priorities and reflect on what I am hoping to get from the homeward leg of the journey. I have battled several times with the idea of whether I should keep going on this ride (there is after all, still a long way home), but I have concluded that the road that remains has many lessons left to teach. “Missing home” is not a good reason to quit, and I know that it is when the going gets tough, that continuing is more worthwhile than ever. I was alarmed the other day to realise how much of my time of late has been spent feeling “worried, flurried and hurried”, so I am making a conscious effort to stop worrying and just accept things as they happen. Recently, reading some extraordinary travel books about war weary refugees in Afghanistan and desperate early settlers in Australia, I feel pangs of perspective as to how privileged I actually am.

It is time to start feeling excited about the ride again – I have turned a corner on the map, and finally, genuinely, I am heading for home – something I am reminded of each evening as I now ride west and into the setting sun. A couple of days ago, on ‘The Great Ocean Road’ of Victoria, I also reached the most southerly point of the journey, went for a quick swim in the cold, clean sea, and then turned the bike northwards for Adelaide.

I am not sure what will happen along the way in the remainder of this journey, but I believe that this final year (or so) of the trip is surely worthwhile. I have earnt enough money to complete the ride, I am still young enough to enjoy the adventure, and opportunities like this do not come along very often… as Kent Nerbur advised his son: “Live, if only for a short time, the life of a traveller. You will meet people you could not invent, you will see things you could not imagine”.

Once again, many thanks for your emails, prayers and kind donations to the work of Viva Network and their work with over 1.2 million children at risk in 48 countries around the world.

Please stay in touch, God bless,

(To support Viva Network and their heroic work for children at risk around the world, please visit – THANKYOU!)

And finally… 2 great quotes:

(this one is an interesting comment by Steinbeck about Americans):
“We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colours and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed ? selected out by accident. And so we’re over brave and over fearful ? we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re over sentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic ? and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old land they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key to the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal ? all of us. You aren’t very different.”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden

(this one, a traveller’s reflections in Afghanistan):
“And there it was again, that feeling that the journey was becoming more than the sum of its parts, more like a clandestine sculpting at work within me, which in the visible world I was merely acting out, to reveal – what? The shape of a character I knew only dimly from a life whose roots were growing more tenuous by the minute. How precious and remote the world of home now seemed! In ordinary life you know yourself from your surroundings, which become the measure and the mirror of your thoughts and actions. Remove the familiar and you are left with a stranger, the disembodied voice of one’s own self which, robbed of its usual habits, seems barely recognisable. It is all the stronger in an alien culture, and more so when the destination is uncertain. At first this process brings with it a kind of exhilaration, a feeling of liberty at having broken from the enclosures of everyday constraints and conventions: this is the obvious if unconcious lure of travel. But once it has run its early course a deeper feeling more like anguish begins to surface, until the foreigness of your surroundings becomes too much to bear. I had never felt it so strongly before, and wondered: when does it start, this divorce from oneself, and what is its remedy?”
-Jason Elliott, An Unexpected Light


Voyage to a wealthy land, a cyclone and a haircut

May 5th, 2006

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Cyclone Larry 1.jpg
Cyclone Larry had gusts of 290 km per hour

Km cycled: 17,900
Current Location: Byron Bay, Australia

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass
through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach
the mountaintop of our desires” – Nelson Mandela

“Australia is by far the driest, smallest, flattest, most infertile,
climatically most unpredictable, biologically most impoverished Continent” –
Jared Diamond

For most of February I once again had to play the waiting game – this time
from within barbed expatriate compounds in the ill reputed capital city of
Papua New Guinea (Port Moresby). Little smoke fires dot the barren hillsides
amidst the shambled slums and posh brick houses along a beautiful coastline
of palm studded beaches; cars drive around lazily; local people squat and
sit on street corners chewing “beetlenut” (the unanimously popular local
soft drug which turns your teeth red). This could be such a pleasant,
relaxed city – like a Cape Town of the East – but (due to violent crime) it
is actually one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and that spoilt
it completely.

And all the while the Coral Sea lay waiting before me. It spread southwards
on and on, churning and straining like an endless horizon until at last, out
of sight, it touched the living cliffs of Australia. Since I had touched
down in remote eastern Russia a year and a half previously I had aimed to go
all the way to Australia (and eventually England) without flying any of the
route (I made up this rule on the basis that flying is rather expensive and
just a bit too easy). I had cycled the undulating landscapes of Siberia and
Asia (catching ferries across the sea where necessary) as far as Hong Kong,
and then proceeded to hitch hike on yachts and cargo ships, island hopping
through the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea. So far (rather to my
surprise) my plan had worked, and now all I had to do was find a ride to
Australia – but I was beginning to think that this final stretch of water
might prove a boatride too far.

In my efforts to secure a passage I nervously met up with shipping managers,
gold exploration consultants, yacht club directors, the British High
Consulate, Rotary Clubs and International Schools and a friend even helped
me to gatecrash a VIP’s party on the passing Greenpeace boat “Rainbow
Warrior II”… and yet after 3 weeks I had still got nowhere, and I felt like
my best options were one by one giving me a redundant “NO”. Until that is, I
eventually received a phone call from a friend’s contact’s colleague’s
colleague’s friend’s girlfriend’s friend’s contact’s colleague – who was a
teacher -who phoned me up to say that their pupil’s uncle had a dive boat
heading to Australia in a few days – and would I like a ride! You bet I
would !! I was thankful and I was relieved.

I was relieved not only to be completing my island hopping extravaganza just
as I had hoped and intended , but I was also relieved to be leaving Papua
New Guinea. It is such a beautiful landv and the people I met showed me
nothing but friendliness and kindness. And yet it is also a land of deep and
anguished trouble – with corruption, incompetence, violence, and apathy all
playing lead roles. As the dive boat chugged out of the harbour southwards I
looked back over a glimmering ocean – the mineral-rich mountains slipping
away under a setting sun and the smokey village fires fading out of view.
Deciding to travel through Papua New Guinea had been one of the scariest
decisions of my life, but in my memory, as I left, I saw no bravery (only
sadness). I felt a burden of stress slip off my shoulders, bade farewell
with a parting prayer, and strolled back to my cabin. Two days later we were
crossing the Great Barrier Reef and I was setting my eyes on a new land –
the rugged cliffs and mysterious beaches of Northern Queensland, Australia.

I relished being back in a wealthy country. This was a land where people
spoke English, the roads were smooth and unpotholed, the streets were safe,
and the barbecues always sizzled – or so I had learnt as a 13 year old
during many hours of highly intense research (watching “Neighbours”). On
arrival in Cairns, it was a wondrous feeling to amble the streets at night
with no fear of imminent robbery, gaze wide-eyed at glitzy shop windows,
wander past bubbling pubs, and stop in at Macdonalds for some cheap ice
cream. It felt great.

