From the Scottish Sun, 30 October 2009
POSTIE Eric Smart has spent the last 17 months cycling almost 15,000 miles to Australia – and he's enjoyed it so much, he has turned his bike around and is heading home.
The wacky cyclist has endured snowstorms, sandstorms, freezing temperatures, heatwaves, a broken collar bone and encounters with wild dogs and wolves during his epic adventure.
Eric, 44, embarked on the trip through 16 different countries in a bid to raise cash for ME – a disease which crippled him for 20 years. He left his home in Aberdeen in May last year and, after 17 long months of pedal power, arrived in Adelaide on October 11.
But, after just two weeks' rest, he decided it was time to get back in the saddle for the long ride home.
He's now en route back to Scotland via New Zealand, America and Ireland, meaning he will have cycled around the world.
Speaking exclusively to The Scottish Sun from Oz, Eric revealed how he overcame one obstacle after another to complete the gruelling 14,386-mile trek.
He said: “Snowstorms, sandstorms, multiple bouts of ‘Delhi belly', several crashes, countless punctures, a broken collar bone and being policed through Pakistan by six armed security guards have all added to the rich tapestry of the trip.
“If that wasn't enough, there was also one or two tooth traumas.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, was coping with extremities. I endured all kinds of weather, from freezing in minus 38 degrees in Turkey to frying in plus 48 degrees in India.
“I was travelling as light as possible, too, and almost entirely without technological gadgetry, because I am something of a technophobe.”
He added: “I was riding solo throughout my adventure, but not once did I feel alone.
“The masses of ongoing love and support have kept my spirit high.
“The warmness that has followed me wherever I go has been simply overwhelming. I only seem to meet good people. The physiological lift I got from every country I visited ensured that the thought of giving up and going home never entered my head.”
Eric, who took a two-year sabbatical from his job with Royal Mail to complete the journey, didn't even bother to take a mobile phone or any GPS equipment to guide him on his trip. He survived with just three maps – one each for Turkey, Pakistan and India.
He said: “I relied almost entirely on road signs, individuals and instinct. This meant I was often entirely clueless as to where I was, but it always seemed to work out in the end.
“My only plan was to have no plans. I didn't really have a devised route, and just seemed to land myself in so many wonderful places.”
However, Eric also had to survive the nasty side of Mother Nature. He said: “Aggressive wild mongrels snapped at my heels regularly as I crossed Greece, while howling wolves harassed me during my trip through Turkey.
“When sleeping rough at rest areas in Australia, I was woken by dingoes looking for dinner.
“There has also been a constant stream of snakes, spiders and other creepy-crawlies to contend with when not on the move.”
Of the 16 countries he cycled through, one sticks out in Eric's memory, for both the warmth of its people and the poverty he witnessed.He said: “Indonesia is undoubtedly one of the friendliest countries I cycled through.
“The smiles are always stunning, but the words sometimes wayward.
“I have had ‘who are you?', ‘where are you?', and more worryingly ‘what are you?' – questions I have often asked myself.
“The ‘hello Mister' is never said quietly, but roared from the rooftops. One young girl even screamed ‘hello Superman'. Another guy shouted ‘after morning'. It was 4pm, so in a strange way he was right.”
But Eric added: “Within five minutes of disembarking at the port, I was offered sexual favours – from both sexes.
“Finding a suitable hotel wasn't much fun, either – the first room I checked was dirtier than Benny Hill!
Some horrific sights
“Despite some horrific sights, and having people beg me for food, and money, I remained level-headed throughout. On this wonderful journey I have tried hard not to judge, but just observe. Judging wastes vast amounts of energy.” Some countries weren't quite so welcoming. Eric added: “Entering Iran seemed to be an issue.
“I jumped through hoops for the Iranian Consulate. I gave them everything they wanted, but I guess Brits are just not the flavour of the month.”
Eric reckons it will be well into next year before he finally wheels back into Aberdeen.
He said: “I am going home now and that's great, but I have a probable seven months of cycling to do.
“And as I have learned, that will equate to a whole new lifetime worth of experiences.”
Eric has raised more than £8,600 for The ME Association. To make a secure, online donation through his online fundraising page, please click on the link below: