Posted on June 7, 2019
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After starting my ride in Bangkok about sixteen months ago I have reached another major mileage milestone. Ten thousand miles!!
My ride has taken me through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. I hit the ten-thousand mile mark near Kathmandu, Nepal.
In anticipation I asked friends, family and followers on social media to send me questions they have about my ride. On this post I will answer those questions.
How many miles have you ridden?
Ten-thousand miles or sixteen-thousand ninety-three kilometers.
How many countries have you ridden through?
Eight countries so far. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. I have been to some countries more than once (Cambodia – 3, Laos – 2, Thailand – 4, India – 2 soon to be 3).
How long have you been riding?
I have been riding for sixteen months since I picked up my bicycle in Bangkok in March of 2018.
What has been the best part of riding so far?
I think this is a question that stumps most long-distance cyclists. There are so many great aspects of traveling in itself and even more doing it by bicycle. It is difficult to pinpoint one specific day, place or experience that has been the best. I have had many, many great experiences it is impossible to pinpoint just one.
I think meeting different people in their own cities, villages and homes is the part I like the most. Even when we can’t communicate using the same language I can still have memorable interactions with people. I never know when a great interaction is going to happen. It could be in the next town or within the next mile or around the next corner.
What has been the worst part on your trip so far?
I’ve been pretty fortunate and I haven’t had any horrendous incidents on my trip. A flat tire is never fun and although riding in the rain can be soothing at times it can also be annoying. My bicycle had issues with intermittent drag/resistance in the rear that no one seemed to be able to identify. This plagued my ride for months and caused me to stay in Thailand much longer than planned – which isn’t actually a bad thing! I did have to get five visas for Thailand and pay a lot of money to attempt to fix the problem. It wasn’t until I was in Guwahati India where I hope the issue was finally resolved.
While this caused a lot of difficult riding and caused a lot of curse words screamed out in rural Laos and Thailand it also taught me that going slow isn’t always a negative. Seeing the world at a slower pace allows me to experience more. Climbing mountains with a cursed bicycle also built up my muscles a bit more. Overall I wish that I never had the problem but in the big picture it is (hopefully) behind me and is of little consequence.
What is the most difficult aspect of solo riding around the world?
I enjoy my alone time so riding solo hasn’t been an issue for me. There are times when it would be great to bounce things off another bicyclist going through the same conditions as I am going through.
Sometimes I need help with the obvious – I wanted to go to a movie in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I didn’t want to spend the money for a cab/Grab and I didn’t feel like walking the two miles each way, although I have done that before. Instead I decided to skip the movie that night and go to dinner instead. As I was eating it occurred to me that I had a bicycle – I could have easily ridden to the theater in no time! Had I been with another person the obvious surely would have been pointed out to me. At times I can be oblivious to the obvious!
Sometimes I wonder if I will find a place to stay for the night. As darkness falls and I am still without shelter for the night it would be nice to have another person there just for the comfort value. Much like the support we got from out teddy bears as a kid.
Other than a rough day of riding it really hasn’t been too difficult for me. I am not on a time constraint so if I need to take a short day or a rest day it won’t affect me in the total outlook of the ride. I think that makes it much easier on me when I run into the occasional rough day.
What do you miss most?
Since I have been on the one most of the time I am constantly exposed to new things. Each new country brings me a new language, new and different customs, new money, new food, new beer, new people. Since this causes me to be in a constantly evolving state of learning it is hard to miss some of the old things in my life when I have to confront so many new things.
When I think about it I probably miss certain foods the most. I think for a lot of riders they miss the people back home. I feel I have three ‘homes’: Rochester, Hawaii and Cambodia. No matter where I am I will be separated from family and friends. But in this age we have instant communication with our computers and smart phones. There are many people that I actually communicate with more when I am on the road than I would have done had I been living in the same city.
I often wonder how different this trip would have been a few years back before we had our technological lifelines. I think it would have been significantly more difficult without my phone – not just for the logistical issues but for the connectivity with other people. When I did my first bicycle tour in 1990 across the United States cell phones were not available and even using an ATM card had significant issues. I think now I have it easy.
And as I travel I miss new things I experienced on this trip. I would kill for a 7-Eleven in Thailand right now!! Just the other night I went to a steakhouse in Kathmandu, Nepal. The food was expensive by my standards on this trip ($15US total) but I hadn’t had a steak in about a year. And boy did that taste good!
Why are you riding around the world on a bicycle?
I always loved bicycling – something I am unable to explain. Since I was in my early teens I always wanted to ride far. I was able to do a few long tours over the years (across the US in 1990, around Lake Ontario in 2002, down the east coast of the US in 2003) but I always wanted more.
