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Esc Hero #27: Putting medicine on pause for a solo bicycle journey across six continents

My name is Steve Fabes. I work as a doctor at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London but I leave this January on a 5 year 5 year solo bicycle journey across six continents so I’m also busy planning and preparing for my trip… www.cyclingthe6.com

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2. Have you ever done something like this before?

Back in 2000 I cycled the length of Chile over 5 months alongside my younger brother. Looking back we were fairly young to attempt a big unsupported bicycle tour, both still teenagers and wet behind the ears, but it was our mistakes and misadventurers (and there were many!) that proved the most character building.

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We ran out of food and money, our bikes fell apart because we didn’t maintain them well enough and we started the trip with an unplanned two week stay in a small Patagonian town… the result of screwing in the bike pedals against the thread and having to wait around for new parts to arrive. But overall it was a great adventure and it has inspired me to try something bigger and bolder.

3. How long have you dreamt of doing this?

croppedI’ve dreamt of doing a ‘round the world’ bike ride for maybe 7 or 8 years but about 18 months ago I happened upon the route for my journey in a pub garden, beer in one hand, mini-Atlas in the other. Since then I’ve thrown in a few self imposed ‘rules for the challenge’ – part of a compulsion to make life as difficult as I can for myself.

My aim is to cycle the long axis of six of the earth’s seven continents and to start from and return to the same point (St Thomas’ Hospital in London). I’m aiming to travel solely by bicycle across each continent – no buses, cars, trains or planes. I’ll travel by boat over the watery stretches to connect up my route around the globe. I’ll also be travelling alone and unsupported during this unbroken journey around the world.

4. What inspired you to do it?

I had a bit a grim time for a couple of months almost two years ago when deliberating as to whether to begin preparing for the expedition. I did some real soul searching. Would it be worth it? At the time I felt fairly content with life and I enjoyed my job.

I began asking myself whether I’d still be happy or satisfied in five or ten years time if I continued progressing down the career path. On the other hand if I started on this epic expedition there would be a lot to give up. I’d be risking it all in the search for something more.

Two things occurred to me. First the realization that 4 and a half years isn’t actually that long if you look at the big picture.

4 ½ years is close to the time it takes to do a PHD. 4 ½ years is about 10% of my working life. 4 ½ years might be a long time on the saddle but to achieve a dream 4 ½ years started to seem less daunting.

Then knowing how easy it is to get blinded by the race to stay competitive professionally I decided to make a list… pros and cons. In the end it boiled down to the fact that I needed a big adventure and a new challenge and ultimately the choice was an easy one.

5. From a practical perspective, how did you plan for it?

I got in touch with the experts and that meant anyone with experience in planning big expeditions and other long distance cyclists. I was lucky in that everyone I spoke with was very generous with their time and advice.

Next I told everyone who would listen about my plan, I asked lots of questions, I asked people for help and I did my research. There were lots of obstacles along the way but most were easily overcome once I’d enthused people with my idea and enlisted their help.

6. How are you funding it?

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Time and money I think are probably the biggest reasons why more people don’t decide to go off on long expeditions like mine.

But what people probably don’t realise is that cycling around the world is cheap. I don’t need the six figure sums required for expeditions to the poles or up 8000m peaks. I’ve got free transport and accommodation (most nights I’ll be wild camping) and when you’re in the wilderness there’s not a lot to spend money on. There are the unavoidable costs of visas and travel between continents but I’ve met cyclists who’ve completed 4 year trips on around £7000 without too much trouble.

I’ve also been lucky with some very generous sponsors including Iwantoneofthose.com who have donated some top quality gear for use on my journey and without whom it would have been much harder to raise the cash.

There’s some available in grants, awards and bursaries but not as much as you might think. Most of these I’m somehow excluded from applying for by virtue of the fact that I’m not part of a team or that my expedition will take more than a year to complete or that I’m not Welsh etc.

Finally I’ve also been selling off my possessions and I’ve rented my big vinyl record collection to a friend for a monthly fee (immensely cheeky, I know).

7. What was the hardest thing about making this happen?

Working full time and trying to plan a trip like this can be tough.

I learnt to go with the 80% rule… Get things 80% right then crack on to the next thing. Sort the detail out later. I’ve had to be well organized and very efficient with the time I do have.

8. What is the best advice you have received?

Think big and don’t listen to the skeptics

9. What advice would you give to other people who want to do something similar?

dia_0015Get people excited with your idea, get them on board and say thank you… lots

Afterwards tell people about your experiences and inspire others

Document your challenge or journey as much and in as many ways as possible.

Start well before you leave. Apart from memories that’s all you’ll have afterwards.

10. What resources have you found really useful?

Events:

Explore’ at the Royal Geographical Society – An expedition planning seminar – great for inspiration, making contacts and for preparing for your journey.

Cycle Systems Academy run a ten day intensive City and Guild accredited bicycle repair course which was invaluable

Books: Anything that inspires you…

This blog post… http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/2008/12/what-do-you-do-all-day/

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11. What else?

Here’s a link to my blog if you’d like to follow my progress… www.cyclingthe6.blogspot.com.

Cycling The 6 aims to raise a pound per mile for the medical aid agency Merlin… please help me hit my target of 50,000 quid by donating online here… www.justgiving.com/cyclingthe6