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Cycle the world in 80 weeks: Sheila Whitehead of Rhyl


Editor's note. Sheila was raised on Anglesey and has lived in Rhyl since 1989. Before retiring she had a varied career including teaching French. With a natural aptitude for foreign languages, she did consider learning Urdu and Farsi for the eastern sections of her journey. In the event the local tongues were more diverse than she had anticipated, so that her shortcoming in this respect was no disadvantage. Her inspiration for this trip came from a 4,000 mile ride she did in 1995 from North Cape to Gibraltar.

Who knows where she'll be heading off to after her forthcoming Canadian trip? We all wish her bon voyage, I'm sure !

    It was originally intended that this circumnavigation of the globe would be completed in one go but unfortunately Sheila's partner John experienced two serious bouts of ill health that interrupted the journey each time and required returns to the UK. Canada still remains to be conquered, and Sheila is planning to fly to Vancouver on the 14th May to ride to Nova Scotia by mid September. She plans to write a book of her experiences.

Sheila Whitehead with bike

Sheila - cyclist extraordinaire on a training trip near her home in North Wales

    With John in close support with car and caravan, Sheila set off from Rhyl in the early spring of 2001. Crossing the channel at Hull, she cycled from Zeebrugge to Switzerland and then on to Venice with a fair amount of snow on the way. She then took the Turkish Maritime Lines to Izmir where she was delayed in the Bay of Corinth for 16 hours with a cross wind so powerful it prevented access to the Corinth Canal.

    From Izmir to Dogubayezit (known to the flower power generation as Dog Biscuit) Sheila cycled via Cappadocia, and experienced the vast mountainous region of Anatolia. Having the caravan meant that in Western Europe having somewhere to sleep was guaranteed each night - invariably on campsites. In Turkey it was usually on gas station forecourts!    

Town of Yazd

Yazd ( http://www.dejkam.com/iran/yazd/ )

    After crossing the Iranian border and leaving John behind, Sheila travelled across Iran to Bam (recently devastated by earthquake), via some fascinating places in Kurdistan, Isfahan, Yazd, and Kerman. With many kilometres between overnight accommodation, she relied upon her tent and basic camping gear and faded into the desert for her overnight pitches. She experienced no problems from either man or beast, and she reports the Iranian people to be both courteous and friendly. Indeed she was interviewed for a local television channel in Mahabad which broadcast her story twice on National Television in addition to a summary on the English language channel. Seemingly most people along the roads recognised who she was - not always a blessing!

    With Iran under strict police control, Sheila was stopped at a checkpoint outside Bam. She was told that Baluchistan was too dangerous due to running battles with drug smugglers and gun runners. She was given the choice of either being escorted, or taken near to the Pakistan border in a 4x4 with armed bodyguards. Quite an exciting part of the country reminiscent of scenes from Up the Khyber, she says.

Road snaking up the side of a mountain

Mountain road to Ziarat

Sheila found Pakistan quite a different country to Iran, having gone its own way since partition, especially in recent years. Water was usually obtainable, but supplies of food a real problem. Passing through Baluchistan she endured mile upon mile of desert, and Quetta and other well known cities were a noisy dusty shambles teeming with refugees from neighbouring countries. It was at this point that she contracted a mild dose of malaria but found it reassuring to recuperate in a very pleasant former British hill station at Ziarat. She finally crossed the only land border into India between Lahore and Amritsar, and then flew on to Delhi to make up for lost time and meet up with John who had flown out for her 61st birthday. They then enjoyed two weeks seeing the sights, including the Taj Mahal.

    Sheila then went on the cycle the GT road in its entirety between Delhi and Calcutta, sleeping in truck drivers roadside places if there was no hotel to be found. The going was generally fast, averaging about 60 miles each day in order to reach 'civilisation'. It was on the 9th September that she became aware of the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York. She booked an extra couple of nights in an hotel in order to watch the unfolding drama on BBC World TV.

The Nullabor plain

The Nullabor Plain


    In early October Sheila flew from Calcutta to Bangkok and there spent a fabulously lazy two months cycling to Singapore, making the most of the beach resorts in Thailand and Malaysia. At Singapore John joined her to celebrate his birthday, and together they crossed to Australia where they hired a camper van for six weeks. Sheila then cycled from Perth to Melbourne in three months, crossing the notorious Nullarbor, and escaping down the coast whenever possible, including the Great Ocean Road.

Looking down on the sea at Cape Reinga

 Cape Reinga*


    Over to New Zealand; Sheila then cycled down to their equivalent of Land's End at the Southern tip of South Island, and then to the ferry crossing over to Wellington. From there she by-passed Aukland to the east, and finally reached Cape Reinga - sometimes known as John o' Groats, via a magnificently scenic though uncomfortable dirt road. She finally returned to Aukland by another route, thus completing a figure 8 through both islands


* http://www.purenz.com/index.cfm/purenz_page/D5F20812-2487-49CA-B3D2-4CB82669365E.html