Around the world bike trip

Tyler Folsom and Venita Plazewski did a two and a half year world bicycle tour in 1976-1978. We pedaled 21,500 miles in 49 countries of Asia, Europe, Africa and America and covered another 21,000 miles by public transportation and 18,500 by air.

On May 15, 1976 a group of six globe circling cyclists left Jamestown, Virginia for an 82 day 4200 mile / 7000 km crossing of the United States. Within months, people had split off in different directions leaving Venita and me to encounter these adventures.

Japan

In September we flew from California to Tokyo for five weeks of cycling in Japan. A single example of the numerous kindnesses there must suffice. One night we were approaching the Nyugasa Yama youth hostel. We had been told to turn left at the third traffic light and on reaching it asked for directions at a bathtub store. The shopkeeper family would not give directions. They insisted that we come in and drink tea with them while they phoned Mr. Matsuda at the hostel to drive down the mountain to pick us up. Even by car it was a 20 minute trip and though we arrived late we were treated to a wonderful Japanese bath, more tea, and a gift of woodprints.

Jeep road in Sri Lanka

We spent a week discovering rural Hong Kong before flying on to Bangkok. We cycled to Penang, Malaysia, flew to Sumatra for a week, then proceeded to Singapore. The plane to India set us down in Sri Lanka for three delightful weeks of tropical paradise - smiling, laughing people, beautiful and varied scenery marked by banana trees, coconut palms, tea and rubber plantations, misty cascade studded mountains and ancient Bhuddist ruins.

From Madras we traveled mostly by train to Calcutta and Darjeeling. Here there was a jeep trail leading to Sandakphu. I figured that if a jeep could make it, then a bike could get through but after a day of pushing our bikes up incredibly steep and rocky roads we left them with a man on the Nepalese side of the trail and walked the next day to Sandakphu at 12,000 ft / 3650 m for a good view of Mt. Everest.

Cycling the roads of India we were always a part of an undisciplined cavalcade of bicycles, pedestrians, bullock carts, tricycles, motorcycles, animals; the occasional truck sent everyone scurrying for the shoulders. We did some steep climbing to reach Kathmandu and Patan in Nepal. Pakistan was less hectic than India, but in Skardu, Kashmir, Venita was the only woman in town amid the thousands gathered for football and polo matches marking Pakistan Day. Children threw rocks in the Khyber Pass but we quickly learned to prevent this by tossing out cigarettes.

Darbar square, Patan, Nepal

Polo in Skardu, Pakistan

Nomads in Afghanistan

Almaa,  Afghanistan

We biked the old caravan route from Kabul to Bamian to Balkh, then continued through northern Afghanistan to Herat by jeep. We mostly bussed across Iran and Eastern Turkey and cruised the Black Sea to Istanbul.

Greece was delightful, totally relaxing after the curious crowds of Asia. We explored ancient sites of the Peloponese and reveled on deserted beaches. Heading north across Yugoslavia, Austria and Czechoslovakia brought us to Poland and a visit with descendents of Venita's great grandparents. A ferry ride to southern Sweden returned us to the well-stocked consumer world of the West.

Venita in Leonideon, Greece

Turin, Poland

 

Jakkvik, Sweden

Though the short Scandanavian summer was ending, we determined to cross the Arctic circle. We took the Stockholm - Helsinki ferry, cycled across Finland and sailed back to northern Sweden. After going by bus to Arjeplog we faced a sparsely settled and little traveled expanse of golden autumn foliage, clear lakes, and snow capped mountains. On the day we crossed the Arctic circle we awoke to light snow falling on the tent and found that all our water had frozen solid. In the afternoon we came upon several parked cars, a large refrigerator truck and a helicopter. The Lapps were bringing their reindeer to market. The copter flew in four carcasses at a time which the men dressed out and hung in the truck. As we biked on, a herd of frightened reindeer ran down the road in front of us.

We took trains through Norway, Denmark and Germany to Holland where we found warmer weather. The Dutch system of cycle roads is as extensive as the motor road network. Passing under the Maas River at Rotterdam was a separate tunnel for bicycles featuring escalators at each end.

We cycled up the Rhine in pleasant Indian summer weather but left Munich in light snow. The morning that we had planned to leave Innsbruck for the Brenner Pass there was an inch / 3 cm of snow on the bikes. We took the train over the Alps to Venice.

