This is the story of an adventure across countries, continents and cultures, enriched by the spirit of Amateur Radio. OZ1AA is cycling 40000 km around the world, and meeting Hams along the way.
How did you come up with this idea?
Apart from hamradio I have been interested in cycling since I was a kid. I also love to travel so it was somewhat natural for me to combine my passions in life into a perfect match. I first did some shorter bike trips in Europe including a three week ride through the Balkans in 2007. A year later in the middle of the financial crisis, the startup company I was working for suddenly went bankrupt. I wasn't slow to hit the internet and look for a cheap flight ticket to a warm place. I spent the next 2 months cycling from South India to Delhi and had an amazing time. After the trip I decided to plan for "The Big Ride", but first I needed to earn more money.
When and where did you start?
When I came home from India a got a job on Faroe Islands. Apart from the fact that the beer up there is incredible expensive, I figured it would be a good place to save up some cash as there wouldn't be a lot of other things to spend money on. During a long and dark winter I managed to make 28000 QSOs as OY3AA and save up the money I needed. In the beginning of October 2010 I came back to Denmark and one week later I was saying goodbye to friends and family on the central square in Copenhagen.
OZ1AA ready to leave Copenhagen in October 2010.
Where do you want to finish?
When I planned the trip I was reluctant to choose a destination at all. My philosophy was, and still is "The road is the goal and the goal is the road". However, people seemed to demand a more down-to-earth answer to the question "where are you going?" so I decided on Sydney – pretty much as far away from Denmark as you can get.
Now that I have come to Australia I don't feel that the trip is over just yet. The next continent waiting somewhere over there on the other side of the Pacific Ocean is South America. I now plan to fly to Argentina and start cycling north through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and onwards through Central America, Mexico and the US before taking another flight to Europe and cycle back home to Denmark. That would make the circle complete.
Why did you want to do this?
I think I wanted to try to do something I was not entirely sure I could finish. To get out of the comfort zone of a traditional 9 to 5 lifestyle and try something else for a while. Sometimes it is easier to describe why you didn't do something. I didn't want to be 80 years old and think back on all the things I should have done in life but didn't do. That is why I decided to follow my dream and start cycling.
What do you want to accomplish?
In India I had a great experience. I had met VU2PEP and Paddy arranged for me to give a presentation at the local Adventure Club. Afterwards people asked how I had met Paddy, and I answered through amateur radio. Instantly a young guy became interested, and the next day he came over to Paddy's station for a quick introduction to the hobby. If I can inspire someone to follow their own dreams in life, and perhaps even introduce a few young people to our hobby, that would be all I can hope to accomplish.
On the way across India
Why by Bicycle?
When you travel by bicycle you experience the environment you travel through first-hand; the ever changing landscapes, the hills, the weather, the food, the way people react when they see you. On a bicycle you have the freedom to decide when and where to go. Of course it is cheap as well as there are no bus or train tickets to be paid, and the impact on the environment is minimal. For me, cycling is simply the best way to travel.
What are some of the particular interesting/dangerous stories of the trip so far?
I have now cycled half way around the globe, and I have not once met another person wanting to harm me (if you don't count a few taxi drivers in India trying to over charge). I think that is a beautiful thing. I did experience a few interesting situations though.
Cycling south along the Nile in Egypt I noticed that the police check points became more and more frequent. In the beginning I was able to cycle through, but one day I was stopped and asked for my passport. After half an hour I tried to ask what we were waiting for. Even though the officers were friendly, communication in English was almost non-existent. I did however understand that we were waiting for a police car which arrived a little later. My bike was now put in the back of the car, and we started to race through a town with sirens and everything on. At this point I was not really sure what was going on, but I figuered I was being escorted through a potential dangerous place. Sure enough, after 10 kilometers the non-English speaking officers gave me back my bike, and I could continue to cycle. Now I am not an expert in the field, but if we were really trying to hide from dangerous terrorists I would probably have suggested a method that would draw a little less attention.
When I only met people with good intentions, I can't say the same about the dogs. They have some nasty stray dogs in Turkey, and for some reason they turn mad when they see a cyclist. You can walk past them, run past them, drive past them on a scooter or in a car, but when I cycled past them they all turned mad and started a chase. A few snapped at my legs or the cycle bags, but I was mostly left unharmed.
What hams have you met along the way?
I have met fantastic hams in almost every country I have travelled through. It all started in Eastern Europe where I was lucky to get to know the faces behind some of the callsigns I have had countless QSOs with over the years. A meeting in Eastern Europe is not complete without some kind of alcohol – my knowledge of Eastern European beers and liquors increased rapidly as I made my way through that corner of Europe.
Operating TC033TAI from Sivriada Island together with TA0U and a great group of Turkish hams.
In Turkey I got the first taste of Middle Eastern hospitality. Together with TA0U and a group of local Istanbul hams we activated TC033TAI for the Turkish Island Award. Half of Istanbul lies in Europe, the other half in Asia, the two parts being separated by the narrow Bosporus strait. With the CQWW contest approaching I was of course looking for a QTH on the Asian side for a "3 point location". I was welcomed by the TA3KM radio club and it was a lot of fun to be QRV in the CQWW CW 2010 contest.
I few weeks later in Syria I met Omar YK1AO who invited me to visit the local radio club YK0RJ. The club has an truly great setup – several beams on top of a high building and two FT-2000 in the shack. Unfortunately no one seems to be using it. As I was turning the knob on one of the FT-2000s I heard huge signals from Europe and US. I asked Omar if I could make some QSOs with the club call but was told that only Syrian hams were allowed to use the station. There I was, sitting in a rare DXCC location with a great setup and unable to make a single QSO – one of the more frustrating moments of my amateur radio carrier.
Once I made it to South East Asia my "fame factor" reached new heights. A white person on a bicycle simply draws a lot of attention there. As I cycled through small towns in India and Thailand I was often asked to pose for photos and even to sign autographs. The welcome I received by the ham community in Melaka in Malaysia by far exceeded my wildest dreams. Even before I made it to the city I was welcomed by an escort consisting of several motorbikes and scooters, a couple of cars with lights and serenes, a number of photographers, and in the center of it all, me. For a guy who is used to cycle alone it was a crazy experience. Once in Melaka we made a tour around the city – of course with my escorts sounding their sirens and flashing their lights to stop all other traffic. Usually I’m the small guy in the traffic. That day I was the king of the road.
A great welcome to Melaka, Malaysia
Do you carry any radio equipment?
So far no. On a bicycle weight is everything. When you are climbing a mountain on a bike and reaching your physical capacity, every gram truly counts. I carry a minimum amount of clothes, my small netbook computer has no battery because I mainly use it where there is power anyway, and if I carry a guide book I rip out the pages I don't need. Even so, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to add a small HF rig to my setup. Having a radio in my bag simply seems worth it!
How has ham radio played a role in what you're doing…?
I think it would have been possible to do what I am doing without being a radio amateur, but there is no doubt in my mind that it would be a much more boring trip. I can't honestly think of any other hobby where you can show up in any town in any part of the world and be welcomed like I have been. I have realized this is unique because my non-radio friends simply can't understand how I can know so many people. They think I am the world's best networker, but all I can tell them is: Become a Ham and you will have 1 million friends around the world as well.
For me, the chance to meet new people, to make new friends, and to see and learn about their way of life is the true highlight of the trip. Ham radio certainly plays a big role in making that possible.
73, Thomas Andersen OZ1AA