“I don’t really know what to say; it’s taken 7 months and 24 days for me to come here”, says female cyclist Chaewon Yoo (Eva) to camera in the rain in front of London’s iconic Big Ben, upon completing her journey almost halfway round the world from Shanghai.
The Nanjinger has been keeping up with Eva throughout her journey. She began by cycling northwest with her partner. The two embarked on their Silk Road adventure together, making their way through the northern countries of the Middle East that neighbour China until reaching Turkey. It was then that they parted ways, due mainly to differences in opinion as to how to continue on with the trip.
Venturing on solo from Turkey, Eva made her way into Europe, where she had a less than pleasant welcome when in Greece. “I was riding on a country road when a man on a motorcycle passed me by. He had a dark complexion. I continued to ride when suddenly he touched my butt. I was so startled that I screamed for 5 seconds. The man rode ahead of me and maintained his speed at my pace. I yelled at him to stop. Then he disappeared into the distance”, she revealed.
“I came across a beautiful river. I stopped my bike, took photos and the man from before walked up to me and said, ‘How are you? Do you want sex? Sex, sex?’ I shook my head with force and before he got on his motorcycle, I got on my bike and pedalled as fast as I could. The motorcycle roared in the back, and I turned my head back in fear. The sun was setting and this desolate country road had maybe one traveling car every minute or so. There were no houses to be seen near the fields and I feared that this man would rape me. I stopped my bike and I thought that I should hitchhike. It was my only way to escape the situation, and I did.”
Unfortunately, Eva’s European experience continued downhill when her phone died in Montenegro. Two visits to a repair shop failed and so she had to cycle on, phoneless, depending only on street signs. “I had to cycle 7 days until I bought another phone in Croatia”, she said. To make matters worse, her bike was stolen in Milan, Italy, on New Year’s Eve. After a failed attempt by police to retrieve her bike, she bought a second hand one and carried on.
It was after all this that the kindness of strangers helped steer her luck back on track. “The best scenery of Europe was Lake Como in Italy. Apart from the amazing view of the lake and the snow peaked mountains, it’s also a very special place to me, because I went there just a day after I got my bike stolen. And I turned 30 (in Korean age). My friend, Alexander, invited me to his friends’ gathering in his family house in lake Como on New Year’s Eve. Since Koreans mostly only celebrate New Year’s day [lunar calendar], this was a very interesting experience. We were a total of 18 people and we enjoyed good Italian food, drinks, games and fireworks. It was the best New Year’s day ever.”
“France was the most hospitable. I stayed 24 days in France, and I always had [a] host. One family could not speak English very well, and we used Google Translate to talk together. They all touched my heart. I met two families who had adopted a child, and one family who had saved a homeless refugee on the street and took him in as their family member.” Eva spoke highly of the help of strangers and gifts she was given while in France.
Curious to know how Eva struggled through a wintery Europe on her bicycle day in and out through Greece (17 days), Macedonia (5 days), Albania (5 days), Montenegro (4 days), Croatia (6 days), Italy (10 days), Switzerland (2 days), France (24 days) and the U.K (8 days), she shared a letter to a friend that she had written 2 days before reaching Paris.
This is too tough. I’m exhausted. I need to cycle seven more days. But it’s just too tough. I feel like my legs are cranking like rusty and old robot legs. I feel like I have a bruise on my ass. I want to finish it quickly. Quickly, so that I can take a rest. Then I want to put everything down. It’s so painful to ride a bicycle in this weather. It is good to see the scenery, but it is too tough. I don’t think I will travel on a bike for a while. It’s just too much for me. I don’t want to just pedal. I do not get caught up in numbers anymore, like “I have to reach somewhere by what time.” or “It’s just a few kilometres away.” I want to put it all down. I am worn out, exhausted and hungry. I wish somebody could give me massage on my shoulders. OK. Just a little more. Am I alone in this world? I feel like I call out to somebody everyday, but there’s no answer. I miss you.
“On 9th of January, it suddenly started to snow enormously, and I cycled through the snow, crying”, Eva told The Nanjinger. To have completed a trip such as hers, and for the most part solo and female, is an achievement of which most of us can only dream.
On her future plans and the next 10 years of her life, Eva says she plans to study, perhaps the environment or African studies. “I have put my full energy into physical activity, and now I want to put my full energy into intellectual activity. I see this as another ‘cycle’. I started studying in my 20s, then I worked 5 years in China, the US and Israel, then I went on a journey that wrapped up my experience in China. It will be similar. I want to start my 30s studying, then I will work in Europe, then wrap up my experience with maybe another cycling trip down to Africa!”
Away from the bright lights of central London, Eva then visited the more humble Bognor Regis, to stay with the French woman who ignited the idea in Eva’s mind, 60-year-old Dominique Clarke, who rode from Shanghai to London with her husband David. “[10 months ago] I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it too’. So that’s why I stretched my destination to London. So meeting them is like reaching home in Europe. After this, I’m going to my real home.”
Eva is currently en route to South Korea where she then plans to ride her bike from the airport to her front door, about 70 km. “I just posted an event on Facebook and my blog. I plan to cycle home with my friends and my blog readers. I don’t know how many people will come, but it will be amazing.”