Dr. Steve Fabes cycling a mountainous terrain
Picture the scene. You on two wheels, handle bars to lead the way, free from the shackles of modern life with the wind blowing through your hair, not knowing where you’ll be sleeping every night, as you make your way across the world, one continent at a time, for a period of six years. This is Dr. Steve Fabes’ life and he’s four and a half years through this incredible journey that has so far taken him through five of the six continents of the world, cycling a staggering 60,100km through 47 countries. During his short visit in Jakarta, I caught up with this young doctor to find out more.
“I’ve always been looking for an adventure and have always had a passion for travel,” Dr. Steve tells me. “I feel most alive when I’m in the wilderness and I was looking for a new challenge and a less complicated life. Everything’s simple on a bicycle – you just have to think about where you’re going to ride, where you’re going to camp, what you’re going to eat and that’s about it.” Cycling the Six was also an opportunity for the 33-year-old doctor to raise money for charity, so far having raised £20,000 for Merlin, an international health charity delivering medical expertise to the toughest places on the planet.
The journey has taken Dr. Steve from England, across Europe, through the Middle East, down the length of Africa, up from Argentina to Alaska, from Alaska to Australia, through Australia, and from East Timor to Jakarta. The next step is the homeward stretch, taking Steve through Southeast Asia and Asia, through Europe and back to the hospital where he works in London.
Why did it have to be all six continents? When Steve was 19 he travelled to Chile with his brother and spent five months cycling in South America and that’s where the idea was seeded. He felt that it would fade away and ‘normal life’ would take hold, however this never happened. “I took a map and tried to trace out a route and I decided that through six continents would be the thing to do.” Originally estimated to take five years to complete, the journey is now more likely to take six years, leaving another two for his wheels to cross.
Riding on his faithful touring bike ‘Belinda’, the last four years for Steve have involved camping by the side of the road before sunset with a little stove to cook noodles and a cup of coffee, and then cycling roughly 110km, or seven hours of pedal-turning per day, with breaks where he’s been able to talk to local people and eat local food. The schedule is similar to that of a working week; cycling for five days, and taking two days of rest, with a gap every four or five weeks to take a week off.
The first five months, Steve was entirely alone. “I’ve learned that I quite like having time to think. You find out what you’re capable of; sometimes you push yourself quite hard, and you find out how much you can cope with, which is usually more than you think.”
Steve has cycled through minus 20 degree Celcius temperatures through the Alps and over 50 degree Celcius heat in the Sahara desert. In Africa, he was joined by his friend Naomi Rousell who cycled with him for seven months, leaving him alone again until South America, where he teamed up with the occasional cyclist that he’d meet on the road. In Canada, he was joined by his girlfriend, Claire Press, who met up with him again in Sydney and has been cycling with him since. Claire, whose background is in mental health, plans to join Steve until the end.
“I love how cycling allows you to travel,” Claire says as we discuss her motives for joining Steve’s mission, having cycled some 4,500 km with him. “We often end up sleeping with local families and have ended up meeting people who do community projects. One in particular in Indonesia was doing maternal care, and we learnt that women often have babies at home and not in hospitals, so there are complications surrounding that, which seems mainly down to the community here to solve rather than down to the government.” Claire has also been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people. “The kindness doesn’t stop, regardless of what they have or haven’t got, which is incredibly humbling.”
The journey through Indonesia took Steve and Claire from East Timor to Kupang, taking a ferry to Ende, cycling Flores to Labuan Bajo, then through Lombok, cycling through to the Gilis, Bali, then flying from Bali to Jakarta. Java was not cycled due to safety concerns. When asked what word sums up his experiences in Indonesia, Dr. Steve’s answer was ‘hospitality’. “I find it hard to think of anywhere that I’ve travelled where I’ve had as much hospitality as in Indonesia.”
In Jakarta, Steve and Claire have been hosted by Simon McCrum, who got in touch with Steve when he found out their journey would be taking them through Jakarta, and generously offered a place for them to stay. In Jakarta, Dr. Steve has given presentations at BritCham, as well as the British International School, in an effort to raise awareness and funds. They’ve also spoken at Sekolah Kami, a school providing education for the children of pemulung in Bekasi.
Dr. Steve’s journey has surprisingly taught him that the world is a safer place than people make it out to be. Locals will oftentimes warn Steve about his next destination, yet when he gets there, the people are always nice and friendly, oftentimes warning him about the next place again. On his journey, rubbish has been a problem, especially in Bolivia, Albania, Syria, and parts of Indonesia, where rubbish is strewn on the side of the road and people litter out of their car windows.
Steve is now raising money for his “noodle fund”, which is required to get him back home through the last continent of Asia. Once he’s raised enough to get home, the doctor plans to raise funds again for charity. “I ran out of money completely when I got to Mexico,” Steve explains, which was about three years into his journey, “and I’ve had to try and earn money through public speaking at schools or bike clubs. I also sell photographs at events and through my website, and I write freelance for adventure travel magazines.” The noodle fund for the home stretch can be donated to through his website, where a Paypal button is available to help get Steve back home.
For someone who was voted ‘most likely to fail at his cycling proficiency test’ at school, Steve has managed a feat that only a handful of people have. Once he returns home in two years, Dr. Steve plans to return to his job as a medical professional and write a book about his experiences cycling through the world.