Meet the Adelaide boy bicycling around the world

Almost a year ago, Adelaide boy Jimmy Ashby began the trip of a lifetime: a cycling journey around the world. Here, he tells us about the ups and downs, moments of fear and how keen he is for a fridge full of food when he gets home.
By Australian Geographic March 19, 2019 Reading Time: 6 Minutes

What first inspired you to bike around the world?

A lot of people say that cycling around the world was just in my blood. I take nearly all my inspiration from my mum Anne and dad Gary. They met while cycling around Tasmania and then together took on expeditions across Europe, Asia & all over, so growing up as a boy I always heard their tales and woes from the road. And to this day, in their fifties they’re both still doing incredible bike trips!

I was really into my outdoor education through school and did a lot of rock climbing, sea kayaking and bush walking, and have always had the want for adventure inside me! Once I finished school I worked hard for one-and-a-half years in the outdoor guiding industry and worked out pretty quickly I was searching for more. I had the original plan to do a trans Europe bike ride, south to north. Then while discussing it with my friend while out climbing he joked “Mate, just go around the world”. Little did he know that had flicked a switch and then the ride snowballed into something massive!

When did you first start your trip, how far have you come and what direction are you going in?

I began my trip on 21 April 2018, so it’s coming up 12 months since leaving home!

I’ve covered 31,000km across 29 countries and four continents!

The majority of my trip has been done west-east, however due to weather and seasons I flew from Washington DC [USA] to Kyrgyzstan and cycled westward across Central Asia, Turkey and Europe. I did this because the section through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along the Pamir Highway was the section I was most excited for and with passes being above 4600m it had to be done in the right season, which if I cycled Europe first, I would have missed.

Once I reached Lisbon, Portugal, I flew to New Delhi and am now continuing eastward!

How did you prepare for the epic trip?

Looking back now you could say I’ve been leading up to this for years! At 14 years old I spent one week cycling around Kangaroo Island, SA, with my dad. At 16 I cycled 900km solo down the coast of Tasmania, and straight after finishing year 12 at age 17 I spent three weeks riding solo on the South Island of New Zealand! Once I had finished school my cycling took on a whole new level, really pushing the endurance side of it, seeing how far/long I could go, completing hill climb challenges, ‘Everesting’ and riding from Adelaide to Geelong in two days.

Three months before I departed Adelaide I went on what I called the ‘Training Ride’ (just an excuse to go for a ride really…) I cycled from Melbourne to Canberra, crisscrossing the Victorian Alps all on sealed roads. I then turned around and went back to Melbourne via dirt tracks along a route called the ‘Hunt 1000’, which I sadly crashed out on, with 200km to go. I wasn’t hurt, however the bike was unrideable, creating quite the adventure to get back to civilisation!

Mentally there was a lot of planning that went with working out visas/routes and to be honest most of that quickly got thrown out the window when I hit the road… there’s been a lot of planning along the way!

Jimmy in Lisbon.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

My biggest challenge? That’s a tough one, real tough.

To me cycling is my ‘happy place’, it’s where I feel complete and is what I love to do, so while getting up to ride 150+km every day to some may be the challenge, for me it’s a blessing. Of course there are times where it’s hot, cold, windy or I’m hungry (that happens a lot), which makes the riding tougher or less enjoyable but I’m still riding and that’s what I love. Sometimes I have to stop and breathe for a minute to remember that.

So for me, the toughest moments, the times that have brought me to tears, are when I wasn’t able to ride and I lost my ‘happy place’. These times came when I had mechanical problems I couldn’t fix or was stuck waiting for new parts to be posted to me, twiddling my thumbs spending money I didn’t have and just waiting. The one other moment that I’ll never let go of is when I was in Tajikistan. Six weeks before I cycled the road on the Afghan border, four cyclists were killed in an act of terror by Islamic State. I arrived at the location and found a memorial for them… instantly it broke me, the fear it could have been me but also the fear, the stress and the worry I was putting my friends and family through.

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I haven’t cried like this before. These tears brought me to my knees. For people I’ve never known. On July 29th, 2018, 7 cyclists were attacked in Tajikistan. A car drove into them, turned around and came back with a knife. 4 of them were killed. This is their memorial. . Maybe you knew about this attack, you might have found it online or the news. Many people even brought it up with me before I flew over here. I so nearly didn’t come. I stand by my belief that it wasn’t the Tajik people, not the people I’ve come across. It’s clear to see that they are mourning and regret this as a country. Police, army soldiers, the average person have all stepped above their usual kindness to ensure I’m ok, pulling over to offer me food & water. They’ve even apologised to me personally. It was a rash attack by the IS towards the government. I feel safer in Tajikistan than I did though many parts of America. It breaks my heart. . This could have so easily been me, or one of the other incredible cyclists I’ve met. . Just like me, I bet all they wanted to do was see the world, see it on a bike. Be a world traveler. To the Mother, Father, Family & Friends of these cyclist’s. I am so sorry. My heart goes out to you. May they Ride in Peace forever on.

