Cycling around the world

I had the chance to interview Gurkan Genc, a Turkish adventurer who is midway through a seven-year world tour on his bicycle. I love talking to fellow travelers about their experiences and Genc’s time on the road inspired me to look more seriously at planning a long-term expedition. He plans to complete his world tour in 2020. He talked about the challenges and rewards of being alone on the road.


Cyclist aims to break world record

Gurkan Genc has cycled across six deserts and pedalled almost 40,000 kilometers

Photo provided by Gurkan Genc.
Photo provided by Gurkan Genc.

World traveller Gurkan Genc says he’s only been afraid once on his cycling world tour. It was in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, which boasts one of the harshest environments on Earth.

“It’s flat, there is no road, the sand is so strong that cycling is hard,” he says. “There is nothing, no sound, no one.”

Genc says he went 12 days without seeing another person.

“I put up my tent in that desert. I would go inside and try to hear something, but there was nothing,” he says. “I thought ‘wow this is the first time I am alone.’ I didn’t like it. It’s not normal.”

It’s one of the many harrowing experiences Genc has encountered since 2012, when he started his world cycling tour. After nearly 40,000 kilometers and 34 countries, Genc says he is on track to achieve a Guinness World Record.

He is the first person to cycle across six deserts including the Karakum in Turkmenistan, Taklamakan in China, Gobi in Mongolia, Tabernas in Spain, Sahara in Africa, and the Arabian Desert in the Middle East. He says he will cycle across three more deserts on this world tour.

Genc, who is currently on a pit-stop in Dar es Salaam, has been guided by a simple philosophy. He says he gave up a life working traditional business hours in an office, hoping to realize his dream of travelling the world. He won’t return to his home country of Turkey until the tour ends in 2020, at which point he will have travelled across five continents and 80 countries.

“God gave us only one life and we have only one chance in the world,” he says.  “One day when I was cycling in Saudi Arabia, the king died. He was one of the richest men in the world and he died. Everything he owned is still here … money, cars, house.”

He says it made him think about the importance of valuing experience over financial security.

Genc, 37, graduated from university with a communications degree. He worked for television companies before opening an Italian restaurant in 2007, which he went on to sell. In 2010, he cycled 12,000 kilometers from Turkey to Japan for one year.

Genc says his favourite country in the world is Japan because of the unparalleled hospitality and awe-inspiring scenery. It was a dream of his to visit the country.

“When I was at university I thought ‘I want to go to Japan.’ I had time, but no money. After university, I had money, but no time. So in 2010 … I said it’s enough. I went to Japan.”

When he completed the tour, he says he realized he couldn’t stop.

“I understood the world is amazing,” he says. “I knew I should do a big trip.”

His world tour, dubbed Cycle for Future, is funded by a combination of private sponsorship, advertising and social media presence. Genc’s blog currently has 100,000 followers. He updates it regularly with travel stories, photos and videos.

“If you want to travel the world you need a universal job,” he says.

Genc also receives donations on his website that help fund his journey, but he says he gives excess money away.

“The people cycling like this, we don’t need money on the road. Most of the time we spend $5 a day.”

Genc has initiated several charitable programs, including a scholarship for female athletes in Turkey who need funding to achieve their goals. He also gives away one bicycle every three months to a follower of his blog who can answer a trivia question.  He believes cycling is the best way to see the world.

His bicycle, which has seen him through temperatures of -30 C in Russia to 30 C in Tanzania, carries his camping equipment and all his supplies.

“It’s an amazing [mode of] transportation. You can see every single detail, the maximum speed is 20 kilometers,” he says.

Genc will only use another mode of transport if he is in a life-threatening situation, or if it’s necessary to cross water. He adds that he burns about 5,000 calories per day when he cycles, but he takes time to visit historical sites and immerse himself in local culture.

Genc is consistently astounded by the hospitality shown by locals when he travels.

“When I enter a village, they see me and they understand, I’m very tired. Sometimes, they try to buy my bicycle. This is important. If they ask for it … it means you are inside the community. If you go by motorbike, they think of you as a rich man.”

Genc often camps, or depends on the kindness of strangers. He says he makes a point of presenting at schools in every country he goes to. He talks to students about his experiences, and holds events in cities where he has pit stops. On Dec. 13, he will be spearheading a 10-kilometer cycling tour in Dar es Salaam with interested participants.

His cycling world tour isn’t without its challenges.

Genc was robbed at gunpoint in Tajikistan and was hit by a car in Switzerland. He has been robbed of his external hard drives twice.

“The videos and photos are important for me. The memories,” he says. “These are more valuable than everything.”

In Saudi Arabia, he was hit by a truck and seriously injured, requiring two operations at desert hospitals.

“Ten minutes after the accident I was at the hospital because the accident happened near the hospital,” he says, with a laugh. It was a stroke of luck, he adds. “You can fall down in your life a lot of times, but the important thing is to get up and keep going.”

His tour also means sacrificing time with family and friends.

“I’ve missed all my friends’ weddings. I’m also going to miss my brother’s wedding,” he says, adding that the tour must take priority.

When asked if he gets lonely, he says no.

“It’s impossible. Every day I meet new people and talk with them. I’m not bored .Every day I learn something new.”

As for what he will do after he completes his world tour, Genc says he wants to give back in his home country.

“I’m going to try to become the Sports Minister of Turkey,” he says. “Why not? I’ve travelled the whole world. I know every country.”

If he doesn’t return to Turkey, Genc says he plans to settle down in a village in the mountains near Granada, Spain. He also plans to write a book about his experiences.

Genc says he wants to encourage other people to pursue their goals.

“If you have a dream, try to do it,” he says. “I don’t tell people they must travel. I say ‘come on, you have only one life, try it.’”

This article was originally published in The Citizen on Dec. 13. To follow Gurkan Genc on his trip, go to www.gurkangenc.com/en.


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