Married on New Year’s Eve 2013, Fran and Philip decided 2014 was the year to really challenge themselves – and their marriage – by embarking on a bold journey to cycle from China to South Africa.
One year, 17 countries and 18,226 kilometres later, we chat with the pair – who met in Perth, Australia but hail from South Africa and Britain, respectively – about their incredible adventure and their first year of marriage on the road.
First of all, it’s a very, very long way from Kashgar, China to Cape Town, South Africa. Why did you two decide cycling was the best way to travel?
“It had to be on bikes. We cycle a lot, anyway. Philip has been riding and fixing bikes since childhood and we both love the freedom of the bicycle. Plus, we’d have quickly got bored of sitting in a car for a year.”
As you had to carry a year’s worth of luggage on your bicycles, how did you pack for this adventure? What were the key considerations when choosing the best gear and clothes to take?
“The key considerations for cycle touring are weight, packed size and weight again! When departing China we [realised we] had – unsurprisingly – over-packed.
“After around two months, we had gradually refined and reduced our initial load further. We ended up with only two sets of clothes, no spare shoes and with kitchenware that comprised a foldable bowl and spork each and a single small pan. Some weight we couldn’t move, however, was the bike spares and tools, which probably made up the most bulky items we carried.”
What were some of your favourite memories from the trip?
“That's a difficult question to summarise. Generally our favourite moments of the trip occurred when we were least expecting them, and were certainly not anything we had found in any guide book.
“The moments of solitude during night camps in the desert were very special. The stillness and quiet we experienced will be hard to recreate elsewhere, and the fact of knowing we were the only two people for miles in every direction. Many times we watched the sun drop on one horizon and the moon rise from the opposite horizon.
“[Also,] meeting the many diverse groups of people along the way and immersing ourselves in their cultures invariably provided the most entertainment and fondest memories; in particular the hospitality in Uzbekistan and Turkey stood out for us.”
What were some of the hardest moments?
“We’ll assume that the constantly sore, tender legs are a given for a trip of this nature…
“Our recurring daily chore was the seemingly straightforward task of finding a place to eat and a place to sleep each night. This sounds easy, but after a long day in the saddle upon arrival in some obscure village, this was not always the case…
“[For example,] we spent our first night in Cairo in a tiny storage cupboard behind the reception of a hotel, in Turkey we slept under the grandstand of a small football stadium, and countless nights we were forced to pitch the tent behind bushes a few metres off the main road. Because of this, maintaining conviction that this whole thing was a good idea was difficult at times…
“Overall though, the hardest part of this trip for us was deciding to start it. This required quitting our jobs, storing our possessions, and digging deeply into the savings pot.”
How did this adventure strengthen your relationship?
“Well, it's amazing how quickly you get to know someone when you are helping one-another shower in the middle of a desert every day with a splash of water and a wet wipe!
“We are now acutely aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can probably see in advance when something is going to work, or not work. Above all, our tolerance levels had to improve pretty quickly. The disagreements we did have were sorted out pretty promptly because we only had each other to depend on and disagreements were not allowed to linger for long.”
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a similar adventure?
“Just go and do it. Set a date and start saving.[Also] it’s unnecessary to plan too meticulously – we planned our general route and a rough timeline but circumstances as we moved required flexibility, and even our best-laid plans tended to change as we progressed. Don't get overwhelmed with the amount of planning you think you need to do.”