Theodore Brun is an ex-lawyer who left his job in Hong Kong last year to cycle across Eurasia back to his home in England. He graduated from the RZIM OCCA program in 2009 and is making this journey to raise support for Wellspring International.
It seems like another lifetime – a universe away – to remember my day of departure from Hong Kong, almost exactly a year ago, as I set out on my bicycle to cross the Eurasian landmass. The day when I bid farewell to my brother and his family who live on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong to make the journey to my parents’ home in Norfolk, UK. Some 17,000 km to the West, beyond the sunset.
As I write I’ve covered 16,000 of these – all on my humble bicycle.
What lay in between has been one of the defining experiences of my life. It has to be. After all, how often does one have the opportunity to embark on one’s own epic adventure?
Long-fallen Chinese empires, wandering Buddhist monks, the grisly demise of swash-buckling British adventurers, the cold sneer of mighty conquerors of Central Asia, refined poets of the Caucasus, Russian monuments to the brutal attrition of global war, the delicate wines of Crimean bon-vivants, and testaments to the quiet diligence of long-dead Georgian saints. On to the levity of Mozart and twirling Viennese waltzes, old pagan sagas, chocolate and cow-bells, bankers in perfectly fitted suits, Bavarian beer-glasses rising above a sea of red faces, dark Alpine peaks wreathed in the first swirling mists of winter. All these images I have witnessed. And a multitude more besides.
Now as I pass the familiar green hills and cornfields of lowland Switzerland, at last back in Europe, I have to keep reminding myself of the route by which I arrived here. Right now it all seems too familiar and the end too close.
Yet I can remember setting out over the rolling rice fields of southern China, toiling up and down over the spines of several mountain ranges in Central China to reach my winter goal of Xi’an, the ancient capital of imperial China. The dusty terraces and sweltering road of the great Silk Route from Xi’an that leads west to the outer extremities of civilized China and the empty wilderness of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts beyond. Briefly emerging from the desert, I passed by the busy metropolis of modern Urumqi on to the bustling and colourful Central Asian trading emporium of Kashgar, nestling at the feet of the meeting point of the mighty mountain ranges of the Tian Shan, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.
Then leaving China and stepping into the very different world of the ex-Soviet Central Asian states – the expansive green uplands and pastures of Kyrgyzstan, the golden wheat fields of southern Kazakhstan and the crazy schizophrenia of the Uzbek capital of Tashkent – its Russian and ancient Central Asian architectural influences still vying for supremacy.
In Tashkent, I joined two younger Americans on the road and together we suffered under the blazing summer heat, leap-frogging from city to city, saturated in the drama and history of the Orient – Samarqand, the city of Tamerlane, the lofty kupals of Bukhara and Khiva the ancient slave trading emporium, and then onto the demoralising emptiness of western Uzbekistan and western Kazakhstan. Battered by the constant shuddering of 400km of broken roads, heavily addicted to cold soft drinks and with bottoms so saddle-sore we couldn’t sit down for a couple days, we emerged at the Caspian Sea coast and collapsed onto a cargo ferry that took us to the Caucasus and the bizarre city of Baku – a place dripping in wealth from the “black gold” that once seeped up through the ground along the shoreline there.
Across the Caucasus into the wonderful country of Georgia, a breath of fresh-air with abundant hospitality, endless assaults of delicious food and a church on every hilltop. Standing at the very outpost of old Christendom, Georgia has been squashed from every direction, yet enduring all this pressure like a shining diamond, you never saw a people live life so lightly, nor follow their faith so solemnly.
And so to the bronzing holiday-makers of Russia along the Black Sea coast, the glorious beauty of the Crimea, and the effortlessly cool city of Odessa, where the women are nowhere more beautiful, nor the men more assured that there is no better place to be. Across the forgotten republic of Moldova, struggling to make its wine exports lift the whole country to a new level of prosperity, to the carefree fun of western Ukraine – a melting pot of Russians, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, Hungarians and Ukrainians with a fiercely independent spirit.
And then to the very frontier of the European Union. Slovakia passing by in a slightly subdued flash before the clean-cut and precise confidence of Austria. Vienna – a magical, beautiful, friendly, light-hearted, miraculous, musical and highly expensive city, where you cannot help walking around humming Mozart as you literally breathe in culture.
In Vienna I was joined by my two brothers and a sister-in-law and two old friends for probably the best week of the whole journey. As I struggled against raging headwinds in the deserts of western China, I had encouraged myself by saying it was all ok because one day I would reach the beautiful land of Austria – its sparkling lakes, green hills, and steel-blue peaks. And it didn’t let me down. It is breath-taking.
Someone was smiling on us that week. The sun shone in gin clear skies every day, as I shared a lifetime of wonderful moments with my friends and family in a few short days.
And so here I am. In Switzerland, with roughly 1,000km to run to my home in England.
When I get home I am going to have to wean myself off eating enough food to fuel a small army which my 130km a day consumption rate seems to require. This may be easier said than done. And I will greatly enjoy sleeping in the same bed for more than two nights, and having some other clothes to wear (provided my younger brother hasn’t already stolen them all).
But apart from all this… Literally – I thank God for bringing me this far – thanks for the myriad of people I met, the incredible natural beauty I’ve seen, the challenges I’ve overcome and the lessons I’ve learnt. What a gift!
And so, after all that…….now what??!
I guess I still have 1,000km to figure that out.
Also please consider making a donation to Wellspring International in support of my efforts. I have chosen to support the Bombay Teen Challenge project with any funds raised. You can make your donation here. Please be sure to select “Theo Brun Scholarship – BTC” in the drop down menu. THANKS!