“Nothing quite prepared me for how genuinely tough, wild and desolate Patagonia is. The friendship and solidarity I’ve met on the road astounds me on a daily basis,” recounts Mike Howarth, an e-commerce expert from Yorkshire England, who I met in Antarctica.
“A common respect amongst cyclists, an understanding of the battle endured each day by bike. An innate stubbornness to move forward no matter how slowly and a mental toughness required to see each day through as the last.
You’ve got to have dreams, big ones. But they don’t mean anything on their own. You’ve got to push, and struggle, fight, build, falter, regroup, press on until you reach them. And no one can do that for you.
This journey is about living a fulfilled life. And on this trip I’ve come to realize that I can engineer the life I want, centered on my passions. And so I am more at peace with myself,” adds Mike (www.mikehowarth.co.uk).
“I had a good life, a good career, but I was dissatisfied with it. I did a lot of soul searching.”
Mike, pushed the pause button on his ten-year career, an unfulfilling relationship and the good life to find an even better one on the seat of a bike carrying 37 pounds across the Himalayas.
When I met Mike he had biked across the Indian Himalayas and trekked in Nepal. After a month in Buenos Aires he shipped his bike to Ushuaia, at the southernmost tip of Argentina, to begin a long ride north to Columbia, but the bike box arrived damaged and missing a key part. While he awaited a replacement part, being sent from the UK, he decided to jump aboard the ship headed for Antarctica.
Why did you leave everything for this bike trip?
“I was searching for some kind of adventure far away from our modern constantly connected life. I wanted to learn more about myself, and understand different cultures and ways of living,” he explained.
So Mike rented out his house, stored all his possessions and bought a flight from the UK to Delhi, India – for himself and his mountain bike. Then he took a bus to Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas and began to pedal. Mike wasn’t new to biking. For the previous decade he competed in increasingly more challenging races and events on bike and foot. As the scale of the challenges ratcheted up, so did his drive to take off.
“The defining moment for me was after I completed the Trans Nepal Mountain Bike Race in 2013. I thought, what is holding me back? I have the money in the bank, youth and fitness on my side.”
What was your greatest concern?
“Most people ask me about the safety and security issues. I biked through India and never had a theft or bad experience. I think that the more you travel the more accustomed you are and the less safety becomes an issue. People were very kind, helpful and generous to me, especially as a single person travelling by bike. When I went to a tourist site or a monastery I would leave my bike outside, and I’d ask someone to watch it for me. Nothing was ever stolen and I never used locks. Many places in India when I asked to camp, I was invited inside the family home for a meal or the night. “
What is the highlight of your trip?
“Increasingly I have found the cycling becoming less important. It’s a mode of transport; it’s the people and places in between that matter. The small moments and simple conversations make this journey meaningful and add context.
One of my best moments biking occurred in Spiti Valley (bordering Tibet in northwestern India). It was not at all what you’d expect in a Himalayan mountain area. I pedaled through vividly green terraced fields with geometric shapes with dashes of red, yellow and purple popping out of the hillsides. One day I pedaled fifteen miles through a snowstorm to a holy lake, only to discover I couldn’t see it. The morning sun rise more than made up for it!”
How has this bike adventure changed you?
“In my previous life I was always in a rush. I had a busy life and career. I didn’t spend enough time with friends and family and this trip makes me realize how important they are to me. The trip has also allowed me to explore photography and writing, perhaps even as a linguist too. I studied Spanish in Buenos Aires for a month. I realize how important it is to speak the local language to be able to integrate and enjoy those small moments and exchanges. When riding in remote areas this is especially important.”
What’s a realistic budget?
“If you stay in hostels, camp and cook much of your own food, $1,400 a month is more than sufficient. Many can travel for less than this but I like a comfy bed and a nice meal occasionally.”
Where is Mike now?
He’s biking from the tip of South America to the top of Columbia.
Mike wrote in his blog; “The wind shouldn’t come as a surprise, everything I have read and everyone I have spoken to tells me about the fabled Patagonian wind but its only now I begin to understand. A rite of passage to be endured rather than savored; hours hunched over the bike battling, a constant to daily life.
The ferocity of the wind sees me blown off the road many times, stopped dead in my tracks more times than I care to remember. My shoulders and wrists are tired and sore from the constant battle, my mind clouded from the constant white noise the wind provides as a backdrop to my thoughts. I sleep in a car park, a bus shelter and a fisherman’s hut in an attempt to take refuge from the wind.”
“I have nine months left before I return to England. After which I will need to recharge the batteries and more importantly the finances. I always need a project and would like to complete an Ironman triathlon before my next big trip.
In a few years I would like to walk the Nepal section of the Great Himalayan Trail north of Kanchenjunga Base Camp and ending in Hilsa at Nepal’s Tibetan border in the Western district of Humla.
Oh yes, and I’d also like to kayak the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail through the Hebridean Islands. You know, Scotland has some of the best sea kayaking in the world. I’ll have to improve my skills for that one!”
Who inspired you?
“British author Alastair Humphrey biked around the world and I was mesmerized by his first two books Moods of Future Joys and Thunder and Sunshine. I went to hear his inspirational public lectures and those moved me forward, we later exchanged some emails, by way of thanks I even sent him a postcard whilst I was in the Himalayas.
Ian Hibbell was the original British adventure cyclist. Ian spent over 40 years traveling the world by bike and co-authored Into the Remote Places.
Laura Stone, an English woman, also wrote a great book Himalayas by Bike. Another helpful source is a blog with journals from bikers worldwide: www.crazyguyonabike.com.
What pops into your head when someone asks you why?
“Why not? Even a bad day pedaling on a dirt road is better than a good day in the office.”
Follow Mike’s blogs at www.mikehowarth.co.uk