A Hastings man battled blizzards, boulders and bouts of extreme sickness to cycle 10,000 miles across 20 countries in memory of his brother.
Harry Wiseman set off from Hastings in March last year, and returned to the town on Saturday (February 2) having cycled through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Czechia (Czech Republic), Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Laos.
He did so in memory of his brother Tom who died in 2011 at the age of 21 after accidentally overdosing on heroin. Harry also wanted to raise awareness and money for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
The 24-year-old said: “Tom struggled with his own mental health issues but hid them with drugs, he rarely spoke about his feelings and struggled with how to deal with them. Ironically for five years after Tom’s death I used substances to mask my emotions and thoughts, instead of facing the reality of my situation I smothered it with drugs. In those five years I was admitted to hospital multiple times from either overdosing on drugs or having mental breakdowns which were triggered by the misuse of substances. Some of these breakdowns would involve me running for miles half naked with a kitchen knife in hand and the police on my tail. No one was hurt during these episodes; the harm was only directed towards me.
“After a particularly bad breakdown I got arrested and had to go to court. Going to court was obviously sobering but my addiction got the better of me and I ended up going straight back to my old ways. It took one more year of heavy drug use until I realised that this lifestyle wasn’t sustainable – I was living from weekend to weekend, with no aspirations and nothing to look forward too. I decided to go sober and cut everything completely, and with the support of the legends that are my mum and friends I’ve been sober for three years.
“From these experiences in my short life I’ve realised the importance of mental health and support in a crisis.
“CALM provides outstanding support to the men who truly need it, this is why I’m going to do all I can to raise awareness and funds for this cause.”
Harry’s journey, although taking in some breathtaking scenery, was not an easy one.
He faced atrocious weather conditions, appalling terrain and worrying spells of illness.
Speaking about some of the low points of the last 10 months, he said: “Somewhere in rural Turkey I got food poisoning. I tried to push through the nausea and keep on pedalling, however as soon as I stopped for a rest I projectile vomited everywhere.
“Curled up on the side of the road and feeling very sorry for myself and a car pulls up, a man and his two young sons get out and ask me what’s wrong. I explain and they offer to take me to the hospital. I refuse and ask if they can take me to a hotel instead. Thirty minutes later we’re pulling up next to a hospital. The father translates to the nurse what happened and I get a drip to rehydrate myself as I couldn’t even hold water down. Turns out the river water I drank earlier that day was contaminated.
“This stranger and his two sons stayed by my bedside for an hour and looked after me, they even booked me a hotel before leaving. I’ll always remember the kindness of this family.
“Two weeks later and I had one of the biggest scares of my life. I was pedalling along a road which was in terrible shape when the mother of all storms hit. I quickly found an abandoned shack for cover and waited it out.
“Twenty minutes later and the rain had almost stopped so I got back on my bike. I must have got 500m when I noticed a half-ton boulder rolling down the hill to the right of me. A truck was blocking my only escape which meant I was stuck standing there, waiting to be pulverised.
“Tom must have been looking out for me that day because the boulder stopped literally inches in front of me.”
The weather posed many a challenge for Harry, from being caught in a snow blizzard while camping in a drainage tunnel under a motorway near the Chinese-Mongolian border, to trudging through the Uzbekistani desert in 50+ degrees heat.
He said: “The Uzbekistani desert was insanely tough. With temperatures of 50+ degrees and 150-mile stretches without a water/food source, it was a real test of mental and physical fortitude.
“Road conditions were absolutely terrible, I would regularly get off the bike and push as the road was a mess of sharp rocks and sand.
“Three weeks of horrendous roads, even worse driving and intense heat broke me, I must have had five flats in one day and I just lost it, I threw my bike to the ground and started kicking it. After my little tantrum I picked myself up, fixed the tyre and pushed on. I’ve noticed out here it’s not a big event that’ll break you, it’s the sheer boredom and frustration that will.
“The toughest moment of the trip has got to be in Tajikistan. I was camped up at 4,000m in November and I was struggling to breathe due to the lack of oxygen.
“Wrapped up in my sleeping bag I started to nod off when all of a sudden what felt like an electric current hit me. This happened 10+ times that night meaning I didn’t get any sleep. Turns out my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen so it jolted me awake by giving me what felt like a mini heart attack. I also had the migraine from hell. I took the next day off and got some sleep all the while trying to stay positive. Feeling fresh I started climbing again and hit 4,200m – this is where it all went wrong. I started feeling super light-headed and could barely stand upright. To add to the fun it started snowing heavily and the road was turning into an ice rink. I realised at this point I needed to get to a lower altitude fast.
“The road was remote and there weren’t many cars passing. I was lucky again as a Russian army truck pulled up and I chucked my bike in the back. These guys were absolute legends, they took me to the nearest town and even gave me some tinned spam for lunch. I broke my rule of no lifts that
day but it seemed necessary. The lift was 100 miles. I will be finishing on 10,000 miles pedalled so I’m happy with that.”
Throughout the many challenges he faced, it was the thought of his brother that kept Harry going.
“The memory of my brother Tom got me through the worst times,” Harry said. “At the end of a tough week in the Uzbek desert I was listening to music when a song came on that reminded me of Tom. A massive wave of emotion took over and after a good cry it felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I regained my composure, reminded myself why I’m on this journey and pushed on. Be it tackling a mountain, desert or snow storm I would call on Tom to give me strength to get my head down and soldier on. It almost felt like he was watching me and would give me a nudge in the right direction every now and then.”
But despite only being back in his hometown for a few days, Harry is already thinking about his next adventure.
“This trip has opened my eyes up to what can actually be achieved. You don’t have to be an athlete or super rich to attempt something crazy like this, you just have to be determined and consistent.
“While travelling the world I realised I hadn’t explored my own country enough. I’m setting myself a mini challenge of cycling from John O’Groats to Hastings. The distance is around 850 miles and I’m aiming to finish in seven days – that’s 121 miles a day for a week.
“At the end of the trip I was fixated on the idea of crossing an ocean, which one? I’m not sure. I haven’t decided if I’ll row or sail either, but it’s definitely something I want to do.
“A big challenge I want to tackle is to cycle all the lower 48 states in the US. This trip would be about speed which means no heavy kit and a race bike instead of touring, but it’ll be fun to see how fast I can actually cycle.
“Something I discovered on planning this trip is people love to fill you with self-doubt – don’t listen to those people because most of the time they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. It sounds cheesy but it’s important to pursue your dreams, no matter how mad they are.”
To read more about Harry or donate, visit wisemanstour.com/ or hwww.justgiving.com/fundraising/wisemanstour.