Tucked safely away at the bottom of his bags, world cyclist Horst Schad carries a wooden box of dirt. Not just any dirt. He is carrying with him earth from Olympia, Greece, home of the original Olympic Games.
He’s carried the dirt by bicycle for more than 36,000 km, through 24 countries, as a goodwill ambassador for the Olympic committees of Greece and his native country Germany, with the support of the International Olympic Committee and funded through sponsors and personal savings.
His “One World 2000” ride has taken him one and a half years to reach Cambodia, and he’ll keep riding until he reaches Sydney around Sept 15, in time for the Olympic opening ceremonies.
“Many people call me crazy,” the 36-year-old cyclist said Saturday. “But I feel sane—most of the time.”
No matter what they call him, though, most people welcome him into their countries, with the exception of Burma, which he had to fly over because a visa was not granted. Schad instead went from Bangladesh to Bangkok, riding through Laos and Vietnam before rolling into Cambodia.
Schad is pedaling across Cambodia now, working his way to Siem Reap. He said of all the places he has visited, from the Middle East to the Himalayas, his one goal was to see Angkor Wat. “Everybody who has been there tells me it is the most incredible thing,” he said.
His trip also will take him tentatively through the border at Poipet as he journeys on toward Australia.
“I always try to avoid spending the night in border towns,” he said. “Border towns are the worst.” He has seen his fair share, and has encountered trouble in only four countries he’s visited, so he is not very concerned about Cambodia’s wild town on the frontier with Thailand.
He is worried, however, about Indonesia and unrest there, he said, and he keeps a close eye on regional news in case he has to alter his course.
Schad’s journey began in May 1998, when he had the idea to cycle to Sydney. Already a seasoned traveler who has been on the move since he was 16 years old, Schad knew the value of support and began looking for sponsors.
His goals—especially those to transcend borders using his “personal strength”—struck a chord with some sponsors, his own government and the mayor of Olympia, Greece.
“He told me I should carry something, like a symbol,” Schad said. “So I came up with carrying a piece of earth.” The dirt will be put in the Sydney Olympic Stadium the opening week, and a Greek olive tree will planted on that spot.
It won’t be an easy trip. His specially-crafted bicycle is laden with between 45 kg and 65 kg of gear, depending on the climate. He sleeps on a thin mattress on the ground in Southeast Asia, covered by a thin sleeping bag and a mosquito net.
Schad has been sheltered in wats, he said, but he prefers the silence of the outdoors to the noises of the monks.
He rides from 7 am to 7 pm each day. He’s been cycling for enough years now, he said, to have decided what’s important: friends, family and a job one enjoys. Having unlocked the secrets to a happy life, he said, he has more time on the road to compose songs and poems in his head. After the trip, he said, he wants to write a book that would include the lessons the road has taught him.
He’s also apparently had enough time on the road to come up with a few nuggets of wisdom. Schad is most adamant about one. “Give the young people ideas,” he said before leaving Phnom Penh for Angkor Wat, “and everything is possible.”