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Travelling with no return date

We wrote this article for the 52nd issue of the French magazine Carnets d’Aventures. Featuring all sorts of human powered adventures, Carnets d’Aventures gives the floor those willing to share their story.  It’s a great magazine, being at once insightful, informative and inspirational.  Nothing is perfect however and it is available only in French, don’t despair however, we’ve translated our article below!

Cyclo-climbers around the world

When Noémie and Adam met, their vision of life was already changing. It was time for them to free themselves from the models imposed by society, to seize their freedom and to live their passions. Two years together has given them the time to develop a project and to implement it. At the end of 2016, they went cycling to discover the world and its cliffs. A trip without a return date, or rather a new nomadic life.
Still on the road today, they took the time to talk about their travels.


Dusty red track along the Mekong in Laos

 

When we met in October 2014, our lives had already taken an unexpected turn. Adam had left London and his job with a renowned music producer to devote himself to rock climbing and the outdoors. I had moved to Canada to learn English and to climb in Squamish. While Adam was realising some of his vertical dreams on El Capitan in Yosemite, I was riding my bike to Mexico. Our vision of life had already changed. Neither of us wanted to return to an office job, nor spend our lives working. We had abandoned the idea of a career and a specific social standing. It was time to free ourselves from the social norms, to seize our freedom and to live our passions thoroughly.

 

 

 

How the idea sprouted in our minds

Kyrgyz camp above the Naryn river on the road Osh-Bishkek

When our respective adventures ended, we met again in Chamonix, France. Installed in a van, we found seasonal contracts and started our life together “off the grid”. No heating, no toilet, no shower. A few square metres of space to share with our skis, pots, four quilts, mountaineering equipment, guidebook s and a map of the world hanging from the ceiling. Adam felt drawn back to Yosemite. I was keen to go there cycling. The idea was launched.
We were lucky to have four months of off-season holidays per year. This gave us the opportunity to test the idea of a cyclo-climbing nomadic trip.

One of the many Turkish tortoises we saved.

From Albertville, France, we crossed the Alps to the Dolomites, Italy, loaded with all our equipment. A little later, we left Bourgoin-Jallieu to go down to the Calanques stopping at each cliff on the road. By choosing a minimalist lifestyle, we managed to reduce our needs to the minimum. We were able to live well without working too much whilst also saving for our big trip. We devoted all of our free time to our vocations. Crucially, what kept us in Chamonix was the love of the place and its people. We had little attachment apart from a certain social stability and the opportunity to see our friends and families relatively regularly. No house, flexible contracts that we didn’t have to renew until the following season.

Not easy to find “wild” camps in urban Korea.

Our departure was merely an extension of this simple life.
Living the adventure on a daily basis. Conciliating cycling and climbing. Seeing the world. At our pace, without time pressure. We had a basic itinerary knowing that plans are made to be changed. We planned to leave Europe and head eastwards to China, to board a boat for North America before pedalling to the south of Argentina to finally cross to Africa and go back to Europe. Without forgetting to enjoy the most beautiful climbing spots on the road. We estimated the duration of our adventure to be two to three years. As we had planned, nothing is going as planned. After eighteen months on the road, we’ve found a pace that suits us, much slower than we imagined. We will have to work next year to finance the rest of the trip. An adventure within the adventure.

A nomadic life: when the road becomes home

The Zorkul National Park in Tajikistan, we spent 7 days pushing as much as cycling. Here at 4000m facing the Afghan Hindu Kush. Photo by Constantino Vendra

Having the ability to feel at home everywhere is an incredible feeling. Intense yet reassuring. A fisherman’s hut in Austria, the green plains of Turkish Anatolia, the sandy expanse of the Uzbek desert, an abandoned military base on the border with Afghanistan, the garden of a Thai hostel… No matter where we set up the tent, it becomes our home. We’ve lost count of the number of log benches we have built, the number of abandoned buildings that we’ve cleaned, the number of public toilets where we’ve had a discreet shower. The fact that each camp is a new home means that choosing a location can easily be a source of tension or conflict. Decision making and daily compromises go hand in hand with nomadism.

