Personal Development

Why I Decided to Cycle from France to China

Basile Verhulst
Written by Basile Verhulst

It’s Monday morning. Or Thursday, I’m not sure. The first rays of sunlight pierce through the net of my tent. I wake up three thousand kilometers away from home, a place I left with my bicycle three months ago. A quick look out of the tent reassures me: My bike is still there. I’m going to need it – it’s a long way to China. But I prefer not to think about that distant goal which will take almost a year to reach. Instead, I breathe and look at the expansive green mountain range in front of me. I have to think simply: the trip starts anew every single day.

The most recurring question I am asked is: What motivated you to make this journey ? Why would you leave everything behind to embark on such a long and perilous adventure ? If you wonder, read on. I hope it can inspire you to dare the unknown in your own way.

I Listened to my Intuition and Heart

I have to start by disappointing you: I won’t be able to give you a simple answer to why I started this journey. Regardless of its cause, it’s ultimate influence is undeniable. It started with an inner voice desiring to be free, to break loose, to pursue something bigger. The mind is good at shutting those dreams down, discarding them as irrational, dangerous, and weird. But rationality, however useful as a tool, is also the primary weapon of the comfort zone. So when I decided to make the trip, I let my heart take the decision, and the mind the implementation.

I Received Inspiration from Others

The first time I was exposed to the idea of a long bicycle trip was over two years ago, when my friend Victor cycled with his friend from Bangkok to Paris in just six months. My initial reaction was similar to most others: “This is insane. I would never do this.” But then I saw the pictures at his presentation and heard the Q&A. My friend had a bright smile on his face, talking about his trip like it was the best thing he had ever done. I still thought he was crazy. But craziness, it dawned on me, was a creator.

YouTube was the next source of inspiration. Browsing will show you that many are happy to share the wisdom they gained during similar trips. I am grateful to all of the pioneers who have come before me and have shared their experiences, and am grateful that i was able to seize the possibilities illuminated by the new age of information, and let myself be inspired by them.

The Map is not the Territory

When I was I child, my parents let me climb on trees and build zip lines with ropes. They taught me early on that some limits were simply natural, others man-made. As tree-climbing kid, I learned about the natural ones the hard way when I felt the law of physics on my butt. Still, it was important to try things on my own instead of silently abiding by the “rules of the adults”. As a teenager, I never really liked being part of a social clique. I wasn’t part of the cool kids because I didn’t like to fit in. Marc, the only Swiss guy in our school aside from me, didn’t like to fit in either. Instead, we wore the red white crossed t-shirt with ostensive pride. Coincidentally Marc is currently completing his own trip to Mongolia.

But no one escapes the herd overnight. Valuing one’s differences is a mindset that demands to be nurtured. It’s the realisation that the real set of possibilities in our lives are infinitely wider than the map we are given by the society suggests. The conventional norms are the very limitations that make most people gasp when they first hear about the idea of cycling across a continent. In truth, the real territory of possibilities is vast and unexplored. There are unlimited ways to express our individuality and unique talents in life.

Life is My Best Teacher

But is this not dangerous? How can you afford the risk of traveling alone ? That’s a fair question. Here, I will pull rational thought on my side. The biggest risk for such a trip comes from traffic accidents, not from people. Wearing a helmet and avoiding busy roads is the most important safeguard for the world cyclist, whether he travels alone or not. With adequate precautions and common sense, this trip isn’t much more dangerous than driving to work every day in Paris.

My biggest fear before departure was to face loneliness for almost a year. My fear isn’t completely resolved yet, but it turned out to be much easier than I thought. Traveling alone makes me more approachable by other people as well as reliant on them. I absorb any conversation like a sponge after a five hour lonely bike road. This is how you get to know people and lifestyles you would have never imagined before. It obliges you to meld with your environment like a drop of water in a river stream. You become less resistant to the spontaneous and more attentive to new ideas. You learn how to live with the unexpected, making the outside world your personal teacher.

I Know Nothing

It was summer 2016 and my studies were coming to an end. I was doing a six- months masters thesis on Robotics. The more I studied, the more I focused on a narrow niche of knowledge. Being an expert to answer a very specialized question gave me a sense of satisfaction that I was not familiar with. However, this also gave rise to a feeling of ignorance about the rest of the world. I spent most years of my life in school, yet I have not confronted many important questions. What are the ideas and religions that shape our civilization? How is everyone else living on this planet ? But also : Who am I? What is life really about ?

Getting out into the world is my way of dealing with those questions. Traveling by bike gives me the right pace to listen to the answer – driving would be too fast, and walking too slow. Carrying few belongings teaches me how to embrace simplicity. And time gives me space for human connection and spiritual inquiry.

Live for What I Believe

After my studies, I worked in two tech startups as a Machine Learning engineer. Very fast, I felt the system pulling me in: I need to work to make a living. The bond I created with my colleagues satisfied my immediate attention. My contribution to the company gave me a sense of belonging and importance.

But here’s the hitch: At the end of the day, I worked to fulfill the needs of other people. We are distracted by yearnings created by the society in which we are absorbed. Even though we might define success with finding happiness, we still invest most of our energy into recognition within our company or social circle. Let me ask you this: What would you change in your life if you had just one more year to live?

We all have an inner compass pointing us to the direction of our purpose. Magnetized by curiosity and spiritual questioning, my compass pointed me towards biking to the east. For others, it might involve moving to a different place or pursuing a deeper passion. Whatever this inner voice tells us- we should let it stand up to the system that is tempting us. So I decided to pursue a quest of my own – a quest driven by openness to the reality others face in the world. In the beginning I was afraid. But I let others inspire me and took a leap of faith to dare the unknown. To me, today, the unknown is not a threat, it is the escape from the rules and other people’s expectations. Maybe the “unknown” is simply an unexplored place on our personal map. Confronting it brings us closer to discovering our unique talents and the contribution we want to make to the world.

Some Amazing Comments

Comments

About the author

Basile Verhulst

Basile Verhulst

I'm a french and swiss born robotics engineer who decided to make a change in my life. I embarked on a one-year bicycle journey to China in April 2017.

When I first started to write public articles on my blog, I was scared. Sharing my personal feelings? For anyone to read? The thought was daunting. But I realized that there are invaluable lessons to draw from this journey which many wouldn't have the capacity to undertake. So I decided to share the experience and what I learn from it. You can read the story on www.crossingvalleys.com and follow me on Instagram