Eric Knudstrup is a cyclist, scuba diver, and world traveler. In 2009 he traveled roughly 4,000 miles alone on his bike across North America. In 2011, he traveled through Eurasia for a total of about 8,000 miles.
“I’m naturally an inquisitive person,” says Knudstrup. “I wanted to know what it was like to travel a long distance by myself and what I would see, who I would meet, and what I would experience along the way.”
His story really inspired me, and I felt honored to be able to speak to him about his experiences. When I asked him what his most important lesson he learned about himself and how he percieved the world he responded,
“Nothing really scares me anymore. It takes a lot. The worst thing that really happened to me is that I stubbed a toe. I have a few other dangerous hobbies, such as SCUBA diving and racing cars. I’ve also been through boot camp. I’ve been trained that it’s best to stay calm even in the hairiest situations.”
Below he wrote up an awesome summary of his trips describing where he went and how long it took,
“I did it in two parts. Travelling across North America and Eurasia took a couple of tries. Traveling across North America took two months, which I did in 2009. I went northeasterly from Capitola on Monterey Bay across California, US50 in Nevada, US6 to US40 in Utah, to Steamboat Springs, north to Laramie, split the Black Hills visiting Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood, east across South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Then I took a boat across Lake Michigan which was really interesting because I got to ride through where I grew up. Then I rode up through Sault St. Marie, down through southern Ontario, crossing back into New York at Niagara Falls. New York is interesting to cross because it can be crossed mostly on the Erie Canal Trail, which played an essential part of US history. Finally, it took only a couple more days to get to Boston across Massachusetts, which I spent a couple of days walking around before coming home. Again, a fascinating part of US history.
In 2010 I started from Beijing, but this trip only lasted a couple of weeks. China is unfathomably dirty and dangerous to Americans, plus it’s a police state. I got to see some incredible things, such as central Beijing and the Forbidden City. I ended about 400 miles south, in a medieval rammed earth walled city called PingYao. I could barely walk onto the airplane and I woke up at night for a week not sure where I was. This after having been married to a Chinese woman for 10 years. I knew enough to be able to take care of myself and I had been there visiting her relatives in 2002, so I had an idea about what to expect. It’s such a different culture and the country is barely stable I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who didn’t know much about it. There are some places there that I can only describe as post apocalyptic. I sent a friend a message comparing my travels in China to Charlie Sheen’s trip up the Mekong in Apocalypse Now – The Heart of Darkness. Yet, in a way it still beckons me.
A few months after I got home in 2010, my wife left. I signed divorce papers the day I flew to Beijing in 2011. I had decided that the only way to get across Eurasia was to go across Russia because going straight west across China just wasn’t palatable to me. Months crossing a sometimes horrifying police state through a desert. So, I went north. It took a month to get to Russia through basically the eastern Gobi. The worst winds I’ve ever experienced, but it was easier to deal with than central China. Sometimes I had to cover my face just to breath, then make good 70+ miles a day. At first, Russia wasn’t much better, but it improved enough for me to consider it liveable. I rode west along the only real road crossing Russia, the TransSiberian Highway. It’s mostly paved now, but I wouldn’t drive anything less than a tall pickup truck. In eastern Russia there’s Lake Baikal, one of the deepest lakes in the world. I went SCUBA diving in it. The water was 40 degrees. There are freshwater seals and sponges, and a number of other things that are unique to that lake. Every time I came across a statue of Lenin I would take a picture of it. They have ornate WWII memorials, which they call The Great War. I would take pictures of these often. The Russians lost several tens of millions of people fighting the Nazis. It’s very touching to think about.
It took three months to cross Russia. I camped out most of the way, staying in nice hotels when I got to a city. I spent a few days in central Moscow visiting the Kremlin and its surroundings. Then I went south to Kiev, and L’Viv. Russia was more liveable than China, and Ukraine is nicer than Russia. Kiev was mostly rebuilt after WWII, but L’Viv is an incredible old city.
Following Ukraine, I crossed into Poland, which is now part of the EU. It’s nicer than Ukraine, and basically part of western Europe now. I visited Krakow which is amazing, and went on a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. It’s indescribable. I wasn’t supposed to, but I took a picture of a display of human hair the Nazis wove into a rug. Poland really is a nice country. I rode through as rural parts of it as I could, crossing into Czech Republic and visiting Prague and Plzn. Prague is another city that has to be visited. I stayed in an apartment at one end of the Charles Bridge, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. After spending several days there I rode to Plzn, where Pilsner beer was invented. It’s a beautiful old city with several brewery tours. Good Fun.
Crossing into Germany, I stopped in Bamberg, another ancient city. Like many others I passed through, it is also a UN World Heritage Site. I found a Google Maps mashup which lists them all. I tried to aim for them. I passed through Frankfurt before riding along the Middle Rhine. It’s a biking path with a number of old hamlets and castles along the way. Just something you wouldn’t see in the US. Something out of Harry Potter. Another World Heritage Site.
Finally, Germany gave way to the Netherlands. It was nice to have such a nice flat country and it’s one of the most bike friendly countries in the world. I think they have half a million bicycles in Amsterdam alone. Beautiful and clean too. I ended in Amsterdam, about five months after I started from Beijing.
Crossing North America was 4,000 miles. Crossing Eurasia was right around 8,000.”
As I said, Eric Knudstrup’s story is an inspiration to us all. To travel as he did takes a tremendous amout of courage, motivation, and dedication. To learn more I highly recommend you to visit his blogs: Fat Tire Drifter and Crazy Guy on Bike
-Sam Wilder (ARC Media Intern)