Blog posts by Rachel Banfield

Stories of (mis)adventures by bicycle...

A little detour by Rachel Banfield

Since leaving China I've sat with my cat and a bad cold by the fire at home in Paihia, been reminded of what a New Zealand winter feels like (urgh!), caught up with friends (usually over some kind of chocolate item), flown to Vanuatu, been ziplining over an 80 metre canyon...

Read More

My China by Rachel Banfield

I didn't know much about China before I left. The China I had heard about before my trip wasn't always a good one. I'd heard from a few that it was an interesting place yes, but I'd also heard endless stories about scams, eye-watering pollution, hot crowded cities, unfriendly people, stomach cramping food, human rights abuses... the list goes on. That certainly wasn't the China I experienced.

Read More

All part of the adventure by Rachel Banfield

Ever since the first day cycling when, like an idiot, I let myself get so dehydrated that I blacked out briefly on the side of the road, I've tried to convince myself that these unplanned and generally unwanted moments are "all part of the adventure." This week, I have to say, has been packed full of such moments.

Read More

The value of human interaction by Rachel Banfield

I looked out my window yesterday morning and groaned. Rain. I've ridden in rain a lot since coming to China, but riding in freezing rain at 3700m is very unappealing. I gazed around at my bright room and considered staying another night, but the idea of descending 2000m was too tempting. I wanted to be able to breathe normally again, to laugh without needing recovery time in between. 

Read More

In search of a yak by Rachel Banfield

I have a thing about yaks. How could you not? They are, clearly, the coolest animal in the world. Something about the scraggly hair (very similar to mine at this point) and the 'and what do you want?!' expression. Ever since I started planning this journey I was determined that yaks would feature. So, I set out from Chengdu and headed Southwest, towards the Tibetan Plateau where, as numerous books and blogs promised me, I would find some of these wonderful creatures. For the first few days the scenery was disappointingly yak-free.

Read More

But why? by Rachel Banfield

"Wow, you must really love cycling!" Most people assume, upon hearing of my journey, that I am an avid cyclist. Far from it. In fact, I'd say the least important element of my trip is the cycling. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the physical aspects, the challenge of riding uphill for hours on end, the satisfaction of knowing that I have made my way from X to Y purely by leg power (and Snickers) and the thrill of zooming down a rare perfectly smooth road. I do. But this journey is about more than that.

Since finishing high school I've spent a lot of my time overseas. At 18 I flew to Ghana, backpacked around West and East Africa before finding myself in Burundi just as the capital was put under a curfew. I've studied politics at a French university and Arabic in Jerusalem, taught English to Masaai in Tanzania, been welcomed into homes in the largest urban slum in Africa, eaten tajine in Morocco and amok in Cambodia. In all of these places and others, despite all the differences of language, culture and religion, I've experienced hospitality, generosity and kindness.

A couple of years ago I found myself in New Delhi and somewhat fell into an internship with a human rights organisation. Within a week I knew I was in the right place. Human rights combined all my passions: people, politics, health, research, languages, international affairs. Within a few months there I applied and was accepted for a masters of international law at the University of Edinburgh, knowing that I needed a more solid background if I was to properly understand the field. Being particularly passionate about the rights of refugees and asylum seekers as well as the rights of women, I chose to write my dissertation on sexual violence in refugee camps. Last July, I moved back to New Zealand to do an internship with Amnesty International. In my spare time I volunteered for an organisation that helps refugees settle into life in New Zealand. I was paired with an Iraqi family who are without a doubt, despite all that they've been through, the warmest people I've met.

When I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition late last year, I spent a few months lying on the couch. Couch time makes for great thinking time. I thought about all the horrible things that I'd read about during my studies, the campaigns that I'd worked on during my time at Amnesty International, the unspeakable things I'd heard from refugees who had fled to a safe but difficult life in New Zealand. All things inflicted by other people.

I thought of how most negative things come from lack of understanding, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the 'other'. And I thought that maybe, if people know a little more about each other, then perhaps the world would be a more tolerant place.

So I decided to cycle across the world, to see things for myself of course, but also to show things to others. I want to share with you the warmth that I feel when someone laughs with me at my pitiful attempts at Mandarin when I stop at a roadside peach stall or grins and gives me the thumbs up as I inch uphill over potholes. I want to show you that the woman I meet while sheltering out of thunderstorm wants the best for her children, just like the mothers I know. I want to share with you what it feels like when the owner of a roadside foodstand pushes my hand away as I try pay for my $1 meal. I want to show you that it's not 'brave' of me to travel alone because people, on the whole, are good.

So, that's why I'm here, with calloused hands and horrendous tan lines, cycling from Hong Kong to Scotland.

Chengdu Fine Dining by Rachel Banfield

You're hungry. You cycled 90km today and the last few hours involved peddling your way through city madness in a furnace-like heat. It's nearly 6pm and you haven't eaten since you stopped for some fried rice mid-morning. Once you reached the hostel you were distracted by exciting things: a washing machine, a shower, other foreigners. But now, as you walk towards the supermarket, you suddenly realise that you could easily eat an entire yak, something you may well do in the coming weeks.

Read More

My Guizhou angels by Rachel Banfield

I woke up the morning after what I shall now remember as Puncture Day to find my front tyre flat. Again. I wanted to throw my bike into the nearby swamp. Instead, I pumped up the tyre enough to wheel it along and followed the directions of the hostel receptionist to a nearby Giant shop. The man at the shop spoke no English, and my Mandarin is limited to food items, so I made do with pointing at the main problems: the ever-deflating tyre, the missing chain ring bolt and a missing screw holding up my rear rack.

Read More

Punctures and Pollyanna by Rachel Banfield

I've never had a puncture before. Not in all my years of riding bicycles. Not when I cycled from Paihia to Kerikeri aged 15 to go to the school pools. Not during my short-lived attempt at cycling touring in Holland. Not when dodging the cows, tuktuks and who knows what else when cycling to work in Delhi. But I always knew the day would come.

Read More

Beautiful by Rachel Banfield

Today was pretty rough, from the industrial landscape and air pollution, to the continuous increase of both temperature and gradient, the gross taste of the water in all three of my water bottles and a minor bout of food poisoning in the which made me think I might be sick over the side of my bike. There was, however, a moment that made it worthwhile.

Read More

Riding the G321 by Rachel Banfield

I am writing this while perched awkwardly on a chair. Let's just say that sitting down, after 8 hours of sitting down on a bicycle seat, is rather unpleasant. Well, it is when the roads look like this:

Apart from that, life as a muddy cyclist continues to be pretty great. I have now ridden about 970 kilometres, most of it along the same road, the once trusty, and as of today, now hated G321. 

Read More

The unspoken conversation by Rachel Banfield

I speak no Mandarin. I don't think I can even count 'Ni hao' given that this is usually greeted with silent stares. I put the staring down to two possibilities: I'm either butchering the tones (highly likely) or the sight of a muddy, sweaty, giant foreign woman on a bicycle is too surprising to muster up a reply (quite possible). Despite my complete incompetence with their language, however, the Chinese I've met so far have really gone out of their way to communicate with me.

Read More