Published on April 16th, 2013 | by Daniel Boyle0
Cycling Around The World With Greg Healey
During his around the world cycling trip, Greg Healey visited Santiago. Having never done any serious cycling adventures, he thought a circumnavigation of the world would be a great place to start. The Welsh adventurer climbed Everest in 2012, so we could up with him about his trip and time in Chile.
You’re cycling around the world – what’s been the highlight so far?
It’s really difficult to pick one highlight. I think that for me, the highlights are the points I really didn’t expect. With every element of the trip you always have an idea, or a vision in your mind about what something might be like and you almost live that. For example, one was when I was cycling down the road from the high pass in Chile, the tunnel.
I envisaged this winding road, just me and my bike riding down. The reality is you’ve got 4,000 trucks bumper to bumper. For me the highlights are when you are in such an odd scenario, something you could never have pictured, and it turns out so brilliant.
That’s, for example, when you stay with people in almost mud huts on the side of the street, they welcome you in from the street, or you spend the night in a fire station or a gasoline station, or your bike is broken, someone passed by and knows something about bikes or gives you a lift. It’s the unplanned experiences that I find fascinating and just relish.
What’s your experience with bikes in the past?
Well, none really. In a sense that’s a nice place to be because you can always rely on naivety to get you through. I think too much planning is not necessarily good, but you need to plan it to an extent where you are not just doing something that is complete insanity.
This is my first tour of any sort, other than obviously when you’re ten and learn to ride a bike. I though a solo trip circumnavigating the globe would be a good place to start. It’s been very much a learning mission for me. I know basic things like how to repair a tyre, but a lot of the time I need to find a Wifi zone and find out what parts do. It has been a great learning experience the whole time.
How long are you planning to take for the whole journey?
I don’t have any specific time restraints. I left at the end of February and I think in a sense the time restrictions will be the weather that I will face coming back through Europe on the other side. The cold. I had a lot of rain and snow coming through the top of Europe. I don’t want to repeat that. I’d like to be back in the UK by mid October, or more likely the beginning of October, which would give me a reasonable run in terms of weather.
What have been the reactions of people to your trip?
The reactions are quite diverse – from not being able to comprehend the journey, because their whole lives have been in an isolated community. It’s so far beyond what they can think about, it’s difficult to think in. You do meet a lot of cyclist who are interested in talking, they may have been on some tours themselves.
Then there’s the other extreme, which I like the most, where people come and, “Why are you doing this?” – they really pin you down to question yourself and your motives. Then you start to question and learn something about yourself.
What’s the answer?
For me it’s a work in progress. You set of with an idea of why you’re doing something, but you only really know why you’re doing it once you finish. You can look back with hindsight what the journey was and what you learned from it.
For me I set of as kind of an escapism, which is similar to other adventures that I have been on. To escape where I currently was for one reason or another. Now it’s been about the people you meet. Not about pedalling for ten hours. About different cultures and experiences. Day to day adventures that can better you as a person. I like that.
You’ve had a number of adventurous experiences, including Everest. Does anybody inspire your adventures?
When I look back at why my life has taken this turn, for me it’s still a point of discovery, I’m still not quite sure why. After Everest, I did some kind of searching about why I want to do these kind of things. I found a book from when I was ten, my parents had bought, Adventure Stories. You start to question whether that thought was planted there, or whether it was something I was already interested in. I’m not sure.
I read a lot of literature about Everest. I think some people read stories of extreme danger, death and adventure and turn away, but I’ve always had the same reaction to every kind of sport I’ve done. It’s always inspired me to be a part of the story, part of the history. I think that’s what inspired me for Everest. It’s the same with big wave surfing. I read the stories of Hawaiians, now Irish, US, even Chileans.
I like to not just read about something, I like to get involved. For me, I’ve always been slightly shy and reserved. Putting yourself in such an extreme situation forces your personality to change, perhaps for the better. There are a lot of situations you find yourself in that I wouldn’t do in normal life. As simple as asking somebody for help. It really teaches you to think on your feet and take complete responsibility for every decision that you make.
Cycling has certainly done that for me. Every single decision in the trip has been mine. That’s stressful to begin with. Whether you know it or not, people are making decisions for you every day. Where you go, what you eat, where you sleep. Basic survival points. Everything rests on your shoulders. That can be quite demanding mentally. When you get through to the other side, that’s where the adventure begins. You start to really embrace that and enhance it.
How does one get interested in big wave surfing from Wales?
One of my friends actually is a big wave surfer. He grew up in London, but spent a lot of his life in Hawaii. I worked with him lifeguarding, then we started surfing together. There are a lot of world class calibre waves in Europe. He was, in a sense, my mentor for that.
