Round And Through the World by Bicycle: The Summary
15th June 2014 – 2nd August 2016
53,772 km (33,420 miles)
Starting and finishing point: the city of Tomsk, Russia.
Yegor Kovalchuk, born 1989, Tomsk region.
E-mail for questions and offers: firstname.lastname@example.org
Total countries traveled: 39 (incl. countries with limited recognition)
Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, Abkhazia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Moldova, Transnistria, Belarus, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Mongolia.
The concept of “Round and through the world by bicycle”
I put a lot of sense into the name of my expedition. While the preposition “round” has more to do with sports and geography, “through the world” contains the idea of traveling as Wayfaring, Searching, and Communication, where People, Human Beings are considered of most importance.
During more than 2 years of traveling, I didn’t ride in Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica, because my plans didn’t include such a global challenge.
The international rules on round-the-world bike travels have various requirements: a traveler must visit all continents, or must go through antipodal points, or the route length must be greater than the equator (40,000 km), or the route must lie in all hemispheres, etc. On the other hand, these rules contradict the itineraries of the first around the world bike travels, which occurred a century ago. All in all, this is very relative. What was important to me, in terms of sport, is the length of the itinerary and a fulfillment of a circle along the geographical latitude.
They say it is the Circle that should be done first and then supplemented during the rest of the lifetime. In the light of this, the indispensable condition to visit all continents seems a mere formality. I didn’t want to lay claim to originality; I just rode my own itinerary, which had its own identity and style. I have plenty of time before me to do the rest of the continents.
Of course, the idea to round the globe came up to me during my first bike travel, but USA and Europe visa questions were an obstacle to attaining this until the last moment. It wasn’t before I got these visas en route that I felt a little bit more relieved and confident that I was making headway in fulfillment of the Circle.
Implementation of the project “Rainbow For a Friend: Postcards of Peace and Kindness”. On the threshold of the next step of my journey, I offered children and adults to draw postcards on the subject of “PEACE” (peace between countries, between peoples, friendship and kindness) with greetings and wishes for children and adults in other countries. Acting as a mailman on the bicycle, I was to deliver the postcards to children in distant cities and towns. The postcards served as a link between people and demonstrated that we are not separated on the basis of national characteristics, languages, colors of skin or beliefs; quite the contrary, we are all united by kindness, love and peace in our hearts. The postcards were delivered to schools and orphanages; children, in return, made their own postcards and letters to be sent to perfect strangers from the other side of the globe!
In terms of topography, my itinerary included 118 passes: 105 passes under 3,000 m; 9 passes from 3,000 to 4,000 m; 5 passes over 4,000 m.
Deserts: Muyunkum (Kazakhstan), Kyzylkum (Uzbekistan), Ustyurt Plateau (Kazakhstan), Gobi (Mongolia).
While waiting for visas and the departure date, in Moscow and San Francisco, ran two marathons 42.1 km each.
Carried out speed climbings on Indonesian volcanoes: Agung (3150 m), Kawa Ijen (2380 m), Merapi (2900 m), Merbabu (3150 m), Kerinchi (3800 m).
Experimented with cleansing fasting: 7 days of dry contactless fasting (no food, no water, not even contacting with water).
Maximum milage per day: 280 km. This happened about ten times.
Maximum milage per week: 1900 km in eight April days (countries: Norway, Finland, Sweden).
The windiest country during the journey was US. Head winds were blowing 85% of the 5600 km route and about two months of moving. As sources confirmed later, western winds prevail in the world. Was hit by a car in Kokshetau, Kazakhstan, while crossing against the traffic signal. This happened at the beginning of the journey. My left hand was hurt badly and I couldn’t lean on it when steering the handlebar. The bicycle offered me by a friend to ride through the city was damaged more seriously.
Once in Romania, me and a friend of mine got nearly robbed, but we managed to avert the situation using psychological methods. Other than that, people always were full of cordiality and kindness.
Max. temperature: +55С, in the Kyzylkum Desert; min. temp.: down to –20С in Russia, Scandinavia, and US.
People are of most importance. Meeting people is the most valuable.
The people I met during more than two years of my travels possessed better qualities of character, so, I could learn something from each of them, in order to become kinder, more unselfish. They all have become my teachers, but without edifications and lecturing.
Absolutely all people who crossed my path remained in my memory and heart. Perhaps, it is one of the biggest thing, to feel and get myself convinced that all of us are one.
Once in a while, I was asked if I ever fell in love. Of course, I did it twice.
People I met in Indonesia, Dagestan, and Tajikistan, treated me with maximum hospitality and cordiality.
