FEATURE: From Denton to Bangkok - generosity pushes cyclists on 10,000km trek
No matter where they have been since setting off on their 10,000 kilometre journey nine months ago, Norfolk couple Tim Whiteman and Jessica Blomfield say the experience has proven “human nature is inherently positive”.
Now on the home stretch, their huge cycling trek, travelling through about 20 countries, has not been without drama — not least of all when the couple found themselves in Turkey on the night of the nation’s failed military coup.
But although there was no end goal in mind when they first left Denton, near Harleston, Mr Whiteman said the generosity they encountered inspired them to give back — so they began raising funds for medical aid charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Mr Whiteman, 29, a school teacher originally from Denton, told the Diss Express: “This is the main aspect we have taken from our trip, just how kind and generous people are in the world, despite what country they live in, or religion they follow, or what politics their government advocate.”
Starting on April 23, 2016, the pair cycled to Harwich and took a ferry to the Hook of Holland, then ventured across Europe and into Asia, via Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Up to then, Mr Whiteman said most of the trip had been “incredibly peaceful” and they had enjoyed “a perfect day” in Istanbul on July 15 — until that night, when the violence broke out as the coup d’état attempt began.
“We had an incredible time in Istanbul. The Turkish people were lovely and we were looked after very well,” he said.
“Then we turned on the TV and it said there was a coup in Istanbul. That night, we heard and saw a lot of people outside.
“Then we heard gunshots and gunfire. There were two fighter jets that flew over and made a sonic boom which sounded like an explosion.
“We followed it on Al Jazeera. We decided to leave as soon as we could the next day. We cycled hard and fast!
“It made us think a lot about the fundraising. MSF often work in conflict zones. That night was hell and that really made us want to fundraise.”
Upon exiting Turkey and crossing into Asia, the couple proceeded through, among other nations, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Vietnam, averaging around 60 kilometres a day and spending many nights camping out in a tent.
Mr Whiteman claimed the most challenging part of the journey so far was cycling along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, along the Afghanistan border, where the road climbed to 4,600 metres, making altitude and stomach sickness an issue.
However, he also picked out Tajikistan as an example of a country, like many others they travelled through, that had been “so incredibly welcoming and generous” towards them, recalling a young woman and her son who helped them while they were camping in very cold weather.
He said: “Upon seeing our tent pitched in temperatures below freezing, she invited us in to her home and offered us freshly squeezed warm milk from the family’s cow and bread from the village oven. Not all too different to Denton, I guess!
“We have been so lucky. The further we go, the more generous people seem to be.
“We never would have anticipated it. In a year that seems to have been filled with hate, we have experienced the opposite.
“That generosity is something we want to take back to Norfolk. Hopefully, we can reciprocate that when we get home.”
The duo are currently at the 9,500-kilometre mark and have so far collected £1,440 for MSF.
They are now aiming for their final destination of Bangkok in Thailand, and they hope to ultimately reach £2,000 in donations.
Mr Whiteman stated all of the messages of support from donors had been “so heartwarming” and motivated them during the difficult legs of the journey.
He added: “Jess and I weren’t ever cyclists before and we would recommend anyone to give cycle touring a try. We cannot wait to begin exploring more routes around Norfolk when we return.”
To support their cause, please go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tim-and-jess-bicycle-diaries