HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Hi. I’m Rob, a photographer, designer & writer from England. In September 2011, after four years of struggling in the Uk film industry, I sold my possessions, revamped my old work bike and strapped a few bags worth of clothes, camping & camera gear to the back of it & set off for the Himalayas & Sidney Australia. It was the start of a new life on the road, pedalling into the unknown towards the other side of the world. The journey has grown in size over the last three years and is now a round the world, London to London, world cycle. A 30,000km charity circumnavigation of the globe: solo, self-powered & self-supported.
As a storyteller & documentarian my aim has always been to share this journey through photography, cinematography & writing.
I find joy in inspiring others & helping those around the world who feel trapped, alone & lost, like I once did, amongst the routines & struggles of daily life. On top of all that, it’s a chance for me to raise donations for a whole bunch of mental health charities around the globe!
I was born in Oxford & raised in the English cotswolds amongst muddy farmlands & sleepy villages. I spent childhood exploring forests, reading stories of far off worlds & moving between separated families. I was fascinated by space, adventure & the unknown. My Dad, an ex-rockclimber, took us to the Lakelands in the summers. I enjoyed running up the hills, pretending to climb. The stoney valleys my playground.After nearly failing my college studies I travelled up north to the moorlands of Cumbria to study screenwriting & produce documentaries about ocean fisherman & nomadic woodland communities. There I realised that, out of a childhood spent day dreaming, I had a talent for story telling.The windswept marshes of the North were no place to live. I headed for the capital, with big dreams to shoot films & write scripts. But, in London, I struggled to find my feet as a tea-boy in a film & commercials house, failed to adjust to a competitive, money orientated industry. Four years passed. My ideas dried. My creativity faded. My aim lost &, eventually, I found myself friendless, unmotivated & trapped in a confusing, concrete world.
A struggle with OCD had been kept a secret all my life. Each time I settled in one place, the disorder caught up with me, creeping into my mind & bleeding over into the life & career I was trying to create.
I would always have to move on. In London I became depressed from it. Struggled to work on projects or connect with people around me & became increasingly isolated. I couldn’t remember why I’d even moved to the city or what my dreams had first been. Finding my mind blank & without ideas, without ways of getting on, up or out. Opportunity was everywhere, but I was living in the dark & felt only sadness. I missed the smaller projects, the student days out in the wild with a camera. I missed nature & the peace & quiet it provided. The farmlands of my home & the forests that I’d played in. I needed to escape the city, but I could find no way out.
One day, on a desk at work, I saw a book titled The Man Who Cycled the World. A picture in the book was of a man, riding down a winding dusty track, across a vast Himalayan landscape, far from any civilization & cycling high into the clouds. I looked from the book to my commuter bike &, in that moment, an idea was born. A window appeared in my mind. Beyond it, the whole world. Roads & paths opened up before me.
I saw a way back into the world of nature, to the freedom I had lost. No hotel rooms required. No flight tickets needed & within a few hours I’d bought a guide to Adventure Cycling from the nearest bookshop & planned a route. It was confirmed, I was going to cycle around the world.
Six hard months later, sleeping on rooftops & couches, selling everything I’d owned, hiding myself away to save every penny I had, I found myself with only a handful of possessions, a tent & a bicycle, about to ride off for the other side of the earth. It was time to create a story for myself. To put words into action and break the idea that epic journeys, that life changing events only ever happened in stories I had read as a child.
Cycling The World
Cycling over 30 countries, two thirds of which will take place in Australia, China & the US alone – the journey, which I thought would take a couple of years, is now looking more like four by the time I reach London again.
Are you really alone?
Yes. There is no support crew. No van waiting for me down the road. This for me is the excitement & the challenge of it all – being out there on your own, pushing your limits & having to think for yourself to overcome problems.
How do you know which route to take?
I don’t always know. Often I check the route the night before on road maps I have gathered or downloaded. Sometimes the beauty is in getting lost or just asking locals as you go. Asking if your on the right road is a great way of beginning conversations. Through Europe I had professional road maps. But, as I entered more remote landscapes, I would often be going off a drawing a local had made or an image I had taken a picture of. Though, in these places, there was usually only one road across the desert or the mountains & it went two ways: forward of back.
How do you find & carry enough food & water?
My super tight budget means that local supermarkets & roadside stands are my usual way to get food. In the beginning I tried to eat healthy & fruit and veg was always available in Europe but, into the deserts, you’ll often be faced with 100km+ stretches where there are no towns or cafe’s or stalls of any kind & so you have to plan ahead.
When you do reach a shop the instinct is to go straight for sugar – icepops & boiled sweets just to get you through it – but I try to resist those urges.
Over the course of the journey so far I’ve bought extra bike bags just to accommodate food & mostly I fill them with nuts, bread, jams, pasta, tuna & boiled sweets – anything that will last a long time or is quick to cook on my porta-stove.
Are you a pro cyclist?