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What has been one of the biggest lessons for you?

My biggest lesson? Again, a tough one.

When I left Adelaide I definitely had a huge ego in tow. I wanted to tell everyone what I was doing, where I was going, feeling indestructible. “I’m Jimmy, I’m 18, I will cycle around the world.” I didn’t have an appreciation for where I was going or the places I’d get to see. I had this ‘go go go, faster is better, I can do anything’ frame of mind until half way across the USA when one of my best mates, Chad Freak, joined me for a week while crossing the Rockies in Colorado. He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to and has done some incredible things on a bike in his own right! He definitely picked up on the mind frame I had and he made me really ask myself why am I doing this? Is it to say I’ve cycled the world or is it for me, and the love of adventure & cycling?

Once he left I made the effort, I learnt to be humble, I made the simple switch from telling people ‘I’m cycling around the world’ to ‘Just travelling through’ when asked, I learnt if they were actually interested in my story then they would want to chat. My entire mind frame and schedule changed, I became less stressed and started to feel that happiness I was searching for. If it wasn’t for Chad and making that change then through the tougher countries, the challenges and conditions would have torn me apart! I learnt that the macho mind frame I had was going to prevent me from achieving what I wanted to.

What has been your favourite place?

I can look at any country and tell you that it’s my favourite place, often when asked this question it’s where I’ve been the previous couple weeks because it’s fresh in my mind. To give you an answer though, it would be Nepal. The entire time through Nepal I just felt calm and happy, the roads were so gnarly and wild, I couldn’t find more remote back roads if I wanted to. These roads took me over, down, through the most incredible valleys and mountain tops all while having the Himalayan skyline in the background, just incredible scenery.

Nepal also inspired a pretty crazy idea for the future, a complete off-road mountain bike adventure crossing the Himalayas all the way though Nepal, India, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. I like to dream about the next adventure quite a bit!

What bike are you using and has it served you well?

I rode the CURVE Cycling GXR, for the first 23,000km. I was on the titanium model and then switched to the steel model to test it out for the rest of my journey. The bike has served me incredibly, not only that but the support from the company, CURVE has been pivotal in my trip. They have aided in getting new parts sent all over the globe and setting me up with contacts and help worldwide.

What are you looking forward to the most when you get home?

I’m only a matter of months away from arriving back home so the thought of my friends and family, a bed or fridge full of food is very exciting and motivating.

Of course seeing everybody and having those things is going to be great but I’m most looking forward to being able to develop who I’ve become. I haven’t become a different person but I’ve certainly worked out what my morals are and who ‘Jimmy’ is. I’m also very excited to be able to share that with everyone and then put it all into motion for projects and the next expedition. Riding around the world is only the beginning!

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I’m on my way home. With roughly 8000 – 10 000km left, it’s becoming a matter of weeks before I roll back into Adelaide. But it’s not just about the ride. Along with this journey I’m raising funds for Motor Neurone Disease (MND). My goal from day one has been to raise $1 per kilometre, however when I left home I only planned to do 29 000km… it’s now become a 40 000km mission. Which means not only will I be riding another 11 000km, we need to raise another $11 000! As of 18/03/2019 we have an incredible, $22 542.14 raised… Wow! But it’s time we kick it to the next level, there’s still $17 457.16 to get together. Let’s step it up. Companies have contacted me saying they will match every donation their employees make, @westminster.school school are putting on an entire school fundraiser, the local pubs back home even have jars collecting change! So what can you do to help? Donations can be made via my @everydayhero page in my bio, but you could even go further, share with friends, family, colleagues, set up a jar in your cafe or pub, does your school do fundraisers? Or do you work for a company/organisation that’s willing to support people like me? Each day I sit on the bike seat for 8-10 hours, if I can do that, what can you do? If I can be any assistance in helping support fundraisers with a video, message or photo please let me know, send me a message or flick me an email: ashbyjimmy@gmail.com! Let’s tackle MND together.

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What advice would you have for others who want to attempt an epic journey like yours?

I could talk for days about advice… but I think just ride the highs and lows and roll with whatever comes! If at the core of it you just love riding your bike and being out on an adventure then whatever happens you’re going to have a good time (mostly)!

You can plan and plan and plan for it but at the end of the day the only way you will learn and grow is by taking that step and messing up a few times. I still mess up all the time, even after 31,000km I’m far from the cyclist I want to be!