A 291-day cycle to Paris for climate change

August 14, 2016 - 09:00

It took Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân nearly 300 days cycling from Việt Nam to Paris after overcoming 16,000km and 11 countries.

She did not aim to get fame or break world record but to inspire people to join fighting against climate change and protecting the environment.

Frozen: The couple had to cycle in extreme weather conditions, both the severe wet and cold of floods, and the scorching heat of the desert. Photo bike4afuture.com
Viet Nam News

by Thảo Nguyễn – Ngô Bình

It took Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân nearly 300 days of cycling to reach Paris from Việt Nam, overcoming 16,000km and 11 countries to reach her destination.

She did not go seeking fame or to break a world record, but rather she rode to inspire people to join in the fight against climate change and protect the environment.

Born into a farmers’ family in Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands, Ngân used to nurture the dream of travelling around the world.

After graduating from two renowned universities in HCM City, the 28-year-old girl embarked on writing stories inspired by her factual trips and experiences. Up to now, Ngân has published four books like Nhật Ký Mèo Liggen (The Diary of Liggen Cat) and Lời Nguyền Hoa Taban (The Curse of the Taban Flower).

The more she travelled and wrote, the more she desired to make a trip around the world to seek the stories in her dreams.

Paris with its ancient buildings, the Eiffel Tower and peaceful Seine River was the destination that Ngân aspired to visit most, which motivated her to constantly improve her English and search for opportunities to travel.

She met Simon Nelson by chance while she was looking for an apartment via CouchSurfing.com. While Nelson was in need of someone to help him with his Vietnamese, Ngân wanted to have someone to enrich her English, and that was how they met.

Originally from Scotland, Nelson had travelled to 47 countries worldwide, was rich with travelling experience and was an active member of many environmental protection campaigns like 350.org.

“I have been campaigning to stop climate change for over 20 years,” Nelson says on his personal blog bike4future.com. “I have chained myself to coal fired power stations, attended raves at road protest sites, participated in critical masses on three continents and occupied the offices of fossil fuel companies.”

“With the clock rapidly running down to the point where it will no longer be possible to save human civilisation I wanted to make one last effort to do my bit to try and save the world.”

So this is how he came up with the idea of cycling to Paris, where the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) would take place, from Việt Nam, one of the countries that is most at risk from climate change.

The idea was supported by Ngân without any hesitation, because she knew her chance had come.

“I thought he was just kidding at first but he was absolutely serious. The environment is a burning global issue. He said we needed to start our trip immediately,” she recalls.

Determined: Together, Ngân (L) and Nelson cycled through 11 countries to reach Paris, calling for people to join the fight against climate change. Photo bike4afuture.com

After planning their route and preparing all the necessary equipment, the couple started cycling from the southern province of An Giang to Hà Nội on February 9 last year and then onto China.

For the first few days of cycling Ngân felt tired and in pain, as if her muscles were working against her. She was a girl who used to sit in an office for long hours. Luckily, Nelson was always there to encourage her. Gradually, her body got used to cycling for eight hours a day and everything started to go smoothly.

On the way to China, Nelson and Ngân arrived at the Xinjiang Desert, a desolate land with severely hot weather. Both had to carry on their trip under such extreme conditions. Meanwhile, hotels or hostels had become luxurious things for their US$10,000 financial preparation for the trip. They had no choice but to erect tents in the scorching heat of the desert.

“I had to wear many layers of coats, and use anti-heat clothes to wrap all around my body. Though we drank lots of water and sought shelter under the shadows of huge stones, we were still terrified by the severe weather and heat. It was just the beginning of our trip,” she says.

Ngân and Nelson had really exciting times when crossing Islamic countries like Turkmenistan, but also encountered trouble with the food. It was difficult for her to adapt to strange dishes like lamb kebabs, and tough bread with no vegetables or pork. As a consequence, Ngân suffered from stomach ache for five months, and was even hospitalised when they reached Turkey.

Unforgettable memories

Cycling for long distances is not an easy task, especially when the cyclists encounter many other high-speed vehicles. Therefore, for reasons of safety and convenience, Ngân and Nelson opted to stick to small and narrow roads or mountainous paths.

However, while avoiding other vehicles, they did meet with many unpredictable troubles.

“We checked the bikes carefully on cycling down the slopes, but the brakes of our bikes suddenly failed after a short distance. My bike kept moving forward fast while I tried my best to hold onto my ride,” Ngân recalls of a ride on a steep mountain side in Kyrgyzstan.

“I was thinking that I would never have a chance to come back to Việt Nam when luckily, I was able to stop my bike by using my feet scraping along the rough earth below. It was the most terrifying memory of this journey.”

On October 20, when the couple arrived in Italy, the whole southern area of the country was submerged by flood waters. Though the streets were not as severely affected, it rained ceaselessly, and they had to cycle soaking wet in the cold that chilled them to their bones.

Sometimes, the extreme hardship of the trip made her want to give up, but the unfulfilled mission encouraged her to keep on with her companion who was always there for her.

“I think that our journey was a series of lucky encounters. At least, that I had the chance to meet Nelson and travel with him through so many countries is one piece of my luck that not many others can have. Fears like linguistic barriers, poor health or bad people on the road will not cause you trouble if you dare to try,” Ngân says.

Their 291-day journey finally ended up in Paris on November 25, exactly the same day COP21 took place. As a Vietnamese standing among the crowd who joined hands to fight against climate change, the young woman was overwhelmed with both happiness and pride.

“All the difficulties I had been through suddenly came to zero in comparison with what we had accomplished,” she said. “Not only to discover new places, but I hope that with this journey we will inspire you to make a journey to discover this beautiful planet and protect ‘our home’ from climate change as well.”

Ngân also revealed that she is nurturing the idea of cycling around Southeast Asia to promote and support sex equality by taking photos of the women that she meets on the road. VNS