What was your big trip?
In 2009 I cycled 25,000 kms from Lord's Cricket Ground in London to the Brisbane Cricket Ground, Australia to watch the Ashes cricket series. I carried a cricket bat with me all the way and played matches with local people in all but 4 countries.
Why did you do it?
I was doing a job I didn't love (commercial chartered surveyor in London), and I wanted to change the course of my career. I had always wanted to travel a long way overland.
Why a bike?
A few reasons: I wanted something more adventurous than driving, plus I like being active and had felt like I was wasting away at a desk in London. Of course, I soon found out that being on a bike was a great way of meeting people too. Although I went on my own, I was rarely lonely. I love meeting new people and on a bike it's impossible not to...
Did you have any experience of fitness before you went?
Yes and no. I have always played all sorts of sports but I had never been into endurance events. My ride wasn't a challenge in that I didn't set myself ridiculous daily mileage targets. I suppose it was more of an extended holiday...albeit one that tested me fairly frequently.
How much preparation did you do?
No physical preparation whatsoever. I hadn't sat on a bicycle for 10 months on the day I left. The only prep I did was making sure I had some kit, a decent bike and some money.
How fit were you?
As above: Really very unfit. I had a terrible knee at the time and I was afraid if I trained I'd come to the conclusion that my knee wouldn’t cope. It was agony until I got to Germany but after that, absolutely fine. A doctor friend told me it was the sort of injury that would go with exercise. She was right, and I was lucky.
Was there a moment where the riding got easy, or the saddle sores disappeared?
I never suffered from saddle sores - not once. But it probably took me a month to feel comfortable with a long ride and 3 months to feel part of the bike - for 100kms to be genuinely straightforward.
Why the Ashes?
It’s the greatest battle in sport. The cultural and sporting history, competitiveness and, at the end of the day, friendly rivalry make it the perfect narrative to an entire summer every two years (or winter for that matter). I had always wanted to watch a whole series down under.
What was the strangest game of cricket you had on the way?
I played a game with the national team of Serbia in Belgrade in a third century fortress. It was freezing cold and most of the players were drunk on rakia before we started.
Do you still have the bike you rode on?
Yes, she is downstairs and I ride her most days.
How many punctures did you have?
None until southern Turkey. I didn’t get many in Africa either, but loads in India and Thailand. I estimated in my book around 50 in total.
Where did you sleep?
Generally camped but in places like India I stayed in cheap roadside hotels (£1 - £5). I was carrying a great two-man tent which became my home.
So many. Two that spring to mind are: arriving in Khartoum late one evening and being hauled in front of a large group at a Sudanese Fat Camp to tell them all about my journey (they were all in fancy dress in a huge auditorium and this was completely unplanned)... Another was being flashed by a passing (and gorgeous) motorist in the outback. Even weirder, she was standing next to my parents cheering my arrival in Brisbane four weeks later. I had never met her before and have not spoken to her since. Freaky.
One bit of kit you couldn’t have done it without?
A rechargeable battery that I used to charge up all my gear (laptop, mobile phone). I was blogging regularly, which is great for motivation and the battery helped me charge gear for a week without any electricity. It was a HET 50. Heavy, but worth the weight.
One bit of kit you wished you’d taken?
A decent iPod/MP3. I took cheap ones and they kept on breaking.
The first thing you threw away?
The first aid syringes my mum made me take. They didn't make it to Dover. Sorry mum.
Something like 250kms into Calcutta. It took me about 19 hours – I went pretty slowly...
Best camping spot ever?
The Nubian Desert in Sudan: Silence, the Milky Way, a soft bed of sand, no need for a tent. It was nice and cool too, which was the ideal respite from the hot, hot days. Perfect.
10 Highlights from the road…
1. Kalemegdan Fort, Belgrade on Day 34
Played cricket with Serbian national team, many drunk on rakia.
2. Istanbul, Turkey, Day 59
Completed crossing of first continent, just three to go.
3. Central Anatolian Plateau, Day 82
Got chased by wild dogs morning and evening. Imam lets me sleep in mosque.
4. Palmyra, Syria, day 100
Sleep overlooking ancient ruins in the middle of the desert.
5. Nubian Desert, Sudan, Days 150 – 160
Camping under Milky Way, soft sand for a pillow, beautiful.
6. Kolkata, India, Day 245
Completed crossing of sub-continent with 250km day followed by heart butter chicken curry.
7. Chiang Mai, Thailand, Day 266
Leave hospital after two weeks with Dengue Fever, pedal towards Burmese border to celebrate 30th birthday.
8. Darwin, cattle boat docks, Day 345
I jump off to start 4,500 km journey across the Australian outback.
9. Northern Territory, Australia, Day 362
Saltwater crocodile gives me a stare as I try to cross creek. I pedal furiously away from creek, and then sleep next to road.
10. Brisbane Cricket Ground, Day 412
Arrive to find family and friends cheering the end of my journey. Time to enjoy a beer and a proper cricket match.
Oli’s Big Trip Stats
Total Distance - roughly 25,000 km (but wasn't that fussed about counting)
Top Speed - 68kph
Estimated Hours in Saddle - 2,400
No. of New Spokes - 0
Oli's first book, Cycling to the Ashes, was published by Random House in 2013. Stephen Fry called it 'marvellous' and The Cricketer Magazine said it was a 'moving, well-paced and thrilling story'. Oli is now the Managing Director of The Slow Cyclist, taking people all over the world on much shorter, but equally adventurous, bicycle journeys. Find out more at slowcyclist.co.uk.
Oli will also be writing for Active Traveller later in the year.