Australian Duo Bikes across Eurasia for Charitable Cause, Stop in Kazakhstan

Jess and DanASTANA – Two Australian cyclists, Dan Rule, 26, a sports coach and sport developer from Creswick, Victoria, and Jess Mumford, 26, a science teacher from Murwillumbah, New South Wales, have embarked upon a type of journey that most people never will and that is a 23,000-kilometre bicycle trip across 23 countries, lasting over 15 months and crossing oceans, mountains and steppes.

“Creswick is [my] hometown; we started there at [my] parent’s place. Our goal is to cycle across the great landmass called Eurasia, on which London is an appropriate end point,” Rule said in an exclusive interview with the Astana Times.

The two are fundraising for a cause called Ultimate Peace. “Ultimate Peace builds bridges of understanding and friendship between youth who live in communities divided by conflict using the character building sport of Ultimate Frisbee,” Rule explained.

“The centerpiece of Ultimate Peace is an annual camp for Israeli, Palestinian and Arab youths. The majority of the funds go to improving the camp. Ultimate Frisbee is the world’s only self-refereed team sport and provides many opportunities for on-field conflicts to be resolved by the players under an honour system called the Spirit of the Game. The camp helps players understand differing views from around the field and transfer this understanding back to their communities,” Rule explained.

Each year, costs close to $200,000 to bring in experienced coaches and mentors from around the globe (much of which is funded by the coaches themselves – people who want to make a difference by supporting the work of Ultimate Peace) are accrued. “Our ambitious target of raising 100,000 Australian dollars (about $92,500) through the Creswick-to-London bike ride will partially assure the future of the camp, which opened in 2009,” Rule added

Which countries have you travelled through so far, how long do you stay in each country?

Kazakhstan is the eleventh country on our journey to London. The amount of time in each country differs depending on its size and whether we have stopped to teach, play or pickup visas for our onward travel.

What has your typical day been like recently? Tell us a little about the conditions you have faced on this trip regarding lodging, food, etc.?

For the first seven months of our trip, we experienced extremely hot conditions and some monsoons. Most days we spent in South East Asia brought temperatures of 30-40 degrees Celsius. When the weather was this hot, we rode early and late in the day to avoid the midday heat.

When arriving by train to Urumqi, we had to find gloves and wear almost all of our clothes for much of the time! We were glad to finally use our thermal clothes that we had carried so far!

We carry our two-man tent on our bikes and try to stay in it most nights in order to cut some of our costs down since we are self-funded and on a very long trip. We try to keep our daily food accommodation budget to 7.50 Euros. Sometimes this can be hard and we occasionally have no choice but to find a cheap hotel. We have also been very privileged to stay with people in the Frisbee and cycling communities in cities along the way.

Arriving in a new country, we seek to find the cheapest foods we can and we typically subsist off them during our stay. In Indonesia, we typically ate rice and fish, in Malaysia, fried noodles, in Laos, soup and rice, etc. We really enjoy Kazakhstan’s fantastic breads!

What is unique about Kazakhstan in your view? Can you name a few pros and cons?

We love the food! We have tried excellent meats, breads, beers and tea.

The landscape is also familiar; the wide open spaces are very similar to Australia. We found a beautiful campsite at Charyn Canyon on our way to Almaty and were also amazed by the city’s mountain views. Our time in Astana has also been a unique experience; the city seems very much on the way up. There is a lot of interesting architecture and a lot of construction work – it seems this city is growing.

The only tough part about our time in Kazakhstan has been contending with the incredible wind both when we are cycling and teaching Frisbee at the schools. There is not much we can do about it when we are on the bikes, but we have taught a lot of indoor Ultimate Frisbee here – an adaptation that can be played year-round in Kazakhstan. On May 28, we had some students we taught at Almaty International School travel to Astana; they will square off against QSI Astana in Kazakhstan’s first ever Ultimate Frisbee inter-school match. We hope this is something that continues in Kazakhstan after we leave.

Why cycling? Is it a hobby of yours? Why do you love it?

Traveling by bike can be a very rewarding experience. Before the trip, neither of us were regular cyclists, but we both loved the great outdoors. As our bodies adjusted, we increased our distances gradually as we became stronger. Bicycling allows for a 360 degree view from anywhere in the trip. By experiencing the world at such a slow pace, we are able to frequently interact with local people and enjoy differing experiences.

We have been amazed by the hospitality of many people along the way. We have regularly had cars stop and offer us water and soft drinks, chocolate, fruit and cookies. Towards the end of the day, in many places, we have been welcomed into people’s homes to stay the night.

We are really lucky to be traveling by bicycle, as we are able to experience each country in a way that other forms of high speed travel do not allow. We have been frustrated when we have had to take trains and busses, as you can only see one direction out of your window – and you miss the sights, sounds and people of the countryside.

Travelling such long distances is challenging – what ultimately drives you at the end of the day?

We began the trip by bicycle as a way to see and experience the things that the world has to offer. Some days are very challenging physically and mentally, others are filled with spectacular views and incredible people. Fundraising for our friends at Ultimate Peace has really given great purpose to our trip, because we are able to talk about their work and connect with people through Ultimate Frisbee along the way as well.  As well as cycling, we have taught Ultimate Frisbee in many major cities, including Almaty and Astana, to help with our fundraising for Ultimate Peace.

How do people normally react when they hear about what you are doing?

We have had lots of different reactions. We have found that nearly everyone in the world has a story to share about riding a bike; this has helped us find common ground with all sorts of people.

We also feel that we have been treated particularly well by a lot of people due to the nature of our travel. When climbing the steepest mountains on a loaded bicycle, we are often encouraged along by other people using the roads.

Where are you headed next? Are you behind or ahead of schedule?

After Kazakhstan, we will cycle into Kyrgyzstan and over the mountains to Uzbekistan. We are on schedule to arrive in London in November 2014. The home stretch is only 9,000 kilometres away.

Countries we are likely to visit include: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, France and the UK.

Dan and Jess’s Approximate Itinerary:

Australia – 8 weeks

Timor-Leste – 1 week

Indonesia – 8 weeks

Singapore – 1 week

Malaysia – 2 weeks

Thailand – 4 weeks

India – 3 weeks

Laos – 2 weeks

Vietnam – 1 week

China – 3 weeks

Kazakhstan – 3 weeks

Donations can be made to Ultimate Peace at www.creswicktolondon.com