Photographs by David Stanbridge

David Stanbridge is a twenty six year old mechanical technician who works in Ballylumford Power Station. In 2017 at the age of 24 he cycled from his home in Islandmagee, County Antrim to Sydney, Australia.

Here David shares some of his photographs from various points along the way, tells us about some of the highs and lows of his epic journey and what it takes as a human to embark on such a marathon effort to make it from one side of the world to the other by bicycle.


The Longest Road

Not many people can comprehend leaving home on such a grand adventure, but in the summer of 2016 David bought a 1:25,000,000 scale world map and planned his route with a thick tip permanent marker in one swift movement. He booked one year off work so at that point the schedule was cast in stone. He had to be home in twelve months.

During the winter of 2016 David spent most of his time meticulously planning, researching and preparing all the necessary tools for the journey. Bike and equipment selection took precedence, followed by scrutiny of everything that had to be carried in panniers on the bike. “Every ounce is critical as you will be hauling all of this - every single day!”

On a cold morning on the 6th April 2016, David and his Dad Gary, himself a seasoned motorcycle adventurer who was accompanying David for the first section of the trip, set off on the ferry from Belfast harbour.

Europe

The European section of David’s route took him through Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and finally crossing the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, which lead to the second stage of his journey and the continent of Asia.

In David's own words, the journey across Europe was cold - damn cold. Blogging was an afterthought for him and as such there isn't much of a record of that particular section of the trip. Combatting ice cold conditions on the road required all of his effort and concentration, putting thoughts of taking photographs very far from his mind. It wasn't until Turkey that life became a little more settled and David began to freewheel a little.

25/5/17 - Just West of Ankara, Turkey

25/5/17 - Just West of Ankara, Turkey

“This photo attracted the most attention and it’s the one everyone asks me about even after a further 10 months of travel. I was travelling along a main road in turkey at dusk, there had been some dogs around just before I stopped for the night, which I was slightly nervous about. I turned down off the road which was banked high to smooth out some of Turkey’s lumpy and bumpy terrain. I was fully intending to camp but It wasn’t easy to find anywhere out of sight of the passing traffic - until I spotted this homely looking tunnel. I checked it out and wasn’t disappointed. I spent a dry but dusty night inside and picked up exactly where I left off the following morning.”

4/6/17 - Cappadocia, Turkey

4/6/17 - Cappadocia, Turkey

“Having been sent several nice pictures of the rock formations and hot air balloon displays in Cappadocia, I wasn’t disappointed. I chose to take a couple of days off there and it was where I had a haircut and a shave for the first time since leaving home. My beard resembled more of a nerdy teenager than an intrepid adventurer. To get this photo I woke up at 3.30am on the morning I was leaving and packed away my tent by torchlight. Several mini buses full of tourists passed me as I approached the hot air balloons being prepared by their owners. It was well worth the early start and I was able to make very good progress East on this day.”

The Middle East

It wasn't long before David left Turkey, finishing the long and cold haul across Europe. On the 15th June 2017 he arrived at the border of Iran to what can only be described as a 'bit of a nightmare'. The casual days of cycling through Europe, with the certain odd familiarity that it brings, were shattered upon arrival in the middle east

"I considered asking a total stranger at the border to take my card and go to get me cash."

15/6/17 - Maku, Iran

“For me this picture says a thousand words. Due to my lack of any research into individual country's banking requirements (yes, that’s right), I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to withdraw cash from a bank account while in Iran - how impossible actually. I had two debit cards, a credit card and a traveller’s cash card with me, and not one of them worked when I tried a cash machine on arrival into Iran."

"I considered leaving and going back to Turkey to get cash before returning, but realised my single-entry visa wouldn’t allow this. I considered asking a total stranger at the border to take my card and go to get me cash but decided that wouldn’t have been the best option either. Instead I went to the national bank and begged."

"They weren’t able to assist me with getting any of my own money, but the money in this photo is what five or six of the men gave me from their own wallets while I was in the bank struggling for a solution to the problem. This allowed me to pay for two nights in a tourist hotel and have some spare cash to travel to the next city, where I met with another travelling cyclist who carried some money across the border for me.”

5/7/18 - Semnan Province, Iran

“With the temperature rising every day as I was crossing the expansive desert like terrain of Iran, I decided to hitch my first lift of the trip for a couple of hundred kilometres when my Garmin bike computer read forty six degrees Celsius. All was going well as this kind man offered to take me the direction I was heading, until I realised there was no passenger seat in the truck cab and he began smoking what I assume was opium for the duration of the journey.”

6/8/17 Dushanbe, Tajikistan

“This photo was taken the day after I had an accident involving a car and breaking my frame completely in half, as shown! Thankfully I was largely uninjured and was able to enjoy a pizza and a beer with some new friends that evening and laugh about it."

The following morning I went in search of a welder to try and repair the frame. It was make or break – literally. I couldn’t find one so instead I went for another haircut and the barber happened to know a man with a welder. That’s just how it goes when you travel.”