As I prepared to get on the road again (I would initially head south for
Sydney) I started to receive invitations to schools to give my
slideshow/lecture which I had been presenting to International Schools
throughout Asia (my presentation is a spicy mixture of epic photos, tall
stories, and motivational anecdotes about the journey so far). My first
official booking came from a little school in a little town I had never
heard of before – Innisvail. Less than a week later, and in fact on the very
day that I was due to visit, Innisvail would hit the headlines across the
world, as it fell victim to a monstrous Cyclone. Fortunately, the day before
Cyclone Larry unleashed himself, I was invited to stay by a kind family
about 60 km north of Innisvail itself. Having been shown weather forecast
and impending storm, I was persuaded to stay for another night until the
danger had passed. That night, as I went to bed, all outside seemed
strangely calm and the skies were clear and I wondered if this was all a big
fuss about nothing (though we had noted that all the birds had fled inland).
By 4am the winds were picking up, and by 5am the house was shaking. By 6am
we had lost power and trees were starting to crash down all around us. We
could listen to live reports on the radio of how much worse things were just
60 km down the road where the eye of the storm was focused – winds of 290km
per hour made this the strongest cyclone to hit Queensland for over 30

And then suddenly, it was gone. The storm moved over us and blew itself out
in the hills. We started trying to clear the debris in the garden, and after
a conversation with a pessimistic neighbour who told me that “there was no
way you will get through the road south this week”, I was determined to
leave the next day. Often a sceptic is the greatest motivation to get going
again. Early the next morning as I set off, I talked my way past a couple of
police road blocks and headed on through where the damage was greatest.
Every kilometre I went the devastation was worse – the forests on the
hillsides had been simply torn apart, loose branches dangling broken from
headless trunks. Telegraph poles were snapped in half. Roofs ripped from
houses had been flung into the neighbours garden. Army trucks sped down the
road and civilians wondered round in a daze. The people I met showed
different responses. The pessimists complained that the government was not
doing enough to help them, but I had to agree with the optimists – it was a
miracle nobody had been killed. The greatest victims of Larry probably
turned out to be the banana farmers – many of whom lost 100 percent of their
crops, flattened by nature’s bulldozer.

And then the rain started. It lashed down and it would not relent. The
rivers started to burst their banks onto the roads, and I was fortunate to
make it across the Tully River just minutes before the police closed it for
the next 3 days. That evening, I joined dozens of stranded motorists
(trapped between 2 swollen rivers) in a Community Hall which was opened up
in times of disaster. I enjoyed the camaraderie of eating fish and chips
with fellow survivors, but of course, I would be moving on the next day,
whilst many of them had a whole life to rebuild.

Another day later I was clear of the cyclonic devastation and back in the
land of electricity, running water and mobile phone coverage. I started to
cycle large distances each day on the long, flat, empty roads. I was
surrounded by a rolling barrenness of scrubby hills and stubby fields. Cows
ran for cover as I pedaled past, whilst the highlight of my days were the
marvellous kangaroos who hopped across the road in front of me. I had a
tight schedule of schools to visit in most of the major towns, and it was
very pleasant to be hosted by an exuberant variety of pleasant hosts. In the
last 7 weeks I have slept about 10 nights in my tent, whilst on the other
nights I have enjoyed stimulating conversations with environmental planners,
shop owners, many great teachers, spray painters, botany professors,
lawyers, ex-politicians, cancer specialists, bar managers, nurses and
electricians, mothers, fathers and grandparents. They consisted of
Catholics, Buddhists, Agnostics, Atheists and Pentecostals. It is one of the
many great privileges of this trip that I am coming into contact with such
interesting people. With the exception of a “cyclist-turned-environmental
planner” called Owy (who I had met in 2002 in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia), I had
not met any of these contacts before this journey.

Eventually arriving in Brisbane, I was extremely happy that Christine (the
beautiful girl I had met whilst looking for a boat in Hong Kong ) came to
see me for Easter. It turned out that not only were we still getting on very
well after 4 months apart, but she is also very good at cutting hair! (see
photos below!). I was rather sad when she had to fly back to her
hard-working lawyers job in NYC. We noted, bemused, that we are living
rather different lives and wondered what it would be like if we swapped
professions for a week… (apart from having to look smart and work 18 hours a
day, I think I would make rather a good Corporate Lawyer in New York!)

So, Australia – it is a new and different country for me. It has been good
to be able to relax bit more here and I can see why Australia is such a
backpackers paradise. Indeed, it seems like an extremely pleasant place to
live. People can enjoy blue skies and sandy beaches and a terrific outdoor
lifestyle of sport and water. The marinas brimming with luxury yachts bear
witness to the affluence of the nation too. I am very grateful to have the
opportunity to enjoy such a luxurious country for a while, but I also felt
rather uneasy when I first arrived. I felt uneasy because I noticed more
than ever before, the sheer difference and inequality between the poorer
countries through which I had been cycling for so long – and now, the rich.
The immigration barriers which “us” rich countries build up are
understandable – we cannot have all the world’s poorest coming to live
in our country, that just would not work. But it also suddenly felt rather
selfish to me – we are so wealthy – and yet, like a kind of international
apartheid, we desperately try to keep ourselves separate. As I say – I am
happy to have the choice to be able to live in such luxury… but I also
cringe at the inequality which means most people have little chance of a
comfortable life. The only (rather obvious) conclusions I can make is that
those of us fortunate enough to be from rich countries should appreciate how
much we have, whilst at the same time endeavouring to help those who do not

As I now near Sydney, I come to the realisation that I will soon be into the
second half/homeward leg of this journey which began in Siberia. I am
starting to wonder how I can justify another 18 months of this nomadic
lifestyle. It has been a very worthwhile experience so far – with over ten
thousand pounds raised for Viva Network and their amazing work with children
at risk(see, and a good
“University of Life” education for me, but is it worth keeping this up for
so much longer… all of us (or at least all of us from wealthy countries)
live in prisons of our own making and I am not going to keep cycling just
because that was my original stated aim… but, for a number of reasons… I
think I will keep riding… we shall see…!

As always, many, many thanks for all your kind emails, prayers and donations
to Viva Network. I apologise if I have not been personally in touch for
sometime, but will endeavour to catch up with emails when I get to Sydney.

God bless and take care,
www.cyclinghomefromsiberia.comAustralian Mobile 0448 851474

“I MUST down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over”
-John Masefield, Sea Fever

If anybody who likes DIVING would like to do so in Papua New Guinea (a great
spot for unspoilt diving), please do have a look at the beautiful charter
boat “The Golden Dawn” who kindly let me hitch a lift to Australia with them

My old Oxford housemate Tim Steward is turning out to be rather an
exceptional artist – to see his deeply captivating and spiritual
paintings/prints (perfect for an original gift) please go to –
40,000 KM, 3 years, 30 countries
(so far involving… ice beards, frozen Siberian rivers, camping at minus
forty, past Mount Fuji, through Shanghai, sailing the South China Sea,
carrying bike over the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, surviving Cyclone

To receive free monthly email updates about my progress/adventures please
send a blank email to

To support Viva Network and their heroic work for children at risk around
the world, please visit

Cyclone Larry 2.jpg
I had been invited to speak at Innisvail State School the day Larry hit
Cyclone Larry 3.jpg
The worst cyclone to hit Queensland in over 30 years
Cyclone Larry 4.jpg
It was a miracle no-one was killed
Cyclone Larry 5.jpg
Check out that palm tree!
Cyclone Larry 6.jpg
Banana crops (on the left hand side) were decimatedCyclonic Floods.jpg
I was fortunate to wade through the post-cyclonic floods, just minutes before the police closed the bridges for several days

Distinguished moustachio

Christine and me.jpg
A welcome visitor!

Pre-haircut (plus beautiful hairdresser)




The Long Struggle to Port Moresby- The surprises of Papua New Guinea

February 23rd, 2006

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Current Location: Port Moresby (Capital City of Papua New Guinea… voted in
the Economist 2005 as the worst city in the whole world to come on a
business trip!)

