Most women hit the big 50 and decide they are going to finally splash out on that once in a lifetime holiday to the Maldives; Astrid Domingo Molyneux? Well, she decided to go one better - she decided to travel around the world. By bicycle.
For the average woman the idea of packing a set of panniers, leaving everything behind and cycling off around the world for two years –alone- would have them shivering with fear no matter how pro a cyclist they are. For Astrid, a non-bike owning middle-aged mum of two from Almondsbury, it was just the opposite.
I've come to the conclusion that there's no rationalisation of why I chose to do it.
Having purchased a copy of A Bike Ride by Anne Mustoe on a whim from a charity shop in September 2005, Astrid became immediately set on the idea that she too was going to cycle around the world.
Completely unable to rationalise how this desire to cycle around the world took such a firm place in her mind, Astrid says: “I just got to a point of still thinking about the book and thinking well if she can do it then why can’t I? And then as soon as that came to my mind, I thought well that’s it – it was just a given then, there were no more questions." And in a way that only such an inspirational but modest lady could, Astrid had made her decision that she was to cycle around the world.
Not deterred by her less than happy daughter –“she was angry with me for a long time. She was angry before I went, while I was away and when I got back"- nor by anyone else that doubted her sanity, Astrid was determined that even if she didn’t manage the full two years, she was going to give it her very best shot.
I was really grateful that I found the book because I would never have thought of cycling around the world by myself.
And so she set off from her small village near Bristol through France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and into the Middle East. From Egypt she journeyed to Jordan, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iran, the UAE and Oman. Into Asia, Astrid ticked off India, Nepal, Tibet, China and Japan. From here she travelled to Hanjin Madrid, Canada, Alaska, Yukon, the USA, across the Atlantic and back into Europe. A short stint in Spain, Morocco and Portugal bought Astrid to the end of her trip and her return to England.
How one woman could wake up one morning with zero plans of taking up cycle touring and after reading a book be dead set on cycling the globe is almost impossible to fathom. The fact that she managed it, only having spent a grand total of ten days cycling in Scotland beforehand just to check that she actually enjoyed it, proves that you can do just about anything when you set your mind to it.
There was not once in the whole two years that I thought: I've had enough, I want to go home. There was just no question about not finishing and not getting round.
It wasn’t all smiles, laughs and happy memories though. Astrid recalls several occasions where she was more than a little concerned for her safety. She was nearly knocked off her bike by a crude motorist in Oman, (she was knocked off by a young lady in Greece but this was an accident), she was groped in India, asked for sex in Iran and stalked in Canada. Yet for all of these unwelcome instances, Astrid says there were so many more positive ones that would always restore her faith in the kindness of people the world over and as nothing bad ever came of the scary situations, she trusted someone up there was keeping a good eye on her.
From strangers that didn’t speak a word of English but would insist regardless that she spend the night in their home, to old men that would press their packed lunch on her and strangers in cafes that would foot her bill after learning what she was doing. She amazed people world over, it’s not every day a middle-aged English woman goes pedalling through a tiny village ten thousand miles from home. Yet at the same time, however much she amazed people with her bravery and determination, they amazed her with their selflessness and hospitality.
They're not all extreme militants and activists, they're really pleasant people.
Lit up by a smile so genuine, Astrid delights in saying: “People are so generous, people are so hospitable and kind and they really do want to help you as much as possible. It’s not just that they don’t want to harm you, they will actually go out of their way to help you. It’s fantastic – it gives you a really positive perspective of people in every country in the world."
With no interest in setting a world record and letting incredible opportunities pass her by, Astrid was determined to take her time completing her expedition stopping whenever she liked to admire a view, staying a few extra days in a city if she felt the desire and treating herself to a little holiday when she wanted to put her feet up for a bit.
I saw a grizzly catching a salmon on the side of the river in Alaska. That was fantastic.
Trying to get Astrid to pick a favourite country is unsurprisingly impossible. It definitely isn't India (although she has many treasured memories of her time there too) but whether it was Japan, Alaska or Canada she's not really sure. When you see that many countries in such a slow, intimate way; staying with locals and camping out in the wild, it would be impossible to rank one picturesque, hospitable country over another. That, we understand.
Having pedalled her way over the most diverse of landscapes, cycled to the three most important Christian pilgrimage points, visited five of the seven continents and 24 different countries all on the same bicycle; Astrid's beloved Thorn Raven bicycle will forever remain a treasured companion.
A wolf crossed the road in front of me as I was cycling up and he stood in the scrub at the side of the road and just stared at me as I cycled by.
She suffered her fair few punctures and the continuous use caused some wear and tear issues that needed addressing, but Astrid's trusty Raven Thorn didn't cause her any of the grief that you would expect from a pannier laden bicycle traversing the globe. "She's still going strong. I think she'll last forever," Astrid assures me. I don't doubt it.
Seven hundred and twenty eight days and 20,000 miles later, Astrid rounded the corner of the street leading to her house to be met by cheers, camera flashes and the welcoming faces of her truly-missed family.
The pride on her face as she exclaims to me that she cycled around the world is hugely justified. Completely in awe, I couldn't even begin to imagine how she must have felt as she crossed over the threshold back into her cosy English home after having cycled around the world. Chatting easily in the comfort of her living room, I can't believe what this incredible woman has achieved and how humble she is about it all.
I cycled around the world!!!
What’s next in store for this epic adventurer? Well she’s already self-published the book that tells her inspiring tale Cycling Full Circle and she has many ideas of where she would like to cycle next – perhaps around Iceland, perhaps down the Danube, perhaps across New Zealand.
But regardless of where she decides to go, we know she’ll have an incredible time and come back safe and sound with that smile still on her face – this lady has cycled around the world after all.
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