UK man cycled 35k miles across the world braving war-torn nations

  • Ed Sutton pedalled 35,000 miles during his three year bicycle odyssey
  • Travelled with girlfriend in South America and married her in Colombia
  • Crossed tribal Kenya, navigated Sudan during civil war and Egypt in unrest

Cycling the world is not a challenge to be taken lightly. But Ed Sutton, fresh from the three year adventure, sounds very relaxed about the whole thing.

So does his new wife, Paola, who he married along the way in her home country, Colombia.

Proposing to Paola in Spanish, in front of her whole family (and also asking her to join him on the South America leg of the journey) was, says Ed, ‘braver by far than the cycle itself’.

Salt of the earth: Ed Sutton cycling on the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia

Salt of the earth: Ed Sutton cycling on the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia

When you’re crossing tribal areas in Kenya, navigating Sudan during a war and Egypt in the midst of political unrest – that’s saying something.

The journey began on 12 June, 2013 when Ed left the UK for Spain with his trusty bike (a steel KOGA touring model), four paniers and a tent.

Since then he’s pedalled 35,000 miles, traversed 44 countries, camped in the wild, crossed the Andes four times, turned forty in Wellington, New Zealand, emerged from two crashes (in Italy and outside San Francisco) with barely a scratch and gained a wife. 

Fitness has always been part of his life. This was not a challenge in the style of comedian Eddie Izzard, who completed a gruelling 27 marathons in 27 days earlier this year, in aid of Sport Relief.

Ed’s done countless triathlons, ironmen and raised money for the charity, Street Child, Sierra Leone completing a marathon in the country. It was after that, he says, that he began to long for a bigger challenge, something meaningful.

Wedding bells: Paola and Ed on their wedding day in Colombia after they'd cycled South America

Wedding bells: Paola and Ed on their wedding day in Colombia after they'd cycled South America

Working in Barcelona, in HR, he began to plot a very long bicycle ride. It was then that he met Paola, and things began to look a little more complicated. But the challenge was set, the saddle beckoned. The Thirsty Cyclist, as he called himself, was ready, steady, go.

Was he nervous? ‘I soon realised that all the things I was afraid of, were really just in my head. Even the chafing wasn’t that bad – but I did have to cycle standing up for a while in South Africa.’

He admits, though, to some hair raising moments.

Danger zone: Ed Sutton crossing Death Valley, North America's driest, hottest, lowest spot

Danger zone: Ed Sutton crossing Death Valley, North America's driest, hottest, lowest spot

Crossing the border between Ethiopia and Kenya, he was travelling through a landscape of burned out buildings with only armed police for company. He was stopped by one, heavily armed with a grenade strapped to his chest. 

To his alarm, the policeman knew his name and began to question him about the Kenyan man who’d helped him to find a cheap hotel the night before. ‘I didn’t know what was going on’, says Ed.

It transpired that the man in question was dead. Ed was strongly advised to hitch a lift on the police truck.

He rode with the policeman for 40km refreshed by pineapple chunks and military biscuits. Now, they are Facebook friends. No one quite knows what happened to the unfortunate Kenyan. Perhaps he strayed into dangerous territory, suggests Ed.

In Bolivia, when Paola was with him, they spent a tough two weeks navigating windy salt flats and appalling roads. ‘Bolivian and Peruvian drivers are mad, dangerous and they don’t care’, says Paola. They also struggled to find food and water.

Team players: Ed and Paola shooting the breeze in Chile's magnificent Atacama Desert

Team players: Ed and Paola shooting the breeze in Chile's magnificent Atacama Desert

Paola’s mother was so worried, she sent out a search party. No one had heard from them for two weeks. ‘That was as raw as it gets’, says Ed. Quite.

Their last night in Bolivia was a low point. Exhausted and camping behind a mound of dirt in high winds with nothing but a tin of tuna and crackers for supper – tempers were frayed, tears shed. But they forgave each other immediately, apologised, moved on. ‘Paola is very tolerant,’ says Ed.

Certainly there aren’t many wives, who’d relish their husbands disappearing off on a bike for months on end with all the dangers such a venture entails.

Back in Colombia, Paola’s female friends told her firmly, ‘I wouldn’t let my husband do that’.

Paola, a graphic designer, is made of sterner stuff. She joined Ed on the trip from Bogota, Colombia to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia in Argentina. Ed is, rightly, full of admiration.

Iceberg right ahead!: Ed and Paola at the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina

Iceberg right ahead!: Ed and Paola at the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina

Along the way she learnt about the connection between the physical and the emotional, the frustration of being at the back of the pack and that Ed was (for the most part) a very calm companion. She also had to come to terms with letting go. ‘You cannot have control of everything’ she says with a knowing look.

Ed agrees, saying he’s found a calm since returning and is happier to accept life’s little frustrations. ‘I’m much more relaxed, much calmer about things going wrong. Seeing people living very simple lives provides perspective’.

Those months in South America were, according to Ed, the best of the journey. ‘It started as my dream, then it became about us both. Before I met Paola, I didn’t even want a girlfriend, but I ended up with a wife’.

Now, they are back in the London sunshine looking blissfully happy having survived the trip, relationship intact, and managed eight months apart. ‘I missed Paola from the moment I got on the plane from Colombia’, admits Ed.

Living the dream means different things to different people, but one thing is for certain – Ed and Paola have done more to pursue theirs than most of us manage in a lifetime.

Ed Sutton has been cycling the world raising money for Street Child, Sierra Leone. You can make donations here: http://ift.tt/1qaHsxO.

Read more about Ed’s route at http://ift.tt/1qaHsxQ

 

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