Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Cycling Vagabond - Cycling the Silk Road...China, Tibet, Nepal, India

A personal interview with Eddie Glayzer, an English Teacher who Cycled the Silk Road.

[Eddie] Lots of questions, thanks! I'll do my best to give good responses! Here it goes.

Q. What made you decide on your current journey?

I have no idea. The journey sort of made itself more than any decision I have made. When I graduated from University in the US my gift to myself was a cycling trip across the US. I was only just starting to commute by bike at that time but it seemed like a neat thing to do at the time. When I moved to Korea I bought myself a proper touring rig and was riding everywhere on it. After completing two tours of Korea I just decided to branch out and make this an official hobby among many.

Q. Where did your journey begin and when did you come to Korea?

I came to Korea in February of 2009. I was completely broke with massive student loans in the US. Still, my first paycheck on the ROK went to a new bike! I actually gained several pounds when I first moved to Korea because I had no bike to ride!

Q. What are your favorite bicycle tour routes in Korea, China or the USA?

I have crossed Korea two times and my favorite ride was along the west coast through the sleepy fishing villages punctuated every now and then by super popular vacation beaches. I hear the east coast is awesome as well so that’s on my list for next year when I get back to the ROK. So far, China has been a royal pain in my ass bureaucratically. It’s complicated, much more so than a bicycle ride should be, even of this length. The people I have met on the road have more than made up for that shortcoming though. When I crossed the US it was from Vancouver to Tijuana and it was spectacular, if a bit expensive. I am planning a Great Lakes tour next year when I return for grad school.

Q. Does your bicycle have a name? How long have you two been together?

Of course she has a name. It's bad luck to raise a kick-stand and set off on a long voyage without christening your rig. Her name is Shirley. We have been together for almost three years now and I have never strayed, unlike some of my other relationships....

Q. What are 3 tools that a long distance cyclist cannot do without?

I'm not a big repair-on-the-road kind of guy. If something breaks I see it as an opportunity to meet new people as you seek help from the locals. That being said, tools are essential. I carry a Topeak Alien II that has been wonderful for the last five years or so and still going strong. Although, I admit I hardly use any of the stuff other than the Allen keys. It’s still nice to have everything you need in one package. Duct tape (Gaffer) is extremely important, as are zip-ties and extra straps or bungees.

 "Shirley" (Surly Long Haul Trucker, 50cm) is Eddie's reliable and dependable long-distance touring bicycle
 Korea-India Expedition remarks by Eddie Glayzer

Q. Favorite quotes?

"A little pain never hurt anybody." Repeated often in my head while climbing, which seems to be all the time here in Tibet?

Q. Why did you decide to cycle across China?

My major in University was Cultural Anthropology with an emphasis on Asian culture. I want to visit as many countries as I can in this region, specifically, North East Asia. Japan is expensive so that left China!

 Q. What are important things to prepare before setting off on tour?

Your head. Get it straight before you leave and everything else will sort itself out. I'm serious about this. Five days after leaving on this trip I almost boarded a plane back to the ROK because I missed my girl friend. Not too macho huh? I have never met a woman who had that sort of impact on me, especially to affect a long term goal such as this trip. It caught me completely off guard. The other typical things I could tell you to prepare like your bike, your fitness, your traveling technique will all happen within the first two weeks on the road, regardless of whether or not you’re prepared before hand.

Q. What is your greatest moment so far while riding in China?

There have been a lot. My most recent "great" moment was summiting Tranggula Pass at 5231 meters which is also the boundary between the TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) and Qinghai. I was completely out of breath due to the elevation. Just standing around left me light headed. Other than that, I enjoyed staying in the Ganjia Monetary for three days with a group of monks, playing drinking games and listening to Micheal Jackson with a Tibetan restaurant owner near Qinghai Lake, or staying with a local one-eyed woman in the ancient, crumbling walled city of Jimigi in Heibe province.  Oh, I was also invited to a local school to do an impromptu English lesson in the country side of Shanxi province. I was half-drunk at the time and gave a 45 minute lecture to about 150 Chinese middle school students. I definitely did not see that one coming when I woke up that morning.