Number of days of toil and sweat it took me to cover the final 100 miles to
Port Moresby: 12

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings” – William Shakespeare

“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be
– Samuel Johnson

“Expect the unexpected… I mean it”. This was probably the best possible
advice I could have been given prior to crossing Papua New Guinea (PNG) with
my bicycle – from its Indonesian border in the north west to the capital
city in the south east. I thought this trip would take me 3-4 weeks… it
has ended up taking over 7. Other emails I received in my approach to this
little known frontier land included:

“I should warn you that travel in PNG can be quite dangerous – I have been
held at gunpoint and robbed 16 times, and have been caught in crossfire from
warring tribes using M16s and the like… I dn’t mean to be negative but
I’m sure you would want to make informed decisions on where you travel.”

“To quote the chap from “The Castle”: “He’s dreaming!” There is not a hope
of him cycling the Kokoda. The thing is vertical for 90% the rest is in a
bog with far too many tree roots in the way… I reckon he is mad and would
suggest him to take his bike to Oz and have done with it…”

“he is ******* mad. … but then again mad dogs and Englishmen (where is he
from?). please pass on my best regards if you see him before he heads off and
attempts this and maybe take the contact details of his family back home in
case he never arrives here in POM…”

“I worked in the ‘security’ business over there….. and it is the wild
west, with no back-up. “

Needless to say, this well intended advice made me feel rather daunted and
hesitant, so as I entered PNG I had to also remind myself of the more
positive encouragement I was also given… but I was still very frightened.

So what is this boundlessly unique and exotic country like? Six months ago,
all I knew was that the people spoke lots of different languages (in fact,
around about 700 languages spoken by less than 10 million people), there is
lots of gold (and all sorts of other minerals, which is being exploited by
various foreign multinationals) and that there are lots of rainforests and
mountains (I was definitely right about this) I have also since discovered
that, like many other former colonies (but perhaps even more so), it is
struggling to transform itself from the traditional ways of tribal villages
to the modern world of governments, laws, guns, jobs, money and roads.

It is no wonder that this change is proving painful. Just 100 years ago a
large chunk of PNG’s population had had no contact with the outside world
and still used stone-aged tools. The people were loyal to their own tribes
and customs – but often hostile to the neighbouring village. Before there
was no money – and even today it is perfectly possible to live a healthy
village life without it. As the saying goes: “if you stick something in the
ground here, it grows”. Thus there is an abundance of locally growing
vegetables and fruit. The coastal roads are lined with coconut trees and if
I thirsted as I pedaled, I could merely mention this to a friendly looking
passerby, and he would scamper up a tree and return moments later with an
armful of coconuts with which to fill my water bottles – before announcing
with a grin that he was the local pastor (I’ve never seen an English vicar
climb a tree like that!). Other things like herbal medicines are available
too – the plant sap which was poured in my infected tropical ear seemed to
do just as much good as the painful penicillin injections in my buttocks!

Perhaps it is because the land provides such bounty, and because nothing
needs to be stored for winter (there is no winter) and because everything
rots so quickly, that the culture is not geared to forward thinking and to
quickly producing a successful economy? In the cities however, people have
less space to grow their own food, and discontent grows. Politicians often
slide into blatant nepotism. AIDS is also becoming a serious issue.

3. Through the sea.jpg
Through the sea…

Anyway, one of the results of a country being in such a state of fragmented
discombobulation is that many of the bored, frustrated young men have turned
to gang crime – deadly characters which are known in these parts as
“rascals”. During my first weeks in PNG I was again and again warned of the
rascal threat, and in the middle of many a night in some hidden forest
village, I would wake up with horrible imaginings of being ambushed, while
thinking to myself: “what an earth am I doing here?”. My only consciously
close encounter with rascals came as I bumped through the potholes of a
string of villages along the “main road” on the north coast. Whenever I
spotted groups of local youths who fitted my imagined picture of rascals I
would usually reply to their cheers and yells that I should stop, by waving,
smiling and shouting “good afternoon” in my friendliest possible way – and
by not stopping but rather zooming on and out of their lives. On one
occasion as I turned to wave and smile to a particularly menacing posse, I
managed to crash my bicycle into the ditch. In an instant they were up on
their feet and sprinting towards me. I saw them just meters away as I
wrenched myself and bike back onto the road and took off as fast as I
could… I only just escaped into the distance, leaving a trail of dust
behind me. (Of course, I have no real idea if their intent was to harm me,
or just to come and have a chat… but such was my fearful state of mind at
that point).

2. Bush track.jpg
Bush track…

The rascal menace aside, the terrain, climate and roadlessness of PNG were a
challenge in themselves… enough to make this the hardest adventure I have
ever done alone (Siberia in winter was harder, but I was with Al during
that). The ride through PNG began with a timber merchant’s road through the
rainforest… within half a day I was panicked by the jungle that enveloped
me on all sides. It hummed and flapped and sank deeply and darkly out of
sight – I felt it could consume me and no-one would ever know. To make
matters worse there were periodic junctions in the road where I didn’t know
where to turn, and there were no more villages to ask the way. Fortunately,
having run out of water, I eventually found a loggers camp where a couple of
the local lads agreed to walk with me (the muddy road was often unrideable
anyway) for two days to get back to the coast. Once there, we followed the
beach road… which essentially is not a road, but a beach. Here, I pushed
and waded and sweated my way past the postcard perfect breakers and sands.
Some days I had to hitch dugout canoes across rivers, other days to walk up
to my armpits in saltwater, the bike lifted high over my shoulders. I spent
my nights in village huts, eating cooked bananas and freshly caught fish and
wild pig. One night I spent floating down “the Mighty Sepic River” in a
motor boat I hired to get me past the crocodile infested Mangrove swamps.
Finally I was riding into Lae, the second city. It was on this road that I
had been warned that I would most likely be “rascalled”, so I was glad
indeed when a variety of local guys with bicycles offered to escort me … I
felt a bit like Forest Gump – cycling down the open road with my silly
beard, accompanied by a friendly throng fellow riders to protect me!

7. Along Beach.jpg
Along the beach…

6. Open road.jpg
Open road

After a ferry ride along a 200 km stretch of roadless coast I attempted my
final challenge of PNG: the Kokoda Trail. This is essentially a bush track
through the Owen Stanley Mountains which is one of the only land links
between the north coast and the Capital. It achieved great fame and
significance in World War II as the Japanese plundered their way south
towards Australia. In the end, just a handful of inexperienced, young Ozzy
recruits had to defend the trail against the vastly outnumbering Japanese
force. It must be said that they were heroes to stop the Japanese passing.
The trail itself is now a popular trekking route with tourists (one of the
few successful tourist endeavours in the country), though it is famously
grueling with nine huge ascents and descents through the high jungled ridges.

I was initially very uncertain as to whether it was plausible to carry or
push my bike over it (especially as this was the rainy season when tourists
didn’t walk the trail), but thanks to the enthusiastic advice and
encouragement of the tour company Kokoda Trekking Ltd (see for details of their excellent tours) I decided to
give it a go. On my first attempt with a local guide we got about a third of
the way before we were forced to turn back by a ravenous swollen river which
had destroyed all the tree bridges, and which admitted no passing. I felt
very disappointed and worn out and was on the verge of giving up…but
thankfully, another eager, local guide, Tom Hango, was up for the challenge
and encouraged me to make a second attempt. This time the rivers were lower
and the sun had his hat on as we climbed and we stumbled through the valleys
and mountains and villages where a bicycle had never before been seen.
Swamps, fallen trees and 2000m high ridges would present daily challenges,
but with Tom carrying my heavy pack and me struggling to maintain my footing
with a bike hanging off my shoulder we made steady progress. Each night we
camped next to friendly streams or villages perched amidst the great
mountains… and then eventually, after seven long days, we crashed out of the
forest and wearily onto the firm surface of a real road. I cycled with
relief the final 50 km ride into the Port Moresby -we had made it!