As I would travel around the US I would see fully loaded bicycles riding the same roads as me and I always wanted to be ‘that guy‘. In Cambodia I would run into people riding around the world. The short talks I had on the side of the road always kept my mind focused on touring someday. I wanted to go places and I wanted to do it on a bicycle.
When I moved to Cambodia I had one of the requirements needed for a long tour: time. I didn’t have a job that dictated my time, or actually my life in general. But other than dreaming about touring I did nothing to move me in that direction.
Then in April of 2016 I had a stroke in the middle of the night in my apartment in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was air-lifted to a hospital in Bangkok were I made a quick and full recovery. But it was at that time I realized two things – I needed to become more healthy and maybe it was time to get off my ass and actually get on a bicycle and start moving.
The stroke was really the main impetus to doing a ride on this scale but it also made me realize how lucky I was not to have any long lasting physical effects. I am reminded of my good fortune every time I see someone along my route who obviously suffered a stroke in the past. I tell myself each time that could have been me – my dream of doing a long tour like this could have been crushed in an instant – and it still may in the future – so the time to start was now.
How long will the ride take you to complete?
My original plan was for a three month round trip ride from Cambodia to Bali and back. As time went on and other life events happened the tour got longer and longer. When I left I figured five years seemed to be a good amount of time to ride the route that I had roughly sketched out in my mind.
But as I have been riding the last fourteen months I realized I am not a straight-line kind of guy. There are too many places I want to go and I really enjoy staying in a place an extra day or two when I stop in a town I really like. I also have no objection to staying in some places for a week or two. I don’t have to be anywhere tomorrow or next month let alone next year.
When I first started there was no way for me to cycle to India, Bangladesh or Nepal. There were no land borders that I was allowed to cross. About six months into the trip two border crossings opened between Myanmar and India. This opened the door for me to redirect my route which delayed my trip south to Australia but opened up many more experiences in Myanmar, India,Bangladesh and Nepal. On a multi-year ride I never know when borders will open or close and I always want to keep my options open.
Basically I will ride as long as I am physically able, emotionally able and financially able to continue. This may be another year, the five I had planned, or maybe more. I have met a number of people who have been cycling five, ten or more years. I didn’t know that was an option so at this point I will play it by ear and see how it goes.
Has weather been a problem?
When I was riding through Southeast Asia during the rainy season I actually had to ride in the rain for a full day only four times out of a hundred days. There were times when it would rain for ten minutes or an hour but I would just stop for a break or a meal. There were times when the sky would literally open up and by the time I was able to get my rain jacket out of my pannier the rain would stop. I would often see rain in the distance during these times but I was lucky as they stayed to my left or right or the storms failed to catch up to me from behind.
My second or third day in India had me going through some rough construction areas in the mountains. At one point the rain was coming down hard and the wind was whipping me all over the road. The muddy, slippery roads along with the bus and truck traffic that failed to slow down and the wind pushing me off the road as well as into traffic caused me to get off and push. When the rain and wind got horrendous I got off my bike and accepted an invitation from a dump truck driver to wait out the storm in his huge truck. This was probably the worst time that was weather related that I had during the entire time so far. It was only one day and I survived with nothing more than memories of the experience.
Do you get lonely on your ride?
Nope. Not yet. I haven’t been through any very desolate areas yet. There are some in my future (The Nulabor in Australia, Mongolia, The Pamir Highway) so I am never far from other people. As I said before I enjoy my alone time and when I am riding I am experiencing a place that I have never experienced before – every mile is new to me. I alway find that exciting and keeps my mind occupied.
I asked the same question to a fellow long distance bicycle tourist. He told me there are seven billion people n the world. It is hard to be lonely.
Do you get scared riding alone?
So far no. I haven’t been placed in any situations where I needed to be scared when I am on the road. Of course I get the occasional adrenaline rush when I bus passes my shoulder with mere inches between us but those aren’t scary per se, just annoying as hell.
The day I rode into Bangladesh and found my self surrounded by all sorts of police at different times and places I started to get a bit worried. I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about and began to wonder if it was safe to ride in Bangladesh.
There were two points where my sense of worry peaked – when the lights went out with a thud and when I thought I may have been locked in my room from the outside. You can read about that experience here: Bangladesh. Did I Make A Serious Mistake?
In the future I may be placed in situations where I am not as comfortable as I would like to be but I will have to wait and see if and when those happen to know if I get scared or not.
Why is the most dangerous part of the ride?
I would have to say the traffic. Motor vehicle laws in some parts of the world are not enforced and chaos and inappropriate driving can be the result. I think living in Cambodia for almost three years before embarking this trip got me used ways of the road in Asia.
