MALAYSIA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Ms Christa Baer is 65 years old and extremely proud that she had just cycled 10,000km from her home in Switzerland to Malaysia.
Her dream was to see the world on her bicycle. So, after retiring last June, she decided it was time to embark on her cycling trip.
She told her family and friends about her plans to cycle from Zurich to Malaysia and they were all for it, encouraging the mother-of-two and grandmother-of-four to chase her dream. Her partner Hans Meier even said he would join her midway through her trip and he did. He flew into Dubai – with his bike – and the couple cycled together the rest of the way.
“The funny thing is, I can’t say I am a passionate biker. In Switzerland, nearly everybody has a bike. So, like most others, I’d cycle regularly, but just short distances. I also used to cycle while on holiday in Asia and Africa, but that’s about it.
“After I retired, I just wanted to cycle for an entire year. I also wanted to end my trip in Malaysia because I have good friends living in Negeri Sembilan whom I wanted to see,” she shares.
Ms Baer left her home in Zurich on July 11 last year and cycled through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam before arriving in Malaysia on June 28 – almost a year later.
The distance she covered daily varied – she would stop longer in countries and cities that she found captivating and breeze past those that were less interesting or not so hospitable.
“Some days, I’d cycle only about 35km, and up to 130km on other days. I took breaks at interesting points or if I wanted to get a deeper impression about a country and its people. Overall, I made more than 250 stopovers in the 20 countries I visited. Some places, I stayed only one night, and in others, up to a week. Often, it was because I was waiting for a visa. Some stretches, I biked for nine days almost non-stop with short night breaks,” she relates.
Ms Baer is certainly debunking commonly held stereotypes about ageing. Her age, she says, did not impede her at all during the long trip. It did, however, earn her much respect from people she met along the way. She also did not encounter any challenges being a lone woman cyclist.
“My age was not, for one second, a problem on my trip. Everyone I met, including those much younger than me, was impressed by my performance and gave me a lot of respect. I also didn’t face any problems cycling alone as a woman in any of the countries,” she says.
Prior to retirement, Ms Baer worked as a personnel manager in a landscaping company, managing 35 workers. For her trip, she packed five pieces of luggage… and that was about all her preparation for the ride. She did not train at all.
“I was in very good physical shape and felt that since I would be cycling every day, I would get fitter as the days went by.
“Actually, I didn’t find the trip grueling at all. I just planned my daily distances well and listened to my body. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter any problems on the trip… I didn’t fall or injure myself,” she says.
Although she was on her own for the first leg of the trip, she never felt afraid for her safety.
“Afraid? Afraid of what?” she asked. “Everyone in all the countries I visited was very kind and helpful. Apart from some problems obtaining visas, the cold in Georgia and Armenia and the heat in Oman and South-East Asia, I didn’t encounter any problems,” she says.
The highlights of her trip are “too many to fit into a newspaper article”, but one of the best things was meeting so many different people from various cultures.
Malaysia, she says, is no exception.
“The people of Malaysia are so unique and friendly and respectful. I was also impressed with Iran. In Europe, we hear only horror stories about the country, especially of how women are repressed there. We even heard that cycling is forbidden for women there.
“But I faced no problems. In fact, they have a tradition similar to the Malaysian ‘open house’, which was lovely,” she says.
While she has no plans to embark on such a long trip again, she has set her sights on exploring Borneo and Indonesia on her bicycle.
“Cycling is the best way to see a place. When you bike, you travel at a leisurely pace and you get to really feel, smell and see the people and the environment.
“I also got to meet bikers from all over the world and each encounter (with other cyclists) was special.
“I am very delighted to end my trip in Malaysia. The friendliness and openness of the people here is something I will never forget.”
The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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