Turkish Round-the-World Cyclist Visits St. Petersburg
Published: January 30, 2013 (Issue # 1744)
ALEXANDER BELENKY / SPT
Turkish cyclist Gurkan Genc, 34, speaks in St. Petersburg last week. He is nearly 5,000 miles into his round-the-world trip.
Turkish traveler Gürkan Genç, who is currently traveling around the world by bike, arrived in St. Petersburg on Jan. 20, having covered nearly 5,000 kilometers of his epic journey.
Genç embarked on his trip, titled “Pedaling for the Future,” on Sept. 9, 2012 from Ankara, and plans to complete it in seven years’ time, after visiting 84 countries and pedaling about 110,000 kilometers, he told a news conference in St. Petersburg organized by Turkey’s consulate general on Jan. 23.
Genç’s ride will take him through five deserts and five of the planet’s tallest peaks, covering the longest and most dangerous paths. While these routes have been completed by cyclists before, no one has yet made it through all of them, so Genç hopes that after completing the journey, he will be included in the Guinness Book of World Records, he said.
Traveling on a Turkish-made Kron bicycle, equipped with Shimano parts and Schwalbe tyres, Genç entered St. Petersburg on Jan. 20, shortly after celebrating his 34th birthday in a tent pitched somewhere north of Moscow in temperatures of minus 34 degrees Celsius. The reading of minus 36 degrees registered by his thermometer 220 kilometers south of St. Petersburg was the coldest he has cycled in, beating even the Mongolian steppe, Genç said. Of the major cities visited on this journey, St. Petersburg, which he proceeded to explore by bike, was the most beautiful, he said.
“He presents the name of Turkey to the entire world, and does it gracefully,” said Can Esenergul, a leasing specialist with Genç’s St. Petersburg sponsor Renaissance Development, explaining the company’s motivation for supporting the traveler. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry arranged for free visas to all 47 countries on Genç’s route that require a visa for Turkish nationals.
Genç crossed Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine before arriving in Russia. In the town of Torzhok near Moscow where no one spoke any English, Genç was taken to a local school and shown a PE lesson. The locals understood that he was a tourist, while Genç could understand that he was being offered vodka to drink, which he accepted. “We didn’t speak, only smiled,” he recounted.
Cycling experiences in Russia can, unfortunately, be far less lucky. Japanese traveler Haruhisa Watanabe, who was on the final leg of an eight-month cycle ride from China, was killed in a traffic accident on Dec. 26, 2012 while cycling on a motorway near the Ruchi-Karelskiye railway station, some 220 kilometers south of his destination, Murmansk, where he wanted to see the Northern lights. The early-morning accident is thought to have been caused by poor visibility, Flashnord.com website reported. In 2004, when he was 22, Watanabe became the youngest Japanese climber to scale the tallest peaks on seven continents, The Japan Times reported on its website.
“If you want to undertake such a journey, risks always happen,” Genç told The St. Petersburg Times, adding that they are outweighed by the chance to see the world and to meet lots of people. A traffic accident can happen anywhere, he added.
“Bicycle is a means of transport, not worse than any other ones. Everyone knows it but not everyone uses it,” Genç said. He added that he always travels alone, and always makes a photographic and video record of his journeys.
“I’m just looking at the world, and tell about it on my website [gurkangenc.com],” he said.
Genç’s previous journey in 2010-2011 took him across all of North Asia, from Turkey to Japan. He noted that while it took him 334 days to cycle the 12,500-kilometer distance, during which he was beaten, arrested, chased with a knife and suffered an arson attempt on his tent, the flight home only lasted 11 hours. He subsequently used material and experiences from the journey to launch five photo exhibitions and produce two award-winning documentaries.
In places that he is particularly bewitched by, Genç leaves hidden messages for his future children. One of the letters is hidden in the Pamir mountains, in an area inaccessible by car or plane. He plans to give his children the GPS coordinates to try to locate the message when they are 15 years old.
His own fascination with long bike rides started when he was 12 years old, Genç said. His mother chased him while brandishing a shoe as he was leaving on a 50-kilometer trip, and threatened to lock up his bike. He replied that he would cycle around the world one day. However, university, military service and his career kept Genç occupied. When he was 30 years old, he started cycling to work, which made him remember his childhood dream.
“I did not run away from anyone, I was chasing a dream — there is a great world, and it can be crossed,” Genç said.
His mother suggested that he might return from his journey with a wife and child, he said, adding that he may get married after completing his current trip, and then visit as-yet-unseen countries together with his wife.