As I see it, the happiest people are those who live traditionally, according to their ancient customs.
People of Indonesia are the most smiling; they are childishly kind and open-hearted.
A number of meetings with children turned my world-view upside down.
I try to keep in touch via e-mail with everybody I met.
People who had the maximum impact on my life were considered fallen by society. I wrote essays about each of them. There are no bad people, and I know it for sure. One may have difficulties to discern Kind Heart, sometimes hidden due to cruelty around, sometimes due to great fear.
To be a traveler is a great responsibility, because a traveler being abroad represents his own country.This fact didn’t let me lose consciousness and cut me some slack. When I had the opportunity, I showed photos of my country and my family; being in tropical countries, I told people about snow and our way of life. I tried to give something to locals: coins, souvenirs, cards. When I had nothing to share, I bought some flour and cooked simple bread. I wanted to share something with all these hearty people who treated me sometimes like son, sometimes like brother or uncle. People often saw me off with tears in their eyes, and I thought of them as if they were my family. Having adopted Christianity, I became more conscious about my actions when traveling in countries with a different religion. It was an important lesson to be answerable for my deeds, words, actions. It is hard to be a Man, a moral creature, but it is essential, since we are all created in the image of God, and it was terrible to think I could sully that image…
One time in Poland, I found a student ID in the road; it belonged to a girl. There was little money scattered around, cosmetics and other things. I worried about the girl, and it was one year before I managed to find her and know she’s all right.
Traveling is a form of narration. A way of communicating.
During traveling, I got a huge experience in writing. It was a great opportunity to descibe anything that happened to me, or what people said. A big deal of stories. I wrote a real history in a real geography.
The diary I kept since my childhood reflected my mindset. With the help of the diary, I analyzed situations, recorded events, carried on dialogues with myself and my friends, etc. I always learned how to articulate my ideas, drew sketches about various situations. The diary became the basis for the book; it disciplined me. The best way to write to the diary was to do it two or three times a day. It was a perfect method to share online what happened to me with people until I passed on to a handwritten version of the diary.
I was fond of reading since I was a small boy. One day I was moved to read books about spontaneous wanderers. Luckily, I didn’t come across any book by Marshall, London, and Flint at that time. Therefore, I quickly realized I needed to write my own book based on my own travels.
During traveling, I accumulated many stories enough to write several books of various genres.
To listen or to speak? Of course, to listen.
A fairy tale was always my favorite genre, because it is a children’s language. If you want to write in this style, you must remember you are a child yourself. Sometimes you should find within yourself that kid that was hidden in the past.
Once, I had a little library in my cycling bag; it consisted of 5-7 books, which were given to people after I had read them.
I always carry a «writer's kit»: a special notebook to write down diary entries (a big one and a couple of smaller ones), a plenty of ballpens, inks, pencils, and, at times, knitting threads.
Out of my occupation, I have to write much, that’s why I am very exacting about ballpens and paper. At the same time, there have to be at least two pens in each pocket of my cycling bag and in any place easy to reach. I also have a pencil box attached to the handlebars with several pens in it. I could write a whole article about the topic!
The longest period of separation from my family was 14 months.
Before departing to USA, I had a two-week gap, and the choice was between two options: either to stay in a monastery or to see my family. It was not easy to choose, but I decided to go to see my family. I flew home and spend there two weeks and after that went to USA.
My relatives have always been with me, and I never let myself to miss them. But from time to time, I was consumed by waves of oppressive thoughts, and it was hard to get rid of them. “You haven’t seen your family for quite long. What if you’ll never see them again?” That was quite a challenge for me, certainly.
Kept in touch with my relatives by means of letters, internet mesaging, and Skype (once a week); sometimes I sent them audio messages. I didn’t use the telephone for that purpose. When there was no possibility to establish contact, I warned in advance that I would be off-line up to 14 days.
My mom has a geographical atlas, which she used to track my journey wherever I could roam.
I don’t know why, but after the years of my travels, I became capable of more empathic understanding of my family. It is terrible to think how my mom is anxious about me.
We became closer to each other, and we have perfect understanding. My family is my biggest support.
“A prayer of mother pulls out of the jaws of death”—I know it for sure.
I carried small things from my relatives. I call them “Blessings”. These are a knitted cap and a scarf from my mom. Prayers that she wrote down on a piece of paper for me and my sister when we were students. Soft toys (Cat and Beaver) from my sister, which I sometimes put on the handlebars like a navigator.
