Patrick M. Schroeder has been travelling the globe since 2007, covering most legs of his incredible journey by bicycle. Having made it through over 120 countries so far, we put some questions to the World Bicyclist…
Can you tell us a little bit about your quest and why the bicycle is your journey partner of choice?
I’m trying to visit every country in the world, usually travelling by bike. Some tours I do as hitch-hiker, hiker or backpacker, but the bicycle is a cheap way of independent travel, a good option for anyone who wants a closer look to any country. Currently I’m cycling the Silk road through Central Asia next. After that I’m off to India next year.
How many countries have you travelled through so far and if you had to describe one ‘stand out experience’ of the journey to date, what would it be?
123 so far, of 193 according to the UN. One stand out experience, huh? Ok, here we go: When I crossed the Sahara for the first time. I was following the Nile, more or less; there was no road in northern Sudan, but there were construction sites to create one, with the road crews sleeping in camps in the desert. One night, I was cycling in the dark because it’s colder then and much more comfortable to cycle in. I was following a dried out riverbed, a Wadi and got a bit far away from the Nile, but I saw a light, a fire in the distance, so I started heading that way. It was a road crew camp, built next to the Wadi, which had a 4-5m high rock cliff facing the river bed. I can rock climb… Try to imagine being a Sudanese worker in the desert, at night, when a ghostly looking man suddenly appears in your camp, from a direction that leads only to a cliff. The faces of the guys were amazing! Being Sudanese, they quickly invited me to join them for a cup of tea before helping me to hoist the bike up the wall and putting me in the right direction back to the main gravel road. It was a fun night, especially considering that it was new moon and I cycled using starlight alone.
You say that one of your goals is to avoid rushing through (an admirable one given the climate of immediacy we live in). How would you say ‘going slowly’ has benefited your travels?
While I try to avoid it, I sometimes do tick of countries, if they are not safe to travel in or otherwise very restrictive, like North Korea. But going slowly forces you to come into contact with the people a lot more. If you cycle through a country, you end up in small villages a lot, get invited in and generally are more of a curiosity to the locals. If I’d ride by in a bus or train, I’d get nothing from that, simply rushing from tourist site A to tourist site B. Slower also means cheaper.
Tell us about a special place, ‘off the beaten track’ that you’ve journeyed through.
The Andaman islands. 300-odd islands, six inhabited officially, some others with local tribes, wedged between Myanmar and Indonesia. The fun part? It belongs to India and you can only get there from India. It was very empty considering how beautiful the islands are – just like Southeast Asian islands, but without the tourists.
Where are you now?
I’m in Hong Kong, heading to Macau tomorrow. Both are special administrative regions, formerly British and Portuguese, now Chinese. Heading into China next week.
Where are you going to next, and what are you most looking forward to on the road ahead?
I’m going to cycle the Silk Road this year, doing Kazahkstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Usbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Aserbaidschan, Armenia and Georgia next. After that a break in Germany for 2-4 months and next year I’ll head to India and it’s surrounding countries. I hope to spend a year in the area and do a dozen new countries in 2016, anything from Bhutan and Bangladesh over to Sri Lanka and the Seychelles and onto Oman or Yemen.
All photos by Patrick M. Schroeder except ‘The Nile’ by motazabdelazeem , ‘The Andaman Islands’ by Jakub Michankow and the top portrait by George A. Boyle