Interview solo female cyclist
Jin – on her way around the world
Born in South Korea
41.800 km – 55 countries – 4 years and still pedalling….
A bicycle is the best way to see the huge earth because it is not too slow and not too fast. I am taking a small step just before going to the super huge Universe.
–– Bolivia. I set up my tent at a salt desert. It was so cold that I was very sick the next day. —
1. What is the most difficult part for you while being on the road?
There are many challenging things. As a person who is afraid of the dark and strangers in the dark to find a place to sleep on the road is the hardest part. Most times I am nervous around sunset. Sometimes I am angry thinking why I have to put myself in a dangerous situation. I know the answer. I love the adventure so I have to face the scary moments, which is one part of the trip.
I saw many solo women cyclists do wild camping, but I’ve done it only few times. Many people say I am the bravest girl because I’ve cycled alone in the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Actually I am not brave but I just face the fear. I live with fear and travel with fear.
The strongest person can reach the goal very easily but the weakest person can also reach the goal. Of course, it would be much harder for the weakest person, but the most important thing is not to hide from difficult things, but to face them. Then the weakest person could win the world as well.
Finland. Winter 2014~2015 – I cycled in the northern part of Finland to see Northern Lights. It was really challenging, but I loved it so much to cycle there. Snow made the road so fantastic, gorgeous, and beautiful
2. Do you sometimes take alternative transport?
Sometimes I’ve got help hitchhiking or accepted a ride when I was in Americas. But when I talked to people about my Americas trip later I found I didn’t feel too proud. So, since Africa I have tried not to take a ride. But at the northern part in Africa I had to get some help from a car because of a problem. In Europe most times I have traveled with only my bicycle. I am getting stronger and better with my bike. The more I don’t get help the more confidence I get.
— Guatemala – I took a chicken bus to avoid the mountains —
3. Where did you receive the best hospitality so far? And how did people support you?
It is hard to answer. Many travelers told that Europeans are too cold but in my experience, they are not much different from other continents. Just the culture and the way they live are different. I got the kindest hospitality from Americans, Africans and Europeans. I haven’t cycled on other continents yet. All over the world humans are simply similar. The poor village people are not the only kind ones, but also the rich city people are very kind in my experience.
If I have to mention where it was very easy to pitch my tent on someone’s property, then maybe I can name some countries. Colombia, Paraguay, South Africa, Sudan, Finland.
In South Africa, there are over 11 tribes. One of them is Caucasian African and they are the only tribe in the world that almost every time let me sleep inside the house when I asked about setting up my tent in their yard. Surprisingly in Northern Finland I was also invited almost every night into the house. But I was often denied in the Southern Finland when I knocked. But in South Africa most of Caucasian African didn’t deny my asking for help.
On the contrary, it was extremely hard to get the permission to set up my tent in northern Italy and southern Brazil. (I’ve never been to southern Italy or northern Brazil, so I don’t know there)
— Tanzania – Baobabs —-
4. What are the five most asked questions?
- Where are you from?
- Why do you cycle?
- Where are you going?
- How long have you cycled?
- When will you go home?
— Montenegro – on the top of the pass —
5. Which culture surprised you the most? Why?
It is almost impossible to answer. There are so many different cultures and many times I was very excited to experience this.
I like the countries which have their own language, food, music and culture like Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Spain, France and Finland. It is a bit boring to cycle in the countries which don’t have their own culture.
Tanzania – All the time I’ve set up my tent at people’s yard.
6. You are carrying a lot around the world on your bicycle. It must be really tough for you as a tiny Korean lady. What is the actual weight of your bike and gear compare to the weight of your body and your size?
I am sorry that I cannot tell my weight.
When I took the flight from Brazil to South Africa I had two boxes of 23kg and carry-on bag of 10~13 kg.
Maybe….Bicycle with racks and locks 15 kg … Gear and everything 45 kg??…
Recently I bought more electrical gear and got 5~7 kg more. That makes it very hard to cycle uphill. I want to throw something away but I can’t choose what. It is my habit that I cannot throw things away easily. My camping gear is quite cheap so everything is big. It makes it harder as well. I might throw things away when I reach to Pamir Highway (I hope I can do it).
— Colombia – heavy rain and the steepest hills I have ever cycled —
7. Which are your three favorite areas you have cycled in so far and why?
I liked Salar de Uyuni which is a salt desert in Bolivia. In Latin America I really wished I could cycle to empty places where there are no people because I was tired of too many people on the road. And finally I had the chance to cycle on the empty road, Uyuni. There were no animals on the way. Only a few tourist cars. That was all. I enjoyed the silence so much. There were no sounds of wind, bird, people’s talking and city noise. There was nothing except me. So I could feel myself. It was the best place I’ve cycled.
These days I think of the Sudanese desert. I think maybe it was my favorite place to cycle. Some people say the desert is boring with nothing to see. To me I see nothing so I can see everything in the desert. I like the desolate desert.
