Daring to bike the world
June 2, 2009
GRASS VALLEY “-To say that Kurt Sandiforth likes to travel is a gross understatement of his inability to stay in one place long.
And a misunderstanding of his life’s goals.
Sandiforth, 34, is a connoisseur of life in motion. He wants to see and appreciate all that this planet has to offer.
That’s why three weeks ago Sandiforth, a Nevada City native, jumped on his specially designed travel bicycle and began a journey to circumnavigate the planet.
His main source of transportation will be his bike and his bike alone.
“All things are wide open,” Sandiforth said. “I’m giving myself no time frame. I’m thinking four or five years, but it could take longer. It’s my life dream and I’m in no rush to finish it.”
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This adventure will take Sandiforth through both danger and exotic points on the globe. His route is an arduous one. Traveling on a loop through the U.S. before riding down through the Americas and hitch hiking on a boat to Africa. Sandiforth is on his way to Canada right now to ride the Continental Divide Trail, which crosses the Canadian border into Montana, then Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and finally Mexico.
He’ll stop in Guatemala for charity work, one of the main reasons he’s doing this trip.
“I’ll be building bikes for underprivileged children,” said Sandiforth, who is by trade a bike mechanic and welder. “Basically, human-powered machinery; Bicycle advocacy. Bikes as a utilitarian use.”
Building up to this moment, his life’s dream, has always been premeditated.
Getting to know Kurt Sandiforth
When Kurt turned 18, he was gone. That’s just how he’s always been, his grandmother Kathy Sandiforth said.
“He’s never let any grass grow under his feet,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. Everywhere he goes, he finds some work to do to pay for his food and take care of himself.”
He points as far back as his childhood for what grew into the first part of his dual life passions.
“When I was a little kid, my dream was to go around the world,” he said. “I was always taking off on little adventures, I would call them, and freak my mom out. It’s always been in my blood to go see what’s on the horizon.”
Being the outdoorsy type, he traveled and hitch hiked when he was younger. And when bicycles came into the mix, he began taking extended trips. He took one trip from Florida to Alaska, which he says was the momentum to begin planning his current trip. Before leaving, he was working as a mechanic in Oakland.
When he came into town three weeks ago, it was the first time his family had seen him in three years.
“They understand,” he said. “They know traveling has been a part of my life since I was a little kid. My mom is worried, but she’s kind of used to it.”
How he’s getting it done
Planning a trip of this magnitude requires neither luck nor expertise. In fact, Sandiforth will mostly depend on good will and his endurance.
“The physical part is in the beginning,” he said. “It’s tough to condition and get yourself used to all day long on the bicycle. Everything is kind of sore and it’s tough to acclimate to that kind of constant movement. But after awhile, a couple of weeks, you feel like a machine and you can just keep going all day long, putting in some times 10 hours on a bike.”
As he makes his way into South America, he’ll travel along the west coast of the continent, moving through Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile before turning back north and riding up the east coast. At this point, he’ll be looking for ports to hitch hike a sail boat to South Africa.
“If that doesn’t seem to work out, course I’ll pay passage on a freight boat.”
He may go as far as Rio de Janeiro to find his ride.
That’s when things might get dodgy.
He’ll ride north from South Africa up the east coast of the continent through the horn of Africa ” where terrorism and piracy have festered since 9/11. A path, he calls, less political.
“It’s gonna be sketchy, but I’m gonna wing it and try and have the best attitude to get through it,” he said. “I feel that you’re treated a lot different on a bicycle traveling than when you come off of a tour bus and look like you’re dripping with money. You tend to slide through things a lot easier. You’re kind of off the beaten path. You stay away from the tourist routes. You get a lot more hospitality and there’s a lot less crime when you’re away from the tourist traps.
“And, you know, I’m gonna wing it.”
He’ll make his way to Egypt and head straight to Turkey across the Mediterranean Sea where he’ll try and avoid the Middle East by going toward the Himalayas through central Asia. Through Georgia, he’ll cross the Caspian Sea by ferry and travel through the ‘Stans ” Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan ” and hopefully into China.
The barriers he’ll face are logistical and sometimes political. He’ll file for visas in advance of most countries and he’ll cook his own food, which he’ll carry in the 80 pounds of weight on his bike. (A special generator on his bike will charge his iPod and other gadgets for him while he rides.) He’ll also study the languages for most countries in Internet cafes.
“I can get by on my Spanish,” he said. “But I’ll go to the Internet and find key sayings. The rest of it is hand gestures and a friendly smile.”