GLOBE-trotting on a bicycle is not everyone’s idea of adventure especially with air travel being so cheap — didn’t they say everyone can fly these days?
A young Frenchman talks about his cycling odyssey through Asia
However, for the intrepid travellers cycling offers the fascinating opportunity to feel the pulse of the places they pass through.
This was what 28-year old Nicolas Ternisien from Dieppe, France had in mind when he embarked on his two-wheel odyssey through Asia.
He worked hard and saved even harder to make his Asian dream tour come true — a quest inspired during his backpacking days in Australia. After saving for two-and-a-half years, the Frenchman quit his day job, bought himself a second-hand GIANT touring bike and from Paris, flew to Tokyo in April 2009 — the first of his many Asian pit-stops.
Sporting a crew cut, the lanky French spoke passionately about his ‘Lonely Planet’ adventures and the people he met along the way. When he arrived in Kuching early last month, he had cycled for eleven months — carrying with him 50 kilogrammes of essential gears and some books, strapped on the bicycle’s front and rear panniers.
He still had another 19 months to go and he and his best friend had spent seven months exploring Japan, two weeks in China before boarding a plane to the Philippines where he spent another two months on the saddle, sweeping through the country’s many islands.
In February, Nicolas took a ferry to Borneo; arriving first at Sandakan, Sabah and then pedalled part of the way to Kuching.
Despite the long journey, he will make time to stop and absorb the local scenes. When asked about his eccentric choice of transport, Nicolas cheerfully rationalised that cycling was faster than walking, and way cheaper than buying a car. In Japan, cycling enabled him to avoid boarding the expensive Shinkansen (bullet train).
Cycling, he said was a ‘fair means of transportation’ to meet the local people and to also go off the beaten paths inaccessible by cars.
By nightfall, Nicolas would camp near the bushes or at parks. Friendly locals would also invite him to their homes and share their meals. And when he desperately needed to do his laundry or update his family and blog, he would spend a few days in a backpackers’ lodge. However, he would rather pitch his tent because he believes no one should pay for their sleep.
His most unforgettable camping experience is the time he spent zipped in a summer sleeping bag during Japan’s cold winter nights; wearing all four layers of his clothes and clutching the pocket heater to keep his frozen feet warm.
However, cycling is not without its hazards. He had lost some of his gears to petty thieves, forced to detour or lost his way along the way. At one point in the Philippines, his rear spokes would fall apart every ten kilometres and he prayed that he could go a bit further and find a place to fix it.
Despite all the trials he had to go through the young man maintains a positive attitude. He is also prepared for the worst case scenario of losing his bicycle along the way. If that happened, Nicolas said that he would end his journey there and then.
For him, to have started this adventure and gotten this far is already a dream come true. And since he cycled at his own pace, he never had cramps or overstretch himself.
On the brighter side, things did not go wrong all the time, Nicolas quipped. There were also moments to savour and the best among them were the warm welcome from the local people who were usually fascinated by his fully loaded bicycle. Children would run along his bicycle cheering and waving. These simple gestures always motivated him.
These moments of joy and the breathtaking sights he saw along the way were better experienced than told, he said.
Nicolas records such moments, his feelings and thoughts, in a small journal which gets bulkier each day with extra notes from the many friends he made along the road.
“If you are in a good shape and have a dream to cycle around the world, your city or country, just do it. Don’t give yourself excuses. If you have no money, save. Always remember that your own trip will be the best and most special in the world.”
After Kuching, Nicolas Ternisien would head to Kalimantan before cycling through Indonesia all the way to Papua New Guinea.
After Indonesia he plans to make his way to Indo-China and India before flying back home to France. He blogs his bike touring adventures at http://nicoenasie.blogspot.com.