Innsbruck, Austria

Venice, Italy

December was sometimes chilly in Spain and Portugal; we didn't fully win our battle with winter until we reached the Sahara in Algeria. We took public transportation south to the oasis town of Ghardia and from there hitched a 1450 mile / 2300 km ride across the desert with two young Frenchmen. They were driving 10 and 15 year old Peugeots which they had bought for next to nothing in Paris and hoped to sell at a huge profit in Africa. We joined up with another car driven by a French auto mechanic. In the two weeks that it took to reach Gao he had eight flat tires, bent a wheel, broke a shock absorber, fan and radiator, replaced the front suspension with a unit scavenged from an abandoned car and twice overhauled his cylinders, making new gaskets from paper.

On the tropic of Cancer, Algeria

 

Stuck in the sand, Algeria

Niger River at Gao, Mali

We cycled out of Mali and across Upper Volta to Ghana, then continued overland through Togo, Benim, Nigeria and Cameroon. See below for our adventures in the Central African Empire, Tanzania and Egypt.

We flew from Nairobi to Cairo to Athens and island hopped the eastern Mediterranean to Israel, visiting the holy places of Galilee and Jerusalem. The return route brought us through Italy, Switzerland and France, flying home in December 1978.

Start date

Days

Country

Miles by bike

$ per day

May 15, 76

82

USA Bikecentennial

4200

 

Sep 5, 76

32

Japan

840

10

Oct 7, 76

9

Hong Kong

140

12

Oct 16, 76

27

Thailand

990

5

Nov 12; 29

13

Malaysia

290

7

Nov 20, 76

9

Indonesia (Sumatra)

0

4.20

Dec 4, 76

2

Singapore

5

7.50

Dec 6, 76

20

Sri Lanka

450

2.30

Dec 26, 76; Feb 2, 77

50

India

970

4

Jan 27, 77

25

Nepal

614

2.50

Mar 16, 77

17

Pakistan

271

3

Apr 2, 77

26

Afghanistan

720

3.10

Apr 27, 77

14

Iran

330

6.60

May 12, 77

26

Turkey

769

5

Jun 7, 77

27

Greece

673

5.30

Jul 4, 77

16

Yugoslavia

496

6.25

Jul 20, 77

11

Austria

400

8.50

Jul 31, 77

4

Czechoslovakia

162

7.50

Aug 8, 77

15

Poland

352

5.30

Aug 19;
Sep 11

19

Sweden

555

5.75

Sep 3, 77

9

Finland

377

8

Sep 15, 77

14

Norway

153

7.85

Sep 30, 77

3

Denmark

44

5.20

Oct 5, 77

13

Holland

296

5.08

Oct 18, 77

11

Belgium

150

6.25

Oct 2; 29, 77

28

Germany

526

8

Nov 24, 77

2

Austria

45

8.40

Nov 26, 77

7

Italy

98

8.50

Dec 3, 77

5

France

161

10.40

Dec 12, 77;
Jan 9, 78

29

Spain

543

7.80

Dec 29, 77

11

Portugal

372

5.90

Jan 17, 78

8

Morocco

166

5.40

Jan 25, 78

20

Algeria

256

5

Feb 14, 78

20

Mali

114

3.50

Mar 6, 78

8

Upper Volta

188

4.60

Mar 14, 78

30

Ghana

659

4.10

Apr 13, 78

4

Togo

57

6

Apr 17, 78

1

Benim

0

0

Apr 17, 78

8

Nigeria

206

5.50

Apr 26, 78

19

Cameroon

418

5

May 15, 78

9

Central African Empire [Republic]

149

5

May 23, 78

39

Zaire

659

3.85

Jul 2, 78

8

Rwanda

188

5.60

Jul 10, 78

26

Tanzania

252

8.75

Aug 5, 78

23

Kenya

445

7.40

Aug 28, 78

27

Egypt

570

4.15

Sep 24;
Oct 31

11

Greece

158

6.45

Oct 2, 78

2

Cyprus

30

7

Oct 4, 78

27

Israel

326

5.65

Nov 3, 78

23

Italy

257

7.45

Nov 26, 78

3

Switzerland

0

6.50

Nov 29, 78

4

France

9

10

Dec 3, 78

5

England

10

10

TOTALS:

936

49

21,577

 

The "cost per day" column is based on living expenses and does not include the cost of transportation or purchases. It gives a rough idea of the relative costs of countries 20 years ago. Don't take it too seriously. Sweden looks cheap because we camped for free beside the road and got our meals from grocery stores. In Spain we stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants.

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All photos copyright Ó Tyler Folsom

Last updated: Feb 16, 1999