Cyclist pauses round-the-world ride for refugees
After pedalling 14,500 miles to highlight refugee journeys, Theo Foster is halting his ride for now. But he vows to get back in the saddle once the threat of coronavirus passes.
British cyclist Theo Foster rests in the shade in Uzbekistan on day 100 of his attempt to cycle round the world.
© Andrew Young
Cyclist Theo Foster crossed Central Asia’s deserts in summer, braved traffic in India’s biggest city, and dodged wildfires in Australia on a round-the-world bike ride to raise awareness for refugees.
After 14,500 miles and 20 countries, the COVID-19 lockdown forced him to hit pause in March after he reached the US state of Arizona, but he remains undaunted.
“I will absolutely, 100 per cent finish the ride as soon as I can get back out there,” said the 22-year-old adventurer.
His journey began outside the UN Office in Geneva on 8 April last year, where he pledged to dedicate his lap of the world to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its 1 Billion Miles to Safety campaign.
The campaign asked walkers, joggers and cyclists to log their miles to contribute to a global total of one billion miles with the aim of highlighting the many miles covered by families fleeing violence and persecution each year.
⛰️ Cycling over deserts, mountains and plains— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) May 6, 2020
🏠 Experiencing the kindness of strangers who took him in
💙 Standing in solidarity with refugees
🚲 While in lockdown, cyclist @theoworldcycle reflects on his journey. pic.twitter.com/LhV2AUySSO
On a touring bike decked out with UNHCR stickers, Theo crossed Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Rumania, Bulgaria and on through Turkey into Asia, sleeping in a tent and relying on the kindness of strangers.
He rolled on through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and into the United States, despite setbacks and challenges.
He was laid low by food poisoning in Ukraine and driven to shelter from the blazing heat of the Uzbek desert in tunnels beneath the road. He cycled through New Delhi traffic, and crossed Australia at the height of the bushfire crisis.
"To have people open their arms to me like that was invaluable."
He met refugees in Turkey where some young Syrians recognized the UNHCR stickers on his bike.
“It was Eid. They invited me to share a big dinner and offered me a place to camp… To have people open their arms to me like that was invaluable,” said Theo, who worked at an antique auction house in Cambridge, England, to save funds for the trip.
In Thailand, he checked in with UNHCR staff and supporters and met one of our youth delegates, Arash Bordbar, a refugee from Iran now studying in Australia, as he passed through Sydney.
“We had a curry for lunch and a walk by the Opera House… Arash is really driven, and passionate, we got on really well,” he recalled.
But in mid March, after cycling through New Zealand and across part of the United States, he had to halt the ride in Arizona as global lockdowns came into place. After 11 months in the saddle, he only had 3,500 miles to go.
"I plan to finish."
Back at home with his family, he said the journey showed him “how connected the world is.”
“It made me realize that you don’t need very much, but you do need the essentials such as food, water, shelter and access to sanitation… It showed me how important it is to support those that have those fundamentals taken away from them,” he said.
Once the lockdown lifts, he aims to head back to Phoenix and cross the United States, Portugal, France and return to Geneva – always with refugees on his mind.
“As soon as I can, I will head back out there… I said I would do it for the campaign and for refugees, and I plan to finish it,” he said.