Oct 07 2011

Cycling Home from … the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival

Published by at 11:12 am under Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2011


Rob Lilwall is the author of Cycling Home from Siberia, a book about his expedition across Asia, Australia and Europe by bicycle. When he was 27 he decided to fly to the furthest, most remote place he could think of and try and make his way home from there.

Rob Lilwall signs books for a crowd of future long-distance cyclists.

Rob Lilwall signs books for a crowd of future long-distance cyclists.

He spent the next three years cycling his way — with the help of the odd ferry or two —  from Siberia back to England. Admittedly he didn’t take the most direct route possible, hitting Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong (where he met his future wife), Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland and Belgium before returning to the UK.

He started his journey in Siberia, a place he confesses he didn’t know a lot about before he left. When he arrived, in September of 2004, the locals told him that he wouldn’t make it. In one month, they said, it would be winter and he would die from the cold. Other Siberians argued and said that no, he wouldn’t die from the cold – he’d probably be eaten by a bear. Not so! Other Siberians protested, he’d be far more likely to be killed by wolves. And that’s how Rob’s cycling journey began.

Rob Lilwall is a speaker at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, and quite frankly a good one. He’s transitioned his three years on the road into a career as a motivational speaker, and after hearing him on a panel and then in a solo talk, most of the audience was ready to chuck everything and cycle across China, including yours truly.

There are lots of positives that come along with a trip like this, we learned. At least once a week locals would invite him in for a meal or to stay, he met friendly locals in the countries that he thought would be most unfriendly, and had only the highest praise for countries that other travellers (like David Sedaris) find challenging. “China was just a joy,” Rob told us. “Good roads, friendly people and cheap noodles, what more could a cyclist ask for?”

Pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal...

Pedal pedal pedal pedal pedal...

Rob admitted to doing lots of research online about upcoming stops while on the road, stopping at Internet cafes to find out more about the places he was going (we can only assume at Travelfish.org).

After weeks of hunting for a boat that could get him to Australia, he finally made it through frantic networking and a little luck, and then cycled the Nullarbor Highway which was nearly empty…apart from a Japanese student he ran into who thought it was too easy to cycle across Australia so instead he was walking, and pushing a baby buggy filled with his travel supplies. This Rob told us, should make us think that his three years on the road wasn’t actually too crazy, at least compared to the baby buggy guy.

In Siberia Rob endured -40 degree weather. To explain how that feels, he suggests that you put your hand in the ice cream freezer at the supermarket. Now imagine that, doubled. Then imagine leaving your hand in that freezer for six months. That’s a Siberian winter.

His secret to survival, much like my own, is to eat as much cheap, fatty food as possible. Noodles and ice cream were both on his list of meals he ate to keep his energy up. And he’s certainly going to need it! In three weeks Rob leaves for his next journey (and book), Walking Home From Mongolia.

Now Rob is based in Hong Kong and he’s going to make his way back on foot from the outer reaches of Mongolia. Seems a long way to go for material, but Rob is certain to make an adventure, and probably a mini-series out of it.

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