He's cycled the world

Roie Sadan has ridden 40,000 miles across 42 countries to spread his goodwill message from Israel

By Dan Goldberg, July 14, 2011
Sadan at the Great Wall of China

Sadan at the Great Wall of China

British cyclist Vin Cox is the current Guinness world record holder for circumnavigating the globe by bicycle in just 163 days.

Just as well Roie Sadan is not interested in records. The 29-year-old Israeli globetrotter has cycled double that distance - a muscle-numbing 40,000-miles across six continents and 42 countries. But it is a shlep that has taken him more than four years. That is more than 1,500 days, or nearly 10 times as long as it took Cox.

In Melbourne this week, on the last leg of his journey, which ends at the Sydney Opera House later this month, he reflected on the highs and lows of his marathon ride, including one particular afternoon in the Mexican desert on January 1, 2008.

A car pulled up suddenly, he recalls. "I thought they wanted to help me. Then one of them showed me a gun and I started to understand what's going on."

The bandits stole everything: clothes, money, credit cards, tent, sleeping bag, supplies… but not his 27-gear, custom-built, blue-and-white bicycle.

"From then on, I called it 'Emunah'," he says, the Hebrew word for "faith".

Within an hour, Sadan's faith was rewarded. Two American surfers passed by and drove him to San Diego where he restocked with supplies. And another American, having heard an interview on Fox News, drove him back to Mexico so he could continue his adventure.

Sadan with Masai tribesmen in Tanzania. He survived a robbery at gun point and malaria during his journey

Sadan with Masai tribesmen in Tanzania. He survived a robbery at gun point and malaria during his journey

"Jinji", so called because of his ginger beard, could have quit during any number of nightmares. In Alaska he lost 15 kilos travelling on a dirt track in sub-arctic conditions passing just one roadhouse in 10 days. In Peru he was bitten by a wild dog. In Mozambique he contracted malaria.

The entire journey cost about £40,000 - part of it covered by his sponsor, the Israeli water company Mey Eden - but it almost cost him his life in Bolivia. "I was hit by a car in La Paz," he recalls. "It was a hit-and-run. Nobody helped me. It was a dark moment. I told myself these nightmares are necessary for me to fulfil my dream. But I never thought of quitting - not once, never."

For every nightmare, he also witnessed humanity at its best. "People who have nothing want to give you everything," he says.

In the Western Australia outback last month a Palestinian offered him refuge - a poignant encounter since Sadan spent some of his army service in the Gaza Strip, where his host was born.

"He's an amazing guy. We met for an evening, he invited me to stay. He's my first Palestinian friend. It was an emotional moment."

The Gaza Strip is also where Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been held captive. On June 26, upon arriving in Melbourne, Sadan joined an event marking the fifth anniversary of Shalit's capture and spoke to the Victorian Parliamentary Friends of Israel group.

He made his speech in his capacity as an official ambassador for Israel, a role he never expected to take on when he started out on his journey. But he soon realised his presence, especially in countries where there are neither Jews nor Israelis, was debunking the myth that all Israelis wield machine guns. "I'm coming with a bicycle and a smile," he says. "Most people really welcomed me. I didn't feel any hatred."

During a brief pit-stop at home in Oranit, near Kfar Saba, in 2009 - "I gave my mum a lot to be worried about", he says - Sadan met Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, who gave him the government's blessing to spread his goodwill message. Since then he has visited numerous Israeli embassies and given lectures to more than 1,500 children as well as interviews to scores of
media outlets about the "real" Israel.

But of all the challenges he faced, the last was arguably the most difficult: the Great Ocean Road from Adelaide to Melbourne. Sadan abandoned his beloved bike and rode a tandem with Orly Tal, a blind Israeli lady who had contacted him via his website.

"She saw more than many people I know who have two working eyes. But it was more challenging than any desert I crossed," he says.

Sadan intends to use his experience by becoming a motivational speaker and transforming his diaries into a book he hopes will inspire others.

But first he still has 600 miles of road to travel to Sydney. "I'm excited but it's also a weird feeling because this is the end," he says.

But he has no plans to fly into Ben-Gurion Airport. That would be too conventional. "I will fly to Jordan and cycle to Jerusalem, to the Kotel. It's going to be a big event," he says, adding that many dignitaries, perhaps even the president, may attend.

Sadan's blog is at www.dreamwithopeneyes.com

Last updated: 3:14pm, July 14 2011