Last February, some regular Sunday Bike Ride cyclists and other bike enthusiasts in Saigon sent off Simon Barry and his Vietnamese girlfriend Nguyen Kim Ngan before their long trip through Asia and Europe to rise awareness about climate change and reach Paris before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change starts on November 30. It looked like a long shot when we crossed the Cat Lai ferry with them but anyone who could spend five minutes with them could see how determined they were and how hard they would try. Nine months later, after an extenuating adventure, with Ngan having some health problems, Simon simply says “it’s not that hard to do” and he highlights something anyone having travelled by bike knows: “the vast majority of humanity are kind and generous”. However, they are disappointed to see the very small awareness of the problems climate change is bringing.
The couple are now reaching French city of Lyon and are just a few days away from making it to Paris, a city many may want to avoid after the recent events but not Simon and Ngan. Although the demonstration before the summit starts and day of civil disobedience at the end these have both been cancelled after the terrorist attacks, they still plan to be very active. “In the light of that it makes it even more important that people in other countries attend the demonstrations in their country. However other events are still going ahead and we’ll be participating in those and sharing the story of our journey at the counter summit and speaking everyday”. Here are a few questions Simon and Ngan had the kindness to answer us by email.
– How do you feel after all these months traveling by bike?
Really good. It had been a wonderful trip. We have seen so many beautiful places and met so many wonderful people. Every day something new happens so it doesn’t feel boring. And i’m the fittest I’ve been in my life so physically I feel good too.
– Are there days when it’s hard to get on the bike and keep going?
Not really for all the reasons I’ve outlined above. We have been taking rest days every week so sometimes by the end of the week the legs are getting tired and you appreciate a day off. But the world is a beautiful place so seeing lots of it doesn’t seem hard. We have also been lucky with the weather. It has only rained 7 times when we were riding in the whole of the 9 months we have been travelling. Although that will very likely change in the last week in the north of France.
– What has been the most difficult time of your trip?
Ngân got quite sick because of the food in cental Asia. Going from a Vietnamese diet with lots of vegetables and rice to a diet of lamb and bread was a bit of a shock to the system. It was challenging trying to find doctors and it affected her ability to ride. It lasted for months too which was worrying but thankfully she is ok now.
– What are your best memories so far?
Being woken up by the sound of a fox stealing my shoe while we were camping in Iran. The landscape in Kyrgyzstan. The snowcapped mountains and bright blue lakes. It is probably the most beautiful country I’ve been to. The wonderful people that we’ve met. Unfortunately too many to mention. We have been using hospitality sites like Couchsurfing and warmshowers a lot and it’s been fantastic meeting so many interesting people and experiencing their hospitality.
– You want to call attention about climate change. After seeing all these countries what are your views about pollution in Asia? Is it worse or better than you expected?
Actually we have passed through mainly rural areas so haven’t seen too much pollution. Even in China it was only in Xian and Lanzhou that the pollution was noticeable. However we have been seeing and hearing about the affects that climate change is already having. In Vietnam we spoke to farmers who told us about the salt water contaminating their fields as sea levels rise. In China we saw the spreading deserts. In all the mountainous areas we visited people explained that there was a lot less snow in winter and the snows were melting earlier causing water shortages. In many areas it was drier and hotter again causing water shortages. Iran was probably the most threatened country we visited. Within 30 or 40 years up to 50 million people could be forced from their homes due to lack of water. Even in Europe we saw problems. Flash flooding had ripped through the town of Benevento in Italy a few days before we passed through killing 5 people. And people told us the weather was becoming much more variable, some summers are cool and wet others much hotter. Even warming of only 2°C would see 50% of summers at least as warm the heatwave of 2003 which killed 70,000 people.
– How do people react when they meet you and find out about your trip? Are they receptive when you talk about climate change?
Yes people were receptive but we were speaking to mostly educated people who could understand English or were involved in environmental groups already. But what really surprised me was the lack of awareness of just how serious the problem is and how much it could affect them. Even in places like Iran were the population is highly educated there is almost no awareness that within 40 years much of the country could be uninhabitable desert. We only met one person who understood that and he was a geographer. But then again even in Europe people don’t understand that deserts could also start spreading through southern Europe this century unless we take serious action to cut emissions.
– What did you learn in all these months?
Apart from a hate appreciation of the impact of warming of less than 1°C was having I learned that the vast majority of humanity are kind and generous. We have met so many people who helped us, gave us things, invited us into their homes. That’s what gives me hope for the future. That we can actually create a better society which cares for the earth and for each other. We just need to get rid of the arseholes who are running the show at the minute.
If you want to find out more about their story and their commitment, you can read their website and blog: http://bike4afuture.com/