Find your nearest world map or globe. I’m sure it’s been a long time, if ever, since you really looked at it. Now, if you are like me, the enormity and scale of the earth itself, and the subsequent insignificance that its size forces upon us, is a terrifying enough concept to force any to stay firmly locked in their home enjoying the small things like a cooked meal and the Playstation’s online features.
For others, the far reaching lands of Thailand and Vietnam, and dreams of nonexistent lands ironically “untouched” by tourists will inspire the odd post on Facebook about how much they “need to get away” from their well-paying and interesting office jobs. However, for a rare few, the sight of the great expanses of land that split the oceans actually do galvanise and motivate the individual to fly the nest and see what they can of the world outside the somewhat narrow view that Jersey provides.
This month, I’ve been lucky enough to learn about a man that belongs in every way to the latter group. Augustin Warner is currently undergoing a journey that made me so nervous and anxious just hearing about it that I felt genuinely concerned for the man’s mental health. Travelling from France to China is no mean feat, even by air. By car, it is a gruelling voyage that has broken many stronger men than I. On a bike? Well that’s just another trip for Mr. Warner. The Eurasian challenge that he has undertaken, on which he will pass through a multitude of countries and three continents in order to get to his final destination, is one of the greatest cycling adventures I can imagine, and puts those men that complain about cycling around France every year to shame.
Here, he has provided a short summary of his journey so far, which at the time of writing is still very much in progress, with seven countries left to pass through, not to mention the many miles that will be decided on the spot when our voyager reaches China.
So, whether you are a terrified of the outside world, or crave the challenge presented by the very sight of the map, take inspiration from these pages and the Herculean task that this man has undertaken. If nothing else, you can admire the majesty of what uninterrupted travel can do for a man’s facial hair.
I always loved going on camping holidays to France with my parents and brothers as a child. As I got older I started to spend nights camping down at Le Braye, Le Coupe and Greve de Lecq with friends. Over recent summers we have spent several nights over in Sark, out at the Les Ecrehous and in Seymour Tower.
There is something special about setting out for the weekend with everything you need on your back, ready to spend time with friends and family, cut off from the outside world. We are so lucky that in a such a small place as the Channel Islands there is a wealth of beautiful and secluded spots. You can still get away from it all.
But in spite of this, I’ve always yearned for something more secluded, more remote, more challenging. I wanted to do something solo, self sufficient and long distance. That is why a few years ago the idea for this journey started to take its initial shape in my head. I had spent a lot of time at university studying Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia. I was desperate to visit the places I had spent so long only reading about. With a huge list of destinations I begun to sketch a route between them all, across borders, along coastlines, over mountains and deserts. A long red line on a world map that stretched from France to China.
The bicycle was the obvious mode of transport for this trip. It would satisfy my desire for something both physically and mentally challenging. It would provide me with enough versatility to be self-sufficient, to carry my own tent, stove, food and clothing. It would allow me to go off the beaten trail, to spend time with locals, to take my own path.
I saved my pennies, joined a local cycling club to train up, started to countdown the days; and on 19 February of this year I hopped on the ferry to St. Malo.
I spent those first few hours of a journey that would take the best part of a year sat on the coastline just north of St. Malo looking out to sea. As I waited for the last of the dog walkers to go home, I let the realisation that this was actually happening wash over me. I pitched my tent and spent the first night listening to the waves crashing against the rocks.
Stage one of the journey entailed cutting a path almost directly eastwards through Paris, Strasbourg and Munich to Vienna. I spent the first couple of weeks riding through rural France in the day, pitching my tent in the blind spots between farmhouses or deep in the forests at night. Even here the generosity of locals blew me away. I was plied with coffees and whisky chasers in run down crumbling cafes, encouraged to stay warm and keep going.
As I reached the hills of Alsace-Lorraine and started to move into the Black Forest the cold really set in, the snow got deeper. Wrapped in many layers I rode through the French/German borderlands, spending the nights under snow covered canopies, finally descending to the warmth of Munich. From Munich I crossed into Austria, picking up the Danube near Wels and riding along its banks to Vienna.
That mighty river would be my guide for the majority of stage two, I followed it deep into the Balkans, passing through Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. Between the cities I camped out in the forests that lined the river.
From Serbia I moved into Romania, where the terrain became more mountainous. I shared both the days and the nights, out in the open, with the dozens of shepherds and hundreds of sheep that were never far away. Crossing over into Bulgaria, I made a break for Turkey and Istanbul. Stage three would take me across northern Turkey and up into the Caucasus Mountains. All along the Black Sea coast the weather alternated between blistering heat and moral sapping thunderstorms. But whenever I began to feel sorry for myself, a friendly Turk would pick me up.
The hospitality in Turkey was unbelievable. After buying my morning bread from a local baker, I would often be invited to enjoy some olives, cheese and tea. On one occasion I went into a petrol station to buy a can of Coke and ended up enjoying a full home cooked lunch with the family that ran the pit stop.
I left Turkey crossing the border to Georgia and up into the Caucasus Mountains. Starting the day at sea level I finished it at 2,000m, making camp in the snow and pine trees at the top of Goderdzi Pass. From there I bounced between 1,000m and 2,000m all the way to Armenia and Yerevan. People’s interest and hospitality continued. I was barely able to stop without being offered tea and bread by some of the poorest people I’ve ever met.
I’m sat here now, In Yerevan, resting my legs and typing this up. Stage four will start when I cross the border in about a week. With Mount Ararat to my south I will make my way down into Iran, rolling across that ancient land towards Turkmenistan…
There is something special about spending days at a time out in the open. Something amazingly fun about spending all day on the move, everyday waking up knowing that the day holds a new sight, the potential to make a new friend. I would thoroughly encourage anyone to try out cycle touring. Before setting out on this journey I had been on two other bicycle holidays both lasting about two weeks. One from Toulouse to San Sebastian and the other from Venice to Thessaloniki. You would be amazed at the distance you can cover, the things that you can see and the generosity of strangers.
We last heard from Augustin when he was 90 days into his journey. The man could be anywhere, however if you’re interested in trying to locate him you can go to his website and follow his route and his ongoing blog at www.augustinwarner.com. On there you’ll find a whole record of his trip so far that is updated whenever he can get internet. We’ll be keeping in touch with Mr. Warner as his trip continues, so stay tuned for more updates in the future and the celebratory article that will be written for him, or by him, when he finishes (unfortunately you probably can’t share in the party that he will probably throw himself in China).