Kamran Ali, aka Kamran On Bike, is an adventure cyclist and photographer from Pakistan. He has been travelling the world by bicycle for the past six years and has cycled 50,000 km in 43 countries. Check out his website where he shares more of his cycling travels.
1. When did you start touring the world on your bicycle?
I started touring the world on a bicycle ten years ago. I had a dream to cycle from Germany to Pakistan, and I waited a decade to make it happen. I ended up quitting my job to be able to undertake that journey. I bought a bicycle, packed a couple of cameras in my bicycle panniers and hit the road. I have been on the road full time since 2015.
2. What inspired you to leave your well-established software development career behind and start cycling around the world?
Perhaps, it was the call of destiny.
I was born and raised in Pakistan. In 2002, I got admission into a university in Germany and took a flight from Islamabad to Frankfurt. While looking through the plane window, I was mesmerised by the vastness and the landscape that stretched below. I imagined a tiny dot moving on an endless strip of tarmac snaking across the rugged terrain. With the plane still in the air, I made a secret promise to myself, “one day, I am going to cycle from Germany to Pakistan!”
In Germany, I finished my Master’s and PhD degrees and worked as a software developer. The dream of my parents and my entire family had come true. I paid back loans, got an apartment, a car, and established a secure future. But something was not right.
There wasn’t a single day I didn’t remember this dream. I couldn’t sleep well. I would be sitting through the office meeting and my boss would draw project data flow diagrams, but all I perceived on the whiteboard was a map and a bicycle route. At home, I used to stare at the world map all the time.
Every hour, I recalled the promise to myself. Not being able to pursue my dream made me question the purpose of existence. I talked to my boss and requested a sabbatical, but he said I needed to work for another ten years at the company to qualify. A few days later, I handed over my resignation letter to him. Then I gave up my apartment, car, and everything else. A couple of weeks later, I was on a 10,000 km bicycle journey from Germany to Pakistan.
3. Was the decision to leave your career met with resistance by your loved ones?
When I told my family I wanted to cycle to Pakistan, they were all in shock. Mom said, “sons living abroad rush back home, but you have chosen the slowest way possible to return!”
My elder brother, who once sold his motorbike to pay my university fee, said, “you are wasting our efforts. Why would you choose a poor man’s vehicle?”
Our family has a humble background. Though they always knew I was a crazy one, they still couldn’t grasp why I would leave a well-paid job in Germany for the sake of cycling.
4. What countries have you rode through?
I have cycled across 43 countries on four continents, covering a total distance of 50,000 km. Here is the country list:
Europe: Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, San Marino, Malta, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, France, England.
Asia: Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan.
South America: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia.
Central America: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize.
North America: Mexico, United States, Canada.
5. What advice/tips would you give to those starting out with international cycling trips?
Slow down!. Don’t push too hard. Instead of clocking kilometres and trying to get to the next city, take a moment while you are on the road.
Look right and left, wave at people, and make frequent stops to have a chat with them, take photos, and exchange stories and gifts. As you slow down, new perspectives and details will emerge, and you will begin to see the world with different eyes.
6. What have you learnt from your international cycling trips?
While cycling in Peru back in 2016, I met a mystic who taught me three lessons:
- When your heart is full of love, all the doors will open for you.
- Have wishes, but no expectations.
- Instead of thinking about yourself all the time, also ask yourself what you can do for others.
You can imagine, in 50,000 km of cycling, how many times I found myself in a vulnerable or asking position, but help came my way. These lessons guided me like a beacon during my journey and helped me build a trustworthy relationship with strangers, who further taught me invaluable lessons.
7. What have been your favourite locations for cycling across the world?
I have had a memorable time in all countries. But if I have to name a few, they would be:
- Patagonia (Chile and Argentina),
- Altiplano in Bolivia,
- Highlands in Peru,
- Baja California in Mexico,
- National Parks in the US,
- The road from Dawson City to Tuktoyaktuk in Canada,
- Dalton Highway in Alaska,
- Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, and
- Karakoram Highway in Pakistan.
8. What experiences does cycling around the world open up to you that other modes of travelling wouldn’t?
Long-distance cycling is a unique way of seeing the world. You are not only visiting hotspots but also experiencing everything in between. It slows you down so you can reflect on each encounter. It makes you vulnerable to experience kindness in strangers. It cultivates a sense of belonging to the whole.
On a bicycle, you connect well with mother nature. You feel the wind, experience the gradient and surface of the road and have an unobstructed view from the saddle while fully exposed to the elements of nature.
You have to earn every mile. Every section of the road is either pain or joy, and you will remember it forever. You travel at a pace where you can wave at people and respond to their greetings and questions. Since you cannot cover very long distances in a day, you often have to find food, water and a safe place to sleep in between cities. You have to approach people living far from the main road. That allows you to experience their way of life and collect stories and lessons.
9. What advice would you give to those who want to leave the careers that have enslaved them to pursue their dreams?
There is a reason why we long for something. Our yearnings emerge from the depths of our soul and slowly take the form of dreams. Nothing defines us more than our dreams do.
The universe is a jigsaw puzzle, and our dreams are a way of the universe guiding us to play our part in the grand scheme of things.
The purpose of life is to discover our true potential and know who we are. And for that, we have to set out on a journey into the unknown led by our inner voice. Once on this path, every risk is worth taking, for it brings us closer to our true self.
Trust your inner voice. You are a bird that has been growing feathers all your life but never flew before. Just a leap of faith, and you will be soaring high up in the sky!
Did you enjoy this article on cycling around the world? Check out our article on Cycling Iceland Against A Guide’s Advice and Slow and Steady: Cycling the Pan-American Highway for more country-specific cycling insights!