Culture

Italian couple returns home after six-year cycling journey was cut short by COVID-19

Daniele Carletti and Simona Pergola crossed the Himalaya Mountains and the Australian desert, but their journey was not just about witnessing breathtaking landscapes and rich cultures.

Photographs courtesy of becycling.net

Of all of the places to be on the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day this past Wednesday, Daniele Carletti and Simona Pergola, certainly did not expect to be in their apartment in Rome. After all, when they left Italy in July, 2014, they had no plans to return until they had essentially cycled around the world. But their journey suddenly came to a halt in Lima, Peru, when the reality coronavirus caught up with them, and they realized that traveling freely around the world was simply not possible in the current situation.

Milky Way at night

“We were stuck in Lima for about a month,” Carletti said from his apartment in Rome on Thursday. “We were in quarantine there, as the government decided to close the borders early. We waited a little bit, hoping to take the road again, but then we just realized there was no chance to continue traveling like we had been for quite a while. In addition, on a trip like ours, we are exposed to everything. It is all about meeting people an exchange. At one point the Italian embassy in Peru was organizing flights back to Italy and we just took one.”

Tro La Pass Himalaya mountains

Both Carletti and Pergola had long dreamed of traveling around the world. And although they were not trained cyclists, they both agreed that the bike was simply the best means of transportation for the kind of adventure they planned. “We have always been driven by curiosity,” Carletti explained. “This whole project was about seeing what was on the other side of the fence, and the bicycle was the best way to do this.”

Teaming up with the World Bicycle Relief they created Becycling, and with support from Cinelli they left the seven hills where Rome was built on their Hobo all-terrain touring bikes, with the goal of riding on all continents and climbing the highest roads on each. Loaded with full panniers that carried essentially their life, they first rode east through Asia to Indonesia and Australia before traveling to the Arctic Circle in Canada, down through the western United States to Mexico and Peru, where they finally got stuck. In short they had traveled through 35 of the 50 countries originally scheduled.

McKenzie River Inuvik North West Territories Canada

“If we did not get stuck with the COVID-19 crisis we still had another year and a half I would say. We were just starting to enter South America and we still planned to ride up through Africa,” Carletti said.

While their journey is currently on hold, they are still riding a virtual high as they digest the past six years of adventures. “It’s interesting but the things we loved the most about our past six years were very different really,” Pergola said. “We loved the total isolation, just being out there in the middle of nowhere. We loved being isolated in the deserts and in the mountains, being away from the hustle and bustle. But then we also loved the contact, meeting people from other cultures and learning new languages.”

Tibetan monks

In addition to their own odyssey, Becycling sought to raise money for the World Bicycle Relief, and 50 percent of all donations went to this global cycling charity. “For us the bicycle is just the best form of transportation,” said Carletti. “But as we saw in our travels, it can really impact the lives of people, helping children get to school or healthcare workers to transport medicine.”

The Italian duo were seemingly in no hurry, and according to Pergola, even the three months they spent crossing Asia was too short. “We entered China from Kazakhstan, where there is some Turkish culture that comes from the old Ottoman Empire. It is so different than the Han culture that most of us know. It’s just a melting pot of cultures. That would be the first place I would return.”

And yet, while there was nothing competitive about their journey, they still averaged four-and-a-half hours a day of riding, and by the time they were forced to stop, they had ridden more than 55,000 kilometers.

Laguna Paron mt Cordillera Blanca Peru

Even though they crossed the Himalaya Mountains and the Australian desert, their journey was not just about witnessing breathtaking landscapes and rich cultures. At times it was simply grueling. “Riding in minus-35 (degrees celsius) in the Arctic Circle was just very hard. It was hard riding. It was hard to camp, everything,” Carletti said about their trek up the Mackenzie River in Northwest Canadian Yukon. “Yes it was the hardest,” Pergola agreed, “But it was the most beautiful. Once you got used to riding in those temperatures, well, the landscapes were just amazing. It was just extremely beautiful. And then there was the desert in Baja, California. It was really the opposite, but so beautiful.”

Tro La Pass

While they started their trek on Cinelli’s Hobo, they switched to the Hobootleg adventure bike in Australia. “We really wanted something more focused on off-road riding, where we could run even wider tires,” Carletti explained about their essential equipment. “We ended running 2.6-inch tires. And when we went up to the Arctic Circle, well, we just had to have a bike that would handle big, studded tires because we were actually riding on the frozen river.”

Pamir Highway Murghab Tajikistan

Needless to say Carletti and Pergola returned to a very different world last week when they arrived in Rome, and no country has been hit as hard by the COIVD-19 pandemic than Italy. Although the two were frustrated to see their dream suddenly aborted, they remain hopeful. “One of the things that impressed me the most in our travels, and something that is pertinent in times like these, is that the human being just has such a high level of adaptability,” Carletti said. “Humans can just adapt to every kind of situation. We have seen people living everywhere, from extreme poverty, to living in a small village at 5,000 meters altitude with no running water. We saw that people could adapt to any condition. And we had to be so adaptable on our trip. If we could not adapt, to a variety of situations, we could not [have] done what we did. And with this global pandemic, we will all need this adaptability.”

For more information about this unique voyage please visit www.becycling.net

Milky Way from the Oodnadatta Track