I’ve always had this gung-ho about me. I know that I’m not the greatest cyclist or mountaineer, I’m certainly not the best surfer. I’m prepared to look at things and give it a go. Others might need to plan and train for a long time – that’s not to say I’m stupid about the decisions I make. I’m very calculated in every decision. I just have that element in my personality to push things a bit further than what you should.
The downside is that when you get this extreme rush through climbing, cycling or surfing, it’s a real natural drug. My normal personality is pretty subdued. When I do these activities it takes my personality to more normal levels. Otherwise normal, everyday life, it’s depressed for me. I need this constant kicks of adrenalin to keep going.
I’ve always looked at a confident person holding a crowd with a story. I’m just not a natural storyteller, even though I may have a lot of stories to tell. I’d prefer to just go out and live it instead.
Have you had any injuries in the adventures?
Cycling has been reasonably straightforward so far, aside from the first three weeks. Day to day, everyday, from zero, is very painful. There are the minor adjustments on the bike. I had problems with my knees because the seat was too low, then I had a hyper-extension. Mountaineering, I had a really tough time returning from the summit.
The problem with Everest is that the body takes so much of your muscle for the final push that it takes about 6-8 months to recover. It’s a long process. In surfing, I’ve had every injury ever imaginable.
Are you planning to surf during your trip?
I would love to, but I think it’s like most sportspeople, they are fond of their equipment. I want my board, I want my wetsuit. If you’re going to hire a board and surf a big wave, it may not hold up so well. I think when I’m in my bike, you’re in bike zone. If I had my board, I’d have to be in straight away. I can distance myself from that, but Chile’s a place I would love to come back and explore.
You’ve only been in Chile a few days, how has your experience been?
Great. I’ve been very surprised by Santiago. I made the comment yesterday, it’s very civilised. It’s really nice to be here. A lot of people have said, you like the surf, you like the mountains, what about Chile? I’ve never considered it before, but it’s actually a really nice place, there’s so much natural beauty, I’ll be back to visit in the future.
How do you fund your adventures?
I had a ten year working career in London, with a few businesses on the side. For something like a cycling adventure, the cost is what you make of it. If you are prepared to camp, which I have been, very rarely do I pay for accommodation. You are spending about the same amount on food day to day, if not slightly less.
A lot of my diet is oats in the morning, and you are limited to bread in the afternoon, then some sort of ready made thing in the evening. It’s probably five or eight dollars a day. Water is free, camping is free. It’s a very simple existence and very cheap. It gives you a great appreciation for what you need and what you don’t need.
What’s the plan for the next adventure?
In the leadup to this I thought of a few things. One was another 8,000 metre peak. I really wanted to climb K2, but the death statistics are beyond what I want to put myself through. I thought about rowing the Atlantic, or stand-up paddleboarding around the UK. For me, I think I’ll take some time out. I’d like to concentrate on surfing for a little bit. More mini adventures. These long term adventures, for me are brilliant. Everyone has an idea for an adventure, but not everybody gets to do them.
If you can marry up the right points in your life, when you’ve got the right time and you can escape work or relationships, all these points at the one time. For me, I think, why wouldn’t I make the most of this opportunity. Other people might not be able to dedicated a month or a week to do something, but I saw this as an ideal opportunity time wise for me. I just wanted to make the most of it. That’s not to say you can’t do an adventure in three days, because you can. Anyone can do something for a long weekend.
Do you have any sponsors for the adventures?
No, I’m self funded. I’ve saved. I’ve always been careful with anything I’ve worked for. It’s a life choice. If you want to live a different lifestyle, a more expensive existence, I could do that, but I couldn’t do the things I want to do. It’s a lifestyle choice and for me, it’s been the right choice.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to have an adventure?
The advice is similar to someone wanting to start a business. Everyone you meet has an idea. The difference is at some point you need to say you’re going to do this. There’s two schools of thoughts of the planning. There are some that don’t need everything planned and mapped out before beginning and others need to know night by night and day by day what is going to happen.
Planned or not planned, you need to take the step and do it. The hardest part of any adventure is the first day.
Do you have anything else to add?
For me Everest really taught me to take ultimate responsibility of your own life. This experience has taught me to live in the moment, both in body and in mind. I’m sure there’ll be other adventures, maybe getting married and having kids. This gives you ultimate responsibility for someone else’s life. It’s all a journey.
You can follow Greg’s journey on his Facebook page. We will be keeping in touch and give you updates. After riding through Europe from his home in Wales, Greg has been through Brazil and Argentina before crossing the Andes. After cycling from Chile to Peru he plans to fly across the Pacific and continue from there.