Dreamtime Stories – with Tim Millikin

Welcome to the first blog instalment of our series of Dreamtime stories, where we share the experiences of adventurers from their travels and expeditions!

We had the pleasure of talking with outdoor bicycle guide and bushcraft instructor, Tim Millikin – known for his 3-year bike ride around the world – to find out more about his inspiration, the challenges he’s faced, his favourite moments, and the effect travel and exploration has had on him!

 

Interview with Tim Millikin:

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you came from

“My name is Tim Millikin and I am a 34-year-old from Reading, England. My main passion in life is for adventure and travel, and in 2018 I completed my three year around-the-world bike ride from Reading, UK to Reading, USA under the banner ‘Reading2Reading‘.

 

reading-to-reading bike routetim millikin at the mississippi border

 

I was never the outdoors type – having worked in TV production and as a travel agent before this ride – but it was by far the best thing I have ever done in my life so far. I cycled 46500km across 39 countries on a homemade bike,  all on a budget of just £8500. Having finished my big bike ride, I changed career (for the third time) and now work as an outdoor bicycle guide and bushcraft instructor and having worked in the Middle East, Africa and some beautiful British woodlands.”

 

You’ve done some pretty epic things. What made you want to get out there and do something different?

“Thank you. I believe everyone has an inner wanderlust and a drive to see what is around the next corner, but people access this drive in different ways. For me, it was the big life-changing multi-year adventure calling, and this stemmed from a desire for change in the repetitive motion of the life I was leading.

 

The idea for the bike ride came from a time a few years earlier, when I was sitting on a bus in Australia and looking out the window. I thought I was missing all the smaller villages and communities as I travelled from hostel to bar to bus. I was not seeing the “real” Australia. I decided there and then to cycle rather than going by bus, and if I could cycle around Australia, I could likely cycle home.

 

That bus journey and that idea changed my life, and when I told my girlfriend she thought I was crazy. We cycled a bit in Austalia but we flew home. The seed had now been planted however and the idea germinated into a bike ride around the world.”

 

tim millikin on bike ride around the world

 

It’s inevitable that when you do what you do, you encounter some pretty dicey moments. Have you had any times where you thought, “sh*t, I’m in a tough place here”?

“There were many times; perhaps the biggest time was when I was cycling across El Salvador. It was midday and I had just eaten a banana sandwich for lunch and decided to push on in the heat. Not long after, a heard the sound of brakes behind me, and I looked back to see a pickup truck about to hit me. That is the last thing I remember. I recovered by the roadside to see a policeman there, and I just said “hospital” and he whisked me straight there in his police car rather than waiting for the ambulance.
 

I had cracked open my forehead and blood was everywhere, I was whisked into the emergency room for an operation and luckily I have a thick skull as nothing was broken. I had to spend 10 days in the hospital recovering and having tests for brain swelling. It was horrible, I was alone, scared; nobody knew where I was, I had none of my possessions. It was awful.

 

Luckily, I was able to heal under the gracious care of the hospital staff, and I managed to get word to my family through the British Embassy. It took me another 10 days in a hotel to fully recover and gain enough strength to continue. It was hard and the mental scars took much longer to heal than my physical ones but I am so glad I continued and didn’t return to England. I used the emotions of that incident to continue, things could have been much worse and I was again on the right track, cycling alone towards Reading, USA.”

 

What is it you struggle with most, doing what you do?

“The hardest thing with this type of lifestyle is often I am away for long periods of time. It can be difficult to maintain relationships and a sense of community when you are away for a long time. My cycle ride was three years, but I also spent three months in Qatar and four months in Africa with work. But, this is the life I choose and the only thing which makes me happy, so these sacrifices are part and parcel of the package.

I’ve missed friends’ weddings and celebrations, and sometimes I feel guilty that I am not able to attend as I’m away doing something, but I also take solace in the fact that I have their full support and often they are living vicariously through my adventures.

 

cycing in atacama desert, northern chile

 

I remember when I was cycling through the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile and I got the news that my grandad had passed away. I was sad, upset and it was difficult for me as I was not able to be with my family during this time, but my grandad was also an adventurer, having chosen to travel to Malaysia at the end of the second world war, rather than stay in England. I knew in my heart I had his support and he wouldn’t want me to return home, to be sad. He cycled through that desert with me, and I know he would have been proud.”

 

On your adventures, what would you say are some of the most memorable moments?

“The most memorable moments come from either sheer natural beauty, or from the beautiful people I’ve met; sometimes these two elements combine, like when I was cycling in Kyrgyzstan. It was late October and it was cold, the mercury dropping to -15 at night on the plateau. It was also the most beautiful road I have ever ridden. Backdropped against the stunning Pamir mountains the road snakes up and between the high passes. Each day was tough but stunning and often I would stop to just stand there, my mouth as wide as my eyes taking in the beauty of a world I’d only dreamed of.

 

Kyrgyzstan mountainsPamir Mountains

 

It was tough and you had to work for the views, and soon it became too dangerous to camp at night due to the extreme cold and insufficient gear, so every night I was invited into the house of a local person, unable to speak the same language we would sit by the fire all night until we slept. Never wanting anything. Often sharing a single mug of tea and frozen apples. The locals knew of the dangers of the cold and just wanted me, a stranger, to be safe. I was touched by each act of kindness in those mountains. One of the reasons I left England was to see if the world was a beautiful place and I can truly confirm that it is.”

 

family in Kyrgyzstan

 

Would you say travel and exploration changed you?

“For me, yes it has. I was never particularly fit, and someone who drifted between jobs, always unsatisfied with the work that I was doing. I needed a shift, and that shift came in the form of a big adventure. I know now that I was not living my authentic life before and was in a freefall. I decided to change that, to say yes to a challenge, an adventure; to something I was not sure I would be able to complete. But I wanted to try.

 

Mountains

 

That try lead me to achieve, to live a life of true happiness, my freefall was stopped in its tracks and I saw a new path, my authentic path, and I have been working and living in the outdoor world ever since I returned.

 

Travel and exploration also took me away from my small hometown of Reading, to see the big world in all its glory and you realise that the people are kind, the world is not dangerous and you can achieve anything if you wish to and are determined.

 

It is called ‘Folk Devils’ when the media paint a picture of the outside being scary and frightening, and I carried this with me as I left Reading, always thinking someone was out to get me. But the more you travel and see and experience both foreign lands and its people, you realise the world is not a scary place, but a wonderful and mixed-up land.

 

I remember crossing into Honduras, and holding that fear even though I had been on the road for two years. I chose the shortest crossing – two days – and planned to get a hotel to spend the night in, but on arrival, I bought a watermelon from a local vendor by the roadside and ate it along with a small family. They welcomed me to Honduras and I saw the beauty in an unknown land. Then all the fear disappeared. I wild camped in a quarry that night without fear and crossed into El Salvador the following day wanting to explore more. Without going anywhere, you keep the fear inside you and there is no way of knowing the truth. I think this has been the biggest change and one I try to continue to embrace.

 

tim millikin crossing a bridge over a stream on a bike

 

Do you have a story to tell?

We’d love to hear about it! 

Share with us the best stories from your travels, expeditions & explorations and we’ll upload our favourites.

Acceptable Submissions:

  • Tell us about an adventure from your travels
  • Stories you’ve learned from foreign cultures
  • Coverage of your current or most recent exploration

Tell us in as much detail as you like, in the form of a blog, a video, with pictures or a podcast

All we ask is that it is appropriate for us to post on our website or social media channels, and consider the following things:

  • What did you learn?
  • How has the experience influenced you? 
  • The more you can describe the setting and your feelings, the better!

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