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Cycling around the world in 24 years

Friday May 14 2010

Petro Lubben rides his bicycle in Nairobi during a stop-over in Kenya. The German national has been cycling around the world for 24 years and has not yet completed his journey. He has been to 38 countries. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN

Petro Lubben rides his bicycle in Nairobi during a stop-over in Kenya. The German national has been cycling around the world for 24 years and has not yet completed his journey. He has been to 38 countries. Photo/MOHAMMED AMIN 

By JOHN MAKENI

In a world where many strive for outstanding achievements, there are still only a few who have cycled around the world.

Petro Lubben, however, lives on his bicycle and has been cycling around the world for 24 years. Since leaving his home town in Germany, Lubben has cycled across 38 countries.

In his shorts and sleeveless shirt, wearing a black headband and black goggles, Petro has the defiant look of a crazy pop star, not a polished cyclist.

He has featured in newspapers in every country he has visited and, although he has crossed seas and oceans, he has flown only once in an aeroplane.

“Normally, I don’t accept any lift on a train or a truck,” he said. “I want to do it on my own; that is why I do it on a bicycle.”

Bizarre breakfast

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And where does he derive the energy to pedal his 80kg bicycle every day? He drinks a glass of his own urine every morning for breakfast.

“You’ve got to be disciplined; you’ve got to drink it every day,” he said.

He has cycled past armed cattle herders in Turkana, received local nicknames, and sat and eaten with strangers.

In 1990, while cycling across Namibia, he learnt that his parents had died and been buried. He talks about the fateful telephone conversation in a low-key tone, refusing to volunteer details, then changes the subject.

When he set off on March 15, 1986, then in his late 20s, Lubben envisaged cycling around the world in eight years. But this was not to be.

“They think that I am mad,” he said, standing next to his bicycle, christened El Loco Sabado III (Crazy Saturday III). With all his gear strapped on, the bicycle weighs 80 kilogrammes.

Petro cycled into Kenya on December 1, 2009, and soon he will be heading off to Ethiopia. Without regular sponsors, he survives along the way.

Last year, while cycling on his way to Kenya, he entered a cyber cafe in Arusha and searched for outfits dealing in cycling safaris in Kenya.

He found Magical Africa Safaris Ltd.

“When I got his email, I wondered who this man was,” says Magical Africa operations manager, Henry Kahuki. “He said he was interested in what we were doing, especially in Narok where we usually have a cycling safari. We told him to contact us as soon as he gets to Nairobi.”

Magical Africa has been sponsoring Petro’s stay in Kenya and is helping him to identify the best routes to Ethiopia.

Growing up in Ottoesberg, a small town in Germany 20km from Hamburg, Lubben dreamed of cycling.

When he was eight, Lubben and his best friend planned to travel around the world. In 1982, he made a tour across Europe on a bus and thought of doing the trip on a bicycle.

When he set out on March 15, 1986, he was sure the journey across the world would take eight years; instead it has taken 24, and he is yet to complete it.

“Every day is a new experience because you never know where you are going to stay each night,” said Lubben, a trained confectioner and baker.

Every time he completes a journey across a country, he writes the kilometres covered on a board hanging on his bicycle.

At the time of the interview, he had covered 75,590 kilometres and had suffered 320 punctures.

He said he rarely cycles at night, unless his visa is about to expire and he has to reach the border by a certain time. He recalls his travels through Pokot and Turkana as “very dangerous” because most of the residents carried guns.

“I thought it was my time to die but still had to go on,” he said.

When he was crossing Morocco (the first country he visited in Africa), a knife-wielding mugger waylaid him on the road, and although he didn’t hurt him, he stole some of his belongings.

But the most gruelling experience was when he had to push his bicycle through the Sahara Desert for 24 days at the beginning of 1988.

“It was scary, but a good experience. Trucks would pass, and I would only ask for water,” he said. “It was hot, the sand was loose, and I had to walk many kilometres a day, but somehow I managed.”

Petro, who is still single, says he is often very lonely when he travels.