Ultimate gap year: QUB student's bicycle ride around the world
A Queen's University medical student has spoken about his "ultimate gap year" experience of cycling around the world.
David Haywood (24) completed the epic trip over 349 days, covering 21,619 miles and visiting 33 countries.
The student, from London, yesterday spoke about being tailed for days by Chinese police, keeping his sanity during long periods of isolation, and racing to finish the trip in time to begin his degree in Belfast.
Travelling westwards across the globe, David initially set out from England in September 2018 to Portugal before crossing America from New York City to Los Angeles.
New Zealand and the east coast of Australia followed before heading for south-east Asia.
This saw David cycle from Singapore to Myanmar and following the Silk Road from Xi'an in China across the deserts of Central Asia to Istanbul and through Europe.
"Curiosity motivated me and it was an opportunity to challenge myself," he said.
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"Cycling is an amazing way to travel, you see so much between the tourist sites and you have to engage with local people as things are always going to go wrong on a bike trip."
Camping out in deserts and roadsides along the way, David often turned to locals when conditions became tough.
"I was lucky to find one nomadic group in Kyrgyzstan at the top of the mountain who gave me shelter and bread when it was raining," he recalled.
"I tried to pay for it but they wouldn't let me. They were very kind and could see I was cold and wet."
While travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia without malaria medication, he was told to constantly drink Coke to avoid getting sick.
"This helped a lot when I ended up eating very strange things like dodgy-looking horse meat but I actually only missed one day on the trip due to sickness."
At other times the reception bordered on hostile.
"In northern China, the Tianjin region is quite politically sensitive and I was followed by the police for three or four days," he said.
"They were trying to escort me across the region. They have a problem there politically with the Muslim minority and they have a whole bunch of what the Chinese call re-education camps.
"They don't really want anyone who is a foreigner looking at them. They drove behind me for about nine hours a day."
He added that police would still watch him if he visited a restaurant and regularly took his passport at checkpoints.
"That was all quite alarming as there's no common ground with communication," he said.
Avoiding injury was another hazard, with one fellow cyclist still unable to walk properly after being hit by a truck in California. Often going days without company, David's concerned parents kept tabs on his location using a GPS tracker.
"There were points when the isolation was difficult, but as the trip progressed I got better at not going into such an emotional low point and bouncing back," he said.
After completing his final leg through Europe, he said returning home was overwhelming.
"You realise how much you have and should be grateful for," he said.
David said that he now hopes to apply the lessons from the road into his studies in Belfast, with hopes of becoming a psychiatrist.