Q. What is your distance now and where was the starting point for your tour?

Current distance is about 4,700K. My starting point was Seoul although | didn't really start riding until I landed in Tianjin after taking a boat from Incheon. I hate flying and avoid it whenever I can.

Q. What is your total distance cycling to date?

Like, over my whole life? I have no idea! I have been a car-free cycle commuter for the last 4 years. I have crossed Korea twice, the US once, most of China, and innumerable weekend camping trips and joy rides. Your guess is as good as mine.

Q. What is your Touring Bicycle type (model and components)?

Surly (Shirley) Long Haul Trucker. All major components are stock except for the Brooks saddle and front and rear Tubus racks. I installed a second set of brake levers and it makes a huge difference on long rides. I also run duel stems to allow the bar bag to clear the second set of brakes.

Q. What is your average mileage per day? 

I have been keeping around 100k as a rough goal but often times I do 80-100 with the occasional 50k or 150k day thrown into the mix. I don't really keep close track because I don't like to be on a tight schedule. Unfortunately that has been impossible in China due to their unreasonable short Visa periods and expensive (sometimes impossible) extension system.

Longest day on the cycle (hours):

14 hours. Tianjin to Beijing.

Longest distance in a day (miles/kms):

159km (99 miles) fully-loaded.

Q. How many nights have you spent sleeping in a tent?

Not nearly as many as I thought it would be. So far just 7-8 days. Accommodations have been so cheap in China, and the weather/pollution, so miserable that it hasn't been worth pitching that often. However, since I recently entered Tibet and am dodging the local police like the plague I am guessing I will get more use out of it, freezing weather be damned.

Q. How many nights sleeping in other places?

I don’t know, probably 60 or so in cheap guest houses that cost anywhere from $1 to $5. About once every two weeks or so, I splash on a decent hotel with a hot shower. They usually run $10-$15 here in major cities.

Q. Do you have some Favorite locations en route?

Xiahe has been one of my favorite places, right next to Labrang Monetary and the Ganjia Grasslands in southern Gansu Province. I also enjoyed Qinghai Lake in Qinghai province and several small towns located throughout China where the locals are a real treat.

Q. Do you have any favorite music to enjoy on tour?

My taste in music is eclectic and so I listen to everything while I ride. Jimmy Cliff has gotten a lot of play recently because he is just so damned upbeat and positive. Rancid and the Distillers get played during hard climbs or when I just feel like going fast. Pink Floyd is good for long, chill days in the saddle. Johnny Cash is good for all occasions and if you disagree you are wrong.

 Wildlife seen on tour:

Not a lot until I got out of eastern China and away from the land of a billion bodies. After that I see stuff everyday. Lately I have been seeing Yaks and mountain goats all day long. I saw lots of camel herds in the deserts outside Golmud and Donkeys on the way to the Tibetan Plateau. There were thousands of species of migrating birds at Qinghai Lake since it’s their breeding season right now. There are some strange looking guinea pig-like creatures that take great pleasure in darting across the road right in front of me in Tibet. The desert rabbits have woken me up in the tent quite a few times while they did through my garbage for food. I have heard there are large bears and wolves in Tibet that come out at night but I have yet to see them in the flesh. I get attacked by large Tibetan Mastiffs on a regular basis.

Q. How are the weather conditions?

Mostly terrible. They were at their peak in southern Gansu but I have yet to have a day that I could cycle in shorts. I started the ride a bit early in Tianjin and continued to gain elevation as I traveled west faster than the seasons could keep up with me. It feels like I have been going back in time. The last two days in Tibet have been blissfully snow free. The winds in the deserts of Qinghai were always against me and always very strong.

Q. What type of landscapes have you encountered?

Mostly arid desert and high mountain planes. In Ganjia and Tibet I encountered high grasslands. In parts of Gansu the weather permitted lush agriculture but I was only there to enjoy it for a brief time. I have encountered a great deal of sand throughout this trip....