Definitely not or at least I wasn’t. I’ve always ridden a bike. As a kid around the villages. As an adult to & from work each day in London. I love the freedom it brings. I love the independence it creates. There was no training before this trip. The first couple of weeks out of London was training enough. I did some workshops put on by Evans Cycles on how to repair & clean a bike properly, went for a ride from Oxford to London to see my mum & that was it! Anyone can do an adventure like this. The only thing you need is the will power & a passion for discovery. You’ll learn the rest out there on the road.
How far do you ride a day?
If I reach the 100km mark it’s been a good day. If I don’t it’s usually because I have just been enjoying the scenery or snapping away with the camera, but sometimes too the roads have been bad or weather cold or hot or rainy or windy. Even when in the deserts, with a lack of nutritious food leaving me tired & feeling unable to ride long distances, there’s always been adrenalin & will power to get me through the toughest rides. In China, I managed to push myself to 200 & 300km rides. Not something I would recommend doing though!
Are you cycling every day?
The need to stop is usually due to the need to edit, write & try to update the website & social networks. I’d love to be on the road all the time, but it’s so important for me to share this story. I am not wanting to be on holiday anymore or away from it all. I escaped in Europe & now I am trying to create & share & inspire & so about a third of my time on this adventure is spent off the bike. But, this is also recovery time and a chance to reflect on what I have done so far, how I am feeling, whether I am capturing and thinking & creating in the way I want & how I can approach the next section of the journey or simply I have just met families or made new friends who want me to stay for a while & enjoy time with them.
In china, for three solid months I rode non-stop & in complete isolation for most of my time on it’s vast, wet highways with no real contact & I’d started to feel a little lost. It’s important in life to reflect, find purpose, find drive & connect with the world & this is certainly not a race.
What camera & video equipment do you use?
For photography a Canon 5D MkII DSLR. A trusty, durable & high end digital camera that, even if expensive & top of the range, is a safe bet for a long journey like mine. It has great video & full frame photography capabilities. I’m not into the tech side of stuff, for me it’s all about the journey that a camera can take you on. The camera, like the bike, is a bridge to the world, to meeting new people, discovering new places, but the 5D & my solid 24mm f1.4 L series lens means that I have a chance of creating photos that are usable upon whether to publish in books or make prints or to sell.
Since leaving Hong Kong, for video thanks to a Kickstarter backing, I now have a GoPro Hero 3 to capture the last 25,000km of the adventure for Youtube.
How do you carry everything?
The bicycle is my home. My entire life. Everything I need is resting on the back of two thin wheels. The first bike Jake was the same bike used to ride to & from work everyday in London. He took me from one edge of a continent to another – thousands of miles across stony mountain passes & barren desert roads.
The second bike Sixty, after Jake got cracked in half, is now carrying the waterproof bags, loaded with tools, winter clothing, spare tyres & sleeping gear. The custom touring-spoked wheels are fitted with marathon tyres. The handlebars have multiple riding positions for long rides & the Brooks saddle is the toughest in the world, made of leather that shapes to your body over time.
Aren’t you scared?
Not anymore. I was scared in the early days. Scared of wild camping, of losing my stuff, getting lost & reaching remote countries. But the further I travelled & the more remote the journey became, the less fear I felt. Particularly, in the deserts & mountains of Central Asia people were so welcoming, so amazed to see me on my bike riding through their unseen lands that I was met by only kindness & felt only safety, regardless of stories of banditry & kidnappings & some of the racist outlooks we have in Western society.
The scariest moment came before I left London, imaging that I might be sat in an office chair for another five years & after the first day’s ride I’ve felt only increasing joy, even though there have been tough times, I always come back to the thought that I am free, at the very least now, I am free & the world is my oyster again.
Do you get lonely?
No. Maybe because of the kind of person I am, I enjoy being alone, being around the same people for too long triggers my compulsive disorder, I get irritable and frustrated. But, also I just enjoy the peace, the thoughtfulness that comes with being alone in a desert, staring at a sunset or looking down across a mountain valley.
But I know that, if I ever do feel lonely, people will always be around the corner, a hostel full of travellers or a family welcoming me into their home, will always be somewhere up ahead on the road to come as long as I have a smile, a wave & some kindness at my disposal.
My time around people is intensified & made more enjoyable after weeks alone on the road & I cherish the social moments much more now in that way.
Do you cycle every km?
I have tried & still try to cycle all the way. It doesn’t bug me if I have to hitch a truck. I’m not strict about it & there have been a few moments, because of injuries, mudslides & visa expiries when hitching a truck or car have been necessary for fifty or a hundred kilometres or so. But the truth is, I miss being on the bike after five minutes inside the vehicle. The world moves by too quickly in trains & trucks & I get frustrated not seeing it all from the saddle. My aim is to take planes & boats only when absolutely vital… like crossing the Pacific ocean. The whole point of the trip is also the struggle of cycling the whole way – the challenge is healthy & the reason why people should donate!
What about your family?
My family, I hope, will all be there when I get back & when I do get back I will appreciate home all the more. I needed time away from everything I considered normal, usual, this included family. It’s the deal I made upon embarking. It’s part of the package of adventure.