How many times have you dreamed of packing up your whole life and going for a never ending bike ride?
Well that dream is a reality for Rory Macleod and, as you can imagine, it's been an incredibly eventful experience. So we caught up with the man that's doing what so many of us wish we had the guts to do.
G’day Rory, great to catch up. How are you?
I couldn’t be better. I’m days away from turning 40, and it doesn’t even phase me that I’m now officially middle-aged. I’ve lived such an incredible life these past few years, and I couldn’t be happier or more content with where I am.
You certainly have. It’s been 3 years and 55,000km since you left San Francisco. Where are you now?
I’m in a place I never imagined I’d be when this journey began. I’m living in a small village on an island in Croatia off the coast of Split. (I’d tell you where, but I wouldn’t want to give this beautiful location away.) I’m taking an indefinite break from the road to live here for a time. I’m learning the language, immersing myself in the culture, and writing about my travels while riding my bike each day and swimming in the sea. It’s utter paradise.
Sounds amazing. But San Francisco is also a pretty good place to live… what made you sell all your belongings and travel the world on a bike?
It didn’t start off that way. The original goal was to just take three months off and bike across America, but my employer at the time didn’t approve my request for a leave of absence. So after a lot of soul searching — and multiple panic attacks — I decided to do the trip anyway. Once I made that choice, the rest of the decisions became almost automatic: now that I didn’t have a job to come back to, I was free to travel longer, which meant keeping my apartment didn’t make sense. So I gave it up. But then once I did that, keeping my stuff didn’t make sense either, since I had nowhere to put it. So I got rid of it all. As a result, what started out as a three-month trip has now turned into a three-year journey with no end in sight. But to go back to the question of why, the short answer is: I was worn out from working most of my adult life and never having time to experience anything, I was tired of all the negativity in the news and the horrible stories we’re exposed to each day, and I wanted to see what the world was really like, not just what the TV made it out to be. And I figured, what better way to see it than on a bike?
How difficult was that initial decision to pack up your life?
It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I had daily panic attacks about it as I was certain I was making the biggest mistake of my life to quit my high-paying job and move out of my rent-controlled apartment to go chase some crazy dream. But now, of course, I know it was the best choice I could make. I’m a totally different person now because of my trip. I’m a better person, too. So while the decision to do it was gut wrenching, in the end I always knew I had to follow my dream because if I didn’t, I’d spend the rest of my life regretting it, and to me that was a far scarier prospect than anything that could happen on the bike.
You’ve raised a fair bit of money for charity, including nearly $50,000 (USD) for World Bicycle Relief! Why did you choose WBR as your chosen charity?
It was important for me from the outset that I raise money for some kind of organization. My reason was simple: I knew that what I was about to do was inherently self-indulgent — I’d get to stay in all these amazing places, eat all this amazing food, have all these amazing experiences — and I felt that it would make the whole trip more meaningful if someone else could benefit from it, too. The only question was whom. I hadn’t really done any fundraising before, so I asked a cousin to help me brainstorm ideas. She told me about this organization that donates bikes to people in Africa, and I knew right right away it was the perfect fit. Its work was tangible, meaning anyone supporting me could see where their donation goes, it made a huge impact in the lives of actual people, and the cause resonated with me. Here I was about to go travel on a bike for fun when there were people in the world who needed a bicycle simply to survive.
"I spent two whole days talking to myself in the Bane voice from Batman"
The Earth’s circumference is 40,075km, so you’ve actually ridden around the world and then some. What’s been your favourite country and why?
I’m always hesitant to answer this question because the truth is, every country is great. Even the ones that were really challenging for me, I have fond memories of, because of the places I went and the people I met. That’s the thing about bike touring: it forces you to go to the small, out-of-the-way villages that no bus or train or tour group ever goes. You stay in people’s homes, not hotels, and you get to experience the culture in ways no other form of travel allows. Because of that, I have such an appreciation for every country I’ve been. So while I do prefer some over others, the truth is my favorite country is whichever one I’m currently passing through.
We heard you've been shot at, driven off the road, nearly struck by lightning, sucked into a tornado, and chased by dogs. So what’s been the toughest experience and how do you keep going?
