Istanbul, Turkey: I did it!!!
What started as an idea in the cornfields of the American Midwest last year became conviction by the time I reached the Atlantic: to keep pedaling in an easterly direction around the world. Now at the very edge of the European continent, 5,847 kilometers from Lisbon, I find myself at the crossroads of Asia, having pedaled across a continent to get here.
This journey started alone on a June Sunday morning in Praca de Commercio, the historic heart of Lisbon and the westernmost part of continental Europe. At that time navigating out of Lisbon was my biggest concern, and I privately worried this whole endeavor might get sand-trapped in Portugal’s cobblestone capital:
Every day since served up some kind of menace: forbidden highways, wrong turns, mountains, tunnels, rain, wind, sun, dogs, fatigue, flats and language. I negotiated the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Balkans, climbing cumulatively more than 41,500 meters (that’s 41.5 kilometers straight up). I followed the coasts of one ocean and three seas. I traveled across invisible borders and militarized borders. Somehow I managed through it all, forging my own path on my own terms. In crossing two continents I never fell off my bike once. Considering all the possibilities for things to go wrong, four flat tires, two fearsome dog chases, and one police reprimand is a small price to pay to cross a continent.
My arrival in Istanbul tonight at dusk was very different from my solo departure from Lisbon at dawn. Four great guys — John, Cetin, Halil and Dimitri — safely escorted me to the finish line through an amazing route on local backroads while mother nature smiled upon us. Cycling along the Marmara Sea and past Istanbul’s icons — the ancient town wall, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia — was a memorable experience. It finally sunk in that I had crossed a continent when we reached the eastern edge of Europe at the Bosphorus, with Asia in clear view across the water. John ask me how I felt. I said I felt like doing a thousand more kilometers. I was kidding, in case there’s any doubt.
Today’s cycling provided a perfect ending to an epic expedition. We arrived in the hustle and bustle of Turkey’s commercial heart this evening to be received in Taksim Square by ten members of Istanbul’s cycling and sports community. Naturally I had to finish atop one of Istanbul’s biggest hills. I was presented with a bouquet of flowers and the warm greeting, “Welcome to Istanbul.” Later we had a celebratory Turkish dinner for which my parents arrived from Hong Kong just in time.
Not everything went smoothly today. When I retrieved my bike this morning, my back tire was flat, a so-called “hotel flat.” It was meant to be, I suppose.
I set out to cycle Every Friggin Safe Inch of road between Lisbon and Istanbul. I did.
Eating exuberantly across a continent, I also sought Europe’s tastiest dessert. In my estimation, it’s a tie between Italian gelato and Iberian flan. I’ll take both.
For a continent with so much religious history, I also searched for the prettiest church in Europe. There are many. This church in Dubrovnik, Croatia offered me quiet and calm and refuge from a city taken over my tourists, and has special meaning to me:
I set out to raise US$35,000 to help provide the 120 deserving Thai kids at Yaowawit a shot at a productive life, and maybe a chance to chase their dreams. I believe in breaking the poverty cycle through education, and Yaowawit provides strong educational and vocational training to these kids from society’s margin. This is still work-in-progress.
But what I most sought as I struggled across Europe is to make a difference. Instead, the world changed me. Now more than ever, there’s so much need in the world. The incredible and often intense experiences of this journey, and the kindness I have received, give me hope. What I most hope is this little bike ride inspires others to action – whatever the cause and the form. I remain convinced that if we each try to make a small difference in the lives of others, together we can have a big impact.
I am swirling with emotion right now, but one feeling prevails: a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude for my safe passage. Gratitude that I have the health and the means to chase a dream. Gratitude to my family and to the many, many supporters who have encouraged and helped me get to this point. Gratitude that I do not have to get on the bike tomorrow. Thank you all, and thank you dear reader for accompanying me on this tour.
Like a good movie, TransEuropa 2011 sets up a sequel. Someday — not tomorrow or next month but hopefully within the next five years – I shall return to Istanbul with Bubba Too, my sturdy touring bike, go over the Bosphorus and cycle across Asia.
But today this journey ends. This blog, however, does not. There’s much more I have to say about my experiences in crossing Europe, and more adventures ahead. For the next few days I will explore Turkey with my parents before returning to Hong Kong early next week. In three weeks I embark upon another epic expedition, to Antarctica. After working my lower body for 82 days, it is time to give my upper body a workout by kayaking in Antarctica. I will also climb back on to the career ladder as well. It all promises to be one helluva journey. Stay tuned.
In the years to come I will continue to chase my dreams. I hope you will chase yours, too.
Follow your bliss and God bless.
12 October 2011