9. Carrying over the Kokoda.jpg
Carrying my bike over the Kokoda

10. Swollen River.jpg
The swollen river

So I am pleased to say that have had a predominantly positive experience of
this country, with all its uniqueness, kindness, adventure and risk. I
cannot say how big the risk was that I took coming here alone and on a
bicycle… I think it is a sad trait of human opinion forming that the
behaviour of the few will always shape the reputation of the masses… thus
I think that PNG’s dangerous reputation is based on just a small proportion
of the population. The people I actually met took great care of me, without
exception. If you stay in close contact with the local population,
travelling fast and in daylight, the risks are greatly reduced… and in
fact, I believe that if we pray for protection there is also somebody who
looks after us. If I was not a Christian I doubt I would have had the guts
to come through PNG. It is also important to realise that everything in life
is a risk, and we never know how many near misses we have in life… and as
a friend recently wrote to me (who had in fact quit his well paid management
consultancy job in London in order to dig up anti-personnel mines for a
charity in the Sudan)… “it’s a bit scary if you think about it too much,
but like everything in life you need to play the probabilities a little –
otherwise we would sit in a padded room all day, eating sterilized food and
die at 120 of old age with nothing to show for it!”

Now as my visa ticks quietly away, I look out of the window of this
apartment at the lazy sea stretching south to a dark and empty horizon, but
which (according to my map) eventually reaches Australia. It is there where
I hope to go… all I need to do now is find something that floats that will
take me there.

As always, I really appreciate your emails, prayers, and generous donations
to Viva Network and their tireless work with children at risk around the
world (please go to if you would
like to support them).

Happy belated 2006 and God bless,


Practical things:
I have managed this entire journey from Siberia on just bicycle and boat… I
really hope I will not have to break the link by flying. If anybody thinks
he or she can maybe help me with getting on board a boat to Australia,
please email me at

And a question: I am considering investing in a digital video camera and
filming the trip from Australia to England. If anyone can offer me any
advice or contacts about what cameras to look at, or tips on filming, I
would really appreciate it. Thanks.

To support Viva Network and their heroic work for children at risk around
the world, please visit

4. Canoe.jpg
Bike on canoe


Boating and Biking to the Southern Hemisphere

December 28th, 2005

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Islands hopped: 10
Years lived: 29 !
Current Location: Vanimo, Papua New Guinea

“Now I remembered that the real world was wide and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils”
– Jane Eyre

“Papua is the Siberia of Indonesia”
-Javanese saying, Periplus Travel Guide to Indonesia

After all the researching, waiting, sailing and charity work, I was finally now ready to continue the long, complicated course to Australia via the strung out chains of the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

HK-PNG route.JPG

Riding the tropical, sweaty islands south from Manila was a slightly stressful experience. Firstly, it was noisy. I shared the road with impatient truck drivers who made good use of their horns whenever they performed outrageously dangerous maneuvers (virtually the whole time). Smog clouded the air, whilst traffic jams sometimes went on for several kilometers. Caught behind one particularly stationary jam, I got off and pushed my bike along the verge in an effort to progress. After walking at least 3 km, I eventually spied the cause of this great hold up – it was a badly parked police car which blocked a whole lane of traffic (I had seen the policemen further back trying to keep the traffic moving!).

The other bad experiences I had in the Philippines (to get them out of the way), were:
1. The pessimists who chilled my imagination with their warnings that I would most likely be robbed, kidnapped or murdered (or all three) if I ventured through the bad-press Muslim majority Island of Mindanao (needless to say, this island actually turned out to be very friendly in my experience).
2. The day I was ill and had to lie feverishly on the floor of a ferry terminal feeling decidedly sorry for myself. It is never nice being ill, but it is even more unpleasant when you are alone, far from home and you haven’t had shower for a few days (and your head is spinning nauseously with images of imminent robbers, kidnappers and murderers).
3. One night as I lay in bed in a hosts house, I awoke to find somebody in my room rummaging though my things. I greeted the suspicious intruder with a friendly hello, at which point he bolted from the room and dashed out of the front door… unfortunately taking my wallet with him, but at least leaving me unharmed.

But there are many, many great aspects to the Philippines. The palm tree lined coastal roads, the gentle beaches, the clear seas, the smiling people. As it was so crowded everywhere, it was a rare nightfall when I was not offered a bed and a meal in a local church, village hall, or home. In fact I only had to put up my tent once in the whole country. A TV station who followed my ride with regular updates of my progress ensured that many Filipinos knew what I was up to before I even arrived.

Eventually, after a couple of weeks riding and then a bit of a wait on the southern coast (during which Christine managed to escape from her hard-working law firm to visit for a few days of extremely pleasant hanging out), I was given some deck space on a cargo ship heading across the sea to Indonesia. The cargo consisted of hundreds of sacks of little carbon brushes (apparently for cleaning ore from the mines), half a dozen aspiring business men and their wives, and one rather disheveled English cyclist. The crew took good care of us with big meals of rice and fish…and as we passed underneath smoking volcanic islands they would periodically chant their Muslim prayers Mecca-wards, kneeling and bowing their faces into the boiling western sun as it slinked below the empty, shimmering seas.

From my entry-port in Indonesia, I caught a passenger ferry to skirt around the edge of the archipelagos to land me finally on the Island of New Guinea. Until recently I knew almost nothing about this part of the world, so I should just explain a couple of important things. The island of New Guinea (the second biggest island in the world after Greenland) is split exactly down the middle – the eastern half is now Papua New Guinea (an Independent country), whilst the western half was formerly a Dutch Colony but now it belongs to Indonesia (this part of the island is known simply as Papua). Please see for an important recent BBC report about the Indonesian half of the island.

One other rather depressing issue which has inevitably come up a lot is corruption. I spent a pleasant few days with one particular police man who was generously hosting me whilst I awaited a ferry. We talked in depth about the issue of corruption and how much it hindered the development of Indonesia – with officials throughout the command structure being guilty. The President is apparently now pushing a campaign to reduce corruption, but it seems unlikely that a campaign alone will be enough. As my policeman friend said, perhaps officials need to be paid better so they don’t feel the need to take bribes? In theory, in any case, my friend agreed that corruption should be stopped… and then (with a twist of unintentional irony) a few minutes later he was merrily explaining to me how he knew a man who locally ran an illegal liqueur store and who would pay him a cut of the profits in order for him to keep his mouth shut. If a good, intelligent policeman like my friend, so easily accepted a bribe, what hope might there be for ever eventually stamping out corruption?!

Yesterday, Boxing Day, I entered a new continent, Australasia. Riding east to the border, I passed out of the mountains and into the swampland where for the first time I caught sight of a man fishing using a bow and arrow. The road rolled on into the rainforests, where trees towered grand and throne-like above me. Branches and leaves littered the road and in my distracted state I came within a few centimeters of running over a one meter long black snake. Now across the border and in Papua New Guinea itself, I nervously set my face towards a 1500 km route of bumpy roads, unbridged rivers, tribal peoples and high mountain tracks which lie between me and the Capital city, Port Moresby.

I greatly appreciate all your emails, prayers and generous donations to Viva Network and their work with children at risk around the world throughout 2005. My initial fundraising target was ten thousand UK pounds, and I am most delighted to let you know that with all your help this target has now been passed (see )… as my intended route has increased in length since I set this target, I have now increased my fundraising target to twenty thousand pounds. I will do my best to push through this with a combination of giving talks along my route, sending these emails, promoting my website and raising any other publicity I can muster. On one final practical note, as my internet access will be rather limited for the next couple of months, I apologize in advance if I do not reply to emails for some time.

