More than a year after leaving Almaty, Magzhan Sagimbayev returned to the city’s Republic Square May 16 where he started his 380-day, 22-country solo bicycle tour.
Sponsored by the Kazakh Geographic Society and Limpopo sports store, the 27-year-old resident was the architect of the Bike the Earth trip. His route wound through China, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ecuador, Iran, Spain, France, Colombia, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Serbia, Austria, Portugal, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In total, the cyclist visited 170 towns and more than 200 villages.
His journey, which began May 1, 2014, ended at the Kazakh Monument of Independence, where he was met with flowers and loud cheers from relatives, friends and Almaty fans who followed his online journey diary. In an exclusive interview for this newspaper, he shared his views on the journey and the benefits of travelling in such a way.
What made you set out on your trip?
It was curiosity for everything new. In Almaty, I met a lot of travelers who inspired me every time with different stories from their crazy journeys. After all, if you’re not traveling, it’s as if you’re reading only one page of a book. To grow and develop, you need to get out and see the world and make friends with people who have other views and values. This prompted me to travel.
What role did the Kazakh Geographic Society play in the project?
The Kazakh Geographic Society played a crucial role in this project, not only as a sponsor of this trip but as a helper in different situations. It was the perfect collaboration, as I got to choose the route and write my diary myself. There wasn’t a format I had to write in. I have written about different things, about my feelings about people, about many things, even if it did not relate to geography. But the project was a success and I am very happy about it!
How would you describe your feelings during the trip?
My feelings were changing every day. Mostly I had a smile on my face and was full of joy, but there were difficult moments when I was very tired. A couple of times I even cried, not because of the difficulty but of the loneliness. I could spend three or four days completely alone, surrounded by nothing … It was cold and hot, I got stuck in a sandstorm, in hail and snow. Every day there were different feelings.
How would you comment on the cycling culture in Kazakhstan?
Each year more and more people in Kazakhstan get on bicycles. Over the past year I have received thousands of letters from throughout Kazakhstan that read, “Thank you for the inspiration, Magzhan; thanks to you I bought a bike.” More and more Kazakhs are beginning not only to cycle but also do other sports. The Amateur Triathlon Federation opened this year, which I plan to join in the near future.
What needs to be done to develop it?
In order to develop a cycling culture in Kazakhstan, first there needs to be an infrastructure for it. Bike lanes should be built in cities and in the future perhaps between them as well. The problem of smog in many cities will disappear.
What do people know about Kazakhstan?
About Kazakhstan? Virtually nothing! Every time I stayed with host families, they looked at me with wide eyes and asked a lot of questions about my country. Often I was told that I was the first person from Kazakhstan in this or that place. Especially in small villages and it made me feel proud. I had to show many the map of the world to point out Kazakhstan. The surprise knew no bounds when they saw how big it is.
What else would you like toshare with our readers?
Be inquisitive, open to everything new. Travel and make new friends. Do sports and be happy!