On the third day from the start, when I arrived to Novosibirsk, I lost the cap that my mother gave me, and when I started to look for it, I promised that if I don’t find it, I will come back home and forget everything. The cap was found.
One day, in the Caucasus mountains, when I was carrying the bike up the snow-capped path, I overstrained myself so much that I totally forgot the names of my relatives. It was one of the most uneasy moments for me. After a while, having got to the top of the peak and taken a short rest, my blood pressure came to normal, and my memory and consciousness settled into shape.
From time to time, I feel guilty about having chosen the life of a wanderer instead of living with my family.
I returned home safe and sound and I believe my organism became stronger, more trained and adaptable to various environment factors.
In deserts, dehydration happened to me. But I was prepared, because I had experience in fasting and traversing desert sands without water. The journey allowed me to know my body better. I stopped being afraid of dying after three dry days. I tested it by experience and I know for sure I won’t die. I don’t worry any more about deserts and heat. I smiled to the sun and I had no protective cloths on. I rode with only shorts on me at +55C.
Sometimes, I rode with a minimal quantity of water. I didn’t worry about having only 0.5-1 liter of water. European cyclers were approaching in the opposite direction and they were carrying big reservoirs of 10 liters. But I could afford it, not because of boldness, but because of the experience. I think everyone should test one’s organism by experience; this is very useful.
One morning in Arctica, my muscles hurt so much I couldn’t ride anymore. The tendons were injured, I could hardly walk. I was walking slowly, step by step, until my body limbered up. Then I rode slowly. I got added evidence that there are people who stop when they are injured and they will keep compaining of bad luck. The other type of people will accept the injury as a lesson and go ahead at all hazards. One should think carefully about it; one should answer to oneself: what will you do, if you are injured and nobody around to help? I took a tough stance on my organism. There were no other way but move forward in any situations, any weather conditions.
By that time, I should have got used to feed on cold food in cold weather. To learn to drink cold water. I took no thermos deliberately to have more mobility and not be attached to comfort.
People asked me: do you get tired? And I knocked on my muscles and said that I am tired for several months and I have no opportunity to slow down and recover.
Once I began to lose consciousness because I was exhausted and dehydrated. This happened two weeks before the day of the finish, on the border between Russia and Mongolia. Several years before that, during an experimental traveling, I studied thoroughly the stages of dehydration and near-unconsciousness. That’s why there was no fear this time.
I was seldom ill or, virtually, wasn’t at all. My organism didn’t let itself to get ill. Only for one day, an adaptation process could launch. This could be accompanied by high temperature, vomiting, nausea, and indigestion. This happened in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Germany, Indonesia, and it always started rapidly and harshly. I fell as if I was shot and couldn’t move for half an hour. During these minutes, I pondered over life: today you’re alive and safe and sound, but the next day you fall and can’t move.
Several times, I harmed my health with early watermelons with potassium nitrate.
I was bitten by a tick in USA. We didn’t go to hospital, and my hand hurt for a couple of months. It cost me great efforts to launch the process of recovery in my body. I still don’t know if the bite was dangerous.
On a daily basis, I carried out various recovery and adaptation procedures, such as muscle stretch, physical exercises, massage, knocking, rubbing essential oils, drinking infusions brewed of carnations, using a needle felting mat. Cold water, of course.
I always carried a first-aid kit, which I could optimize to fit my needs.
Though I frequently felt tired and exhausted, the factors of the process brought me happiness and rest: not only the distance traveled, but conversations with people, my diary, pencil sketches, exploring cultures and ways of life, and home stays. I was always immersed in the process of education and I took part as much as possible wherever I was: in a temple or a school, in a village or on a farm, in a desert or mountains.
I took hazards a couple of times, for instance, when I passed a backtracking point during the climbing on the volcano Merapi, Indonesia.
One of my main goals was to reach the monastery of St. Dmitry in Georgia, where Father Rafael served. I wanted to take baptism there. I met Father Rafael a year before that. It was a long spiritual road, and I firmly decided to follow the way of Christ.
Only the closest relatives knew that I was going to be baptized. Their reaction was like: “Don’t think it’ll be simple. Some forces don’t want you to be baptized”. In spite of all persuasions to go to Georgia by train, I chose one of the hardest routes to the monastery. In Kazakhstan, on my way to a church, I was run over by a car. I worried about my injured hand, because I had mountains ahead. After Kyrgyzstan, I injured my foot in a bad jump. But all these troubles encouraged me not to retreat. “Even if I have to crawl, I will reach Georgia at any costs”, I told myself.
