Travel Story Meet the Perth man who's cycling 80,000km around the world

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Mark Gresser plans to cycle the length of the world’s six permanently settled continents. But what's driving his incredible adventure? 

Happiness. That’s Mark Gresser’s “why”. His “why” for riding his bicycle from Perth more than 900 days ago to cycle around the world.

The 31-year-old zoologist from Glen Forrest has covered Australia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. That’s 20,841km down, 60,000km to go.

Writing from Tajikistan, Mark shares his story so far ...

Taking the plunge

While I don’t necessarily recognise bravery in myself, I have a sense of the bravery involved in such an endeavour when I repeatedly hear “I really wanted to do something like this when I was younger but then other things got in the way”.

I realise it takes a certain amount of courage to push doubt and distraction aside and take those first steps.

My biggest hope is that my adventure will encourage others to pursue those long-held ambitions they “just haven’t got around to yet”.

Surprising moments

My most surprising moment was when I burst into tears as I rode away from a family in Bangladesh. I’d only been in the country for two hours, having crossed from India, when I was invited into the home of a rickshaw driver. I hesitated but accepted his invitation and followed him down tiny dirt tracks away from the main road.   

Over the next 24 hours I shared the lives of a loving extended family who live the most idyllic lifestyle I have seen, maintaining an almost completely self-supporting existence on a plot of land in a peaceful village.

I was given food and a bed by my new friends, along with the kindest of welcomes.

The love I was showered with was like nothing I’d ever experienced and it touched the deepest pockets of my heart.

Hair-raising encounters

Losing control of my bike when my front tyre got a puncture while I was careening down a mountain in Nepal was scary.

Bailing from my beloved blue bicycle would have been the most sensible course of action but, without any time to analyse, there were only two possibilities. I’d be pulled off the edge of a cliff into the rocky river far below, or I would be dragged in the other direction and thrown headfirst into the rock wall that forms the “safe” side of the road.

Luckily the latter happened. I hobbled away covered in cuts and bruises with a bike with badly twisted handlebars and a new-found respect for helmets.

Adapt to survive

The greatest challenge is being mentally and physically equipped to adapt to different conditions. One month I might be donning a beanie and down jacket as I hike up volcanic Mt Kelimutu in Flores to watch the sun rise, the next I might be in the tropical heat of the lowlands of eastern Malaysia.

In remote stretches of Australia’s north-west I might be carrying eight days of food and 36 litres of water to survive or be overwhelmed by a huge choice of street food around every corner in South-East Asia.

In Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan I might be able to converse freely in English with almost everyone. Over the border in Xinjiang, China, I might be able to communicate only by hand gestures.

There is constant change, the only way to get through is to be willing and able to adapt.

A friendly welcome

I’ve been amazed by the care and generosity of the people in every country I have visited and have felt unsafe only once.

Most find it hard to believe that my bicycle has carried me from Australia but, once they do, they become all the more keen to welcome me and send me on my way with unforgettable memories.

From being sheltered by Buddhist monks in Thailand to being gifted traditional clothes in Myanmar’s Kayin State and from receiving blessings from a community of Sikh worshippers in India’s Punjab State, being interviewed live on Pakistani TV and many nights in the homes of people who treated me like long-lost family, the examples of kindness seem endless.

My most special moment was being farewelled from a school in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, where I spent a month volunteering as a teacher. I received handwritten cards from students at the school assembly and was serenaded by a teacher who had written a heartwarming song to wish me well.

There’s no place like home

I am biased but the place I have most enjoyed exploring by bicycle is WA.

We live in an exceptional part of the world. From riding through tall forests to sleeping on perfect beaches, encountering rare wildlife and negotiating remote wilderness, there is nothing like the adventures offered by our wonderful State.

My heart lies in the Pilbara, where I spent much of my working life and where I will forever be happy to return. Not many experiences bring you closer to this country than surviving a hot ride through this region by day, then eating a camp-cooked meal underneath the Milky Way.

A travel education

The greatest lesson I have learnt is that as an Australian with access to food, clean water, education and health services, I am not an ordinary citizen of the world. I am part of a privileged minority with very little to complain about.

Most people on this planet face a daily struggle. I now appreciate the life I have and am motivated to make the most of it and determined to effect positive change.

Where to next?

From Tajikistan, I’ll continue across Central Asia and into Europe, from where I will begin cycling the length of Africa. I have no idea where my trip will end.

My journey is limited by my savings but I’m driven by the idea the adventure will end in the arms of my family, having cycled the length of the world’s six permanently settled continents.

A new man

The journey will inform the way I live the rest of my life.

I have a growing confidence to be open about what I want in life and am more inclined to pursue endeavours I know will deliver me happiness and contentment. After all, this is what we all want in life, isn’t it?

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