It’s true, bike touring isn’t easy. The hardest days are usually the long, lonely stretches where you have to go a very far distance, you’re tired and hungry, you haven’t slept indoors or showered in a week, the wind is blowing in your face, and you’re in the middle of nowhere, so you have no choice but to keep pedaling. The way I get through those times is the same way I get through everything now: by reminding myself I’ve gotten through worse before. I just tell myself, “You rode 140 kilometers after crashing and ending up in a hospital in Scotland. You got through that, you’ll get through this, too.” And sure enough, I always do. But while I’ve had lots of hard days, the toughest was without question when my father passed away while I was in Arizona. It was such a strange experience to keep riding knowing that such an important person in my life had just died. But what choice did I have? I was on a bike in the middle of the freaking desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest airport. The only thing I could do in that situation was ride. So that’s what I did.
You're pretty inspirational Rory. You've even ridden a Buffalo Bike through Africa! Those things weigh 50kg! How tough was that?
It wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as hard as I imagined it would be. You get used to anything after a while: the saddle sores, the constant heat, even a 50-kilogram bike. But as difficult as that experience was at times, it was nothing compared to what I saw others going through. Being in Africa opens your eyes to the reality of how much of an impediment basic transportation is for a lot of people. I saw bikes being used there in ways you would never believe, hauling everything from piles of charcoal, livestock, even whole families of kids. Most were in terrible condition, too. Their chains were rusty, their wheels wobbled, some were missing saddles. One farmer I met has to ride a dozen kilometers each day carrying 80 liters of milk on a bike with just one pedal. Seeing all that misfortune made me appreciate what I have, and it taught me that you don’t have to have the fanciest bike or the best gear to do a trip like this. You just have to have the will to go. Having said that, I do appreciate my Co-Motion now that I’m back on it!
Surely you would grow pretty attached to the bikes you ride. How many bikes have you ridden on your journey?
Actually I’ve only had just the two. My Co-Motion has done most of the heavy lifting, taking me the entire distance with the exception of the two months I rode on the Buffalo Bike in Africa. It’s the only possession I own now that I care about. A long time ago, I resigned myself to the knowledge that at some point, it’s going to go missing. When that happens, I hope I’ll have the good grace to say, “It’s been a good ride. Now onto the next one.”
Just when we thought you couldn't be more of a legend, you also use Quad Lock on your rides. What is it about Quad Lock you love?
I’ve used the same Quad Lock since my ride began — through 44 countries, across 55,000 kilometers, over every kind of terrain imaginable and every type of weather, too — and never once did I have to worry about my phone. I love it because not only does it keep my phone secure, it keeps it handy. When you’re in the African bush and suddenly a giraffe sticks its neck up, having the ability to quickly snap your phone off your handlebars to take a photo is invaluable. Not to mention, I need my phone for all the navigation I do. If I had to stop each time I needed to look up directions, I’d probably still be in the Rockies somewhere. So it’s a time saver, too.
You’ve had plenty of thinking time on your rides. Is there a song that gets stuck in your head?
You’d think that with all this time on my hands I would have come up with some brilliant idea by now, a business plan or a solution to a world problem maybe. But nope! Mostly I just let my mind wander and drift. Sometimes I play mental games, like trying to remember all the U.S. state capitals. Once I spent two whole days talking to myself in the Bane voice from Batman. Mostly, though, I just listen to podcasts, although I do occasionally listen to music. Music is great for getting you up a mountain, but there is a price. I once had to go three days through the Namibian desert with TLC’s “Waterfalls" stuck in my head. That was torture.
What would be your advice for someone looking to do a "tour" like yours?
My advice? Don’t listen to what anyone has to say. Not your friends or family, not your coworkers, least of all me. And whatever you do, definitely do not listen to the doubts in your head. That’s just years of social conditioning trying to talk you out of it. The fact is, if you really want to do a bike tour, you can do it. You don’t have to be some super athlete or the most daring person in the world or have a ton of money. You just have to have the desire to go. Believe me, I was the most unathletic, fearful guy I knew, and I did it. So can you.
What does the next 12 months hold for Rory Macleod?
It’s difficult to say, as I’m at an interesting point in my journey. By the time I got to Cape Town last December, I was burned out from nearly three straight years of travel. While I still very much want to continue on to Asia, I’m really enjoying living in Croatia at the moment. I’ve found myself a community here, and I kind of want to see how things develop if I stay. So it’s quite possible I’ll still be here a year from now, just as it’s possible I could be riding through Mongolia or doing something entirely different. It’s really hard to say. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my traveling, it’s that there’s no sense in worrying about it. I’ll know what to do when the time comes. Until then, I’m just going to enjoy being able to sit on a sofa and take a shower anytime I want and experience all that this beautiful culture has to teach me.
Rory, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for your time and as we say here at Quad Lock, keep it onya!
Read more about World Bicycle Relief here