From Sweden to the Sahara: One Cyclist’s Epic Tale

I am thinking about everything,” Jackiie laughs. “When you zone out, you just start thinking without knowing.” That was Jackiie Samuelsson’s earnest reply when asked, “What did you think about when biking so many miles without seeing another soul?” This sentiment reflects Jackiie’s surprisingly nonchalant attitude toward a stupendous feat: cycling from Vasteras, Sweden, to the Sahara desert in Morocco. Jackiie spread this 7,000km journey over six months so that he could “play around a lot” by taking opportunities to explore with new friends or enjoy a hot shower. While one might expect this kind of journey to require sums of money and careful preparation, Jackiie describes how failure and a boozy night inspired this life-altering adventure.

Baleaf cycling

Q1: Why did you decide to bike from your home to edge of the greatest desert on Earth?

I’ve always loved to travel, to see new things and meet people. I like to travel when it’s cheap and simple. But cycling as far as I did wasn’t a big dream; in fact, I was drunk when I decided to do it! The idea came to me one night while having drinks with a friend. We were talking about how I was failing at University; I didn’t know what to do. In the past, travel had helped me to open my eyes to new possibilities. I loved to cycle.  I figured that traveling by bicycle was the smartest way because it allowed me to meet more people than traveling by car, to cover my ground than walking, and do to so cheaply, which meant I could spend more time exploring. Once I made the decision to go, that was it.

Q2: What did you do to prepare?

Actually, I prepared very little! My bicycle wasn’t even packed until the day I left. I planned to leave at 9 AM on 1 June (2014). When the time came, I still fitted my bike. In the end, I just put things in plastic bags and taped them to the bike. I left by 10 AM!

Q3: What did you bring with you?

Not much! A tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. I used a water bag as a pillow to fill up when I traveled long distances on rural roads. I brought what I called my “kitchen:” a methane stove, a fork, spoon, and knife. As for clothes, I brought one set of clothes to bike in and one to wear off the bike. Of course, I brought spare parts like a tube, chain, and tube patches. I brought a very big solar panel and a power bank to charge my compact camera, my light, my phone, and a small speaker. My phone doubles as my GPS; I just mount it to the front of my bike, and the speaker helps me to ride without looking down. In fact, I also use the speaker in case I want to host small parties in my tent!

Q4: Did you make many friends while on the road?

Well, the first four days I was staying with friends, and then I visited many others along the way. The sixth day was the first day when I was traveling alone, and it was the Swedish national day, so I was feeling a bit lonely anyway. I needed to refill my water and knocked on the door of a random house in a small village. The man who answered invited me in for a drink. Then, his Dad stopped by and invited us to his house for dinner. I got to watch the Dad slaughter a chicken, and then cook us an amazing dinner of chicken and noodles. After more drinks, they learned that I had never shot a gun. So, they took me out to the backyard and let me fire rifles with them. Afterward, they let me sleep in their guesthouse. Those kinds of things happened to me everywhere I went.

Q5: Did you stay with other people the entire journey?

Basically, I stayed with friends 30% of the time, camped 30% of the time, and then used websites like Couch surfers and Warm Showers for the remaining. I met so many nice people who offered me somewhere to stay. In some ways, I expected that, because that is what I would do.

Baleaf Cycling

Q6: How did you choose your route?

Actually, I never really planned to go to Morocco! My drunken idea was to go to Japan. When I realized that I had spent too long in Europe, and would have to cross Eastern Europe in the winter to reach Japan, I decided to bike to Portugal to wait out the winter season. On the way to Portugal, I didn’t feel right; it was like I was biking for no reason, just biking to make time fly. So I changed my course toward Morocco. It was a spontaneous idea; Morocco was just another place I wanted to visit.  After that, where I went and how long I stayed there depended on what Google Maps gave me and who I met along the way. Sometimes, I didn’t want to speak to people; I was too tired. Those days I just camped and stayed to myself.

Q7: Were you very drained, physically?

At first, yes. I pushed it much too hard the first three days. There was a scout festival in the south of Sweden that I really wanted to get to, so I biked 111km the first and second day and 130km the third day. I woke up the morning of the 4th day, ate breakfast, and literally started puking. Thankfully I was staying with a friend. After that, I slowed down, maybe 70km a day, and it was much more enjoyable. That’s why cycling is such a great way to travel: you don’t have to be incredibly fit to do it. Anyone can start cycling 30-40km per day. Soon, you’ll be fit enough to cycle 100!

Baleaf Cycling

Q8: What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a long cycling journey?

Just do it! Don’t wait until you have a certain amount of money or time or gear. Buy only what you need and pack light. You will meet people who will help you. You will learn valuable lessons about yourself. The loneliness is the hardest part, but you will learn so much from it. Just go!

Baleaf Cycling

For more candid tales and breath-taking photos, visit Jackiie’s site: Jackiie Gone Biking (https://gonebiking.se/).


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