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Dorothee Fleck: around the world on a bike, again

Alia Parker's picture
Dorothee Fleck in New Zealand, cycling around the world a second time. Cycle Traveller. Photo: Dorothee Fleck

You know you have stumbled upon a seasoned and determined cycle traveller when they start their tour in the middle of a German winter at -15°C and with snow tyres on. And indeed, Dorothee Fleck is a natural born wanderer. She is cycling around the world for a second time, the latest trip having started in February 2012. Upon reaching Turkey,Dorothee removed her snow tyres and continued on her way, so far passing through 20 countries: Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, China, Croatia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, New Zealand, Philippines, Switzerland, Slovenia, and of course, Australia, which has has cycled around once before. Cycle Traveller touched base with the wanderlust German in Cooktown, Queensland, where she had just returned after cycling to the northern most tip of the Australian mainland.

CT: This is your second around-the-world trip by bicycle. How does it compare with your first?

DF: All travels are different. You learn and have new experiences every day. On my first around-the-world trip I didn't want to go through all the hassle of getting visas in the "Stan" countries and the visa extensions in China. Today I'm more relaxed; in the end, everything works out fine. This time, I've even cycled in the same direction, although the itinerary has been quite different. None of the countries I visited between Austria and China were the same as last time. In China, I revisited only one city, which was Guilin, one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Now I'm in Australia again. But last time I flew into Darwin and cycled to the Gold Coast anti-clockwise and this time I flew into the Gold Coast and have cycled up North.

CT: How did you become interested in cycle touring and where was your first trip?

Cycling the road to Laura, Capt York. Cycle Traveller. Photo: Dorothee Fleck

DF: I have been touring since I was a teenager. I grew up in Southern Germany. I think I was 14 when I went on my first "longer" trip with a friend to the Lake of Constance, then to France, Italy, etc. You can get addicted to it. At the beginning, I cycled with friends, but soon I realised that if I wanted to do something, I shouldn't wait until somebody else had the time, money or was in the mood to come with me, otherwise I would be waiting forever and would never go. After that, I went on shorter bike trips on my own, such as cycling in the USA. There was also a period were I was travelling on my own, but with a backpack, not with a bicycle. Back then, I believed what people said about it being too dangerous to cycle in these countries. Anyway, I got the travel bug, especially after Kenya, and soon after this I always travelled by bike. It's the best way to explore a country and meet people.

Until February 2008, I had a normal job and had only my holidays to go bike touring twice a year – in spring in Europe and in autumn somewhere else in the world. One day I decided to quit my job and go cycling. But it was never my intention to go around the world, twice.

CT: What bike are you riding? Have you been happy with its performance?

DF: Before my first visit to Australia 10 years ago, I spent a lot of time on the internet reading travel and test reports to select the best components on the market. Then I went to the bike shop and told this guy, “I want to have a Velotraum (German) frame, Rohloff gears, Magura brakes, Sun rims, etc.” Back then I had a good job and enough money to afford it and I knew good material would be essential for Australia – like life insurance. And the bike turned out to be just perfect, no major problems. I rode it until August 2011, nearly 100,000km. For my second around-the-world trip, I decided to get a new bicycle, but with nearly the same, approved components although this time I have a Magura Menja suspension fork.

Inland from the Gold Coast. Cycle Traveller. Photo copyright: Dorothee Fleck

CT: You like to venture off the beaten track. Have you ever run into mechanical problems in the middle of nowhere?

DF: Because I spent a lot of time selecting good components on my bicycle, I've never run into serious problems. It's very reliable. Of course, I can fix a flat tyre, broken spokes, etc.

CT: What sort of food do you carry with you? Have you had problems finding good food in remote parts of Australia?

DF: It always surprises me that there is hardly any food in parts of Australia that aren't even that remote, even little towns with several hundreds of citizens. They seem to prefer to drive hundreds of kilometres to the next Woollies than keep their own general store. Normally, I am prepared for that. For example, for my trip to the Tip of Cape York, I knew there would be only roadhouses along the way. I left my warm clothes at a friend's place in Cooktown and filled up my panniers with food, muesli, peanut butter, honey, coffee, milk powder and bread for breakfast, muesli bars, nuts, cookies, dried fruits for on the road and mashed potato powder, couscous, Cup of Soup and tea for the evening. If you don't like chips and pies, you hardly find anything else in remote areas. And if you do find something, it is extremely expensive.

CT: Which section of your ride in Australia would you recommend to others?

Beware of cows, Queensland. Cycle Traveller. Photo copyright: Dorothee FleckDF: Giving recommendations is not easy. Everything changes very fast. There are also different kinds of cycle tourists. Some prefer easy paved roads with supplies (food and accommodation) at least once a day. For those, I think Australia is not an ideal place for cycling touring. The more populated areas have also a lot of traffic. I met a lot of cyclists who told me that because of this reason they did a lot of touring in Europe, but would never do it in Australia. But still, you can find areas or special cycling tracks (especially in Victoria) which fit their needs.

For other cyclists who like the remote areas, Australia is a fantastic place for cycling. In general, you can go everywhere. Go and get a detailed map and take the smallest roads. In most cases those are not the easiest, but the most rewarding. If you venture away from popular places, like up to Cape York, you might not see any cars, but a lot of wildlife. It's very quiet and you can put up a tent almost anywhere.

CT: And in all your travels around the world, do you have a favourite section that you would recommend to others?

DF: Again, there are different kinds of cyclist. I know a lot of Australians who like to cycle in Europe, especially in France, because you find accommodation and good food nearly everywhere. For those, I also recommend the Philippines. There are surprisingly good roads, very nice people (who also speak English), and there are regular places where you can find water, food and nice beaches to swim at (with no crocs or stingers!).

Dorothee Fleck in Uzbekistan. Cycle Traveller. Photo copyright: Dorothee FleckFor those cycling tourist who like remote areas, unpaved roads and don't mind carrying food and water for several days, I can recommend the Pamir Highway, maybe with a part of the Silk Road from Uzbekistan with the very interesting old Caravansaries. Also, the western part of China is worth cycling. In both areas there are very nice, hospitable people and fantastic landscapes.

CT: Where to next?

DF: From here I'm heading southwest over Mount Isa, then south through the centre of Australia. At the beginning of October I have a flight out of Sydney to Chile. Since I've just ridden to the most northern point of mainland of Australia, I want to cycle to the most southern point of the South American continent and then north again as far as I get. By April/May next year I should be back in Germany.

You can follow Dorothee's adventures on a translated version of her blog.

Images from top: 1. Dorothee Fleck cycle touring in New Zealand. 2. Cycling the road to Laura in Cape York. 3. A road inland from the Gold Coast in Queensland. 4. Beware of cows, North Queensland. 5. Cycling in Uzbekistan. (All photos Copyright of Dorothee Fleck)


Ellie's picture

Living the dream :)

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