For many years Neil Sharp-Dent suffered from anxiety and, like many of those caught in the grip of this affliction, he was in search of an escape, an outlet and the means to live a free and happy life. So, Neil decided to hatch a plan to leave his front door far behind.. he was going to put his bike to the ultimate test and cycle around the world.
Before this plan formed Neil was becoming increasingly frustrated by the way in which anxiety amplifies small things and turns them into big problems. He had always been someone for whom big endurance tests, like Nordic ski challenges, seemed somehow manageable, whereas the smaller, more trivial things in life felt like agonising burdens.
“Sometimes it takes big, bold, brave actions,” Neil said, “To help highlight the smaller daily challenges.”
It had always been a childhood dream of Neil’s that he would one day ride his bike from London to Laos, Bombay to Belarus, Kathmandu to Cape Town and Amsterdam to Athens. Now, this solo adventure will see him fulfil those dreams, turning his mind from the irksome complications of every day to the simple grit and pedal power he needs to complete his journey. He aims to start in Devon and cycle 120 miles a day, passing through 195 countries, over the course of 3 years.
As a vegan, this immense undertaking will be almost entirely plant-powered. Neil is someone with a strong environmental conscience and is determined to travel between continents using fossil fuels as possible. In this way, he hopes to minimise his carbon footprint. Along the way, he will also be conducting talks and acting as a social ambassador for Shimano via their vlog and website.
Last week we caught up with Neil as he was preparing for his adventure:
AU: Could you tell us a bit about what it is you’ve set out to do?
Neil: I always wanted to cycle around the world. It’s something that I’ve prepared to do for quite a while. An opportunity arose in my life to be able to do that. Three main reasons that I wanted to do it. The first one is that I suffer from anxiety and wanted to raise awareness and funds for Mind – a mental health charity. As a vegan, I wanted to cycle around the world using only plant power. And thirdly, as someone with an environmental conscience as well, I wanted to do it whilst using as little fossil fuel as possible. When I’m on the oceans I would like to organise it so I do some crewing on sailing boats and just have as minimal a carbon footprint as possible.
AU: How long do you think it will take?
Neil: It will take roughly 2-3 years. There’s no strict time limit on that because I want to see as much of the world as possible. So, I don’t know how long it will take to cross the Pacific on a boat. That’s why there’s not a specific time schedule.
AU: So, what inspired you to undertake this journey?
Neil: People that have done it before, like Sean Conway who’s done it on his bike – a guy called Al Humphreys and Dave Cornthwaite who does all sorts of different adventures, for example, he rode across America on a quad cycling bike. And there was actually a book I read by a guy called Rob Lilwall called Cycling Home From Siberia. He started his journey in autumn in Siberia and then cycled all the way down through Australia and then back up to the UK.
AU: Which countries are you most looking forward to cycling through?
Neil: Japan is somewhere I’m really looking forward to, and Iran actually. Apparently the hospitality there is unbelievable, and it’s just supposed to be a very beautiful country too. I’m really looking forward to taking my time to be able to appreciate my surroundings.
AU: As a vegan, you’ll be relying solely on plant power. What will your daily intake consist of?
Neil: Things like noodles and there’s also a food replacement called Huel that I’ll be buying as and when I can. But also high calorific vegetables, nuts, seeds and things like that as well. Things like coconut milk which I might even just drink because it’s so highly calorific and it would be a good meal in itself. And I’m just gonna try and teach my body to do a bit of a ketosis on that side of things. There’ll be lots of snacking along the way.
AU: Do you have a bike that you’re happy with – that you’ll be taking?
Neil: Yeah it’s a Genesis Croix de fer 30. It’s basically an adventure/cyclocross bike with hydraulic disc brakes.
AU: And has it got a comfortable seat?
Neil: (laughs) Yes it has, the seat is good.
AU: If your journey could instil one thing in the minds of others, particularly people who suffer from anxiety, what would that be?
Neil: That suffering from a mental health issue doesn’t stop you from achieving your goals and dreams. You know? It’s not a barrier to success.
After talking to Neil, we gained a sense of his drive and his keen awareness of the devastating stress we’re putting on our planet – a stress that is manifest in all of us. In facing down this great challenge, Neil hopes that his physical effort, winding his peddles up mountains and across deserts, will be gradually turned into funds for the mental health charity: Mind.
His target is £25,000 and if you want to support Neil, donations can be made via his Worrying Cyclist Just Giving page.
Neil will be starting his cycle ride today from Croyde to Plymouth, Sunday, March 11th. Follow him on his website here.