Q. What is your favorite food on a bicycle tour?

Coffee. Everything else is mere luxury. The coffee in China sucks by the way, if you can find any at all. Besides this obvious truth, snickers are hands down the best food to eat while cycling. They fit in your handlebar bag, fill you up, and are easy to eat with one hand. When camping, I like to make noodles with fresh veggies and whatever meat I can get my hands on for dinner. Lately it has been dehydrated yak. In the mornings I eat amazing amounts of oatmeal mixed with dried fruit and honey.

 Q. What would you bring on your next tour?

Iodine or chlorine tablets. I brought two stoves with me on this trip, my trusty Trangia alcohol stove and a Primus Himalaya multi-fuel. I hate cooking with petrol. I inhale the stuff all day and the last thing I want to smell when relaxing around camp is burning gas. I brought it for Tibet and other out of the way places where I might have to boil water a lot for drinking in which case the petrol stoves fuel efficiency becomes very important. This has turned out to not be a problem since there are more settlements than I thought and I just end up carrying extra water rather than boiling it in route.

Q. What would you leave behind next time?

Primus Himalaya multi-fuel stove. A pair of shorts that I have yet to wear. I also brought a pair of Teva sandals that I am hoping will see some action once I reach Nepal but...

Q. Could you describe the journey so far, the highlights and were there any lows?

I think I already described some of my highlights so let’s talk about lows. There have been a few. As already mentioned I almost boarded a plane just after setting out to get back to the safety of my girl friend. One day I pitched my tent in what I thought was the perfect camping spot in a fry river bed. In the morning the sand of the river bed turned into a dust storm in high winds and everything in my tent was covered with a thick layer of the stuff, including my brand new camera. I sat sitting in my tent for hours waiting for the wind to die down, only for it to turn into a snow storm as the temperature dropped. Golmud was another low point because I was hoping to enter Tibet legally via a travel agent there who has a monopoly on Tibetan travel. Everything was far too expensive and stupid so I just went as an illegal. I also hit a low after nearly fainting, fighting for breath trying to climb Tranggula Pass.

Eddie, can you give 10 reasons for others to start touring by bicycle?

Ten is a lot. I could probably give you hundreds but you don't need me to tell you them. I don't consider myself a cyclist as much as a traveler or vagabond. The bicycle is simply my preferred mode of transportation. Here are some reasons why.

1) Its a very inexpensive form of sustainable long-distance travel2) You never know what’s going to happen on a day on the bike, unlike a day on a bus or train.3) The bicycle is an instant conversation starter with the locals. I have no idea what it is about the bike that inspires people to praise you and offer you all sorts of free accommodations, food, beer, drugs, and just about everything else.4) I feel a sense of satisfaction after a long tour that is missing from commercialized trips via other modes of travel.5) Its very green6) Traveling by bike helps the local economies and has a greater impact on local populations than mass transit. This is because the bike takes you places that buses, trains, and airplanes don't go.7) That brings me to the point that you get a clear, uninterrupted, linear view of the places you travel through. This is in contrast to the broken and fragmented experience of boarding a high speed something or another that whisks you away to exactly the same places that everyone else is going. 

Q. What equipment is essential for any ultra-distance bicycle tours?

A bicycle, an open mind, and a smile. That’s it. Everything else is optional. For me personally I would also add coffee.

Q. Why do you ride bicycles? How long have you been riding (years)?

I didn't start riding until my junior year in college when I was living downtown. I hated driving so I got a free bike off craigslist and the love affair was begun. About six months later I realized that my car had not moved once since getting the bike and I sold it.

Q. What is the greatest experience you recall so far on tour?

There is not a single great experience. Bicycle Touring is usually not about that one big BAG moment. The exception to this rule might be the completion of a tour in a bad-ass location but my tour is still ongoing. The experiences you have while touring, especially when touring internationally and in developing countries, are too varied for a straightforward comparison of which one is the best. For me, the best part of a bicycle tour is meeting people and sharing in their everyday lives. For others, the best part is the ride itself or the sightseeing or whatever.