Our usual breakfast during our 2 months
climbing at Crazy Horse Buttress. Rice
pudding with coconut milk, peanuts and fruits.

This trip is now our way of life and much of our independence is based on our equipment. If our tent breaks, we have no house. If our stove stops working, we cannot eat properly. If our bikes have too many mechanical problems, we cannot move forward. This means that certain aspects of our life are very close to a regular life. No rent nor bills but an obligation of regular maintenance, repair or even replacement of our equipment (see the budget box).

A rich and challenging social life

Last good bye to Adam’s guitalele. After surviving all
of our gravel shortcuts, extreme temperatures from
-10 in Germany to 60 in Uzbekistan, the high altitude
of the Pamirs, 16 months on a bike across 20
countries… She finished crushed beneath a Laotian
cow which also really enjoyed eating our food.

Being nomadic on the other side of the planet means that we don’t see our loved ones regularly. The lack of our families is not always easy to deal with but we’ve learned and found solutions to stay in touch and meet. This need for familial contact leads us straight into our contradictions. We buy a sim card with internet in almost every country we go through, even if it means that we are sometimes more connected than we would like to be. We travel with the desire to take our time and to limit to the maximum journeys by plane, bus, train. However, we are very happy that our relatives can come to see us thanks to these means of transport we are avoiding, even if that means our efforts to minimise our carbon footprint and pedal every kilometre of our journey are reduced to nothing. The time that separates us from our loved ones is in fact our only time limit.

For a few months, we swapped our climbing rope
for a chess set. Perfect to break the ice in the
Uzbek desert.

In eighteen months on the road, we managed to cumulate four months of family visit. My brother Sylvain spent two and a half months pedalling with us from Trieste to Athens. My mother came to Turkey for a five-day visit. My little sister Floriane, who is not a big athlete, celebrated finishing her A levels on the saddle between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Adam’s parents joined us in Kyrgyzstan with their tent for a ten day motorised road trip. Finally, both sets of parents came to Thailand in March for a backpacking trip by public transport. We hope to one day share some of the road together by bike. Despite the distance with our friends and families, our social life is incredibly rich.

Sylvain, Noémie’s brother, a few days before
reaching Athens. After 2 months cycling with us,
it was nearly the end of his trip.

In all of the countries we’ve travelled through so far, locals have always welcomed us with open arms and smiles on their faces. Once the language barrier is overcome, the generosity and interest of the people is heart warming. Beyond these brief contacts, we also had the chance to meet many long-term travellers with whom we sometimes cycled or climbed for several months. Sharing strong experiences and simple moments putting the world to rights creates strong bonds of friendship and reinforces that feeling of being at home anywhere. The Silk Road in Central Asia attracts so many adventurers on two wheels that a real community is created. We all know each other through those we meet, we hear from each other and we’ve even managed to meet all of our travelling companions at least once somewhere else on our journey.

Our perception of time: taking distances from the perpetual race against the clock

Climbing gear inventory:
3 panniers and 20kg.

The difference with a journey whose duration is known in advance depends on the perception and value that is given to time. In our own experience, compared to time-limited travel, having no idea of duration means that there is much less pressure for an “effective use” of time. We get closer to our desires and we move away from lists of things to do before you die, monuments to visit at all costs. We have the luxury of spending days doing nothing but living here and now. The tent in a beautiful setting, we take the opportunity to observe, listen, discuss, read, write, cook, look for water, take pictures, climb. We recharge our batteries away from any other constraint other than that of being. Experiencing a place by just being there. We’re detached from any feeling of obligation. We learned to be satisfied with what we’ve seen and done rather than trying to justify the fact of having “missed” something. We are free to stop tomorrow or continue for ten years. At the same time our freedom will stop as soon as our bank account is empty (see budget box). Finally, our true freedom is that of being able to imagine our life as it suits us. Our time constraints are similar to those of nature. Seasons, daylight, weather conditions.

