When Malaysian cyclist Peter Yoong, 58, of Puchong, Selangor, set off on his two-year solo cycling world tour covering 30,000km, he was living his grand dream. He had hosted cyclists from different countries, heard about their adventures and felt inspired to make the journey himself.
The former freelance illustrator and graphic designer was self-funding his ride on a budget of RM40,000. He also planned to raise RM80,000 for the World Vision Malaysia Education Fund for local underprivileged children.
In almost a year, Yoong completed 8,175km (not including the distance covered while using public transport). He visited no fewer than 22 countries and even had a list of worthy places to visit and challenging journeys to complete.
Yoong was not bothered about how lonely it could be as a solo cyclist.
He had unnerving encounters, however.
On Day 127 of his tour, Yoong was cycling through the Banke National Park in Nepal when fear sank in after he spotted signboards warning of tigers and leopards crossing on low-traffic roads!
“When there was no vehicle in sight, I felt jittery when there were rustling sounds coming from the bushes. I waited for an oncoming vehicle before making a quick stop to ease myself,” said Yoong.
“On Day 161, my guide and I were hiking back from Gulkin to his village in Burit when we came across a snow leopard’s paw prints. I was more excited than scared. It would be extremely rare to even see such an animal and ‘lucky’ to have a close encounter! At least there were two of us and the beast could only pick one of us if it wanted a late lunch,” he quipped.
Yoong began his solo world tour on Nov 19, 2017, and his trip was supposed to end this December.
Recently, his journey came to an unexpected halt due to urgent family matters he had to attend to.
By then, he had travelled for 343 days in what was planned to be a two-year journey.
So, he took a flight from Lyon International Airport, France, on Oct 28 last year to come home.
He was a month ahead of schedule before he unexpectedly had to stop his ride. By then, he had cycled through Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia.
However, Yoong travelled to Slovenia and Italy in a camper van, after which he resumed cycling in France.
From France, he had plans to cycle to Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and Rotterdam and then take a ferry from there to Hull in England. After that, he wanted to head to Ulverston, England, to visit a friend. Presently, these plans are on hold.
When he was in Myanmar, Yoong felt as if he had travelled back in time.
“It was exhilarating to travel along dusty roads, looking for hidden ancient pagodas and climbing up steep, cramped, dark stairways to the top to look for the ruins of other pagodas as far as the eyes could see. I felt like being on the movie set of Indiana Jones,” he said.
The Kamalamai to Khurkot stretch (38.4km) in Nepal was his most difficult ride up the mountains as he had to push his bike uphill.
“I was told the view from the mountain was to die for. I started at 9am and, by 3.30pm, I only managed to cover 14.5km. The road was narrow and traffic was heavy.”
Together with 10 Malaysians, Yoong trekked 31.3km for eight days in Annapurna, the most diverse and popular trekking area in Nepal, through challenging weather – rain, hail and snow. But they were rewarded with amazing scenery.
He also visited slums and villages to get a feel of World Vision India’s work, and was left saddened to see how these children grow up in such an unpleasant environment.He cycled 217km on the 1,300km Karakoram Highway in Pakistan before crossing over to China. The mountain road between Gilgit and Sost offers spectacular views of snow-covered mountains on both sides.
He stayed with a family in Gulkin, a small village in the mountains of Pakistan, so that he could trek up the Hunza Valley and see the white glaciers.
On his second trek, he saw black glaciers and spent a night with a shepherd family. (Usually glaciers are white but due to debris that collects inside, some glaciers appear black from afar, hence the name.) He even got to see an avalanche!
Yoong also saw creatures big and small along the way. He saw two herds of ibex (wild goats), many species of birds and lizards.
Crossing the Hussaini Bridge – dubbed “the world’s most dangerous bridge” – over the Hunza River was nerve-wracking. “Even though my guide led the way, it was very scary to walk on the 100m bridge which had massive gaps in between the wooden planks. It took me about 30 minutes to slowly walk across it!” he said.
Fairy Meadows and the Hunza Valley mountainous hikes in Pakistan were also on Yoong’s must-do list. In all, he hiked 14km and as far up as the foothills of Nanga Parbat Peak (the ninth highest mountain in the world, at 8,126m) with his guide. It was snowing then.
The stark beauty of the wilderness, the snow-capped mountains, fast-changing weather and some extremely bad roads have made Pamir Wakhan Valley road P-45/E009 of Tajikistan one of the most challenging and memorable rides.
He said: “This was among the most badass adventure touring routes and a must-do among many diehard bicycle tourers. I met many adventure travellers along the way from Europe – cyclists, hitchhikers, bikers as well as those travelling on caravans and 4x4 trucks.”
Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, is famous for its mosques, mausoleums, fortresses and others sites linked to the Silk Road.
He recalled: “It’s very sentimental for me as it was my dream to be here.”
Yoong also hitched a ride on the Hilux of two Britons (Ed Holford Walker and John Horsfall). Together, they explored the hidden ruins of Silk Road fortresses that was not possible on bicycle, and witnessed some of the most colourful sunrises.
On Day 252 (July 29), Yoong received shocking news that seven cyclists (tourers) were involved in a hit-and-run accident in Danghara, Tajikistan. Four of them died. Yoong was on the same road one-and-half months before this tragedy, on his way from Khorough to Dushanbe. He said: “I was too tired to cycle after a very challenging ride, and took a taxi,” he said.
After three days of pedalling from Kosovo, Yoong crossed over to Albania, where he met a Dutch couple, Arjan and Sylvia. They cycled and camped together. Coincidentally, they were all hosted by the same host (Warmshowers.org) in Shkoder.
In France, he also hiked up two mountains, Chamechaude and Dent du Chat, with friends – and experienced snow in autumn. He bonded with his host Nicolas and Brigitte Mercat. When Yoong had to take an emergency flight back to Malaysia, the Mercats helped to store his bicycle and gear in their house.
Presently, Yoong is back in Malaysia. “It’s very difficult to stop what I’m doing (cycling) when there’s so much energy inside me. So now I channel my energy to do whatever possible at home. Also, I’m motivated to write a book about my experiences and hope that it can help others to live out their dreams,” he said.
Those who wish to be part of this good cause to help raise funds for the underprivileged can contact Yoong at email@example.com.