Recently I’ve cycled in Finland in the winter. The road was covered with white snow and it was so beautiful. There were only small villages, not many big cities. So I enjoyed it. I like quiet and lonely roads with beautiful nature.
— Bolivia – Salar de Uyuni – one of the best places in the world to cycle. Peaceful and quiet —
8. As far as I know, Koreans love their own cuisine. Therefore are you mostly cooking yourself or did you find some tasty cuisine on the road? If so, which food did you like most so far?
I’ve been away from home nearly five years. It means I’ve not been home for a long time. I was in Canada for one year and for four years I have been cycling. Before going to Canada I was very worried about how I can have a meal without Kimchi which had been on the table all the time since I was born. I’ve never seen my mother not put Kimchi on the table. It doesn’t matter breakfast, lunch or dinner. Always there was Kimchi. I had tried to eat something without Kimchi but I had failed every time in Korea.
And then I faced the miracle that as soon as I arrived in Canada I adapted to local food quickly. I had no any problem with food. Thanks to good adaptation, I gained 4 kg in Canada and I didn’t lose any weight of 4 kg during cycling in the Americas and Africa. As an easy going person for food I like all of food in the world. I love cheese and butter. I also love spicy food. I really enjoyed Mexican food. I also enjoyed Ethiopian food which is so beautiful and very different from any other country. Also spicy!!
I was a vegan for five months in 2014. But I gave up because it was too cold to eat something on the road in the winter and there was no vegan food in the restaurants. Maybe I will try vegan again when the weather is warmer. I didn’t have any problem to cycle long distance with a vegan food. The most important thing for cycling is to eat a lot often. (It doesn’t matter what kind of food for me.)
Zimbabwe – I bought some fruit and took pictures of the ladies. They asked to send it to them. They wrote down the school address and I sent the pictures later
9. Have you ever been in serious danger? If so, what happened?
I’ve never had a serious injury which meant going to a hospital. It is always small things. I was hit by cars four times while cycling in the U.S, Peru, Kenya, and Russia and twice by car in Egypt and Croatia.
I fell off many times and some of them were a bit serious.
I was chased in Colombia one time. But it was flat so I could cycle fast.
I ran away from drunken guy’s house at 9pm when it was -20 c (-4 f) in Finland because it felt weird. Thanks to police help I slept warmly in a jail.
Cycling around the world is really not easy. Especially as a solo woman, almost every day there would be the chance to get harassed in a macho place like Latin America, Africa, and some countries. Cycling around the world is not only a hard job, but also it could be a really stressful job. But there are many good things on the road. That’s why I’ve cycled this long distance.
— Bolivia – my highest point of the entire trip – a very happy moment —
10. I guess before you started you had a picture in your mind about the world, cultures, religions, countries etc. How did this picture changed over the period of time you spent on the road?
The most pictures about the world I had were from the News and Television which only showed me one story. If the media shows me Mexico then it is only about drugs. If the media shows me the U.S then it is only about a firearm incident. Africa-starvation. Colombia-drugs. Europe- welfare. Muslim–Terrorist.
I’ve seen during cycling that there is not only one story in each country. There are 116 million people in Mexico and most of them never have drugs. They are like you and me that they go to school, have a job, get married and have babies.
Most Africans I’ve met didn’t die from hunger. Most Africans I’ve met did have a simple cell phone which I didn’t have at that time. African were surprised and asked me why the hell I did not have a cell phone. I was more surprised how they had a cell phone while they did not have electricity in their home. Most of old clothes you give away for free were sold for money in Africa.
I’ve seen many problems in Europe as well. Europe is not a peaceful place like other countries. Many of pedestrians cross on the red light and there is much garbage on the road. (Of course it is much less than Africa but it is still a lot). Many times the road is really bumpy and there is no wide shoulder. I’ve also seen some political issues in Europe.
I’ve met many Muslims. But I’ve never met any terrorist. Muslims I’ve met were different from other religion that they didn’t force Islam on me. I don’t believe in god so I am not comfortable when somebody demands their religion. Muslims made me comfortable by not forcing their religion on me.
What I am talking about is I realize that there are so many different stories in the world that TV doesn’t tell us. When you try to become open-minded and have a good philosophy then you will see many different stories during the trip. What I’ve seen could be only a little story of the world. But anyway it was much better than Television’s story.
(I believe traveling is not the only way to realize many stories of the world. To read a book and to meet foreigners are another good way to find different stories at home.)
— Ethiopia – I pitched my tent on the families yard —
11. A life on a bicycle is not always a picnic. You have to give up a lot of comfort. Are you sometimes longing for something special and if so, what is it?
- Library where I can borrow so many interesting books!
- Pub where I can hang out with friends I’ve known!
- Beautiful clothes and shoes like other city girls!
- Regular job!
- My own place!
- Social life!
Read more about Jin and her great adventures on her website www.universewithme.com