Many thanks and best wishes and God bless you in 2006,


“It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it: but then the throb of fear disturbs it, and fear with me became predominant when half an hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell.”
– Jane Eyre

“It is greed and laziness and selfishness, not hunger or weariness or cold that take the dignity out of a man and make him look mean.”-George Macdonald

1. Indonesian Border.jpg
At the Indonesia border


The Street Children of Manila

December 2nd, 2005

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The following update is focused on the three weeks I spent in Manila visiting various Viva Network partner projects (mostly to do with Street Children).

“Tell me, I will forget.
Show me, I may remember.
Involve me, I will understand.”

– Chinese Proverb

“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

“When one child dies every 3 seconds just because they’re poor, you can’t stand by and let it happen”
– Make Poverty History campaigner, Berkhamsted, UK

Sunday morning in Manila: smog and noise rise from the vast elongated traffic jams which snake between glamour malls and horror slums in this hyper-congested mega-capital of The Philippines. I am struggling to push my way through a heaving mass of humans – heading for church and attempting to keep up with my Filipino pastor friend who walks ahead of me somewhere amidst the jumble. Crossing the main road on an overpass we are funneled down a one way staircase back to street level. Half way down the steps I notice a sad collection of children sitting against the wall amidst our fast moving feet. Dirty baby faces and unevenly shaven heads, aged between about
five and ten years old, their grubby hands hold up broken plastic cups for money and their big brown eyes (crusted with muck) plead, plead, plead. What is their world like?

One little boy hops to his feet as I pass and grabs hold of my trousers – he does not say anything, but he will not let go. His face is a little desperate scowl, his eyes implore at mine. “I cannot give you money little chap”, I justify to myself, “surely you are part of the begging syndicates which are well known in these parts – anything I give will be snatched away by the big man who sends you daily to the streets to beg for his hierarchy”. But the little boy keeps walking with me and now his little hand is pointing to the convenience store stacked with cheap food which we are passing… but I will not stop, I cannot lose my guides, we are already late. And then suddenly he leaves me with my excuses and goes back, still hungry, to his begging spot by the stairs. I go to church with swimming eyes.

shanty town kids.jpg
Shanty Town Kids

It would be very wrong to leave the impression that the good people with whom I am privileged to spend much time in Manila are inactive or unmoved by the horrendous inhumanity and desperation they see daily on their door steps. Firstly there are the various refuge centers and homes they run which will clothe, feed, educate and care for the children. One day I am taken on a tour of a cemetery where some of the street children live – a place which appears not so far from hell on earth – drugged up nine year olds sniff brain-frying glues, feverish dehydrated babies lie on concrete tombstones, adolescents sleep in the unused grave chambers. The reasons why children end up on the streets like this are varied, but very often they are running away from families where they are horrendously neglected, abused, or plain abandoned. I accompany one street children’s camp out of the city for a few days – it is hoped that by taking them straight off the street onto a camp such as this, enough trust can be built up with them that they might chose to leave their perilous street lives behind and join a refuge or home. Upon arrival the dishevelled children are given fresh clothes and a wash bag… within an hour they are transformed into clean, happy faces – playing basketball and messing around on swings and see-saws. There is laughter everywhere. This is all only possible because of the awesome dedication of the staff. However, persuading the children to leave their hazardous street lives and come to a charity for help is only the first step in a long difficult road to them becoming whole, healed, humans.

man swimming by slum.jpg
There is a man swimming in the dirty water next to this slum

collecting rubbish from river.jpg
Collecting rubbish to recycle from the river. Also notice the Piata Rubbish Dump behind where 30,000 people make a living looking for things they can recycle.

You can tell I am impressed by such efforts and achievements. But of course the scale of the problem is huge. There are estimated to be fifty to seventy thousand street kids in Metro-Manila alone (Reference: Action International Ministries) and of course there are also many more millions of children at risk around the world from starvation, preventable/deadly diseases, abuse, exploitation and war (without wanting to numb our brains with statistics, one horrifically vivid illustration is that the numerical equivalent of one jumbo jet packed with kids crashes killing all on board EVERY 15 MINUTES OF EVERY DAY… that is how many kids are dying of preventable causes as we sit at our computers…imagine how much coverage that would get in our papers if they were western kids in each plane).

On another note, from my brief glimpses of horror and grace in Manila, I am also now aware of just how difficult it must be for the workers who spend their lives trying to help street children. I have seen how tiring and emotionally draining it is for them – and they must often feel the strain is almost too much (I used to find teaching in a UK high-school tiring enough). The charity which I am endeavoring to help on this big bicycle ride, Viva Network, focuses on the huge problem of children at risk around the world – but rather than setting up new undertakings, their focus is much more on trying to support, network and encourage existing projects. Viva Network is a Christian charity which was founded upon the realization that there are already many well intentioned schemes around the world, trying in all sorts of ways to provide children with safety, healing and hope… however, many of these projects flounder and fail to achieve their potential due to lack of training, lack of support for staff, and the unfortunate inefficiency of not being connected with other similar projects in the same area. Viva Network has now set up 77 networks in 45 different countries and their effectiveness is such that in just a dozen years since they started they are now in Roster Consultative Status with the United Nations. On a large scale they help connect charities and so avoid wastage of resources – recently in Sri Lanka’s tsunami relief efforts SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND pounds (UK) was saved when one charity, intending to spend this money on school packs for kids, was networked with another charity who had just such a surplus of kits – which it was happy to pass on, thus saving the money to be spent on something else. A more local level example in Bolivia involved several urban street children feeding projects who were brought together to meet each other for the first time. They quickly discovered that they were all operating their feeding projects on the same night of the week – meaning the children had plenty of choices for food on that one night of the week, but none at all on the other nights. Having met, they were hence able to co-ordinate their efforts across the week… with further collaboration, later on, they began to purchase their food together in bulk and thus saved money to cover every night of the week.

In Manila, most of the charities I met had close ties with Viva Network. They appreciated not only the training opportunities, but also the sheer encouragement and refreshment which they benefitted from as they met fellow-workers and went on occasional retreats. A burnt out worker is no good to anyone, however good their intentions be when they start. Viva Network, as I have tried to show here, plays a vital role in enhancing and encouraging thousands of tireless and compassionate projects around the world. This explanation is naturally very condensed, so please do find out more about Viva Network and their goal of “working together to bring more children better care” at .

I believe it is good for us to periodically re-stir our consciences… as the Make Poverty History Campaign insightfully pointed out, the travesty of our age is not so much that a child dies every three seconds from preventable causes, but rather that a child dies every three seconds and we (rich) could stop it if we really wanted to (though of course we must acknowledge that there are other causes for poverty besides lack of money). If it is true that (in the west) we often “buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like”, perhaps we should bravely test out this Christmas whether rather it might indeed be more blessed to give than to receive…?

Since Manila, I have cycled down the length of the Philippines to the southern island of Mindanao. I now nervously await the departure of a Muslim cargo ship bound for Indonesia sometime tomorrow. This update is already too long, and I apologize (a little) if it is a bit heavy. My next update will be all about life on the road in these Eastern Archipelagos as I make my way towards (apparently rather wild) Papua New Guinea.

Finally, on a much more cheerful note (and in case you do not already know), Al Humphreys (the guy who I cycled through Siberia with and who is in many ways responsible for getting me started on this whole variety show) has finally made it home to England and completed his 46,000 mile, 4 year, spectacular Round The World By Bike expedition ( This quote is dedicated to his stupendous achievement, from which we can all learn.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
– Teddy Roosevelt

As always, many thanks for your prayers, emails and kind donations to Viva
Network (please go to if you would
like to support their work).

