100 destinations, 100 days, €100. Three 20-somethings. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Some stories are worth being told. When 23-year-old Alexandros Ioannou Peletie set off from Dundee in Scotland after he completed his MA at the university to return home to Dali with his handmade bicycle, Champ, he packed up more than a torch and a tent.
He packed up a pile of dreams and embarked on an ambitious journey not just to satisfy a penchant for adventure, and travel some 10,000km across Europe, but to send out the message that where there is a will there is a way.
“This trip was one of those dreams that you have and always say you want to do. When I graduated, it felt like the right time. Seeing that the financial situation on the island was getting worse and after some life events I realised that life is short and we should enjoy it while young,” explained Alexandros.
Fear of the unknown, disapproval by close relatives and financial difficulties did not discourage him from going on the trip, as he said: “The aim was to influence others to become more positive and show that if you really want to do something, it’s possible.
“I wanted to explore Scotland because it’s beautiful but also Europe, and I just thought that to travel by bicycle is probably the best way to do it. I planned the trip just two weeks before I left. I sold everything I had in order to get money to buy equipment for the trip.”
He also set up a facebook page called “The Three Hundreds”, which was regularly updated with stories and encounters from around the world. It kept his parents and friends informed, but also helped raise money for charity organisation “One Dream, One Wish” for children with cancer and related diseases.
“I wanted to raise money for charity because I wanted my trip to have a deeper meaning than just personal fulfilment; I wanted to help others at the same time.”
We met on a Monday morning in old Nicosia, and spent almost two hours talking about an inspiring quest that changed all three of them for life.
Alexandros set off from Dundee, Scotland on August 31, with a bicycle he built on his own from scrap parts with the help of Second Cycles Dundee, as it cost less, a bike that travelled through 18 countries across Europe.
“I always enjoyed cycling as a way of life. I cycled to university or to the city centre, but I’m not a professional cyclist. When I was in Scotland studying, it was then that the banks closed and everything had frozen in Cyprus. It was too expensive to buy a good bicycle, so I thought I would make up my own with recycled parts. I didn’t know how to build a bike, but when I managed to do it, the feeling was wonderful; it was like something was reborn.”
He travelled from Scotland to North Ireland, Ireland and to Wales alone. After 24 days Giannis Paschalis said he wanted to join him in Cardiff, South Wales.
Giannis, a graduate from Newcastle University, was about to start a new job when he decided to join Alexandros. Together, they travelled through England, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, France and Spain. On day 61, Demetris Diogenous also said he wanted to be part of the team, and joined them in Barcelona. The three travelled through Italy, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Greece, arriving in Cyprus in mid-December, on a trip that lasted 113 days, changing them forever.
The Road Less Travelled
But just before Alexandros left home in Dundee at 12am, three hours later than planned, he thought about all the people who were telling him that the bike, because he had built it on his own would not last and the fact that he was not a professional cyclist but aspired to travel 10,000km.
“I remember the first day; I was alone on the road and I was looking at the map trying to figure out where I was and where I would be going. At that moment, it all seemed impossible. However, the difficulties faced at the beginning made me stronger for the rest of the trip.”
“The first day I travelled 50km under heavy rain and I was exhausted. At some point I stopped, and a woman gave me some apples, they were the best apples I ever had.”
“I never asked for help, and I will remember this from the trip, that always, at any time, someone would turn up to help you in some way.”
In fact, “the most beautiful thing about the trip was witnessing humanity at its best. There were many people who helped us without expecting anything back, just with genuine interest to help. It wasn’t just accommodation offered or food. Somebody even bought me a new pair of shoes.”
He confessed there were times when he wanted to give up. But something always kept him going.
“Fear is just a state of mind, you can overcome fear. It’s just a way to deal with things, it’s not something that truly exists, it’s different from danger.”
Finding companions changed the entire trip. “It was a different type of adventure. I set off on my own, and by chance two friends joined me. We experienced unique moments together and I am grateful to them. It’s also a lesson that the more people unite together, the more is achieved.”
Alexandros admits the trip has changed him. “Before the trip, I had decided that I would never come back to Cyprus to work, especially after seeing what had happened with the financial situation. After the trip I believed that there is possibly a future for me here.
“It changed the way I think. You start seeing things from a different perspective and you also gain the confidence that if you really want something you can achieve it”.
When asked about the most memorable moments he tells me that “the most beautiful city was always the next one, the anticipation of what we would find ourselves in.”
“It’s hard to single out the best moments because they were infinite. But the experience of being on a bicycle that every day takes you somewhere else, to a different place, with a different culture, in a different country is truly a feeling that is too difficult to describe.”
Alexandros is a self-proclaimed “practical dreamer”, who is willing to do anything to make his dreams come true. He also admits he loves travelling, as “it’s fulfilling” and it’s not something he will ever give up.
He is now back home exploring his options and ideas looking to do something innovative professionally, and with such infinite potential, a bright future is certainly just around the corner.
But are there more adventures to come? Certainly, The Three Hundreds was not a one-off trip, and he confesses that there will be more travelling in the future.
As I walked away I realised that I was leaving behind someone so much more than just an adventurer, whose goal to travel some 10,000km to come home, was partly to realise that “There are times when you really miss home. Sometimes any home. Especially when you feel that the cold days are coming. Perhaps it is just another one of those days that your mind wanders where else you could be at that moment or you just miss being. No matter what, the team feels inspired from each other and ready to continue their journey,” (The Three Hundreds, November 19, Day 80 & 81, Italy).
The Stuff of Dreams
During the trip, Alexandros met many remarkable people, travellers and locals, including Belgian world champion cyclist Philippe Gilbert who listed meeting The Three Hundreds in Monte Carlo as one of his best moments of 2013.
But here’s the story of how he met John Thackara author of best-selling book “In the Bubble: Designing for a Complex World”:
“There was a time when I was left stranded in the middle of nowhere with stormy weather at the beginning of my trip, my bike broke as was predicted, and I was alone. I had lost my tools on the road and I couldn’t fix Champ. So I sat at a petrol station, with no idea of what I was going to do, and I got a cup of coffee and started reading my book. As if nothing had happened. And then a stranger came up to me, helped me fix my bike, and I was on the road again. If I had given up at that moment, if I felt for a second that I was helpless, then there was no way I would’ve been saved.”
The book he was reading was John Thackara’s “In the Bubble”.
“This book inspired my MA. It talks about how rapid development in technology created gaps between people and he talks about how design should focus on services, not things. This was the only book I had with me. Reading it then, I found that what he said in the book could be applied to everyday things. Whatever he wrote I was experiencing in my trip. For example, he talks about time, or the sense of speed. He says that time is something created by humans, because activities were traditionally based on light.
“While on the trip, I emailed him the night before I was leaving saying I would love to meet him. He called me immediately, I went to find him in a city two hours outside of Montpellier. We talked for hours, he is remarkable and we might meet again soon.”