Our latest travel tales interview is with fellow Irish travel blogger Derek Cullen from Nohangingaround.com who hails from Dublin!
Back in 2013 after the loss of both of his parents, Derek began an epic bicycle trip alone across Africa starting in Cape town and finishing in Cairo a year later!
Prepare to be inspired….
Why did you begin this adventure Derek?
The short story is that I was very unhappy with my life and the person I was becoming although the longer story is a lot more serious.
Following a personal tragedy (both of my parents had died), I became very self destructive and as a result, I made one terrible decision after another. It got to the point where this destructive nature would embed itself into everything I would do and it would alienate a lot of people around me in the process.
I realized it was me who needed to change, not what was going on around me. I was fed up pretending that everything was okay because really, I was completely miserable, lonely and had no direction in terms of what I wanted to do with my future.
I made a decision to do something about my attitude, and vowed to find some way of turning everything around.
What made you choose a bicycle ride through Africa?
The bicycle idea surprised me just as much as anyone else, as I had no cycling experience and even less knowledge of what was needed to take on such a long distance journey. It was quite embarrassing really, I arrived in Cape Town announcing triumphantly to people how I had come to cycle across Africa, only for them to find out I didn’t even have a bicycle.
However, I knew it would not be easy and I genuinely believed that such a difficult challenge would demand that I start taking responsibility. I also felt that this time alone and without distraction might help to address some long standing personal issues.
I decided on Africa, because it seemed like the most interesting place to ride a bicycle and just as importantly, it was the one place that terrified me more than anywhere else.
What were you afraid of the most?
Lying in the tent after dark was terrifying and something I would never get used to doing. I will never forget the feeling of listening to those sounds outside the tent and there were nights when I shivered, such was the intense and overwhelming fear.
However, my paranoia was disproved on many occasions and in hindsight, I know that the animals never had any real interest in me but rather they only wanted to live in peace themselves
Of course, it became obvious throughout the journey that it wasn’t really the animals, people, deserts or mountain passes that most frightened me. I was afraid of myself – I was afraid that I might not succeed at whatever it was I was trying to do.
What was your happiest moment on the trip?
Two things come to mind.
You must understand how much of a joyful experience this was for someone who had suffered with fear and anxiety his entire life. I truly believe it was the process of facing these fears and coping with such extreme anxieties, that eventually allowed me to live peacefully with both of them.
Other than that, it was the realization that my simple adventure was bringing some sort of value to the lives of other people. I can never forget all those smiling children chasing the bike down the road, the African locals inviting me into their home, the roaring laughter of policemen look at my bicycle on border-posts and all the people who supported the adventure online, especially when times were bleak.
When I returned to Dublin, An Garda Siochana (Ireland’s police service) escorted the bicycle to Dunboyne Castle, where many of the children who are fighting cancer and their families were waiting for me. It melted my heart. The proceeds raised throughout the year were for Aoibheanns Pink Tie (http://www.aoibheannspinktie.
What was the hardest part of your trip?
There were difficult circumstances: the deserts were always hot, the mountains were enormous, I ran out of water on a few occasions and riding a bicycle into areas known for trouble (terrorists/bandits/warring tribes) such as Northern Kenya can be quite unnerving but none of that comes close to the task of spending so much time alone.
For one year, I was effectively a stranger and as soon as I might meet a friendly local who had a few words of English, I was getting ready to say goodbye to them.
It really affected me not having anyone to converse with and honestly, I lost my mind on several occasions for this reason. In Ethiopia I had a very difficult time as the extreme level of local attention you are exposed to when travelling by bicycle became unbearable. It was just awful to feel so alone in such a crowded place but it wasn’t their fault, how were they to know that several hundred people had tried to grab me excitedly or jump on my bike the previous day.
What was the most profound lesson you learned on this year long cycle?
There were many lessons throughout but essentially I came to fully understand how the world did not revolve around me, in the way I once thought. I learnt to be more mindful of others, to embrace the uncertainty in life and to persevere with what I truly love. There were many days I wanted to quit this cycle but in the end, it was to be the most incredible life altering journey.
Admittedly I stayed down for too long after my parents were taken by cancer but ultimately, it was also this loss which made me realize just how short we are on time. I’m not a philosopher or a spiritual healer but I can tell you how the most profound lesson on this bicycle ride across Africa was that:
Regardless of the fear, the anxiety, the loneliness or the risk of failure – there is really no good reason to wait around, when you can just go and do whatever it is you really want to do.