The Chinese cyclist, 71, who has spent 10 years travelling around the world on his bike

Xu Yukun had a secret start to his world journey, leaving home a decade ago without telling his wife and children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 7:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 7:44pm

An elderly Chinese man is fundraising to continue his dream of cycling around the globe, after travelling more than 100,000km (60,000 miles) through 24 countries over the past decade.

Xu Yukun, 71, started his incredible journey in 2007, setting out from his hometown in Nanyang, Henan province in central China, but he didn’t tell his wife where he was going until he was 100km (60 miles) away from home.

“I’d wanted to do this since 1999, but my family held me back,” Xu said.

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It wasn’t until he turned 61 and his children agreed he should take a rest from work that the idea of seeing the world by bicycle struck him again.

Worried that his family might object if they knew of his plans, Xu stored his bicycle and equipment at his friend’s home before secretly embarking on his mission.

He was on the road for a day before he called his wife to let her know, he said.

It was the year before the Beijing Olympics and Xu wanted to promote public sport as well as raise awareness about how cutting down an individual’s carbon footprint could help the environment.

In seven different trips over the following three years, Xu covered all the provinces in China as well as Macau and Hong Kong.

Having “conquered” his home country, in 2011 he embarked on his first expedition outside China, travelling 520km from Kunming, Yunnan province to Xishuangbanna on China’s southwestern border, before cycling on to Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.

Two years later, he visited Mongolia and Russia in one trip and then Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar in another.

Xu spent another three months riding across central and southern Europe in 2014 and more than two months in Australia in 2016.

Having spent his life savings on the journey so far, Xu is now raising funds for his next goal – Africa – and, after that, South and North America. His target is 90,000 yuan (US$13,000) to cover the three trips.

He has collected some of his travel notes into a book which he is selling for 10 yuan (US$1.50) a copy and is also exhibiting his travel photographs, hand-drawn route maps, and other memorabilia in public squares and parks of Zhenzhou, Henan province.

“I have taken about 30,000 pictures on my past trips and I have selected and printed some of them to present to passers-by,” he said.

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Xu has raised more than 10,000 yuan since arriving in the city a month ago but, although hundreds of people stop to look at this exhibition, only a few buy his book.

“So I might need to go to other cities [to raise enough funds]. My next city would be Wuhan,” he said.

His four children used to give him some pocket money but, after realising his ambition was to travel across the globe, they stopped giving him financial support.

“It seemed too costly to them,” Xu said.

With the exception of his first trip outside China, all Xu’s visits abroad have involved flying to a starting city and riding from there to a planned destination before flying home.

“Cycling has not only alleviated the heart disease and stomach problems I used to suffer 10 years ago, it’s also made me healthier, stronger and happier, Xu said.

He has grown used to living in a tent while on his travels over the past 10 years and now sleeps in his tent in a rented flat in Zhengzhou.

And the family?

“I have so far covered half of the globe, but my children remain unsupportive of what I’m doing, although they aren’t stopping me from doing it either. They worry about me.

“My family used to guard me like a prisoner, but later, as local media reported on my story and called me a good man, they began to believe what I did was something good.”