From Hastings to Vietnam – near-death on a bike
Harry Wiseman is currently cycling to Vietnam to raise money for suicide prevention charity CALM. Here he takes time out to recount the (many) challenges so far and his personal motivations.
Harry Wiseman is 24 and, ordinarily, lives and works in Hastings. We say ‘ordinarily’, because he’s currently taking on a mammoth cycle challenge from Hastings to Vietnam, riding 50 miles a day solo on a bike weighing 45kg. It’s a self-funded tour for which he worked 9-5 for two years to cover.
He’s raising funds for CALM – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – and we caught up with him to find out about the locals, the challenges and the food poisoning…
What have been the best moments of the challenge so far?
The ferry from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan involved crossing the Caspian Sea in an old Soviet boat from 1983. Just to get on the boat we had to camp in the port for six days, and once we were finally all aboard it got stuck in a storm and had to anchor down for another three days.
On the first day anchored down, me and some other travellers played football (England vs Italy). We lost every match. I took part in some yoga out on deck (someone knew just enough to teach the rest of us), and we even made some clay pots – the clay was sourced from the anchor which dragged it up from the seabed.
On the third day I got food poisoning. All the toilets were broken so, running out of options, I climbed down into the hull of the ship and emptied bowels all over the floor. Not one of my proudest moments but needs must and all that…
Somewhere in rural Turkey I got food poisoning once again. I was curled up on the side of the road and feeling very sorry myself when a car pulls up, a man and his two young sons get out and ask me what’s wrong. 30 minutes later we’re pulling into a hospital parking lot. The father translates to the nurse what happened and I get a drip to rehydrate myself.
This stranger and his two sons stayed by my bedside for an hour and looked after me, they even booked me a hotel before leaving. I’ll always remember the kindness of this family.
Two weeks later and I had one of the biggest scares of my life. I was pedalling along a road which was in terrible shape when the mother of all storms hit. The rain had almost stopped so I got back on my bike. I must have got 500 meters when I noticed a half-ton boulder rolling down the hill to the right of me. A truck was blocking my only escape which meant I was stuck standing there waiting to be pulverised. Tom must have been looking out for me that day because the huge boulder stopped literally inches in front of me.
Tell us about some of the tougher moments…
The toughest moment of the trip has got to be in Tajikistan. I was camped up at 4000m in November, so it was -16 at night and I was struggling to breath due to the lack of oxygen. I had the migraine from hell. It felt like my brain was expanding outside my skull. I took the next day off and got some sleep all the while trying to stay positive. Feeling fresh, I started climbing again and hit 4200m, this is where it all went wrong.
I started feeling super light-headed and could barely stand up. It was snowing heavily and the road was turning into an ice rink. I realised at this point I needed to get to a lower altitude fast. The road was pretty remote so there weren’t many cars passing. I was lucky again as a Russian army truck pulled up and picked me up! These guys were absolute legends and took me to the nearest town and even gave me some tinned spam.
I broke my rule of no lifts that day but it seemed necessary. The lift was 100 miles. I will be finishing on 10,500 miles pedalled so I’m happy with that.
How have you been greeted by the locals along the way?
My first experience with generous locals was in Czech Republic. I crossed the border late in the day and couldn’t find any campsites or green areas to set my tent up. Running out of options I sheepishly asked a family if I could set my tent up in her garden, surprisingly the mother said I could stay in their kid’s play house. They gave me some tasty traditional Czech food and even made me breakfast in the morning when I left. Such a sweet family.
But someone I’ll remember for the rest of my life is Akim. I’ll take you back to Tajikistan, where I’d just been picked up by the Russian soldiers in their truck. After a two-hour bumpy and snowy drive I arrived at a settlement 3700m up named Murghab. Tajikistan doesn’t have many functioning cash machines. I had $10 to my name and I tried in vain to get some money out from the only ‘bank’ in town.
I was sat outside feeling pretty beaten when Akim approached me. I explained what happened and he said I could stay with him and his family until I figured out what to do. I jumped at the chance and followed him 10km out of town to a tiny village where his house was located.
I spent two days with Akim and his awesome family. He fed me traditional Tajik food, I met his extended family, and we even played traditional Tajik games (one included throwing sheep bones at other sheep bones on the ground).
The settlement didn’t have running water or central heating, in fact they only just got electricity recently installed. Akim, his son and me slept in the same room and his mother slept in the only other room in the house. For those two days I was truly part of the family. The kindness and generosity I received from this family will stay with me forever. This experience has made me realise I need to change a few things when I get back home, if a family with almost no financial wealth can take me in as one of their own, I can surely do more.
Why are you fundraising for CALM?
My brother died in 2011 at the age of 21. He accidentally overdosed on heroin. Tom struggled with his own mental health issues but hid them with drugs, he rarely spoke about his feelings.
For five years after Tom’s death I used substances to mask my emotions and thoughts, instead of facing the reality of my situation I smothered it with drugs. In those years I was admitted to hospital multiple times. I was living from weekend to weekend, with no aspirations and nothing to look forward to. I decided to go sober and, with the support of the legends that are my Mum and friends, I’ve been sober for three years!
From these experiences in my short life I’ve realised the importance of mental health and support in a crisis situation. CALM provides outstanding support to the men who truly need it, this is why I’m going to do all I can to raise awareness and funds for this cause.
Why is cycling important to you? What do you get out of it?
Cycling has given me purpose over the last few years. Instead of ‘how much drink and drugs I can buy today?’, it’s ‘how far can I cycle this weekend?’. It gives me something to focus and build on.
Before this trip I’d only been cycling for two years and, even then, my training schedule wasn’t exactly strict. As I got fitter I branched out into other sports. Before I left on this trip I was kayaking, paddling, rock climbing multiple times a week. All this branched out from getting on my bike.
What tips would you give to other amateur cyclists?
My main tip is to set goals. It’s so easy to buy a swanky bike and then never ride it. Find a local cycling challenge, be it a 20, 50 or 100 miler and buy a ticket straight away. Once you’ve paid for a place, you’re way more likely to actually do it. This then gives you something to train for. Give yourself small goals and one massive goal.
I don’t find riding for riding’s sake fun. I like to have a challenge, something to complete.
You can follow Harry’s journey on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/awisemanstour/ and you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wisemanstour
CALM’s free, confidential and anonymous helpline and webchat are open every day, 5pm-midnight. Visit www.thecalmzone.net for more info.
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