The distance is over 11,000 miles, and this maniac did it
Back in December I had the pleasure of working alongside freelance writer Oli Broom from the UK. Oli flew in to Denmark to write several articles about the cycling culture here (or just culture, as the locals kept reminding him), and one of the stories we were covering centred around CycloCross for CyclingPlus magazine.
I was a little hungover as I stood there waiting for Oli to arrive at Skovbrynet Station, but arrive he did – on a Brompton bike. For those of you not in the loop with types of bicycles, a Brompton is basically a very-well-built bike that can be folded for storage. In other words, they’re designed more for convenience and portability than for speed and comfort. Bare in mind it was also winter, so I was even more puzzled to see that Oli had cycled the entire 13km from Copenhagen sans gloves, which meant his arse was really aching and his fingers were completely numb.
But the physical torture wasn’t over for Oli, who then had to keep up with a group of hardcore cyclists on much faster bikes as we travelled another 1.5km up and down hills in order to reach our photoshoot location in the woods.
I wasn’t struggling too much – even with my camera equipment strapped to my back. But naturally Oli was a bit behind, so I waited for him at the top of the hill and watched him huff and puff his way towards me.
“How’s it goin’ fella?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m alright,” he replied. “This is nothing compared to some of my earlier trips.”
“Such as…?” I enquired.
“Such as the time I cycled from London to Brisbane.”
Now my interest was peaked, so for the next few minutes Oli told me his story; a story that lead to him becoming a writer.
Alone in the woods
Oli’s tale is centred around The Ashes – a huge cricket tournament played by Australia and England every year. One year it’s played in England, the next in Australia, and so on and so on. The trophy is a small vessel containing the ashes of the cricket stumps of the first ever tournament, and it’s extremely tiny and very modest. Cricket fans (like all fans, I suppose) are passionate about the sport and the results, but I’ve never met anyone passionate enough to cycle to the other side of the world to watch it. In fact, when I try to discuss cricket with the Danes, not one of them gives a shit. Fair enough; if a sport isn’t popular in your country then chances are you’re not that in to it. Still, knowing how much the Danes love their sport I’m surprised that no-one has tried to introduce it to them.
Anyway, I digress…
Oli and 17 friends left London for the South Coast of England on 10th October 2009. When they finally reached Dover, 16 members of the group turned around and headed back to their safe jobs and relationships. Oli, however, jumped on a ferry to Dunkirk to begin his cycling adventure through 23 countries.
“My first night camping alone in a forest was pretty scary,” he told me. “And it was only Belgium, so not particularly renowned for violence or crime.” Still, luckily for Oli he was carrying seven cricket bats that were given to him by a sponsor. “I played cricket in 19 countries and gave a bat away to any deserving cricketers I met along the way.” A great cover story for the cops when you’re caught busting someone’s face open in the woods past midnight.
After cycling through Europe and parts of Africa on his Santos touring bike, Oli flew to Mumbai in India and cycled onwards to Dakar and down to South East Asia. And it was whilst in Thailand that he was struck down with Dengue Fever – a mosquito-borne tropical disease brought on by a virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. In some circumstances it can be life-threatening.
For two weeks Oli lay in hospital with thoughts of quitting: “I thought of giving up at that point,” he told me. “I was tired and really ill, and all I wanted to do was go home.”
Thankfully the illness passed and he eventually arrived in Darwin in Northern Australia via a cattle boat. But his journey was far from over.
For another two months Oli cycled hundreds of miles through the harsh outback of Australia, changing over from the smooth but dangerous asphalt roads with their constant stream of road trains, to the tougher dirt roads that were often covered in thick sand. To make things more difficult, Oli was carrying up to 15 litres of water at one point, plus 65kg of baggage.
Amazingly, 412 days after setting off Oli reached the Ashes tournament in Brisbane and was greeted by England cricketer Andrew Straus. To make the whole experience even sweeter, England won 3-1 to retain the Ashes, meaning that Oli could return home to start work on his book, CYCLING TO THE ASHES: A Cricketing Odyssey from London to Brisbane.
Hate your job? Then quit!
After our photoshoot we cycled back and chatted some more. Listening to Oli it was clear just how much this experience had opened up his world to new possibilities and opportunities. Not only has his book received glowing reviews from celebrities and members of the public, but his ideas continue to blossom and I genuinely felt inspired by them. As we sat on the train I could feel the juices flowing in my own head. Instead of explaining them to you here, you should go follow him on Twitter, or check out his new website www.slowcyclist.co.uk – especially if you want to join him on his next cycling adventure to Transylvania.
The reason I wanted to share Oli’s remarkable story was for two reasons. Firstly, his life before the trip was office-based and he’d had enough. Lots of us find ourselves in this situation, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who regretted giving that lifestyle up after they chose to do so. Myself included.
Secondly, to iterate my original point, this crazy bastard CYCLED over 11,000 miles to watch a bit of cricket. Remember that next time you drive five minutes down the road to buy a pork pie from the supermarket.