The inspirational Sarah Outen is currently on her rowing boat, happy socks, on the North Pacific Ocean somewhere between Japan and Canada as part of her London to London: via the World mission. In this post Sarah recalls some of the best moments on her journey around the world and kindly shares some of her adventures with us. You can follow Sarah's journey at https://www.sarahouten.com.
- Sarah Outen aboard her boat; Happy Socks
A few days after cycling into China from Kazakhstan a young guy bounced up to me in a petrol station to ask if it was my bike outside. He was keen to know about my journey and said that he wanted to have a cycling adventure one day, but didn't know how. I told him that it was simple – you just get a bike and off you go. We both went our separate ways but half an hour later Gao appeared in a car with his brothers, honking the horn. He stopped and ran across the road, telling me that he wanted to come with me – to cycle to Beijing. After initially thinking how I could let him down politely, within ten minutes or so I had changed my mind. He was so full of enthusiasm and energy that I said yes, even though he didn't currently own a bike. I wrote him a shopping list and we arranged to meet in a couple of days in the next big city. Two days later, a shaven headed nervous young guy in new Lycra knocked on my door.
- Gao and his new bike
Some thirty-five days later we arrived in Beijing, having cycled nearly 4,000 km across his country and surviving not only the searing heat of the Gobi desert but also China’s crazy truck traffic. I am so glad that Gao had the courage to ask me to join and that I had the courage to say yes. We had an incredible time together and the guy who had never cycled more than 10 km in his life before had changed his life forever. It just goes to show that a bit of grit, coupled with the courage to say yes and commit is the best way to make things happen.
2. The Kazakh Steppe
The steppe of Kazakhstan is very dusty and pretty empty. As I bounced along dirt track roads I often went hours or a whole day without seeing anyone. Lizards scuttled across my way or snakes wandered out into the sun.
Buzzards hovered and eagles soared. Wild flowers, if there were any, wafted in the breeze, for it was mostly windy across Western Kazakhstan. I remember one afternoon very well as I cycled along towards dusk, singing remnants of songs that I half-remembered. All of a sudden I noticed an eagle explode from the side of the road just ahead of me and fly away to a telegraph pole in the distance. I grinned at having seen an eagle up close like that and then looked to see where it had flown from – what had it been doing right next to the road? I wondered if I might see the half munched remains of some small furry creature. Instead I saw a small furry half grown creature. It was an eagle chick, sat in its nest, white and fluffy and pretending to be dead, sitting ever so still. Wildlife encounters are one of my favourite things about expeditions and I love the way that being on a bike offers a certain degree of stealth, meaning that wild animals can be observed without disturbing them.
3. Island of Sakhalin
The Russian island of Sakhalin is wild and rugged; often roads have no decent surface and are more or less liquid or sludge depending on the recent rainfall. It can make for super challenging cycling, especially when pedalling a fully laden bike, which can be both brilliant and miserable. I remember slipping and sliding down hills and crawling my way up them as I pedalled from Tange on the west coast of the island down to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on mostly disastrous road surfaces – though gruelling and the source of many tears and deep fatigue, I loved that leg in that happy way that generally only happens afterwards.
It was made special by the people, especially the children I met on the way – the three boys who rode with me out of town in the rain and the other group of children off school for the holidays who sat and chatted with me outside a village shop as I munched an ice cream. It was often people’s kindness that I took as the most special memories of the day – travelling by bicycle is an extraordinary way to experience humanity.
4. Towada Hachimantai National Park
Seven months into the journey from London and I was pedalling through the autumn in Japan, climbing up and down the mountains of Towada Hachimantai National Park. It was beautiful and I was lucky with the weather – perfect temperature for cycling. Whizzing down hills as the colours of autumn flashed past was wonderful, but the evening I remember the most is camping on the shores of Lake Tazawa, skinny dipping as the sun set and then settling down with a camp fire by the tent. I even had a beer to celebrate my seventh month on the road.
I love the changing parade of scenery as you edge your way across a country or a continent, waking up somewhere new every day.
5. Kindness and Trust
Russia and Kazakhstan were the friendliest countries on my journey and I met many fabulously warm people who welcomed me in to their lives and looked after me. The most memorable of them all is probably Natasha and Natasha – two friends who saw me standing outside the local shop pondering my way when they invited me back to their house for tea. Almost as soon as I arrived they gestured that I should stay and eat with them and sleep there too. Even though we didn't have a common language besides drawing, we had a wonderful evening sharing stories and laughing together. It was just one example of the kindness shown to me on my journey and I was sorry that I needed to move on first thing the next morning – for I would have loved to stay a few days. I don’t think it would happen in the UK – would you invite a traveller into your home for the night without knowing anything about them? A bike journey is a beautiful lesson in kindness and trust.