40,000 KM, 3 years, 30 countries
(so far involving… ice beards, frozen Siberian rivers, camping at minus forty, past Mount Fuji, through Shanghai, sailing out of Hong Kong to the Philippines, meeting the Street Children of Manila…)

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observers during lunch.jpg
Friendly people watching me eat!

tropical bicycle.jpg
Tropical cyclist (quite hot!)


Across the South China Sea – Six days in the life of a Siberian Sailor

October 25th, 2005

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“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for”-Grace Murray Cooper

“…but i would be content with nothing but going to sea…”-Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Dafoe)

Current Location: Manila, The Philippines

Km cycled: 12, 802
Km sailed: 1,100
Days spent at sea: 6
Number of being violently sick sessions on boat (!): 4

Plans change, intentions crumble, timings go out of the window. Having spent the best part of a year cycling down the east side of Asia, I approached Hong Kong in early July in the hope that I would soon be able to “hitch hike” a ride on a cargo ship across the South China Sea to the Philippines. And then, just before arriving in Hong Kong (as chance would have it) I did indeed receive a generous email from my parent’s friend’s son-in-law’s friend’s friend (!) Jon, inviting me to help crew his yacht on this very route. I was delighted and accepted the offer even though it would mean waiting in Hong Kong for two whole months whilst the boat was made ready. After a few spectacular delays due to renovation work and broody Typhoons, we decided to make a dash for it.

As we jolted and bounced our way through the dancing waves my body decided to celebrate this epic departure from mainland Asia by being repeatedly sick over the side of the boat! I confess that I now only recall this first day at sea as one in which I sat motionless by the open door of the wheel house, breathing carefully and unwilling to even move my eyes lest I set off a deeper bout of nausea. Sparing you further details details, I can say that after this first twenty four hours of misery, I thankfully found my sea legs enough to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the voyage.

Living, eating and sleeping out at sea is good adventure. The primary task is to take your turn at “keeping watch” behind the wheel. This basically involves trying to keep sailing in a straight line (not as easy as it sounds) and avoiding catastrophic collision with the oblivious super-tankers who slink across the horizon. Being on watch at night is especially dramatic – your 17 tonne, 36 foot, steel craft crashing poetically through the deep, dark seas – shifting skies watching down on you and empty seas stretching out to the horizons all around you. It is almost unbelievable to realise that all your movement is achieved just from the wind blowing on a big piece of outstretched sail.


One of the most melodramatic tasks on board a ship is cooking. One day I (foolishly) volunteered to fry up some chicken. Down below deck I find is this no simple task. The boat keeling over at forty five degrees and not at all steady, I wedge my legs out between the sink and the galley panels (doing the splits, in a manner of speaking) and try to keep the pan sizzling whilst simultaneously avoiding getting boiling fat thrown all over my embarrassingly sweaty bare chest. Reaching over for pepper pot, all of a sudden the boat lurches over a bit further and I find myself flung across the cabin to smash my back against a cupboard. A drawer of cutlery at the same time chooses to empty itself all over the floor. There is rarely a dull moment when the wind and waves are playing their violent games.

Then gradually, on our fifth morning, as the wind began to die and the skies to clear and the ocean to take on a more friendly turquoise blend of blue, we at last began to see signs of land. First of all it was the precarious little fishing skiff darting around in the distance. Then I noticed the occasional coconut floating past – on one of which perched an an unwittingly doomed crab, now a good hundred miles from shore. The next day, we sighted the grey shades of mountains rising from the edge of our world… and with a final puff of wind and a few dramatic thunder storms, we raised our sails and swooped joyfully into harbour.


Two days later, our boat anchored in the bay and all my stuff unloaded and repacked on shore, I knew I could no longer put off the inevitable – I had to get back on that bike! Behind me lay the happy memories of three months safe shelter in sparkling Hong Kong: the epic skyline, the hard working people, the good friends and even an amazing new-found girlfriend (now in London). Ahead of me lies a slightly daunting “out of my hands” relay of island hopping, visa blagging, rascal dodging, jungle crossing adventure. Realising I had better just quit worrying and enjoy it all (whether it be successful or not), I rise early from my bunk on the boat and decide to swim ashore. Pushing a little bin bag of essential possessions in front of me, I kick my way through tropical water, stopping briefly to allow a ferry load of bemused, smiling Filipino school kids to pass in front of me. Climbing ashore dripping, I wheel my well rested bike back onto the road and turn north for Manila…


I hope all is well, best wishes,

NEW ON WEBSITE: a short QUICKTIME FILM I have put together with video clips from the journey so far – takes about 5 minutes to download, with groovy music, please do have a look:
If you would like to help out the work of Viva Network and their work with street children and orphans (which I am currently observing in Manila), please go to

and finally… a quote about going to sea (!):

‘ “No,” said Harris, “if you want rest and change, you can’t beat a sea trip.” I objected to the sea trip strongly.
A sea trip does you good when you are going to have a couple of months of it, but, for a week, it is wicked.
You start on Monday with the idea implanted in your bosom that you are going to enjoy yourself. You wave an airy adieu to the boys on shore, light your biggest pipe, and swagger about the deck as if you were Captain Cook, Sir Francis Drake, and Christopher Columbus all rolled into one. On Tuesday, you wish you hadn’t come. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you wish you were dead. On Saturday, you are able to swallow a little beef tea, and to sit up on deck, and answer with a wan, sweet smile when kind-hearted people ask you how you feel now. On Sunday, you begin to walk about again, and take solid food. And on Monday morning, as, with your bag and umbrella in your hand, you stand by the gunwale, waiting to step ashore, you begin to thoroughly like it. ‘

-Three men in a boat, Jerome K Jerome



One year in the life of a Siberian Cyclist

September 22nd, 2005

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“Siberia impends through the darkness as the ultimate unearthly abroad… the place from which you will not return” – Colin Thubron

“Every step that you take,
could be your biggest mistake,
it could bend or it could break,
but that’s the risk that you take”
– Coldplay

Days since left home: 372
Days until return home (estimate, all being well): 700

This all began one year ago on the far side of Siberia. The Russian autumn was in her final throes and a merciless winter was primed for unleashing on any who dared enter. A bicycle ride across Eurasia had always held a dreamy appeal for me and in search of new challenges after two invigorating years of teaching adolescents in the UK, I had in the end concluded: “if not now then when”. I also decided it would be more fun to start from some distant point on the map and try riding back home, rather then pedaling towards somewhere from home itself.

As the clunky “Davao airlines” jet plane carried me east from Moscow, over the Urals and then further east again, I slept lightly, nervous and excited about what might lie ahead. Awaking (to find that I was now dreaming with open eyes) I peered out through the rising eastern dawn onto the grey swampy mountain land of Siberia. Empty, foreboding, consuming… I can only say that it brought to mind Tolkien’s Mordor – with perhaps not quite so many orcs. A few minutes later, I was landing at Magadan airport, a town once known in Stalin’s Russia as “the gateway to hell”.

After a week or so of getting ready (and some impressively pointless fun and games with the Russian visa registration office), with bicycle reassembled and panniers packed to bursting, we were on our way. I was beginning this journey with an old friend, Al Humphreys, for whom this was the home leg in his epic 4 year, 5 continent “Round the World by Bike” expedition. I was surprised to notice stronger qualities in Al than I had known previously – a depth, resolution and self-discipline forged through the deserts of Africa, the passes of The Andes, and the wilds of Alaska. I would indeed be glad that he now possessed such a character in the trials that lay ahead.

