Cycling from London to Hong Kong for breast cancer
When Mark Wright calls himself an impulsive character he's not joking. Impulsiveness to many of us may mean that regrettable shopping purchase. For Wright, a 27-year-old Englishman, it meant deciding in a day earlier this year to do a self-supported solo bike ride from his London home to Hong Kong to raise funds for breast cancer patients.
The idea popped into his head during one of his daily 10-kilometre bicycle commutes to work, the time of the day when he says he thinks clearest. "I really enjoy my rides to work and I wanted to do something longer," he recalls.
Hong Kong was chosen as the end point because he didn't want to fly and because his job - as a senior Southeast Asia specialist with a London-based travel agency - revolves around this region. And finally, he says, because "Hong Kong is a city that everyone knows of, even a six-year-old in Iran".
Inspired by his mother, Siggi, a 57-year-old housewife diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer last year, he dedicated the adventure to raising funds for the British charity Breast Cancer Care, which played a key role in her recovery.
On April 14, Wright and his 55-kilogram travelling partner - a pannier-laden bike called Knodel (German for "dumpling") - set off from Buckingham Palace. True to his spontaneous nature, Wright carried only a compass and no maps. Most nights he camped on any open ground he could find; on rare nights he had the luxury of a roof over his head.
Exactly 180 days later, on October 11, his father Philip's 59th birthday, he arrived at The Peak in Hong Kong. Vital stats: 16,531 kilometres cycled, £14,441 (HK$180,500) raised, 19 countries visited, 14 kilograms lost and one elated, bearded man.
Wright breasted the finishing tape set up on The Peak Sky Terrace by his parents, brother Nick, and five friends, who had flown in to celebrate his amazing feat.
"I haven't been as excited and proud since my teenage years," says Philip, the vice-chairman of Bart's Hospital in London. "When he first mentioned it to me over the phone I laughed for a full minute. His mother said, 'He can't be serious?' But when you've got sons, you live vicariously through them. I've never done anything like that in my life, so I'm a bit jealous."
An emotional Siggi adds: "When he called home there were times I would've liked to tell him to just quit and come home, but I knew it was never an option. It's lovely to see him well and safe."
Over the past six months, Wright has collected enough memorable moments to pen an epic; some highlights are in his blog thewrightwayeast.wordpress.com He has lost count of the number of times he had to explain his journey to people he met along the way.
"Breast cancer is a worldwide issue, so everyone could always relate to it," he says. "It was amazing when the first person who donated to my Just Giving website justgiving.com/thewrightwayeast was someone I didn't know, because it was reaching a wider audience than I ever thought possible."
Wright made it a point to interact with the breast cancer community during his journey. In Holland, for example, a family friend who is a doctor connected Wright and his hospital's breast cancer care unit.
"If I cycled past a hospital, I'd pop in and just see the breast cancer unit, talk with the doctors and meet with some of the patients as well," Wright says. "All of that was very special."
Wright was always sure he was going to complete the adventure - except in Chengdu, China, late last month, when he was diagnosed with chemical conjunctivitis and couldn't see for four days.
Thankfully, at that point he had more company than just Knodel. Early in his adventure in Istanbul Wright met Zac Clayton, 23, from London, who is riding around the world to raise money for WaterAid. The pair decided to meet up again in China and cycle together to Hong Kong. Clayton was Wright's eyes for those few days of partial blindness.
Such kindness from strangers recurred throughout Wright's journey. In the middle of nowhere en route to Munich, Germany, he knocked on a farmer's door and asked to camp on the land; the farmer instead invited him into the house and fed him. In Izbista, Greece, tired and hungry, Wright approached a couple selling apples and asked for one for free; they gave him that and more - coffee, biscuits, juice and fruit.
"The world is full of nice people who help you along the way," says Wright. "If you're ever in trouble, people will help you. People are nice, whichever country you go to."
The trip opened his eyes to different countries and cultures, and dispelled myths and stereotypes.
"For example, Iran: the Western news media drip feed you all the bad things happening there. But Iran is hands down the most hospitable country I've been to. I barely spent any money in Iran; the people just wouldn't let you. I'd go into a shop to buy an ice cream and someone would jump the queue and insist on buying it for me."
He also learned a lot about himself and what he is capable of.
"When you're alone in the desert and got to keep going forward or perish, you learn that your limits are a lot higher than you first thought. With problems, you are always going to hit a low, but you know there's a high around the corner. As long as you keep that in your mind, anything can be overcome."
Wright's adventure has inspired those around him. His former housemate, Sophie Bentley, says she bought a bike and now cycles to work every day. Steve Daly, a friend from university, adds: "We no longer have an excuse not to do something now that Mark has raised the bar."