When I traveled around the world, Christianity was my religious priority. I wished to see and experience its diversity. Therefore I routed my way through monasteries and temples.
Two times I managed to stay in orthodox monasteries for more than a week: in Ruisi, Georgia, and Loustari, Russia.
The Serbian itinerary lied through the places related to Elder Tadej of Vitovnica.
Russia, Georgia, and Serbia became my spiritual motherlands.
I gladly familiarized myself with other religions: both established denominations and non-established groups.
It’s a pity I failed to get to the Church of Haile Selassie in New York City.
In Kazakhstan, my fellow traveler, or rather passenger, was Cat. He traveled with me from the outskirts of the town of Abay to the next village. On our way to that village he refreshed himself and then leapt down by the village.
In Azerbaidjan, I noticed a dog that was dying on the roadside. Then, for the first time, I thought how it’s important to have somebody around.
In Thailand, I rode together with a little bird for several days. I picked it up on the roadside, because somebody hurt it. It stayed with me for several days and then died.
The Caucasus was the place where I was attacked by dogs more than anywhere else. Sometimes it happened twenty times a day and even more frequently.
Birds were my dearest friends. Sometimes they saw me off, sometimes met me. I empathized them when strong winds brought them down; I myself could barely stand on my feet setting against the bicycle. Sometimes I could ride several hours running without breaks for a meal or even to take a leak. But a bird soaring in the sky always made me stop and watch it with a sinking heart.
Once in Mongolia, a herd of horses saw me as if I was one of them.
Often watched deers in Scandinavia and America; marmots in the Pamirs. In Mongolia, hundreds of small marmots scattered over the road every morning. In Thailand, small crocodiles, monitor lizards, elephants.
The biggest magic I ever seen was fireflies, which filled forests in the Eastern Europe. The forest took on life and glowed through the night.
The most mysterious and unpredictable Nature is in the equatorial zone. Unknown sounds in the jungles, different forests, the climate, and the cyclicity of precipitation.
Countries of my Heart: Indonesia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Serbia, Georgia.
The vastlands that I will never forget: Scandinavian Arctica, the Pamir Mountains, the Ustyurt Plateau, Kazakhstan steppes, mountains of Azerbaijan, Indonesian volcanoes, the nature of Mongolia.
I came across most of the cyclists in the Middle Asia. Got in the on-season. But there was a period of six months, when I never met one.
Two of those cyclists became my close friends. One of them, Laslo, a Hungarian from Slovakia, speaks Russian. I met him in Azerbaijan, and about six months later I stayed in his house. Now he’s hitting the road again. The second one was Lander from the Spanish part of “Pays Basque”. We became friends in Laos and later rode together in China more than a week from Chengdu to Xian. He has completed his itinerary by now. I could write a book about each of them.
The best clothing I bought on the way was Indonesian sarong. I took two sets.
I was interested in monkhood in every religious tradition I came across.
In America, a huge squirrel was run over in front of my eyes. It died in my hands.
My trip taught me not to be superstitious, to believe in no omens, nor dreams. I’ve learned not to trust myself and the weather.
In Indonesia, I got most of chances to connect with children and take pictures of them. I even think, the people of Indonesia are like kids in a good sense.
Most of all I was interested in People and Nature, in the broadest and deepest sense.
I came across funerals numerous times: in Kazakhstan, Indonesia, USA.
A couple of times I was in three different countries during one day: in Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
When things were tight, I thought about my friends who were, like me, hitting the road at that time. Sometimes I looked at leaves of trees, insects, and pronounced: “If such delicate creatures endure, I can do it, too.”
Bicycle, equipment, and everyday routine
I do enjoy traveling by bicycle.
The components that remained of the original bicycle are the handlebars, the bar ends, the fork, and the luggage carrier. The rest wore out due to long milage and diverse climate conditions.
I’m still uneasy about not having the skill to lace wheels.
I don’t use front racks.
Quite often, I could ride more than five hours running without stops or slowing down.
I was not tired of riding my bicycle, because there were so many interesting things around me every now and then.
I don’t use helmets, because when I do I become inattentive, and in addition to that, the helmet hobbles my movement. I’ve tried to wear helmets.
I really like products of the company “Pick 99”. I always use their cycling bags and tent.
If I had to choose between a camera and a voice recorder, I’d chose the latter.
During the two years, I worn out three simple cameras, three voice recorders (I lost one in Chechnya, the second was broken in Norway; the third wasn’t used much), several phones, which served me as an alarm and a calendar. The last phone included the Wi-Fi option.
Before leaving home, I packed up a box with the necessary outfit. Six months later, I needed the contents of the box, so my family sent me it.
