Couple cycles around the world

Salt Spring residents travel 33,380 kms in two years

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Martin and Kathy O’Neil just got home from a bike ride.

That might not be the most exciting news at first glance, but when you consider the fact that their trip lasted two years, went through 24 countries and covered over 30,000 kilometres, it becomes a bit more exciting.

On a June morning in 2017, the couple set out for a ride. Their goal was to ride across Canada, one of Kathy’s dreams. When they arrived in Newfoundland, after realizing that a flight to Ireland was shorter than flying back to Victoria, they decided to just keep riding.

“It was kind of spur of the moment,” Kathy said. “I was like ‘OK! We’ll just keep going.’”

After boarding the plane to Dublin, they made their way through Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia before returning to North America in June 2019. They spent two years in close contact with each other, only separating for a short three-hour period when Martin wanted to go on a tour in Cambodia. Their schedule was set by the amount of daylight hours they had and whether or not they were close to a major city.

“When in your life do you not have to be anywhere at a certain time? Since the time you start going to school, you never have that freedom. There’s always somewhere you have to be somewhere down the line in the pretty near future,” Martin said.

“It’s just freedom,” Kathy agreed. “You can go as far as you want, stop when you want and you’re free to explore, not harm the environment.”

Planning for a two-year cycling trip around the world is one thing, actually doing it is quite another. While they were expecting to see some amazing sights during their trip, the difficulty of actually riding around the world was a bit harder to fathom. On a two-year trek, cyclists are tested to their limits. Things are not comfortable. No matter the weather, they still have to keep riding, dealing with poor road conditions, exhaustion and constant exposure to the elements.

“You’re planning for two years, looking at cycling blogs and maps, sipping your wine and thinking, ‘Oh yeah we’ll go here and there . . .’ Then when you get out there you see that the weather can really make or break your day. We went through extremes from 50 degrees in Southeast Asia to a blizzard in England where we got snowed in” Martin said. “When you think you’re at the end of your line, you keep going. You really discover a lot about how hard you can push yourself.”

The O’Neils still ride their bikes every day and they’ve learned to live more simply and be in the moment. While it was difficult to be away from loved ones for such a long time, the couple’s experiences will stick with them forever. They described moments of extreme beauty, the inexhaustible kindness of people despite language and cultural differences, and the utter freedom of being on the road as some of their favourite memories of the trip.

“The things we saw were so amazing. I don’t even think you can anticipate it,” Kathy said

“The world is so beautiful and 99 per cent of the population of the world is kind and good,” she added. “You look around and think, ‘Wow, how did we get here, and look at this amazing world.’”

For more on this story, see the September 4, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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