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Juan Francisco Guillermo's death a reminder of our vulnerabilities

Alia Parker's picture
Juan Francisco Guillermo, killed while cycling around the world.

The cycle touring community was deeply saddened this week to learn of the tragic death of around-the-world cyclists Juan Francisco Guillermo, who was struck by a vehicle while riding in Thailand.

His death is a poignant reminder in the trust we place in the actions of others each time we embark on a bicycle journey. This trust, however, is perhaps one of the most endearing and addictive elements of cycle touring – discarding the habitually boxed-in conditioning of modern-day lifestyles and embracing freedom and discovery in a way that makes us vulnerable to the world around us.

This vulnerability is not necessarily a negative thing; in most of its incarnations, it's beautiful. It restores our belief in the kindness of humanity as those around us reach out instinctively to protect us by offering food, shelter, kind words and friendship. We also become vulnerable to the elements, once again, not in a negative sense, but in a restorative way that allows us to connect with the world around us and admire the workings of nature.

Given embracing these vulnerabilities helps us to experience all that is good in the world, it's rather confronting when these same vulnerabilities result in death. Juan Francisco Guillermo was a 47 year-old man from Chile who was nearing the end of a five-year journey in which he was aiming to break the Guinness World Record for cycling the world. He was due to complete his ride in Australia in November this year before being hit by a truck, killing him instantly, while riding in northern Thailand's Nakhon Ratchasima province. His wife, Singaporean Ng-Poh Leng, and their two-year-old child were cycling behind him at the time of the crash but escaped with minor physical injuries.

Heartbreaking images of Juan's bicycle and gear piled at the side of the road have been published in the local Thai newspapers – a ghost bike, its rider gone forever, against which leans a large sign Juan had been towing at the back of his trailer.

It said he had ridden 140,000km since starting in November 2010, and had 793 flats, used 328 tubes and changed 201 tyres. He also touchingly pointed out that in this time he had “1 wife appear in his life” and “1 baby 'God' give us”.

A memorial has been set up at a temple in Khon Kaen, where Juan's funeral is to be held. Leng said her husband had been rather taken by the temple on a recent visit.

The Chiang Rai Times reported that the driver of the vehicle, 64-year-old Tiwarat Ratchaipidet, was speeding along a straight road with a wide shoulder at the time of the accident. He was charged with causing death by dangerous driving and released on bail facing up to 10 years in prison.

The tragedy no doubt revives sore memories of British couple Peter Root and Mary Thompson, who were also cycling around the world when they were killed by a truck driver in Chachoengsao, Thailand in 2013.

Similarly, the police were quick to point the finger of blame with media reports revealing the driver was not watching the road. Indeed, he admitted he had lent down to pick up a mobile phone. Despite the negligence, he escaped jail time and was issued a fine of 1000 Baht (about AUD$40) – not exactly a punishment that would make other drivers think twice about their own behaviour.

With the new Thai government actively trying to promote cycle tourism, one could only hope that they begin to implement measures that encourage drivers to take more care on the roads.

And as cycle travellers, we pedal on, ever trusting in those around us.

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