We caught up with part time beer connoisseur and full time cycling wizard/world explorer Mike Cowgill to talk about travelling and his favourite mode of transport, the bicycle.
So you and Kelly have decided to cycle around the world. How did this come about?
As you know sir, I was pretty much born to do this shit. I’ve always been captain outdoor activity man and was destined to explore the world in this manner. No not really, I’m actually quite a lazy turd, but this is a fantastic and super cheap way to see the world. I’ve dreamt about cycling around the world since I worked in Turkey years ago and met a guy that randomly rode from Scotland to Galipolli with no cycling experience and a low budget and it always stuck in my head as a great method to explore the world. After we rode from France to China a couple of years ago I felt pretty confident we could ride pretty much anywhere so thought why not, give it a go, balls out!!
How long do you expect this trip to take?
We are giving ourselves 4-5 years but it is extremely open, we will be stopping to work and volunteer along the way and also whenever we feel like a break, we’ll take a break. Last trip was purely cycling as we had some time constraints (returning home for my brother’s wedding and some strict visa entry dates for some countries) so this time we want to take it a bit easier and just relax and enjoy the ride and also see the sights more.
What have you learnt from the France to China trip that you can take into this trip?
We definitely learnt a lot from that trip, going into it we were pretty nervous about where we would sleep, safety and other things but now we feel pretty comfortable. We can both spot the perfect place to sleep on the side of the road from a mile away and also just kind of get the vibe of when there will be a good spot to set up coming up. My bike repair knowledge is still not amazing as we had very few problems last time, but we both definitely learnt a lot about how to look after bikes. We also learnt how to make your self smell and look as bad as possible to deter any potential thieves or predators so I will be taking my knowledge of using body odour as a weapon into this trip too.
What goes into planning such a massive trip? Weather, safety etc?
There were a few issues to consider weather wise for this trip as apparently Canada can get cold! We begin the trip in Vancouver and have a 3-4 month gap before it starts to snow which we really want to avoid, so timing wise we do have make sure we don’t get stuck in snow. Safety can be a concern, we’ve got bears and other wildlife to think about in Canada and the states as we will be camping in some pretty remote locations, but as long as we take the locals advice and do everything right like storing food away from the tent hopefully we’ll be fine. Safety with humans is something you can’t really predict or plan for, I always think that basically bad stuff can happen anywhere even at home so we just have to be sensible and go with our gut instinct, if an area seems a bit rough keep pedaling until you find somewhere nicer. As for planning the route, this time we don’t really have as many visa issues to consider which is nice so we can basically look at where we want to visit in each country and pick a scenic route! Researching by reading other people’s blogs that have cycled in the area helps too and also checking websites for the safest border crossings in places like Mexico and any areas to avoid in central America also. So we’re keeping it open and pretty flexible, but some research is involved to make sure we don’t get ourselves killed.
What are you expecting the biggest challenges to be?
Living in a tent and smelling like a butthole for prolonged periods of time can wear you down a bit so I think that will become an issue seeing as we’re planning such a long trip, but as long as we break it up by taking time off the bikes and treating ourselves to the occasional hotel hopefully we’ll be able to deal with it. Physically it can be challenging, but without so many time restrictions we shouldn’t have to push ourselves too hard if we don’t feel like it and I feel like we tackled some pretty grueling terrain on the last trip so we kind of know what we’re getting ourselves in for. Finding work along the way to fund the trip is probably going to be the biggest challenge I think. We’ll be fine in Canada where we have work permits but after that it will be teaching English and giving rough hand jobs to truck drivers to keep food in our bellies.
Too cool for school.
Why cycling? What’s so special about it?
For me it is the ultimate feeling of freedom, relying on your own leg power to get you around a country is an incredibly satisfying and rewarding feeling. The idea of not knowing where you will be sleeping that night and what crazy stuff you’ll see along the way is exciting and it’s definitely my favourite way to explore a country, it also gets you closer to locals and allows you to meet and interact with some incredible people that you just would not come across if you’re sat on a tour bus or train.
What’s the craziest thing that happened during your France to China journey?
The first thing that comes to mind is being on top of a very high mountain pass in eastern turkey just after the sun went down getting ready to find a wild camping spot somewhere when a truck driver pulled over screaming at us hysterically that we were crazy and going to die and that we were in an area full of terrorists. He claimed he’d been shot at in his truck several times on that mountain and that the whole area was full of terrorists who’d kill us if they saw us. This was all yelled in Turkish but I knew enough to get the gist of it and could definitely see he was pretty serious so we rode down the mountain with him close behind us to a military post where he begged them to let us stay the night. Turns out the area wasn’t as bad as it used to be, but it was still enough to scare the living shit out of us and force us to ride the most kilometres we had ever done in a day! Bonus!
Do you have any particular music or band you like to listen to while riding?
I do have some portable speakers on the bike so usually have music cranking most days. Normally just stick it on shuffle for a bit of variety, but it is pretty awesome flying down a mountain with some old school slayer to keep your legs pumping!
How many days wear do you get out of a pair of underpants before washing? Did you do the old inside out, back to front trick to get maximum usage?
I tend to just crochet my pubic hair to resemble underpants to keep costs down and for something to keep me occupied on those long rainy nights in the tent.
And lastly, any tips for people thinking about taking on the world by bike?
Don’t worry about your low budget, your shitty gear, your lack of fitness, inexperience or your friends and family telling you you’re going to die; you can do it regardless and have a pretty amazing adventure along the way! There’s no set rules for travelling by bike, do whatever works for you!!
The ultimate explorers- Mike & Kelly.
Check out cycletrekkers.com to find about more Mike’s World Cycle Trip with his better half, Kelly.