Rob Lutter, an English photographer, designer and writer, is currently in the midst of an incredible cycling journey – a 30,000km circumnavigation of the globe, starting and ending in London. Over the course of what he anticipates will be four years, Rob will ride through over 30 countries. His goal: to find freedom and contentment on the road, while raising money for mental health charities around the world.
Rob states: “I find joy in inspiring others who feel trapped, alone and lost, like I once did, amongst the routines and struggles of daily life.”
What inspired you to set off on this epic journey?
It was really a culmination of many years of frustrations and unmet dreams. I had nearly failed out of college. I moved to Cambria to study screenwriting and produce documentaries. Realizing that I would not be successful in the North, I moved to London with big dreams to shoot films and write scripts; but once there, I struggled to find my footing as a tea-boy in a film and commercials house, and failed to adjust to a competitive, money-orientated industry. Four years passed and my hopes and creativity faded. My aim was lost and, eventually, I found myself friendless, unmotivated and trapped in a confusing, concrete world. I needed to escape the city, but I could find no way out.
“It was time to create a story for myself; to break the idea that epic journeys only ever happened in the stories I read as a child.”
One day, on a desk at work, I saw a book titled The Man Who Cycled the World. There was one picture in the book of a man riding down a winding dusty track across a vast Himalayan landscape. He appeared far from any civilization, as though he was cycling high into the clouds. I looked from the book to my commuter bike and, in that very moment, an idea was born: I, too, could go on a cycling trip. I could cycle around the world.
In that moment, I was ready to ride off for the other side of the earth. It was time to create a story for myself; to put words into action and break the idea that epic journeys only ever happened in the stories I read as a child.
You’re raising money for mental health charities as you ride. Why did you choose to focus on that particular issue?
When I first set out on this journey, I was collecting donations for Charity: water, a worldwide water aid organization. After a year of cycling, however, I found myself in the Himalayas, thousands of miles from home and hundreds away from any real civilization. The heat, the climbs and the general isolation I felt as I tried to cross four and five thousand meter passes on a daily basis were really taking a toll on my mind. Restricted by language, malnourished, dehydrated, and frustrated by inadvertent sexism and animal cruelty, I felt both physically and mentally challenged. I had been depressed in London and had spent half of my life trying to hide the fact that I suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There, in the Himalayas, those stresses began resurfacing. There, in a part of the world that I had always dreamed about, I only felt anger.
“Today, I’m in a place where I know it is okay to feel the stresses, the strains, and the frustrations of the journey – and not just the journey on the bike, but the journey through life.”
I started this cycle adventure because I believed it would allow me to run away from my problems – my depression – in London and just put a blanket of new experiences over a dark psychological problem. I had this idea that I would just grow progressively and endlessly happier as the days went by. But there, in the Himalayas, I realized that no amount of cycling would just clear my mind of all its problems and that it was important share this part of the story, too. In fact, this part of the story is really central to the whole adventure. My Charity: water campaign ended and I began to raise money for charities I could relate more personally to: mind.org and OCDUK.
How has opening up about your own mental health changed your perspective of this journey?
Today, I am in a place where I know it is okay to feel the stresses, the strains, and the frustrations of the journey – and not just the journey on the bike, but the journey through life. It’s the struggle that often makes life so interesting and there is no point in trying to run from it. I write and talk about this journey much more as mental expedition that is constantly evolving. I am no longer hiding but sharing, and this has been key to helping me reach the place I am at now: in Australia, happy, relaxed, and no longer trying to flee.
Did you have a lot of cycling experience prior to this journey?
I’ve always ridden a bike – as a kid around the villages; as an adult to and from work each day – but I am by no means a pro cyclist. I love the freedom riding a bike brings; the independence it creates. There was no training before this trip, though I did complete some workshops on how to repair and clean a bike properly. I believe that anyone can go on an adventure like this. The only things you need are will power and a passion for discovery. You’ll learn everything else you need to know out there on the road.
How do you know which route to take?
I don’t always know. Often I check the route the night before on road maps I have gathered or downloaded. Sometimes the beauty is in getting lost or just asking locals as I go; asking if I’m on the right road is a great way to start conversations. Through Europe I had professional maps; however, as I entered more remote landscapes, I would often be basing my route on a drawing that a local had made, or an image I had taken a picture of. Though, in those places, there was usually only one road, often across the desert or the mountains, and it went in just two directions: forward and back.
What does it feel like to ride through those isolated areas?
I was definitely scared in the early days; scared of wild camping, of losing my stuff, of getting lost, and of reaching remote countries. But the further I travelled and the more remote the journey became, the less fear I felt. People are generally so supportive and welcoming, especially in the most off-the-beaten path locations. In the deserts and mountains of Central Asia, people were amazed to see me on my bike riding through their unseen lands that I was met by only kindness, and felt only safety.
I have been asked if I felt lonely out in those isolated areas, too, but loneliness is not something I have really experienced much of on this journey. I actually enjoy being alone – it makes me feel at peace, and I can practice mindfulness. To be honest, I often feel frustrated or irritable when I am around too many people; now, after weeks of being alone on the road, I find my time with others to be more enjoyable. I cherish social moments much more because of that.
Where are you headed next and how can we support your journey?
I’ve been up in the north east of Australia for the last couple of months, spending each day waddling through tomato fields, wading through mud, and plucking fruit from vines in a mountain valley. Though it sounds nice, its exceptionally tough, but the farm work is allowing me to earn a little cash so I can jump back on my bike. The plan is to travel south down the coast to Sydney then fly to the west coast of the USA. I’ll cross America from west to east, then head back to and through the UK for the last leg of my journey. I hope to be back in London by the end of next summer – by that point, I will have spent 4 years on this adventure.
People can follow and support the journey at roblutter.com. You’ll find additional stories, maps, photography, and videos, as well as links for charity and personal donations. Any help, big or small, is appreciated.