A Bike Journey: from Calgary to Beijing
In May 2017, Kara Folkerts and I embarked by bicycle from our homes in Calgary, Alberta with the aim of reaching Alaska to then fly onwards to Eastern Russia and cycle through Siberia, Mongolia, and China.
Over the course of our journey we experienced an endless rollercoaster of highs and lows. On our second day we had to call Emergency Response Services, in Kamchatka a bear destroyed our camp, weather numbed us to to the bone in Mongolia, and generally speaking our minds and bodies were constantly tested. On the other hand, we also lost ourselves in sweeping landscapes, camped over 100 nights under the sky, cycled alongside herds of gazelle, and encountered the kindest people in the most unexpected places.
Normally, I find myself seeking backcountry endeavours where I can get away from the city, people, technology and whatever else feels taxing in my daily life, but this trip was different and human interaction was an integral aspect that made the journey so worthwhile. Sure there were periods when we didn’t see anyone and we were alone with the wilderness, but some of my favourite moments were from the strangers we encountered. People who welcomed us into their homes with open arms and whose generosity was beyond words. I think a huge part of those interactions are because cycling is relatable to nearly everyone. Maybe not several months of cycling in a one go, but the majority of people do know how to ride a bike and often have fond memories from their own past experiences. These interactions added a special human element to the expedition, serendipitous moments which stand out as some of my fondest memories.
This trip was undoubtably the most arduous undertaking I had ever taken in my outdoor career. I don’t know if it was necessarily the most daring expedition I’ve been on, but it certainly had its own set of unique challenges through a combination of traveling in different cultures, weather fluctuations across half a year, spending 24/7 with the same person, and days where my body felt like it were going to completely shut down. I remember one day near the end of October, we were riding through the eastern end of the Gobi desert and the wind was so fierce it would freeze our water bottles as we rode. In the desert having frozen water is obviously not and ideal situation to be in, so I remember stuffing three litres into my jacket and I still failed to keep them from partially freezing.
Yet, through all the trials and tribulations we persevered, and by mid November, after 10500kms, we cycled through the Great Wall of China and descended downwards into the expansive jungle of Beijing, which marked the end of our journey. As I reflect from this past half-year I can’t help to smile and laugh at what was one of the best decisions of my life.