"I'm able to recite four different wedding speeches by heart now. I would practice anything to distract myself to keep my legs rotating." - Liam Anderberg
Reflecting on his 24 country / 5 month cycling trip that lasted 7,500KM / 4,660Miles, Liam Anderberg still looks like the friendly Aussie I once met in a hostel in Amsterdam, but I sense something that I can't quite put my finger on. Travel does that to people. Traveling takes the once familiar form of a person and moves their frame ever so slightly, so that the version you once knew, and the one standing before you no longer fully match. The remaining version is mostly the same, just slightly softer, more open, and with a deeper understanding of the world. The person has given a piece of themselves to the world, and the world to them in return. Change can be a beautiful thing.
As an ancient history HS teacher, Liam was curious to see the world that he was teaching to his HS students. He set off on this journey to discover just that. When I first met Liam in April of last year, he was beginning his European cycling trip over 10,000KM/6,200 miles away from his native hometown of Kempsey, Australia just five hours north of Sydney (To learn to do quick metric conversions in your head click here). At this point in time, Liam had little to no cycling experience and had never done any sort of travel that wasn't part of an organized tour.
With the blessings of blind ambition and a lust for adventure, Liam spent 8 - 12 hours a day cycling from country to country in varying degrees of difficult terrain. There were weeks at a time where he rode solo, only stopping at night to camp or sleep in a hostel. On his very first day, he cycled 100KM/62 Miles and with each day grew his increments, deciding to put everything into it. By the 10th day, he rode 204 KM/126 miles and collapsed in a hostel, unable to get back on a bike. It was a test of mind over matter, and Liam realized he would need to start eating smarter and listening to his body. It wouldn't be the first awakening he'd have throughout the 5 month journey.
"COMMON SENSE CAN GET YOU VERY FAR"
The trip started in Belgium and was meant to cross 12 countries to end in Croatia. As road markers ticked past him, morphing from cement to dirt to weed paths, his pedaling ceased to stop. The journey took him from one of the most bike friendly cities of Amsterdam (where locals will tell you it's more common to get hit by a bike than a car) to Nis, Serbia, where, stranded with a broken bearing and unable to speak the language, a stranger named Boban ( below) fixed his bike. The act of kindness didn't stop there, Boban took him out to breakfast, giving him a tour of the whole town. If there's anything that Liam's learned as an explorer, it's that the world is more good than bad. "Don't buy into what the locals say. When I was in Serbia, they warned me about the Croatians. And when I was in Croatia they warned me about the Serbians. I'm glad I stuck with it, because everyone was all right on both ends. Just goes to show, sometimes you've just gotta trust yourself."
"IT WAS 90% MENTAL, 10 % PHYSICAL"
Liam tells stories of his travels nonchalantly, as if he were telling you about Sunday dinner with his Grandma. Calamity is not a recurring theme here. There was the time he was chased by packs of wild dogs in Serbia and once when he was pulled over by crooked cops in Croatia, forced to pay a bribe. There's also the story where Liam threw his bike over a 2 M/6 feet fence and had to ride for 5KM/3 miles at night in the wet grass to get back to civilization. It seems apparent that adventure and Liam go hand in hand, and literally, it has. His father took a similar trip across Europe as a young man years earlier riding on a motorbike across Scotland, and his mother is a travel agent. His grandfather on his father's side fought in WWII, constantly being shifted from country to country and in a full circle, Liam's other grandfather, Allan Brodie, pioneered the adventure bloodline with some extraordinary life experiences, which he wrote about in a book called, "Adventure is in my Veins".
Throughout all of this, Liam kept reciting the wedding speeches in his head, determined to keep going.
When I spoke to Liam again, eight months and thousands of miles between us we picked up right where we left off, and while there was still that familiar crooked smile, I could feel a sense of confidence and chiseled knowledge behind it. This was the change that traveling had instilled in him. The wisdom showed in his face, and the way he spoke. As we chatted, Liam described the days of solitude spent pedaling, and in words more eloquent than I could put, described my thoughts about traveling.
"WHEN YOU'RE TRAVELING, YOU'RE NOT SURROUNDED BY SOCIETAL NORMS. BY YOURSELF, YOUR THOUGHTS BECOME INDEPENDENT AND YOU GROW A BROADER SKILL SET; YOU EXPAND YOUR THOUGHTS AND RELY ON YOUR OWN INTUITION. I'VE GOT THIS CONFIDENCE THAT I CAN HANDLE WHAT'S NEXT WITH OR WITHOUT PEOPLE."
