Fed up with living vicariously through other people’s travel adventures, last year Sarah Webb traded her journalism job for a two-wheeler to cycle the world with her boyfriend, Scott Daniel-Guiterrez, in tow, on an epic four-year, round-the-world trip dubbed the 'Long Rode Home'. Now one year into their cycling odyssey, I caught up with Sarah to find out about life on the road through Europe and North Africa.
When we caught up last October, you were on your way through Germany – where have you been since then?
From Germany, we peddled to Switzerland, tackled the Alps, ate way too much fondue and veered back into France (near Geneva) just at the start of December. From there, we cycled to Marseille for Christmas (via Grenoble) and then battled cold winds in the New Year on the coast road to Spain. In January, we tackled Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid and then Portugal, making our way to the south and back into Spain by February.
Right at the end of the month, we took a boat to Tangier, Morocco, followed by a bus to the south of the country (Agadir) and peddled up to Marrakech, then through the back-breaking but beautiful High Atlas Mountains and down to the Sahara. After two months in Morocco, we wound up our African leg in the Rif Mountains (in the north) and then took a boat to Livorno, Italy, at the end of April.
From there we peddled to Pisa, Tuscany and Rome and then to Naples in the south before taking a boat to Patras in Greece. We cycled Peloponnesus, including the ancient capital of Nafplio, Athens and then part of the Pelion Peninsula (where they say the centaurs used to roam), Thessaloniki and the north leading up to the Turkish border. We crossed into Ipsala, Turkey, on June 13 (the day before our one-year anniversary) and after taking on the seriously crazy drivers of the Marmara region we're now here, in Istanbul!
How are you coping physically and mentally with life on the road?
The funny thing about a trip like ours is it's not a fast-paced action adventure. There's lots of time to daydream and dawdle, lots of days where you sleep in and don't start cycling until lunchtime, and lots of long siestas. Sometimes this means you have too much time to think about home, miss the people you love and crave the things you no longer have (like a permanent base, a microwave and nice clothes). It's those times that we struggle and get homesick – and more so when you're missing birthdays, weddings (we've missed two so far) and other family milestones.
Physically, there are days when you regret even coming up with the idea (wind, hills and extreme weather are usually part of the problem). But all in all, the good outweighs the bad and our family are so supportive we're stoked to have the opportunity to travel for so long and live life on the road.
Where have you been staying overnight?
We camp a lot (in the wild, behind a bush or in a campsite) and sometimes stay in cheap hostels or hotels. I honestly thought I was done with hostel life in my mid-20s, but it seems a room full of snoring, gasping backpackers with questionable hygiene is still very much on the agenda. Our strict budget also means we've been forced to stay in places riddled with bedbugs, feral shared bathrooms and in one instance, the grounds of a military base.
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Cheapest spot so far?
Morocco! You can pitch a tent anywhere without too much hassle and the locals more often than not will let you stay in their yard for free and even give you tea and breakfast! Hostels are also pretty cheap (about $A10 a person) but the flipside is hot water is a rare commodity and toilet paper as illusive as the abominable snowman.
Most expensive country?
Switzerland. It sure is beautiful, but you pay dearly for the privilege of being there! One campsite cost us 30 Franks (about $A42) in the off-season, and the cheapest hostel we found in Geneva set us back about $A40 each. Food is also exceptionally pricey. In Germany, a doner kebab costs about $A5 on average. In Switzerland, it's about $A15.
Most memorable meals?
Haggis in Scotland still takes the 'worst' title, but as for the best – it's a toss-up between an amazing chicken couscous in Tangier, Morocco, and a sfogliatelle in Naples, Italy. The sfogliatelle is a kind of pastry that's crispy on the outside and filled with delicious custard on the inside. I still dream about it.
What are some of your highlights of the tour this year?
Cycling the High Atlas Mountains! It took us a week and we had to carry enough water and food to survive for four days, but reaching the last 2,000-metre pass was an indescribable feeling of achievement. Cycling past the Colosseum was another highlight and officially crossing from the west to the east in Turkey (while reaching our one-year travel anniversary) also rated pretty high.
What location surprised you the most?
The Sahara Desert. High winds had turned it into golden sandy waves when we arrived, but what struck me the most was the sheer beauty and feeling of untamed wilderness. Nomads still carve out a tough existence, raising and selling camels there, and you get the impression that not much has changed in hundreds of years. Being there, seeing the Sahara in all its glory and meeting the nomads deeply moved me.
Has this trip tested you in ways you never thought possible?
Absolutely. It's just about forced me to confront every insecurity I have and fault I possess. I've had to be more assertive, more confident in myself and in many ways, more open-minded. Despite that I'm still known to have massive tantrums in moments of weakness but afterwards I feel so ashamed that you can't not learn and change from it.
You and Scott must be a well-oiled travelling machine by now, how quickly do you pack up and get on the road?
We are definitely quicker than when we started. It used to take us over three hours to pack up and have breakfast in the morning, but it still often takes us over two hours. We have certainly sorted out what we need, what we don't and where to put it all, but with my lack of organisation and Scott's inability to move fast before 11am, there's still a fair bit of chaos.
What's it like spending so much time together travelling?
Challenging, awesome, infuriating and fabulous. Half the time we drive each other up the wall and when we're tired, stressed, hungry or irritable we never fail to take it out on each other (there's usually no one else around). But we're also absolute best friends and any ill feelings rarely last longer than an hour. The important thing is we stick together, support each other, and look after each other.
What's next on the itinerary?
From Istanbul, Turkey, we peddle via the coast and Cappadocia to the capital, Ankara, and from there to Iran. We hope to continue east through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and then China. A lot of this will depend on visas.
Any tips for travellers wanting to cycle the world?
Don't overthink it and don't believe you have to be fit, adventurous or some form of MacGyver to do it. There are all sorts of bicycle trips and all sorts of bicycle tourers. Finding the right trip and pace for you is vital and not placing too much emphasis on what others do (or even the routes they take) is also important. Aside from that, knowing some key words in each language you encounter is a huge help (when you bicycle tour you often go off the beaten track where the locals rarely speak English) and knowing when to call it a day is often a tantrum saver!