You cannot pass through this part of Russia without being haunted by history. In the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, Stalin had used Magadan as his entry port, through which to bring millions of civilian prisoners to dig gold and die (of cold, starvation and exhaustion). The road on which we set out is also known as “the road of bones” owing to the price many paid to build it. Another relic of the communist past was the abandoned ghost towns and derelict factories by the roadside.

Bang on schedule, at the start of October, in accordance with the pessimistic predictions of friendly Russians, the winter arrived. Snowy roads meant that we skidded and fell; ice meant that we had to use our stove to make water; cold meant that we had to jump off our bikes and stomp our feet to try and stave off frostbite in our toes. Sitting in an air-conditioned flat here in hot Hong Kong as I write today, I have just reread a paragraph I wrote back then:

“Our tent sits in an icicle-shrouded forest, half way across a vast glacial valley which stretches and winds its way westwards to the plains of Yakutia. Every breath exhaled instantly crystallizes – beard, sleeping bag, tent roof – all is covered in ice. We stumble from the tent, gasping our way drunkenly through the bitter dawn to check the thermometer strapped to my handlebars. We are elated and awed to discover the temperature has now dropped right down to minus forty degrees (Centigrade and Fahrenheit in fact converge at this point).”

Such experiences I remember now with joyful mirth – isn’t it strange how difficult experiences are transformed into fond memories over the passage of time!

We fought our way past uncomfortable blizzards, empty swamps and frozen rivers until we at last reached the Trans-Siberian railroad, which we could follow hastily (for our visas had almost expired) to a coastal exit port. The hospitality we received all through Siberia was nothing less than astonishing: we spent countless nights under the care of coal miners, gold miners, weather men, road builders, village families, roadside cafés, Yakut Indians (kind of like the Siberian equivalent of the Inuit). Russia (despite its many problems) is a land of heroes.

And then suddenly, unbelievably, we were on a ferry from the east side of Russia to the northernmost island of Japan. How can I describe the change? We saw more traffic lights in the first hour of cycling out of the Japanese port than we had done in our whole time in Russia. The next three months were spent enjoying increasing comfort (a heated train station floor was most luxurious at this point) in a blur of sumptuous sushi, spring sunshine and super-polite conversations. Japanese history and civilization is something I had never engaged in before and it was fascinating to learn about. The people are kind and generous and enthusiastic, though often their feelings seem to hide away inside. Boarding a ferry away from Japan, I could only think to myself – that place is unique and kind of cool and perhaps a little contorted – and I still don’t understand it!

I pedaled on up through South Korea – with its passionate people, great churches, and peaceful National Parks. Following the valleys northwards I passed literally hundreds of heavy tanks and troop carriers heading out for their annual wargames… the border with North Korea is tense and emotional and of course would not let me pass, so after some fine hospitality in Seoul, I was hopping on another boat to China.

China overturned my expectations, as has been it’s habit on most peoples in most centuries. Rather than (as I had expected) dour and somber and down beaten peasants in ultra untrendy Mao suits, I found vibrancy, helpfulness, laughter, and most noticeably, confidence. Most days I would bypass giant industrial growth spots, culminating in the mother of up-and-coming cities – Shanghai. Leaving the shiny new skyscrapers behind me, I headed further south on quieter mountain back roads – passing through poverty stricken villages, bank bursting rivers and muddy landslides. People would chatter enthusiastically to me and I would reply dumbly in English. I concluded China is a great place for cycling – beautiful roads, cheerful people and cheap high-carb. noodles.

And then I arrived in the glamourous, westernised world of Hong Kong… and (still here now) I have been waiting for a boat to take me south to the Philippines. There have been several unexpected changes in the original plan. Al and I decided to go our separate ways to get home from Japan – partly just because the Siberian leg had been so intense and we needed a break from one another, and partly because a new idea had taken its hold on me to take an island hopping detour to Australasia before turning my handlebars for England. With Al now across the Bosphorus and into his happy, final weeks, it looks like I still have a good 18-24 months ahead of me. (In fact, Al sent me a chirpy little email a while back pointing out that if I continue to cross the lines of Longitude westwards at my current rate, I will not get home until 2018 !!). I am excited about the next few months in particular – the Spice Islands and Papua New Guinea are notoriously unpredictable and mysterious in my mind… I have to admit that this first year of cycling has been quite different to what i expected… it will be interesting to see what happens in this next year. In any case, all being well I will be enjoying barbequed sausages in Australia by Christmas time.

So (I ask myself) what has been the point of all this? I am realizing that the reasons for beginning a journey may be different from the reasons for continuing it. I once heard it quoted that in a “what do you want to do in your life” survey, the number one aspiration of the British people is to “travel the world”. I have lost count of how many successful business people along the way have told me that they wished they could throw it all in and join me. So what is the point, why? Of course it is interesting to see the great bubbling dynamic cities of the east – Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong; to experience the humbling lessons of hospitality from village peoples in Siberian valleys and Chinese floodplains; it is great to understand a little more of our common humanity, yet diverse, special differences, good and bad. I guess it is a privelege to actually experience these things rather than just learn about them on intelligent BBC documentaries… but at the same time I am coming to appreciate more and more how good it can be to just live in one place all the time – where there are still plenty of challenges and adventures and wonders, just different ones. I have also appreciated (though not always enjoyed) being forced to just spend time thinking as i sit on the bike – in the crazy world of work back home, we seem to have so little time for reflecting.

So whilst much of me would have been happy to stay where I was and live a settled life in England, I think my reasons for beginning, I can now sum up as:
1. Sounds fun
2. I might learn something
3. Why not.

The reasons for continuing still need clarification – here are a few that I sometimes consider:
1. In repetitive interviews it is fun to claim I am just in search of a good wife !
2. One chap, upon seeing the huge pile of books I carry, observed that it looked like I was in search of the meaning of life.
3. Sometimes I think I am just trying to build character (this trip is also revealing my own weaknesses to me – I have discovered a huge side of myself which shocks me – in which I can stand paralyzed by fear as a man dies in a fire; or can put my own self-interest above that of a loyal friend).

I think overall though for finding meaning to this journey, I have become attracted to the idea of pilgrimage: of being on a long, sometimes difficult journey, but with a definite end point in mind. Of having many trials and challenges and tests to pass through to get there, but with the hope that I will emerge from it all (eventually) a better person (in some way). In the end, like Frodo and Sam I think we all have a deep, real, longing that our life’s journey has meaning – and a proper, good, destination. I believe that the world is hurting from real evil, but being healed by real good too. Don’t we all just want to accomplish our mission, fighting for the right side, and then return to the Shire in time for tea and medals?

Many, many thanks to all who have helped me with their hospitality, encouragement and generosity in this first year. With all of your help, over 8,000 pounds has now been raised for the worthy work of Viva Network in supporting children at risk through the world. (please see )

Best wishes, God bless, please stay in touch,


As I have only been through 4 countries so far (2 big, 2 small), I cannot really do my top ten places, etc. Instead I thought I would do bottom and top ten experiences – bad and good (please note these are in chronological, not rank order).