I managed to record around 500 audio files. It was interviews, or just conversations, sounds of nature and animals. But most of all I recorded Voices. The voice recorder is one of my favorite electronic devices.
I had with me a netbook during the first 18 months. I typed reports with the help of it every day. Then I realized I would never travel with a computer anymore.
For the most part, I used paper maps, comparing them from time to time with the electronic ones. Later, I purchased a phone with offline maps in it, but I removed the application to have more opportunities to ask people for directions and talk to them.
I deliberately traveled without a tent during the first six months in order to deprive myself of my individuality. Stayed at the houses of the local people. They invited me, sometimes I knocked on their doors or searched for a shelter to hide from rain.
If I had to ride many miles on a tight timetable, or if the road was tough, I passed the night by my own.
The most times that I put up the tent was in USA.
The most times that I cooked the food was in Europe.
There were periods when I let myself to feed on the survival food: dried crust, water, and sugar.
In some countries, it’s more convenient to buy food; in others to cook for oneself.
As I planned, I had part-time job in USA, Europe, and China.
I had no sponsors. I’ve had overwhelming support from the cycling communities, my friends, the people I met on my way, and from subscribers of my blog in a social network. I really appreciate their help, and I bow my head before every one of them.
I’ve been using chopsticks and wooden spoons for the last five years. I always have many spare chopsticks with me.
Before I started out, I set three main principles: 1) not to stay anywhere for long, no matter how harsh the circumstances are; 2) not to seek for external happiness, which can depend on climate, job offers, or favorable living conditions, but to aspire after Happiness Inside of me; 3) to return HOME.
I have come to love the country named Russia as my Motherland through the realization of her history, political earthquakes, and, of course, her people. Literally, I’ve rooted in this country. I’ve come to love Russia not for her pluses and superficial superiority, but rather for her scars and flaws.
When I got home, it was hard for me to explain to my friends and relatives that it was not the end. Many believed I would settle down and return to the regular life.
I’ve always made fun of myself: “Gone penniless, come penniless”. It’s true. But I have acquired many things, which cannot be assessed in money.
The chief attainment is the realization that it is necessary to do more good unselfishly, without a second thought, without choosing an object for your actions. One should learn to be kind, soften one’s Heart.
To begin with, I would like to thank God and all the Creatures of Nature. The last several years were filled with learning and experience. It is great happiness to get home safe and sound, to return Alive and in Good Health. I am not sad about the World, but grateful to it. Every time people helped me, I took it as the Divine Providence.
I want to thank my family, my closest ones, who understand and accept without many words.
My close Friends, with whom we can talk not only about traveling. I am glad there’s something different that connect us. In spite of the fact that we’re occupied with completely different things.
My bicycle mentors and those wayfarers, so open-hearted , whom I met and then managed to make use of their experience: S. M. Polovinkin, P. F. Konyukhov, Yu. I. Mikhailyuk, V. Ketov, E. Rybin, S. Lukianov.
Those who share my ideas and views, who took part in my trip and tracked it via the Internet. It’s wonderful I managed to meet many of you in real life. Thank you for the friendship and support. Many of you became close to me, though we met only once. But I really consider you my family.
My Soul Brothers, with whom I covered certain sections of my itinerary or just met on crossroads of life. I traveled the longest distance with Tyomka and Lander; with others we rode a couple of days: Kolya (Krasnoyarsk), Andrei (Stavropol), Misha (St. Petersburg), Laslo (Slovakia, Hungary), Tyomka (Ukraine, Russia), Lander (Pays Basque, Spain).
Those bicycle repairers and bicycle communities for the outfit, technical support and the unity of ideas in the following locations: Omsk, Astana, Tashkent, Samarkand, Astrakhan, Pyatigorsk, Stavropol, Krasnodar, Saint Peterbburg, Petrozavodsk, Murmansk, Flagstaff (USA), Pekanbaru (Indonesia), Kunming (China), Baotou (China). Special thanks to Dima (Murmansk) and Sasha (China).
The company “Pick 99” and Sergey Laschevsky.
Volunteers, organizers, and partakers of the project “Rainbow For a Friend: Postcards of Peace and Kindness”. Thanks to you, I managed to meet with children in more than 50 schools and orphanages.
I thank you all! I couldn’t have done it without you!
Thank you so much to those who have read this summary!
(All the above is a minor part presented in theses. I’m going to write more as soon as I go through my diaries. I avoided mentioning the financial matters deliberately, since it’s of no great importance.)
To be continued…