30/8/17 Pamir highway, Tajikistan. The Silk Road

The Silk Road

“This is a great photo to cherish. Along the most barren and harsh environment of my trip it shows that I was far from alone. There were travellers turned friends from all over the world cycling this iconic silk road route and I was lucky enough to be one of them. The food and accommodation was far from luxurious but the sense of achievement, scenery and memories will stay in my mind forever.”

31/8/17 Five Star Hotel Tajikistan style

Tajikistan Hotel

“After climbing over the highest pass of my trip peaking at 4655m we descended to around 4000m and found this hut to our delight. It may not look like much but given the environment it was situated in, we felt like we had struck gold. Six or eight of us lined our sleeping bags along the floor and we all kept warm by burning yak dung on the little stove inside. After our breakfast was prepared by the local family inside, on the same stove, with the same fuel, we were on our way again.”

“I was travelling with a group of other cyclists through Tajikistan and we all came down with a parasite infection which we picked up though the water we were drinking. It sounds worse than what it really was, but it basically results in a lot of time spent on the toilet and you feel very weak. One of the guys I was with at that time was Dan from England. He was the funniest guy on the road and we got on so well. I’ll never forget those few nights where we both sat beside each other on the toilet separated by a cubicle wall grumbling and groaning in discomfort but occasionally bursting out laughing at each other’s misfortune. If we didn’t laugh we would have cried.”

1/11/17 A muddy road in Yunnan, China

Muddy road in China

“This is funny now but it wasn’t as funny at the time, especially for my friend Wolt in the picture. It’s hard to describe just how much construction work is ongoing continuously in China. Normally it’s easy to avoid getting caught like this. Wolt and I persevered down this road for about 10 kilometres when we should have known to seek an alternative route. We were filthy and it hindered our progress for the day massively but these are the memories you recall the most often.”

1/12/17 Nam Định, Vietnam

Local delicacies in Vietnam

“Thankfully I am not a fussy about what I eat which helped me out hugely on the trip, but I had to draw the line on this day. I had ordered some meat, rice and vegetables before I went to inspect the contents of this tank positioned beside the cooking area. I managed to force down some of the rice and vegetables that I had ordered but I couldn’t eat anything for about twelve hours after realising what the meat that I was served may have been. I still shiver thinking about this restaurant.”

In Conclusion

What was the biggest challenge of the whole experience?
“That’s a difficult question to answer. If I had to pick one I would say the isolation. When I boarded the boat from England to The Netherlands I was leaving the last English speaking country until Australia. That’s a long time to get by on hand signals and relying on others English. I hope native English speakers realise what a privilege it is!”

What did you miss most from home?
“I missed the company of familiar people the most. Family and friends kept me going even though they were not with me. Nowadays communicating from the other side of the world could not be easier and in that respect I never felt like I was any further away than normal. I didn’t miss any material things, not even my Mum’s cooking, which is what most people yearn for.”

What are your plans now, since returning home?
“I’m still working on that. I am converting an ex library bus into a motorhome which I hope to live in. Everyone who sees it and knows that I cycled across the world expects me to drive it somewhere far too, but that’s not the idea. I’ve had a burning desire to live in a van since before I went cycling and it worked on me the whole time I was away. I recall cycling across the Taklamakan Desert in China thinking about what type of vehicle I should buy and what way to modify it for days on end.”

Would you recommend this to anyone else and will you ever ride a bike again?
“I would, I really would. I would advise travel, travelling to a particular destination or travelling for a set duration, but I would strongly advise you to be careful when you set yourself a target destination and only have a set amount of time to get there! It can make you stressed about covering distance and not enjoying the journey. As cliched as this sounds, it is well founded.”

What is the next adventure?
“I’ve been toying with the idea of kayaking around Ireland. It may sound quite insignificant in comparison to cycling to Australia but it’s no mean feat. The waters around Ireland are very dangerous and this is certainly not something that should be attempted within a set time frame in my opinion. It would be dangerous and I also want to enjoy the trip as I go instead of it being a blur. I’m competing in my first Ironman triathlon in 2019 and am currently training towards that, which I am enjoying. It’s been very nice to do something other than just cycling.”

How did you feel arriving in Sydney and how long did it take in total to get there after leaving Islandmagee?
The trip was overall a very positive experience, however I felt a little low on my arrival and it took me several weeks to appreciate that my journey was over.”

“After spending six months or so thinking about and planning aspects of my trip, then eleven and a half months cycling virtually every day, when I finally arrived, especially alone, it was quite an anti-climax. I cycled to the other side of the world and felt like I was a million miles from anyone I knew. Then a couple who I know called my name while they were sitting eating some chips.”

“Now that I’ve had time to reflect, the scale of my adventure is beginning to sink in. It’s a small world though and I maintain that anyone could do it. It’s just a state of mind thing.”