Bottom Ten Experiences (bad, frightening, unpleasant)

1. Falling off bike on icey roads (Russia) / trying not to fall off bike in icey, long tunnels ( Japan)
2. Numb feet, and frozen sweat (Russia)
3. Cycling 15 hour days due to fast expiring visa (Russia)
4. All the pointless bureaucracy and paper work anywhere (see good point 3. below for my revenge)
5. Mugged by gun wielding punks (Russia)
6. The fire (Russia)
7. Knocked off bike by truck (Korea)
8. All the very scary interviews with radio, etc (Anywhere)
9. Going through a bad patch with Al (Japan)
10. Realizations of my own weakness (Everywhere)

Top Ten Experiences (good, funny, heart-warming)

1. Walking into a hardware shop and saying (in broken Russian) “I would like the big axe please” (made me feel like a real man) (Russia)
2. Being invited into a weatherman’s hut for the night when it was minus thirty five outside / seeing the full moon shining down on the white valley that night / seeing the expression on Al’s face the next morning when he realized he had been sharing a bed with a naked weatherman (!) (Russia)
3. Getting through Russian passport control using the wrong passport (Al and I had accidentally swapped) (see bad point 4. above) (Russia)
4. Ferry out of Siberia (bound for Japan) / being met off ferry by kindly nuns who gave us lots of food, baked us a cake and sent us to our first Japanese Hot Spring (Japan)
5. Zooming past Mount Fuji on the bike (Japan)
6. Watching Al trying to negotiate with 4 uniformed police men and 2 plain clothes detectives, after he was busted for cycling naked down a main road! ( Japan)
7. Eating dog stew in Korea (cyclists revenge – dog’s often attack us) (Korea)
8. Meeting my parents in Beijing (China)
9. Spending time with thousands of wonderful people from all over the place
10. Meeting an extraordinarily special girl in Hong Kong

And finally (if you are still with me and in the mood for deep thinking), here is a good reflection on the unattainability of “settled happiness”, by C S Lewis:

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home” (from “The Problem of Pain”, Chapter 7)

Please do forward this email to your friends if you think they are interested…
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Hong Kong Harbour

Lantau Peak, a retreat from the Hong Kong bustle

The boat – “Talio” – which will soon be my passage to the Philippines


Into Hong Kong: The Floods and the Oasis

July 14th, 2005


Current Location: Hong Kong

Distance cycled: 12,652 Km
Distance to home: 27, 348 Km (approx.)

(if anybody has contacts in NEW ZEALAND I would really appreciate it if you could put me in touch – many thanks)

“Our moral nature is such that we cannot be idle and at ease” Leo Tolstoy

“It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there, and eventually it makes you go a little crazy.”
Bill Bryson

THE rains poured and the rivers thrashed as I tumbled my bicycle across half a dozen misty passes and down to coast of the South China Sea. I was greeted by a variety of deluge related obstacles on the way: flooded villages necessitated wading, whilst collapsing cliffs (which spat and slumped muddy rocks in my path) necessitated evasive maneuver steering. None of this seemed to particularly faze the local Chinese people, who just got on with their daily lives and good naturedly cheered me through the various minor perils.

These excellent Chinese hats double up as both sunshades and umbrellas – a great idea in China!

My hat (on the other hand) is next to useless (unless I happen to fall off and land on my head).

Some roads were flooded

After a few weeks of such pleasant melodrama, I wheeled my bike out of China and onto a ferry … an hour later we were docking in the SAR (Special Administrative Region) of Hong Kong. Now this was somewhat different to mainland China!

Hong Kong had always been a major landmark on my map, and I am glad to say that it does not disappoint. At street level, you are surrounded by heaving crowds who gently sweep you along in whatever direction they happen to be moving. Old green trams clatter along the clean grey streets, whilst fashionable shops blast you with cool air conditioning as you wander past. Turning your head to look upwards, you see an array of glittering sky scrapers, interconnected by networks of bustling sky bridges… in between them you might occasionally catch a glimpse of the warm blue sky. As if this is not impressive enough, the city proper is fronted by a magical, lush harbour which rocks and sways round the clock with sea traffic. It is dreamlike to go watch over it at night – the sounds of civilization drift across the water as rippling party lights are reflected back up to the stars. In some ways I find all this cosmopolitanism slightly daunting, especially since everybody I meet seems so jolly successful! It is therefore a relief to discover that not far from all the human enterprise, there is an extraordinary back drop of green islands, sandy beaches and dignified mountain tops. Hong Kong is indeed a nice place to hang out for a while, in all sorts of ways (some of them quite unexpected).

As it has turned out, I have been, and will be here for a while – 2 months in fact. The reason for this is that I have now run out of land to cycle on, and I am faced with some bigger sea crossings. One of the goals of this journey is to make my way all the way down from Russia to New Zealand using only bike and, where necessary, boat (i.e. I am not allowed to fly). Whenever I meet the sea, in most cases I can simply jump on a ferry. However, there are also a few substantial stretches of water (such as the South China Sea) where there are no ferries. This leaves me with the interesting task of trying to hitch hike the oceans with yachts and cargo ships and oil tankers. After a lot of emailing and asking around for help, I am most grateful to Jon King and his yacht Talio for offering me a passage (leaving at the start of September) as far as the Philippines. Once there (all being well) I just keep island hopping south until I eventually get to New Zealand.

On realizing how long I would need to stay here, I tentatively told my old friend Chi Lam (now a successful Hong Kong banker) that I would be in town for considerably longer than anticipated… with characteristic generosity he handed me the keys to his spare flat, graciously urging me to “Treat Hong Kong… like an oasis in the middle of your long journey”. Sounded good to me!

It is weird to stop moving like this. But it is also good. Always on the move is not a good way to live for too long. It has been refreshing to have time off the bicycle; it is a privilege to get to know people for more than one or two days; it even feels fun to do some voluntary work. Probably, missing out on being able to build deeper friendships and not having a purposeful job is what I have been missing the most over these last eleven months. It is so easy to take such things for granted.

Once I leave these shores, I realize that I will be forced to stop even pretending that I am heading towards home. I am heading south and into (what I expect will be) the toughest adventures since Siberia… through the perilous high seas (with pirates), across the exotic spice islands (with corrupt bureaucrats and mountainous jungles) and down to the mysterious land of Oz (with poisonous snakes and strange Australians). (joke)

As always, many, many thanks for your kind emails, prayers and donations to Viva Network. In Manila I will be spending two weeks working with the children at risk projects they operate there – more info to follow.

To kindly donate more money to help street children and orphans through Viva Network, please visit

China is a great and beautful place… I hope to return one day

I think this one requires a little explanation! It actually has to be my most stunning “Mr Bean of global cyclists” moment of the journey thus far… AND it was caught on camera. What happened was this: having been hosted by some wonderful Chinese friends at a university for a few days, it was time for me to make my noble departure… the group gathered to bid me a safe, grand and victorious journey, and I positioned my camera to take a final “self timer” shot. I set the timer going and ran to pick up my ludicrously heavy bike… then wheeled it hastily over to join the line up… then realised I was moving far too fast and had far too much momentum to stop in time… and (o how foolish) that I could not reach my breaks in time… and thus (as you will by now have worked out) I crashed into my unsuspecting friends in their behinds (rather to their bewilderment)… and – of course – at that very moment – the shutter clicked. Ooops.(!)

…and finally, here is a funny Bill Bryson quote to make you smile:

“Prolonged solitary travel, you see, affects people in different ways. It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason fro being there, and eventually it makes you go a little crazy. I’ve seen it in others often. Some solitary travelers start talking to themselves: little silently murmured conversations that they think no-one else notices. Some desperately seek the company of strangers, striking up small talk at shop counters and hotel reception desks and then lingering for an uncomfortably long period before finally departing. Some become ravenous, obsessive sightseers, tramping to see everything, Me, I get a sort of interrogative diahorrea. I ask private, internal questions – scores and scores of them – for which I cannot supply answers. And so as I stood by a greengrocer’s in Thurso, looking at its darkened interior with pursed lips and a more or less empty head, from out of nowhere I thought, ‘Why do they call it a grapefruit?’ and I knew the process had started.” (Notes from a small Island)