Eric Smart’s long ride home from Adelaide to Aberdeen

October 16, 2009

From ABC News Online, Australia (story by Cassie White)

Scotsman Eric Smart sounds extremely happy for someone who's just cycled 23,000 kilometres. In fact he's so happy about it, that after a short break he'll be mounting up again and pedaling for another 12,000km.

Eric began this epic adventure 17 months ago in his home town of Aberdeen, Scotland, with no plans but to end up in Adelaide.

"My plan was to have as little plan as possible," he said.

"I gave myself two years, but found myself here in Adelaide after 17 months. I've got seven left, so I now intend to cycle across New Zealand, San Francisco to New York, through Ireland and back to Aberdeen."

By the time he's finished, Eric will have racked up a mean 30,000km through 19 countries over two years.

And the reason for all this pedal power? For 20 years, Eric suffered Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), a debilitating condition which can cause severe tiredness and fatigue, painful muscles and joints, and poor memory and concentration.

"The trip is to celebrate my recovery from poor health. I love travel, cycling and I'm a people person, so it was just to celebrate those things and bring awareness to ME."

Eric's plan is to raise $24,000 and he's not far off – his latest count is about $15,000.

His story is inspiring and heartwarming, but Eric says he found both those things and more in the people he's met during his travels.

"I'm never really alone. The warmth, love and compassion in every country I've gone through has been incredible," he said.

"I've been travelling for 17 months, through 16 countries and people have been just amazing. Nothing stolen, no moments of trepidation, no acts of violence against me – and I sleep in the streets.

"I sleep in bus shelters, under bushes – occasionally I sleep in backpackers to shave and wash my clothes, or I get invited into people's homes – it's just been incredible.

"I just cycle, sleep, and eat whenever. Every country I've cycled through at night, arrived at major cities in the middle of the night. I meet a broader range of people and have a greater mix of experience doing it this way."

Bumps along the way

But it hasn't been a totally smooth ride. Several injuries and near misses along the way have been what Eric describes as "character building".

He suffered a broken collar bone in Italy, was hospitalised twice in Pakistan with food poisoning, had his fingers crushed when a motorbike ran over them in Indonesia, and went over the handle bars in Azerbaijan.

He also had to deal with "bitterly cold" weather in Turkey, which plunged to minus 38 degrees Celsius at night, and the hills, heat and humidity in Sumatra.

Clearly, the adventurous spirit is in Eric's nature, and he has a special affection for Australia, which is why he originally wanted to finish here.

"I was in Adelaide over 20 years ago while I was hitchhiking and walking around Australia," he said.

"I've worked in Adelaide and it was the furthest place away I could think of with the alliteration of A. Plus I've always wanted to come back to Australia."

Eric says he's always enjoyed riding a bike, but has never been "super keen" like you'd imagine one would be to embark on such a journey.

"Prior to leaving, I went out and cycled for 80km to see how I'd get on and I was fine, so that's the furthest I'd ever cycled prior to leaving."

And this no frills approach has been the theme of Eric's ride. No flashy gadgets or getup, just good old fashioned bike riding

"The trip's been very basic. I don't have a GPS or a mobile phone or laptop and I've only used two maps the whole trip," he said.

"The people that I meet direct and shape the experience and these are the things I wanted to try. I just wanted the trip to be about using my intuition and doing the things I believe in, instead of having a structured plan.

"I'm very fortunate to be doing this… I don't mean to be flippant about it, but I am just a tourist on a bike and I'm blown away by the amount of interest that's been shown.

"Complete strangers have invited me into their homes, many people have stopped and handed me a bottle of water or some food, or helped with directions. They've gone out of their way and completely gone the extra mile to help. That's been the biggest impression of my trip."

Eric is cycling for The ME Association, and has raised over £8,500 towards his target of £12,000. If you would like to make a donation to us through his online fundraising page, please click on the link below:

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