Adventurer and filmmaker Felix Starck cycled 18,000km through 22 countries and four continents in one year. Untrained, with 55kg of baggage and camera equipment, he cycled into the unknown.
Setbacks such as pneumonia, separation from his travel partner, a robbery in Cambodia, and the death of his grandfather made the journey tortuous at times. But he maintained his drive to complete the journey and was rewarded with incredible hospitality from people around the world. He had his share of surreal moments as well: wild elephants in the jungle, New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, geysers in New Zealand, Times Square in New York.
Bottom line: He discovered the world on his own terms.
AZ: Who were you before your journey?
FS: Actually, everything was perfect — but something was missing. The meaning of life? Perhaps. I’ve always been an adventurer, but this was really my first big trip.
What made you decide to just go?
I’ve always wanted to travel the world and break out of the system for a while, but I didn’t like the usual backpacking way so I thought of something else. In the beginning I was joking around with my friends and nobody was serious about it — the day after I woke up and wanted to know if I would be able to actually do this. So I started to plan this trip and three months after I was on the road heading east towards Turkey.
Now I ask myself a lot: Why did I do this? To meet people and get to know different cultures in this world — I definitely did that! It was the best decision of my life.
Did you plan the trip ahead or was most of it spontaneous?
At first I wanted to be on the road for two years, but after a few days I realized planning a trip like that in advance is absolute nonsense. Strangely, you feel much more relaxed if you do not know where you will be in the going in the next few days. Of course you need a direction in which to go, but I just went where I felt like, and if I liked it, I stayed for a while. The journey is the reward. Filmmaker Casey Neistat said, “The adventure doesn’t begin until something goes wrong.” I totally agree.
What were the most difficult things you had to deal with?
Being alone for such a long time wasn’t easy at all. I had company now and then from my family and some friends, but only for a short periods. I learned on this trip, that I’m not the guy who can travel solo, but I still wanted to finish it and that’s what made me stronger.
Asian countries are pretty tough to cycle because of the crazy weather and bad traffic. One day I cycled in the north of Cambodia when it was 44 degrees Celsius in the shade. But I was under the sun and had to endure over 60 degrees Celsius heat! I drank over 18 liters of water that day and almost collapsed.
Most truck drivers in Cambodia barely sleep because they need to make money to survive. They take drugs to keep themselves awake. This is when it gets too dangerous for a cyclist like me. Sometimes I didn’t even hear them coming because of the loud headwind. Suddenly without any warning, this huge truck just passes you at 100km/h and only about 20cm distance. Sometimes I’d fall off the bike because of the wind it generates. Really not a great area to cycle in, but those moments made it unforgettable.
I was also robbed by the police in Cambodia once. I stopped at a police station to ask If I’m allowed to sleep here and they agreed. I kind of had a weird feeling about the situation but put up my mosquito net and just slept. Next morning five cops came and wanted all of my cash — $400 total. They took it, threw my wallet in the sand, and told me to get lost. They even said “Thank you.” It is important to not lose trust in the nation after an incident such as this, because there are idiots everywhere.
But I had so many good experiences that I barely think about the hard ones.
What were the best realizations or lessons you’ve learned?
There were so many, but after all I gotta say the kindness of strangers everywhere in this world. I got invitations countless times and this was the reason that kept me going. First day I left home, an elderly woman saw me setting up my tent and stopped me. She invited me to her guest room, made dinner and breakfast for me and we are still in contact. I had a hundred other cases like this. Unbelievable how kind our species is.
I always try to enjoy the moment. This trip made me the man I am today — more relaxed, joyful and generous than I was before. There is so much misery in this world, especially in countries like Macedonia, Serbia, Laos or Cambodia, but the people there are still happy and smile at you and wave when you pass them on the bike. Here in Germany, most people are career-oriented and everyone lives in a system where it’s more about what you have than what you are, but I can’t live that life anymore — not after such a trip!
Did you find what you were looking for?
Definitely — I’m sure I wouldn’t have found it if I stuck to my “normal life”!
The 70-minute documentary captures his epic journey and will be available soon as a DVD and as a download at www.pedal-the-world.com. The trip was completely funded by Felix, and he has pledged to donate all profits to the World Wildlife Foundation.