The Royal Mail may be facing meltdown through strike action from postal workers concerned, amongst other things, about the effect on their jobs of its modernisation programme, which includes bicycles being replaced with electric trolleys. But one postman is determined to stay on his bike – and has turned into an impromptu round-the-world cyclist in the process.
Eric Smart from Aberdeen took a two-year leave of absence from his job in May last year to cycle nearly 15,000 miles to Australia, and enjoyed his trip so much, he’s now decided to cycle home, too.
The 44-year-old Scot took 17 months to ride from Aberdeen to Adelaide to raise money for research into ME, which he suffered from for 20 years, and the self-confessed technophobe did so without GPS equipment or a mobile phone, relying on just three maps, respectively covering Turkey, Pakistan and India.
Speaking to the Scottish Sun, Eric said: "I relied almost entirely on road signs, individuals and instinct. This meant I was often entirely clueless as to where I was, but it always seemed to work out in the end. My only plan was to have no plans. I didn't really have a devised route, and just seemed to land myself in so many wonderful places."
The trip wasn’t without its difficulties, however, though Eric remained upbeat as he described them: "Snowstorms, sandstorms, multiple bouts of 'Delhi belly', several crashes, countless punctures, a broken collar bone and being policed through Pakistan by six armed security guards have all added to the rich tapestry of the trip.”
According to Eric, “perhaps the biggest challenge, however, was coping with extremities. I endured all kinds of weather, from freezing in minus 38 degrees in Turkey to frying in plus 48 degrees in India.”
The journey took Eric through 16 countries, although it proved impossible for him to get a visa to enter Iran - "I guess Brits are just not the flavour of the month," he says.
Eric maintains that the support and encouragement he got from strangers as he cycled kept him going. “I was riding solo throughout my adventure,” he says, “but not once did I feel alone. The masses of ongoing love and support have kept my spirit high,” he says, adding that the friendliness of the Indonesian people had made a particular impression on him.
Eric also got to meet some of the local wildlife on his way. He told the paper, “aggressive wild mongrels snapped at my heels regularly as I crossed Greece, while howling wolves harassed me during my trip through Turkey. When sleeping rough at rest areas in Australia, I was woken by dingoes looking for dinner. There has also been a constant stream of snakes, spiders and other creepy-crawlies to contend with when not on the move."
After a fortnight’s rest in Australia, Eric has decided to continue to use pedal power as he heads home via New Zealand, America and Ireland, meaning he will have completed a full circumnavigation of the globe by the time he reaches Aberdeen in around seven months time.
To date, Eric’s journey has raised over £8,500 for the ME Association and donations can be made at www.justgiving.com/ericsmart.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.