I feel safer on a bicycle than I did on my motorcycle. A bicycle moves slower and I can stop or just ride off the road with less of a chance of getting badly hurt compared to what would happen on a faster moving motorcycle.
The traffic and the driving is just something you have to get used to and accept if you want to do a trip like this. For the most part I am oblivious to the traffic zooming past me when I ride. Not to the point that I don’t realize they are there but to the point that their short-lived presence doesn’t cause me any issues.
Do you get sore after riding so long? Does your butt hurt?
Short answer – no. No matter how far I ride or how much elevation I have to climb my legs don’t hurt at the end of the day. I always try to get in a walk after I get cleaned up to stretch out and hopefully relax my muscles. When I bought my bike after my stroke and started riding I did have some sore muscles but after a short time that soreness was gone. Since riding is my life at this point I think my body has acclimated to work it does on a daily basis and leaves me pain free.
As far as my butt (thanks for asking!) no real problems there either. As the day wears on I need to stand on the pedals a bit more or get off and take a break. I don’t attribute his to bicycle riding though. If I was sitting in a chair at work for six to eight hours a day I would need to move around and get those butt muscles stretched. Too much time in any one position is never a good thing.
I have a good saddle which keeps my butt as comfortable as possible. It is a hard seat which surprises many people. Most think that a cushioned seat is the way to go but a soft seat actually causes more issues. A hard leather seat conforms to my anatomy over time and keeps me in one place by having a place for my bones to connect. A bigger or softer seat allows for needed rubbing and can cause skin breakdown and other issues.
Have you had any accidents?
No accidents with another person/vehicle. There may have been a few minor times when someone bumps into me or me into them causing a fleeting smile and a nod but nothing more than that.
I Laos I did fall off my bicycle one time. I was riding along a deeply rutted dirt road and there was one mound of dirt that caught my front pannier causing a slow-motion descent to the ground. It broke a clip off the pannier but I wasn’t injured at all. I was lucky enough to have my GoPro running so you can see the fall in my Southern Laos video on YouTube.
Are you able to eat the food in other countries without a problem?
Funny you should ask!
For my first nine-thousand, nine-hundred and fifty-five miles I have had no issues. I think my three years in Cambodia has conditioned my stomach to be able to take just about anything. I only drink bottled-water so far – nothing from rivers or open taps. Food at even the most sketchy looking places has not affected me.
I did have one instance in Monywa, Myanmar where I had what I call a ‘tummy-ache’. It was just an uncomfortable feeling like I used to have as a kid. Nothing serious at all but it was what it was.
That was until I hit Kathmandu, Nepal the other day. As I am writing this I am riding out some intestinal issues for the first time on this trip.It has caused me to delay actually hitting the ten-thousand mile mark on this trip. I haven’t been able to eat much so I have to wait to be able to eat normally again and get my strength back before I consider getting out and tackling the hills around here.
When the issues first hit me I actually vomited. For most people this might not seem like a big deal but I was working on a record. I hadn’t vomited in forty-eight years. Yes, for forty-eight years I have been able to keep everything down. Now my streak has ended and it is a record I will never be able to break again.
What happens when you don’t speak the local language and they don’t speak English?
If I need food I get food and they get money. When I need a place to sleep we work that out too. If I need directions I get finger pointing or a map drawn in the dirt. Inevitably there are smiles on both sides. Communication goes far beyond language.
There are times when I go days without running into another person that speaks English. I am lucky that my native language is English. If someone speaks a second language it is very likely that will be English and that is just what I need.
How much does your bicycle weigh?
My bicycle is about 20 kg (44 pounds) and my gear is about 35 kg (77 pounds).
Where do you sleep at night?
Anywhere I can!
For the most part I stay in guesthouses or hotels. Most of the time in Southeast and South Asia it has been too hot for me to stay in a tent by choice.
At times there are no options for lodging so I will stay in my tent wherever I can find find a place to set it up. I have set up my tent in a coffee shop in Vietnam, in police stations in India and a few Buddhist Monasteries in Myanmar.
I plan to spend more time in the tent as I get to different parts of the world but I have to admit I do like a bed to sleep in as well as some air conditioning at times.
Some of the rooms I have encountered leave a lot to be desired. In those situations I would have rather stay in my tent but the timing wouldn’t allow it.
How do you afford to travel for years?
I do whatever I can do to bring some money in and keep my expenses at a minimum. I gave up everything to go on this trip so basically everything I own is on my bicycle. Traveling by bicycle can be one of the least expensive ways to travel – at least in this part of the world.
