Erstellt am: 11. 9. 2012 - 10:31 Uhr
Riding for the Sun
Cyclist, ecologist and adventurer Susie Wheeldon`s account of her 20,000km bike ride around the globe starts with a bang:
“The SolarCycle Diaries is what happens if you wake up one day and decide to cycle round the world – then make things more complicated by going through the Sahara. I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty epic: sandstorms, heatstroke and a lot of men with guns.”
She braved all these things in a mission to promote solar energy. Why?
“I really believe in solar energy,” she tells me before adding with a self-effacing giggle, “of course a large part of it was the desire to have a great adventure, but we wanted our journey
to have a point.”
Setting off from London with her two friends Jamie Vining and Iain Henderson, the route took Susie through several deserts in countries such as Egypt, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and China before a last leg across the United States took them to the finish in Miami 9 months later. “Ultimately I suppose the idea was to show that the world isn’t such a big place and you can use the power of the deserts to potentially create energy for towns and cities thousands of miles away.”
The proceeds of The Solarcycle Diaries go to a UK based charity called SolarAid that aims to deliver clean, renewable power to the world's poorest people. Founded in 2006, the charity helps communities in Africa to build, use and sell small solar devices themselves, which it sees as empowering weapons against the twin threats of poverty and climate change.
Practicing what they preach, the cycling trio had solar panels on built into their panniers which powered their GPS devices and allowed them to update a blog about the journey as they cycled.
The trip, says Susie, further highlighted the potential of solar energy. They had chosen to cycle across the northern Sahara in summer time, which she describes as “a minor error of judgment” that helped her to understand, in a vivid fashion, the awesome power of the sun. She describes cycling “blinded by the sweat in your eyes.” Often the plants were quite simple in terms of technology – a sea of mirrors would concentrate the sunlight onto one spot to warm water to create steam which was used to turn turbines. “It was incredibly hot,” says Susie with a laugh, “and among all those mirrors you really need your sunglasses.”
Hear Susie Wheeldon on fm4 Reality Check
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As much as the technology, Susie was impressed by the people she met along the way. “On a bike you don’t have the same barriers as you might have in a car. People feel free to approach you and talk to you. There was a great deal of curiosity about what we were doing.” Indeed, she says, particularly in the more remote areas people were dumb-founded when they heard about the trio`s mission. A truck driver in the Taklamakan desert of West China almost spilled his tea when he heard they were cycling on the Shanghai. But almost everywhere, says Susie, the hospitality was “wonderful and humbling.”
Some people felt a bit too free in their approaches. Because of the heat, Susie rode with her lower arms bared and a leg exposed so that her clothing would not brush against the chain. A couple of times during the Saharan section of the ride, where the local women tended to cover themselves from head to toe, she fell victim to the infamous bum-pinching brigade, including an impertinent Tunisian goat herd. “I think they thought I was pretty easy,” she remembers with a laugh, “but I tried hard to dispel them of that notion very quickly.” She got around the dress code in Iran by covering herself from head to foot in a bed-sheet. “We hadn’t packed anything more appropriate.”
In central China the team was surprised by a freak winter storm - a newsworthy “code orange” drop in temperatures that saw Susie suffer mild frostbite on her toes. They also managed to detour on the Tibetan plateau which she describes as “a bit chilly.”
Susie (a friend, by the way, of the seemingly ubiquitous SuperCyclingMan) is realistic about the impact her journey has had on promoting the cause of solar energy. “I suppose if you really want to change something you have to become the prime minister of some powerful country or the head of a major NGO.”
But she hopes the trip, and the book about it, has helped to raise the profile of solar power “is a fantastic solution” to the challenge of bringing power to more people without killing the planet.