I caught up with Thomas Forde, who’s on an epic cycling journey from Auckland, New Zealand to Ballycastle, County Mayo in Ireland, where he was born.
Hi Thomas, can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?
I started in New Zealand. I took a fishing boat from New Zealand to Suva, Fiji. I was able to work for my passage and I got on another fishing boat from Fiji to Pusan, South Korea. I had to stop by Japan to get my Chinese visa, which had expired because the fishing boat broke down, so it ended up taking 30 days to get to South Korea.
So then I went from Japan to Shandong and then from Shandong to Xian. I spent a month in China before coming down here to renew my visa. After this, I’m heading on to Everest and then on to Europe.
I expect to be on the road for another three to six months.
When did you start this journey?
I started just over a year ago, last July. I did various projects in Fiji. I did an environmental awareness project, it was a recycling and litter campaign in all of Suva’s schools. 52 schools participated and the Suva city council is very happy with it and hope to roll it out in all the other councils in Fiji.
What’s the program called?
It’s just the Litter Free School Competition. We got the schools to compete with each other in terms of keeping their school compounds and the surrounding areas tidy. We encouraged them to recycle, to grow vegetables and also to keep the streets leading to the school tidy. It was a very basic program, but it’s just one of those things where if we can’t get the next generation to get it right then there won’t be anything for the future generations.
What prompted you to start this journey?
Well I’ve lived in New Zealand for the last 20 years and had been thinking about re-locating to Ireland. I needed some time for my life. You know, in life, you’re very busy and you just never have time. But the way I’m doing it now works so that I don’t know where my journey will go, I don’t know for sure how I’ll get there, and I have no idea what will come up in between.
This was a great opportunity to found a project, and to have a different lifestyle for whatever time it takes to complete the journey.
What was your lifestyle before?
I’m an electrician by trade, but I had my own political bar in Auckland, close to the university. It mainly catered to students, university staff and politicians. Politics is a particular interest of mine. I had over a thousand books on New Zealand and world politics.
Unfortunately though, when you run a small business you work 7 days a week, 12 hour days, you just don’t get away from it. I decided that when I finished with that I would take some time off.
Why did you decide to do your journey by bike?
Well, I’m very much in favour of environmental things. The bike is a great way of getting around . One of my main goals is to encourage more people to cycle, and I would like it if Hong Kong adopted the practice of having more people on bikes.
This is very much a car lover’s city. So far it’s been a challenge cycling around. It’s not really a biker’s paradise.
What sorts of dangers or difficulties have you encountered cycling in Hong Kong?
It’s not that it’s difficult or dangerous, it’s just that a lot of the roads are not accessible by bike. You see that little sign with the bicycle crossed out and you’re cycling along and you just have to find an alternative route. As a cyclist, you always try to find the quickest way, and the roads with the little crossed out bicycle signs are usually the quickest ways.
And there’s just not enough space because people here are just so fond of their cars—they just haven’t considered any alternative. The bike is environmentally friendly, good for your health, keeps you naturally fit, and you don’t have to go to the gym and waste another hour of your life everyday or every second day when you could actually be cycling to and from work.
And believe it or not, in cities it’s as fast if not faster than cars. And we do less damage to the environment, it’s more cost effective and it’s better for ourselves, so it really should be an easy sell and yet it’s a hard sell.
What kind of bike are you riding?
It’s a Giant bike that I bought in New Zealand. Just a standard Giant hybrid, a cross between a mountain bike and a racing bike. Just heavy enough to carry a bit of gear and light enough to be able to push it around. A typical cheap bike.
All your gear for the different seasons is on the bike?
Yes, there’s just too much gear.
Do you never send anything back or forward?
I don’t, I’m a very frugal traveler so I set out with the capability of being able to survive in hot and cold climates. But you pay the penalty of carrying that extra weight. Since I’m not racing, it’s not a big issue. The longest I’ve done is 1500 km in China. Maybe if I had a 2000 km stretch to do then maybe I’d consider posting the stuff on and survive.
So what sorts of gear have you brought with you?
The essentials. I have a sleeping bag. A couple pairs of thermals for when I get into colder climates, a few changes of clothes, a few containers for food water, and personal things like shampoo and toothpaste. Everyday things that you need. Theoretically, everything I need is on the bike.
Where do you sleep or rest?
In some cases, when I’m in the middle of nowhere I will just blend into the environment. If you’re knackered and 50 km from somewhere, and you’re exhausted from a hard day of cycling, it would take you 6 hours to get to that place in that state. So it’s easier to just melt into the environment, grab a few hours sleep and then away you go.
Do you have a tent?
I don’t have a tent. The reason is that tents, they’re actually very noticeable—especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You’re very vulnerable in a tent because if somebody sees the tent they know that there’s somebody in it and you don’t know that there’s somebody observing you.
Whereas if you blend into the environment, then you have no fears as long as you don’t really mind mosquitoes, birds, cats and dogs here and there and frogs. Lots of frogs in China. I’m sure there’s lots of frogs in Hong Kong as well. As long as you have no phobias about those things, it’s absolutely fine.
Have you ever encountered any trouble?
Thankfully no trouble whatsoever. I’ve had no difficulties and people actually seem to be more hospitable to a cyclist than an ordinary traveler. You regularly get the thumbs up.
I’ve actually resisted the temptation in China to take lifts because I wanted to have a cycling experience. That’s not to say I won’t in the future, but you have to decide whether you want to cycle it , depends on the phase that you’re in. Going from Shandong to Xian, I didn’t take any lifts, although I think I was only offered 2. I was keen to do that bit by bike.
What’s the most exciting adventure you experienced on this particular trip?
What do you plan to do while you are waiting for your visa in Hong Kong?
If there’s someone in Hong Kong who needs something done, I should be here for about two or three weeks, I’m sure we’ll be able to do something so if you know anybody, I’m an electrician by trade but very handy with most things. If there’s a good cause I’m more than willing to give a hand.
So what do you plan to do when you make it to Ireland?
Various things. I’d like to do a PhD in politics. I wouldn’t mind writing about my travels but not being a great writer, I’ve never done that before, and of course Ireland is in a terrible state of recession. I’ll be very politically orientated and very frugal. Who knows? Maybe I’ll become involved with politics there.
Politics was my main interest when I left Ireland as a 21-year-old, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t carry on. Politics is like a hobby. It’s like fishing. No matter where you go you can fish in the lakes or in the rivers or the sea. Politics is the same. I would take an interest in New Zealand, Hong Kong and China so I will continue that interest when I get to Ireland.
Would you ever be a politician yourself?
I think we’re all politicians. Some of us choose to get elected and some of us want to be unelected politicians. We have to move away from the idea of being elected as the be all.
We have lots of individuals in the community that do great work and do it voluntarily.
I think we may have to move back to getting more people to volunteer. Unfortunately with a lot of politicians, the temptation is to be corruptible and to take bribes. That’s something that’s blighted Western democracy and Eastern democracies as well.
A note to our readers:As of the date of posting, Thomas will be in Hong Kong for 2 weeks. He is looking for volunteer work that he can do while he waits for his visa. If anyone has any suggestions or needs help then you can contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!