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When you're comfortable, the thought of what's outside seems far too cold and doesn't seem worthy of leaving the familiar warmth of your own covers. What if you should fall or fail? It seems people rarely consider the third option, what if you remain the same? If you stay in the warmth, your legs will never strengthen from climbing mountains. Your hands will never know the handshake of a new friend. The multitude of your knowledge will be hindered by the four corners of your room and the world that you see will never be with your own two eyes. All that you've seen and heard has come from second hand sources that stream through the air and into the screen on your lap. Even when you think your opinion is yours, the words are never your own. For Liam, the highlight of his trip was seeing the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey, a place that he had studied, envisioned and taught to his students for years in a classroom, but finally able to experience with his own two eyes.
LIAM'S 24 COUNTRY CYCLING TRIP
"YOU GET TO A POINT WHERE YOU THINK THINGS JUST FIGURE THEMSELVES OUT. BUT IN REALITY, THEY DON'T, AND YOU HAVE TO LEARN TO SORT THINGS OUT FOR YOURSELF."
Majority of the trip involved research and planning. While some countries were more bike friendly (like Germany and Amsterdam), other parts of Europe weren't (Poland, Bulgaria and Serbia offered more rugged paths than their Western counterparts). Liam relied on Google Maps, planning each day with immeasurable detail, and using EuroVelo, a website for bike paths in Europe. Sometimes the maps were wrong, like the time in Poland when the bicycle path was actually a 50KM/31 mile tractor dirt path. When there was no internet (teenagers and stubborn dads listen up), he would rely on old school tactics like putting down his phone and talking to people for directions. Many times, asking for directions from locals would become a junction of hand gestures, broken english and false understanding nods. Once, after getting lost on the Serbian and Bulgarian border, Liam walked nearly 25 KM/15miles to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia after having 3 flat tires.
Traveling across 24 countries leaves it's mark on a body. Liam shed most of his weight during the five month journey until he was a well oiled cycling machine, with taut muscles stretched over his framework. He created a routine for his eating, sleeping and riding habits with the discipline of a monk, consuming over 6,000 calories (three times his average) a day to endure the long hours of riding. He also eliminated baggage. In the beginning, Liam cycled with 4 bags weighing in at 25Kg / 55lbs of luggage on his Fuji Touring 2015 bike. As the trip continued, he slowly shed the unnecessary bits of luggage until he condensed his pack to less than 10 Kg/ 22lbs, donating and throwing out fancy shoes and various clothing.
"Every bit of materialism and superficiality goes out the window. You're gonna be wearing the same clothes, the same bits of socks and underwear."
While majority of his trip was solo, Liam did make a few friends along the way. In between Hungary and Budapest, Liam rode 140KM/87 miles with Adrian and Daniel, two Romanians who were also cycling through Europe. Liam later reunited with Adrian in his hometown of Timisoara, Romania. While Adrian's family couldn't speak English, Liam shared dinners, soccer games and experienced the true culture of Romania from a new friend. Along the way he experienced all sorts of kindness from strangers despite a cultural and language barrier. In Corlu, Turkey a stranger riding by on a motorcycle offered to take him to tea, and gave him cucumbers for lunch. Old ladies in Albania cooked and fed Liam lamb shanks, cheeses, and various homemade liquors for his journeys. It appeared random acts of kindness were the norm.
"THEY SAY, RELY ON YOUR FIRST INSTINCT.
A GPS IS FAR MORE PROFITABLE"
The finish line was in Nice, France. With the end in sight, Liam and his buddy Joey (who had flown over to join him for the last leg of the trip) pedaled, mapped and researched a direct path to Nice. After searching for a shortcut in Ventimiglia, Italy, the two were forced to push their bikes up 10 stories above street level to make their way through. It was a lesson learned the hard way.
Within 5 months, Liam had pedaled across 24 countries, traveling a distance of 7,500KM/5,000Miles.
"BY THE END OF IT, I REALIZED I COULD PARTICIPATE IN ANY CONVERSATION. BEFORE I WAS A LISTENER, NOW I'M A CONTRIBUTOR."
Today, Liam is in England where he is working as a teacher to prepare for his next trip. His travels have come full circle back into the classroom, where his students regularly ask him about what he's seen and done. Now for the first time, he is teaching what he's actually seen and able to participate in any conversation. His perceptions of the world have grown far from the young Aussie who never encountered a non English speaking human in his life. This year, Liam plans on taking a 4x4 overland trip back to Australia through Europe and Asia. His next cycle trip is Delhi to Katmandu through the Himalayas. His term for this will be #eagleriding - a friendly Australian's term for reaching the highest peaks so that he can ride with the eagles. Liam will go far, I'm sure.
Here's to you Liam.
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