Roads and Rocks around the world
Last week, you’ve discovered Noémie ans Adam. Let’s meet them again in their adventures around the world, cycling and climbing.
Can you tell us about some memorable encounters?
In 28 months of travel, memorable encounters are in the dozens. However, some characters taught us a lot.
On Telendos, the neighbouring island of Kalymnos, the white and blue facade and walls covered with climbing photos of the Café Restaurant Rita are the first thing you see. The boss, Yannis, 60, started climbing when it blew up on the island fifteen years ago. He explains that because of his heart problems, his doctor forbids him to climb above 6c, so he makes sure everything is 6c even if it’s harder… During our two weeks camping on the beach not far from his cafe, we spent most evenings with him. He told us about the life of the island before climbing changed it, the Greek crisis, the new taxes imposed on him every year, the old resentments with Turkey, the bombs they find under the sea and the way they recycle explosives to throw them off the cliff for any celebration: Easter, weddings, funerals, new car, sun, rain, anything!. He also tells us about a multi pitch he’s helping to bolt that will bear the name of his wife, Rita.
In Boysun in Uzbekistan, I’m looking for fruit and vegetables when I meet a young European. His handlebar bag under the arm tell me that he too is travelling by bike. Constantino is German, 19 years old and he left alone from Germany with the money he put aside while working at the same time he passed his A-levels. By the greatest of chances, we camp only a few feet from his tent the next day, emerging from either side of a bush unknowingly in the morning. We catch him up on the road just before the border with Tajikistan. We share exciting conversations, moments of fun and we have the same pace. He will be our travelling companion for more than 30 days, convincing us to ride with him on the most adventurous road we have taken so far in the Zorkul National Park in Tajikistan. 10 days above 4000m altitude without seeing a village, to admire the incredible landscapes of the Afghan Hindu Kush and the high Pamir.
The sun has just set behind Mount Insu-bong in Bukhansan National Park in South Korea. We are at the bottom of a steep hill wondering where to put up the tent. A car stops with a jerk of the handbrake. Bop Chul is a Buddhist monk who “loves cycling and wants to give us oranges”. When he asks where we are going to spend the night, we are honest and reply that we don’t know yet. After phoning his temple, he explains that he would have liked to invite us but all the rooms are occupied. However, he really wants to help us and offers us a hotel room. Despite our protests he insists that money is not a problem and that in Korea it is rude to refuse an invitation. Once sheltered for the night, he invites us to the restaurant and watches us eat while listening to our travel stories. A few days later, he will offer to store our bikes in his room while we live for 5 days in a mountain hut to climb Insu-bong.
In Korea it is rude to refuse an invitation.
Which places gave you the most emotions?
Each country, each place, each landscape provides different emotions, each affected by the state of mind in which we are at the time. We remember the frustration of winter in Germany, Austria, Slovenia. The joy of sharing the road and some beautiful campsites on the Adriatic coast with my brother Sylvain for two months. The surprise and the impression of having made a trip back in time crossing the border of Albania. The happiness of finally being in the right place at the right season to climb for a month on Kalymnos. The incredible, beautiful and diverse Turkish landscapes and the generosity and kindness of its inhabitants. The hilarity in Azerbaijan when street vendors run after us to give us a watermelon each, every single day during our 10 days in the country with my sister Floriane. Cultural detachment when trying to figure out which part of which raw sea creature we are eating in Korea with Adam’s Dad or when a shake of the head from side to side means yes in Turkey, not no.
Each country, each place, each landscape provides different emotions.
Then the change of scenery of Central Asia, these little known and sometimes feared ‘stans. Deserts as far as the eye can see remind us of the insignificance of our existence. The camels coming out of nowhere running next to us, children and old timers’ smiles who live in mud and hay houses at the foot of the Pamir Mountains topping out at over 7000m. Tajikistan remains our favorite country, with breathtaking landscapes, a real sense of adventure on unpredictable bumpy roads and its people of endless smiles and generosity.
Southeast Asia is first of all a culinary experience, where we discover the true meaning of the word spicy and many unknown flavours. In Laos, the trails along the Mekong invite us to dream, the absence of relief and the view of isolated villages provide us with a sense of unequalled relaxation. In South Korea, the cultural shock is a real challenge that constantly stirs our curiosity and our climbing guidebook written in very poor English gives us the impression of discovering cliffs that very few foreigners have found. For a year and a half we travelled through countries in which we had never set foot before. The constant feeling of novelty and surprise gives us the motivation to keep moving forward.
Once in North America, although on a continent we already knew something about, the surprises do not stop. On the Pacific coast, we never got bored. Watching humpback whales plunging into the waves, seals lounging on the rocks, pelicans diving for fish, pedalling through tall centuries-old trees to finally get to Yosemite, at the foot of these internationally famous granite giants. Going for several days of vertical adventures on a big wall provides a very special feeling.
You start with the anxiety of not getting there, you forget time on long aid climbing pitches where every meter won is an adventure in itself. Sleeping suspended above the void at the mercy of the elements with a breathtaking view reminds us why we do what we do. Even if reaching the top is the goal and a pure moment of joy, failing and having to bail reminds us that the most important thing is the journey and not the destination.
You start with the anxiety of not getting there…
As a general rule, long distance cycle touring and big wall climbing are extremely rewarding. There is the pride of having reached somewhere with the sole strength of one’s legs and one’s will, and there is the look, the curiosity and the benevolence of those whom you meet on any continent, in any country, rich or poor.
On a practical level, how much does it cost to consider a trip like yours, and what implications on your life before that had?
Travelling by bike does not cost a lot, especially when you don’t pay to sleep. Our only expenses are food, replacement of used equipment and administrative costs (visas, bank charges, insurance …). Our budget therefore depends largely on the standard of living of each country. In Europe in winter, we struggled to spend less than 450 euros per month per person while in Tajikistan, 300 euros was enough for us both to eat well for 45 days. In general, we tend to say that despite everything, we always end up spending more than expected and having some leeway gives greater freedom. Since our equipment is kept to a minimum, it is put to the test on a daily basis and we naively thought that buying quality would allow us not to have to replace it. The reality is quite different. After 20000km by bike, we are at our 6th chain and our second pair of tires. In the same way, after a year of climbing, we are on our third rope and our third pair of climbing shoes. Light-weight quality gear lasts longer and allows us to not waste time looking for what we need in remote areas, but it costs money.
The first big difference with our life before is the distance that separates us from our friends and families. However, our families managed to visit us once a year and we came back last September to visit our grandparents who wouldn’t be able to travel.
Travelling by bike does not cost a lot, especially when you don’t pay to sleep.
After 28 months without working, we also have the feeling to have tasted a freedom we can no longer live without. We got used to having plenty of time to read and learn about countries and the world in general, to develop skills for which we did not have the time when we were working. Finally, this trip reinforced us in the idea that living simply with the minimum brings the greatest wealth: that of living your life without running after time or material possessions. Learning to live with limited comfort allows you to work only the minimum.
For people who would consider doing the same thing as you, even on a smaller scale, what advice would you give them?
The only rules are the ones we impose on ourselves and what works for some people might not be good for others. In our opinion, the most relevant advice is not to wonder too much. We learn with experience, the hardest is just starting. All that matters is to get on the road, once you’re on it you can go anywhere.
Many Thanks to Noémie and Adam for sharing their adventures !
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