Justin Jeffrey and his wife, Miyuki, have set off on a journey of epic proportions. On bicycles laden with camping equipment and summer and winter clothes, they are traveling overland from Sapporo to London. Their journey is taking them through some of the most spectacular and challenging terrain in the world as they pedal through China, Tibet, India, the Middle East and Europe in their hopes of reaching London by Christmas next year.
To those who know the young Englishman, it comes as little surprise that he has undertaken such a daring journey. Justin Jeffrey is no stranger to adventure. As a child growing up in southern Africa he spent his summers on safari in the wilderness of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Following his lifelong love for travel, he came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching program, after finishing a degree in art history at the University of Edinburgh.
Working as an assistant language teacher in the town of Shibecha, in eastern Hokkaido, Jeffrey made frequent outings into the island’s mountain wilderness. During the school’s winter vacation in 1999, he escorted the local Japanese English teacher to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. Still, his present adventure may be exceeding people’s expectations.
Jeffrey’s initial plan was to make conventional visits to places along the ancient Silk Road over the course of several years, but these mini-journeys slowly knitted together into, as Jeffrey puts it, “one grand and ludicrous scheme.”
In fact this is the first serious bicycle journey ever attempted by the young Briton.
“My only other real bicycle adventure was when I jumped on my cousin’s bike at the age of 6, not knowing how to use the brakes, and plummeted down a steep hill into a crowd of Africans. That left me pretty bruised and with a distaste for bicycle adventures — until I met my wife, Miyuki.”
Jeffrey’s wife was born and raised in Sapporo, where she worked as an office lady until the final days before their departure.
“My passion for bicycling began several years ago,” she explains. “I decided one day, that instead of riding the subway to work as usual, I’d ride my bike. It felt great, but look where it has now led us.”
Jeffrey and his wife are no strangers to traveling long distances. They met at a JET meeting in Sapporo in 1998 and started dating. The problem was that they could only meet each other once or twice a month, because Jeffrey lived on the other side of Hokkaido island, several hours away by train.
“This traveling back and forth continued for two years,” Jeffrey says, “until we decided we ought to get married and put an end to the distance barrier.”
And that’s just what they did after he finished his third year in the JET program. They settled in Sapporo where Jeffrey taught English privately. Spurred on by his wife’s daily cycling routine, he too started riding his bike regularly.
After the newlyweds heard about an upcoming triathlon in the city of Tomakomai, they decided to enter. It was the first time the Jeffreys had actually cycled together, yet after successfully completing the event, the two were inspired to try even greater challenges.
“I had always wanted to go on an epic journey,” says Jeffrey. “And what better than to cross Asia to Europe along some of the oldest paths trodden by man? I talked with Miyuki about these plans a lot, but we both thought it was simply daydreaming. Yet the more we talked, the more it seemed possible, until one day, our departure became a certainty.”
That day of conviction came after the two visited the home of Noriyasu Kunori, a Japanese adventurer who lives in Hokkaido. He and his wife, Misa, had cycled across Australia the previous summer with their 3-year-old son.
“Hearing their story gave me the confidence that we could make our own journey,” Miyuki says.
Thus inspired, the couple started compiling equipment lists, contemplated logistic problems and calculated how much money they would need to be on the road for upward of two years. Finally, after the winter snows of Hokkaido melted this past April, the two bade farewell to friends and family in Sapporo and set off on their bicycles. Heading south from Hokkaido, the Jeffreys crossed Honshu, reaching the southern Japanese port town of Shimonoseki in mid-July. Taking the ferry over to Korea, they cycled up to Seoul and then flew over to China. At latest report, the two were pedaling through the highlands of Mongolia on route to Tibet.
When recently questioned by e-mail about their plans for the future, Jeffrey responded: “To get home in one piece is our biggest goal now, and to share our experiences with people through lectures and — hopefully — a book.”