Q. Where can readers find more information about your tour? Can you give us your website?

Here is my website with a daily updates, pictures, and route information visit:


Eddie said...


You picked all of my favorite pictures for this interview. Thanks a million.


Brian Perich Bikes said...

Hey Eddie, welcome back to ROK! I'll need to get back to CGOAB for the final stages of your expedition, if your interested in another go, I am leaving for Kashgar (Kashi) in late June-late August, get lost in the Taklamakan and heading south to the Tibetan plateau. Hope to speak/meet up before I leave, let me know. ^^ Brian P

Please share the free inspiration and adventure cookbook with all your friends and families (:

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About the Korean-World Author

Brian Perich was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lecturer for a decade, father, and adventure cyclist based in South Korea.

Previously, Brian has led Canoe adventures in Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada (1993/1999); led Grand American camping adventures (2000); lived at Paramahansa Yogananda's SRF Ashram for 5 months (see the film "AWAKE"), formerly worked in titanium welding at Agilent Technologies, formerly worked in Winery industry in Marin County with Kendall Jackson in California; Surfing and Meditation continued for several years in California, British Columbia, South Korea, Yoga training in California 1999-2000.

Between 1994-1998 - Brian completed his own adventures with motorcycles. His motorcycling marathons took him across the United States and central/western Canada, while traveling solo over an astounding 24,000km in 60 days! Brian endured 900 mile/1300km average days in the motorcycle saddle and apparently loved every minute of those adventures.

Today, he has given up motorcycle adventures altogether, but finds an outlet for his enthusiasm in outdoor recreation while bicycle touring and micro-blogging about those experiences on his mountain bikes.

While employed as an English teacher in South Korea, Brian has became an advocate for bicycle touring on his mountain bikes. The Korean-World blog originated from those small adventures in Korea, now expanded to cover his recent trek down the TransMongolian highway to the Gobi Desert, cycling 900km east through the Khentii grasslands and in 2012 crossing Mongolia in 45 days, 2500 kilometers 1553 miles. HimalayasX expedition Brian previously cycled across western China, the Taklamakan Desert, the northern Himalayas of East Turkestan Xinjiang/Uyghur Autonomous Region, the corrugated back roads and mountains of Kham Tibet. Brian successfully completed his 2011 mountain bike expedition with 3200 kilometers / 1988 miles unsupported, on/off road MTB adventure cycling.
Brian has completed his second mountain bike journey, MongoliaX expedition - Crossing Mongolia 2012, an unsupported mountain bike MTB expedition across 2500km of Outer Mongolia from Ulanbaatar to Altai Taven-Bogd National Park bordering China, Russia and Mongolia.

In 2013, as a sequel to a trilogy of cycle tours, Brian enjoyed a more leisure bicycle tour onboard his Koga-Miyata World Traveller seeing the northern tier of the United States and western Canada covering 3400 kilometers / 2000 miles in 30 days. This North American cycle tour was called Totherocktour. Enjoying the adventure of bicycle travel and every great conversation started while traveling on the road - has refueled his inspirations to cycle around the Earth. In 2013, while he cycled solo from the Great Lake State of Michigan, United States to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. He weaved through local communities and reconnected with friends, family and community after spending almost a decade in Asia.

Brian is now supporting several non-profit foundations through expeditions: IDEAS Foundation of Canada IDEAS is the acronym for Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society which supports the IBD community, those suffering from IBD-inflammatory bowel disease, also known as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.

The second non-profit foundation is ETE.ORG - Education Through Expeditions, UK which supports educational outreach programs inside schools around the world. ETE connects explorers with students in the classroom, through an interactive online program in development (Beta).

Brian is researching support for a 18000 kilometer bicycle expedition across the Americas: North, Central and South America - ONE -Arctic to Argentina
Please contact him if you are interested in helping out.

Twitter: Cycleagain
Location: Gangneung, Gangwon-do, South Korea or southern Ontario, Canada.

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Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

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