Living with the rhythm of the sun, the seasons and our desires

The 20km of no man’s land between
Tajikistan and Kyryzstan wound amongst the
highest peaks of the Pamirs.

When we left in October 2016, we had calculated everything thinking we would be riding 90 km per day on average with a rest day every five days. A few weeks later, we had to face the facts. We hadn’t thought everything through. In November in Germany the sun rises at 0800 and sets at 1630. The nights are so cold that taking the frozen tent down in the morning was torture for the hands. In these conditions, striking camp takes at least two hours and the time remaining to pedal is short. We thought we were well prepared after living in a van without heating in the mountains. Being outside 24 hours a day is different. We were exhausted, stressed, emaciated, unable to eat enough to cover our daily energy expenses. While we thought we’d be celebrating new year 2017 in Greece, we had barely reached Croatia.

Great 3D rock climbing at Crazy Horse
Buttress, Thailand.

My brother joined us at this time and we ended up adapting to winter as a three. No distance goals, four-day bike weeks for three rest days, the daily search for abandoned buildings or shelters to camp under a roof. The only rule we had was to stop for the night at the first place that caught our eye. These two and a half months taking our time convinced us that going slow was our key to happiness. Nevertheless, we had to abandon most of our climbing projects on this part of the trip because of the weather conditions. When my brother left we set foot on Kalymnos for a sunny month of climbing. Finally. Installed for two weeks in an abandoned nightclub before moving to a deserted beach. We had made friends with the local bartender and the shepherd of the island but it was time to get back on the road. Arriving in Turkey, spring was around the corner. The scent of the flowers, beehives overflowing with honey, the never-ending invitations to drink çay, the dozens of archaeological sites to visit, the mountains of Ala-Daglar covered with climbing routes, all incited us to stroll. We were well on the way to continue slowly.

Last move before I fell on this new route.
Thakhek, Laos.

However, we wanted to ride in the high mountains of Tajikistan before winter caught up with us. We didn’t want to take a train or bus. We had to go faster. We took out the calculator and started planning. Thanks to the statistics of our previous months, we knew that our average speed in hilly terrain was about 12 km/h. To reach Dushanbe in time, we had a plan. From Turkey to Uzbekistan, we had to pedal 6 hours a day with one rest day for every 3 on the road. Keeping this steady but enjoyable pace allowed us to reach the Pamir Highway on the 22nd of August and to resume our favorite habits. Going slow. 42 days in Tajikistan for 1379 km of wild and majestic landscapes around every corner. Roads turned into tracks then into nothing, camps facing the Hindu Kush, some of the highest mountains in the world, wonderful friendships reinforced with every kilometre shared.

 

Our place in society in question

“Rabota? (“Work” in Russian). Even deep in the Wakhan Valley on the border with Afghanistan, everyone asks us this question. What do we do in life? What is our job? Sometimes we explain what we did before and sometimes we just stand there, not knowing where to start. No, we do not have a job that defines who we are. Does this mean that we are nothing? That we do not have a place in society? Most border crossing forms have an “occupation” box. We now enjoy writing “adventurer” or “cyclo-climber”. Another question that comes up regularly is that of children. Where are our children? An Uzbek policeman, so disturbed by the idea that a couple of our age still does not have descendants found it appropriate to mime how-it’s-done to Adam to make sure he knew how to do it. Yes, we are both in our thirties in a few months, no we don’t have a job, nor a house, nor children, and yes we are fine!


We started writing this article in January 2018 and finished it in April 2018. Our plan changed a lot since then. To get more up-to-date info on what we are up to now, you can read this article !


The first in a long series of multi pitch climbs on Kalymnos, Greece.

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