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Around the World on Two Wheels

news2Cyclist sets off on a 30,000-mile bike ride

Twenty-seven-year-old Sean Ardley has spent much of his life perched on the seat of a bicycle, and much of the rest of his time doing something related to bicycles. He began mountain biking at age 4 through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, got his first job at Santa Cruz Bicycles when he was 14 years old, and spent the last four years working at Ibis Cycles.

On May 14, he embarked on a journey that he hopes will inspire others to hop on a bicycle more often.

 

“Bicycles are underestimated in terms of what can be done with them,” Ardley says. “It’s a really viable method of transportation that people don’t seem to use because we have this culture of cars. There are a lot of people who don’t do it, not because of any actual aversion, but because they just haven’t tried or considered it. I’m interested in showing people that you can actually go really far on a bicycle in not a lot of time.”

In his case, “really far” is a whopping 30,000 miles, which he plans to do by circling the globe over the course of 10 months. The Santa Cruz native left from our seaside town and headed north to traverse Canada and Alaska. The route will then take him through Russia—where he will face 2,000 straight miles of dirt road—to Turkey, from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, up the length of South and Central America, and, finally, from Miami, Fla. to San Francisco.

Ardley’s course includes a few plane flights and ferry rides when necessary, such as a flight from the United States to Russia, another over the dense Panama jungle, and a strategic flight that allows him to skip over a tumultuous Middle East.

“As my route stands right now, it is the closest to a circumference of the globe that anyone will have tried to ride,” says Ardley, later conceding that, “there is no real database for things people have tried to do.” Still, as far as Google can tell, Ardley would be the first to complete such a journey.

He hatched the plan more than a year ago when he stumbled upon the current world records for miles biked in a day (110 at the time; 144 currently, he says) and felt compelled to try and beat them. But upon further investigation, he realized that beating the record would require a strict schedule, sticking to well-off countries and “cherry-picking” the smoothest roads—not exactly the kind of adventure he had in mind.

“I’ve decided that, if I’m going around the world, I’d much rather not have to stick to the nicest roads that allow me to go the fastest, and instead have a good adventure of it,” says Ardley. “So I’m no longer considering a world record or anything like that, although that was what inspired me to do it.”

He hopes to be home in time for his 28th birthday on March 15, 2013—a timeline that requires him to cover about 100 miles per day. However, he says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if I take some detours and extend my time.”

Ardley quit his job at Ibis Cycles at the end of 2011 to plan the trip. “I was planning to make a career change anyway,” he says. In addition to training for the ride, Ardley took that time to study for the Graduate Record Examinations, which he took a few weeks before hitting the road. Upon returning, he hopes to study math as a graduate student.

Among the concerns that understandably led his mother to try to talk him out of the trip are wild animals, weather (although he is “following summer around the world,” which helps), thieves and terrorists. Due to strict Canadian gun policies, he didn’t start off with a firearm in tow, although he may try to pick one up along the way. In the meantime, he’s equipped with bear spray. “It’s like mace, but a whole lot of it with a lot of repellent,” Ardley says. Can bear spray also be used on terrorists? “I hope I don’t have to do that, but I’m sure you can,” he laughs.

Although he is going without a tent (thus the concern about being attacked by bears), solo (for most of the time), and unsupported (no help—that would be cheating), Ardley was surprisingly calm and collected when he met with GT just before his May 14 departure.

His biggest source of worry is disease, which he prepared for by receiving a dozen vaccinations and stocking up on medications that are likely to come in handy. He says a large part of overcoming this fear is acceptance: “Being laid up with digestive system issues at some remote truck stop in Africa for a week sounds kind of terrible, but it’s something I’m willing to risk,” he says. “And it’s probably inevitable … so as long as you’re comfortable with that fact, why not?”

(He also harbors some mild curiosities about his inevitably compromised hygiene, musing that, “that many days without a shower could be bad for you.”)

In a worst-case scenario, Ardley can phone in to be helicoptered out using the satellite phone he has taken along. The phone, which he will charge using a small, built-in solar panel on his bike, is his main means for updating his website, thelongcourse.com, “160 characters at a time” through text messaging. He plans to post longer updates and photos (his main concession in terms of heavy gear is a nice camera) when and where Internet is available.

Ardley expects to sleep on the side of roads and in ditches; hitchhike if he has mechanical problems with his bike; and rely partially on the kindness of locals for food along the way. “It’s really a fine line between bicycle touring and being a transient,” he jokes. In the days leading up to his departure, he learned some last-minute Russian to aid in his adventures.

Aside from the personal quest and his desire to raise awareness about bicycling, Ardley is riding for another cause: the World Bicycle Relief, an Africa-based nonprofit that donates bicycles with the goal of empowering people. While Ardley will not be accepting any money personally, he is asking anyone who wants to support his trip and message to do so by donating to World Bicycle Relief. 

“This is the inevitable culmination of my relationship with bicycles,” Ardley says of the expedition. “I’ve always loved seeing new places with them, going all day, going farther than I have before, [and] meeting new people on rides. If I were to fuse together all the elements of cycling that I love, I would have this adventure. “

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