Seeing the world from a bicycle seat
July 3, 2012
David Walsh set off into the unknown on June 1, 2011. The unknown took him to places he’d always dreamt of and on a journey he’d always wanted to accomplish.
Walsh’s lifelong vision of venturing into the unknown came to fruition after being diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder 10 years ago.
The ride was intended to ward off any negative stigma regarding mental illnesses, the Parkite said. He wanted to set an example that those with a diagnosed mental illness can also achieve extraordinary feats.
"It’s so pervasive," he said. "A lot of people who are suffering are self-medicated with food, drugs or alcohol and not getting adequate support and care they need. What I wanted to do is help people who are suffering from mental illness to lead a stable life."
The idea was to pack up his 14-pound carbon-fiber bike — which reached weights of up to 117 pounds with gear — and set off to do something not many have done.
"I’ve been a cyclist my whole life," said Walsh, now 50. "Suddenly, I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t do it now, I never will,’ so I pulled the trigger and started planning for a year. I thought I was going to nail 20 foreign countries in 365 days."
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Turns out the 10,744 total miles he rode around the world covered 19 countries in 370 days. Walsh trekked up Parley’s Canyon on June 5, 2012, wrapping up his pilgrimage on two wheels.
"I can’t believe the year went as quickly as it did," he said.
He spent 1,074 hours in the saddle during the trip, had 16 flat tires (14 of which were in the United States) and spent 310 of the 370 nights camping in various spots.
On June 1, 2011, Walsh set out toward Connecticut, where he was to visit family and friends. But the trip across the U.S. wasn’t all that peachy. While he was trying to catch some shut-eye in Kansas one night, a twister traveled directly over his head.
He set out on his international voyage a few weeks later, taking a flight from New York City to Lisbon, Portugal. From there he rode to the city of Fatima, one of the most storied historic Catholic cities in the world, where he attended a mass that featured thousands of people. From there, he rode through the Pyrenees mountain range in Spain and into the French Alps.
"That was pretty grueling," he said. "But it was definitely a highlight. I was going up some Tour de France rides, my bike fully loaded, and other cyclists would just stare at me. I had to be loaded to the gills, unfortunately."
Walsh continued east and ended up in Florence, Italy. Slovenia was next on the list. Then Croatia. Then Albania.
"Albania was one of the worst parts of the whole trip," he said, laughing. "There were big, huge potholes — then you’d run into beautiful pavement for just a couple kilometers. It’s the poorest country, but everybody wants to join you."
He made it to Athens, Greece, and was there during a boiling protest. From Athens, he flew to Tel Aviv, Israel, before eventually making his way to Jerusalem. Walsh admitted he suffered from "Jerusalem Disease," having been overwhelmed by the heavy religious themes of the city and culture.
"It was one of the top three experiences of my trip because of the historical significance," he said. "But the energy there is just so intense."
Walsh floated in the Dead Sea in 12-percent salinity, rode through deserts in southern Israel with five liters of water strapped to his bike before traveling to Petra, Jordan. The major letdown of the trip was not being able to ride through Cairo, Egypt, which was deemed too dangerous during last summer’s deadly revolutionary protests.
He flew from Tel Aviv to Bangkok, Thailand, just in time for the 50-year flood during October 2011. "You almost could write an article on all the natural disasters that either followed me or happened while I was there," he said.
Next was Cambodia, followed by a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He caught a ferry to Indonesia, and while there, suddenly hit a wall. The rice-heavy meals weren’t cutting it for Walsh and his energy level was tanking. He strained his back riding the steep, short hills of Bali, but eventually made it to Australia, where he traveled to each of the major cities on the continent’s east side.
He met up with some Aussie friends whom he had met during his ride across America last July. After that, Walsh made his first visit to Hawaii, then flew to Portland, Ore., rode down the Oregon coast into Northern California, weaved his way through the Sierra-Nevadas and through the desolate home stretch of central Nevada and western Utah.
"Wendover to Salt Lake City had to have been the hardest part of the trip," he said. "My last 99 miles, I had four flat tires."
Walsh kept a running blog during his trip around the world. In his final post, it stated he had lost two sleeping bags, one tent, a pair of shorts and a knife, but the 370-day exploration was validation for him and those fighting the stigma of mental illness.
"I haven’t been hospitalized in over six years," he said. "That’s a testimony to doing the best I can."
For more info on Walsh’s trip around the world, check out his blog at http://www.davidwalshs20-365recoverytour.blogspot.com.