Inspiring Individuals: Charlie Bartlett, who cycled across Asia from Turkey to Hong Kong
It’s been a little while since I last featured an interview from my Inspiring Individuals series on this blog, but when I heard about the incredible 7-month-long cycle trip that Charlie Bartlett had completed, she sounded like the perfect inspiration and motivation that we all need to hear about. Even more impressive is the fact that she’s not a professional cyclist or explorer like some of the others I’ve interviewed before – she had no sponsors, nor years of meticulous planning, just a drive for adventure. Charlie’s in her twenties, is a friend of my schoolfriend Imy (who you might remember from my trips to Hong Kong, Bali and Stockholm) and she is otherwise a completely normal girl just like you or I, proving that anyone can manage these incredible adventures and showing that nothing is out of reach.
Along with one other person, she hopped on a saddle in Turkey, carrying all her belongings on her bike, and 7 whole months later they arrived in Hong Kong. The amazing variety of countries, landscapes and cultures they cycled through on the way is amazing, not least because it’s a part of the world that is not that well known to most of us Western Europeans (or at least, not to me!). I hope you find Charlie’s trip as inspiring as I did – take a read below and let me know in the comments what you think – would you be tempted to embark on such a long cycle trip or has Charlie inspired you to consider it?
Q: What prompted you to embark on such a long and challenging trip? What motivated you?
A: Whilst I was at University I walked the Camino de Santiago with my friend Imy. I absolutely loved it and thought it was a great way to experience a country. I am a fairly active individual and I also love to travel so it was a perfect way to combine the two.
Walking is a little slow though and when we saw people doing it on bikes it made me start thinking of future trips I could do and cover more ground.
Q: Can you describe your route and how you chose that route?
A: I had read about the “roof top of the world” which is in Tajikistan and knew I wanted to cycle here and I also liked the idea of following the Silk Road.
So I started in Turkey, then Iran – where we lost all our money and had to head back on our self – into Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, then a ferry across the Caspian Sea, into Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and finishing in Hong Kong.
I knew very little about all of the Stans before setting off and I am very thankful I chose the route, as it was wonderful to learn more about the countries and their cultures.
Q: How long did you expect it to take, and how long did it really take?
A: I’m not the best planner and didn’t actually have an end destination. I had a wedding I needed to be back for so I had 7 months to see how far I could get before this date.
Q: What were the real highlights of the cycle?
A: The kindness we experienced along the way was just incredible. People were so generous and welcoming to us it blew me away.
Going back to basics was a real highlight as well: wake up, eat, cycle, see beautiful places, meet kind people, eat, sleep.
Sometimes life is so busy and we can get so caught up in small things. Having the time to appreciate and remember what’s important was a blessing.
Q: And the low points? What went wrong?
A: I am not the most handy bike mechanic (I learned to fix a puncture along the way) so anytime something happened to my bike was frustrating as it would take me a while to work out what was wrong and to try and fix it.
I and most people we met seemed to have an upset stomach for the length of Tajikistan, which makes cycling up mountains a little hard as well.
Being a women came with some extra struggles and having a dress code in 40 degree heat while riding a bike is not ideal.
I was not prepared for the cold! So when it snowed or rained, camping was not as fun.
Q: Which was your favourite country out of those you cycled through?
A: Ahhh too hard a question!
I absolutely loved Armenia because of the weather and the scenery. It was so green and with so many flowers and butterflies. The wine was also good!
The people in Iran were soooo generous and welcoming it was next level.
Tajikistan was by far the biggest challenge but the most rewarding. The views were just incredible and I felt the most satisfaction once complete. We also met lots of other cyclists here so it was great to share the highs and lows with them.
And China was incredible. You went from deserts, to snow capped mountains to tropical jungles. Also I am a vegetarian so it was amazing to have fruit and veg again after the Stans.
Q: What did you learn during the trip?
A: I was reminded how lucky I was and how I can take things for granted. In most of the places we visited, taking 7 months off and travelling wherever I wanted was unheard of and a luxury.
I was also reminded how kind and wonderful people are and how important it is to take the time to connect with people and share the little things. Just a wave and smile can really go a long way.
Also you don’t need too much to be happy.
Q: What surprised or shocked you the most during the trip?
A: Surprisingly you really don’t get bored cycling all day every day.
Q: What would do differently if you were to do it again?
A: Take some gloves and a warmer sleeping bag.
Also I would have learnt a bit more about the mechanics of a bike before I left, but luckily my cycle partner was amazing and a very patient teacher.
Q: What one thing did you miss the most during the trip?
A: Mmmmm in the last few weeks I was looking forward to sleeping in a bedroom but that was because it was cold and rainy.
I also missed good coffee.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever do something similar again?
A: Yes for sure! I want to do Africa or South America in a few years.