To bring money in I sell prints and license my images from my website – Scott Sharick Photography, I put together a photo book of The People of Southeast Asia that is available for sale at Blurb. I also have Amazon Affiliate links that people can use when they shop at Amazon that funnels a little money my way. Links for Amazon can be found on the main page of the blog as well as other places. I also accept donations for anyone that wants to support me in that way way. A link is at the bottom of this post to take you to the page that explains it all.
What kind of bicycle do you ride?
Currently I ride a Surly Troll. I started out with a Surly Long Haul Trucker but when I was having so many issues with the drag/resistance Surly sent me another from of my choosing from the US to Chiang Mai. I chose the Troll for a change and I have been happy with my decision. The Troll is configured more like a mountain bike so I get the feel of a mountain bike when I am on rough dirt road. This is more comfortable than it was with a more traditional touring configuration om the Long Haul Trucker.
Does your gear get wet when it rains?
I bought top of the line panniers from Ortlieb which give me the best rain protection I could ask for. Carrying electronics was always a worry for me but so far there hasn’t been an issue. Computer, camera, hard drives have all been protected from the elements for the past fourteen months.
I also have a couple of cheaper dry bags that carry a few things that aren’t so critical that they can’t get wet and they will still survive.
Do you ride in the dark?
I love riding in the dark!
I have a good set of front and rear lights that allow me to see and be seen. When the sun goes down the traffic drastically reduces as most people head home for the night. This leaves the roads pretty empty. Riding in the early morning darkness is even quieter and more relaxing.
One time in Vietnam I had to ride went miles down a mountain after sunset. There were very few vehicles on the road at that time and I was able to hear people coming from a long distance away. Everything is usually so peaceful and quiet at that time so it was actually more enjoyable than it would have been riding in daylight.
How many flat tires have you had?
So far I have had six flat tires. My first flat tire was in Rach Gia, Vietnam (1,906 miles). When I came down from my room in the morning the tire was flat.
My last flat tire was on Christmas Eve in Chiang Mai (6,721 miles) while I was at the gym. Before that was four months prior in Vientiane, Laos (4,079 miles). One time near Phu Cat, Vietnam I had two flat tires in a short period of time. The first one was after riding over a bamboo bridge which was constructed with many small twisted wires. I knew I was going to get a flat as I was riding over it. After repairing it I had another flat because I didn’t find the culprit that caused the flat in the first place. This time I let a local expert repair the flat and he found the small wire with no problem.
So I have gone over three-thousand miles at this point without a flat tire. I have some pretty rugged Schwalbe tires which are heavy and don’t roll as easily as some other tires but the protection from flats is worth the extra weight and effort in my opinion.
Any mechanical breakdowns?
A few flats, brake adjustments. Nothing major other than the long-term problem with drag/resistance. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have a breakdown along the road. I try to have my bike looked at when I get to a major city that has a good bike shop. Hopefully they will spot any problems before they become an issue out on the road.
How many languages do you speak now?
I am still uni-lingual! I try to learn some basics as I travel through different countries but I can do better in that endeavor. even being able to say hello or thank you makes a big difference when I travel. If I can get some numbers down that is even more impressive to the locals.
I do know quite a few words in Khmer from when I was living in Cambodia but not enough to consider myself speaking another language. I think when I hit Central and South America I may try to pick up some Spanish. Since many countries speak Spanish it will be skill that will take me through multiple countries instead of the languages here that change each time I cross a border.
What is your favorite food you have eaten on the trip?
So many options! Overall my favorite food is Vietnamese food. I have like all fo the local food I have eaten so far but Vietnamese stands out to me. It always tastes so fresh – no matter what you get, when you get it or where you get it – the freshness just burst out.
If I could pick one food I would say Bun Cha from north Vietnam is probably my favorite.
One thing to keep in mind is when you find a food or a drink you like – take advantage of it when you can. You never know when it will be the last time you see that food available!
When will you return to the United States?
I get asked that question all the time when I am on the road. In the scheme of the rough, long-term plans I would ride in the US sometime around 2021. But as I said previously I like my plans to be very fluid so that can change in either direction.
I can also break off from the trip at anytime to head home for a break or a vacation. There is nothing time-wise that would prevent me from doing this as needed but flights are expensive so I can’t see running home very often.
How many countries will you ride to?
My original plan was fifty. But I think that was just a number I came up with. Many people who ride for five years hit one hundred countries so at this point I will say fifty to one hundred countries.
Will you ride in the snow?
I can see that in my future. Who knows where I will be in the winters and there are passes well over ten-thousand feet that I will have to cross in different countries. I will have to wait and see what happens!
Do you wear cycling clothes?
No. I just wear regular clothes when I cycle.
I don’t wear padded shorts – they come with many issues. Regular shorts, basic t-shirts and Keen sandals. When the weather turns cold I will have to find footwear that is appropriate for the temperatures.