Alumnae take to their bikes for 16,000km journey 

In early February two Sheffield alumnae arrived in Hong Kong, completing a 16,000km journey, 299 days after they set off cycling from Buckingham Palace the previous April.

Bethany Martin (BSc Biomedical Science 2014) and Julia Mason (BSc Biomedical Science 2014) met while studying at Sheffield, and lived together during their final year. During that final year the pair decided to travel between Bethany and Julia’s houses, the only trouble was that one was in London and the other half-way around the world in Hong Kong.

After a bit of research, they realised it was possible to cycle the whole way (except for crossing the channel, the Caspian Sea and the ferry to Hong Kong Island), and with that the challenge was set. Next they needed a cause to cycle for, as Bethany explains:

“We wanted our journey to have a focus. We both witnessed food waste in the UK and Hong Kong, and wanted to use the opportunity to educate our audience and learn from different lifestyles. Food waste is a global issue where one third of food produced is wasted annually, resulting in huge environmental and social implications.”

With the means and the cause chosen all that was needed was a name, and after brainstorming in a Sheffield local ‘Forks on Wheels’ was born.

After eight months of preparation Bethany and Julia set off from London, travelling through 20 countries, following the Danube River through Europe, into Turkey. They crossed the Caspian Sea by cargo ship from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan, and cycled on through four of the Central Asian ‘stans to China, before the final stretch to Hong Kong.

“Everywhere was amazing; the countryside was stunning (apart from the Uzbek desert), the people were friendly and the food delicious.”

Julia explains,

“Entering Turkey was a culture shock and sometimes overwhelming when walking into a Chay house surrounded by men, but we soon grew used to it and enjoyed the continuous flow of chay from the neighbouring tables. It was the first time we experienced such hospitality; everyone we saw would ask us to stop and join them for chay and often people would pull up in cars to give us fruit, drinks and sweets.”

This hospitality extended to their accommodation as well:

“We often came straight out with ‘can we sleep in your house?’, which usually resulted in us being incorporated into the family for an evening and playing with the children. In Tajikistan we were at over 3000 meters altitude in October and temperatures went to below -10 °C at night so we needed to be indoors then. Luckily there were houses every 50km or so and no one ever objected to us staying.”

It was this welcoming attitude which allowed Bethany and Julia to gain an insight into people’s lives in the countries they travelled through, and to understand how different cultures see food. Bethany continues:

“We felt that, particularly in western societies, people are becoming more disconnected from the food production process, and that makes it easy to throw things away. In countries where supermarkets are rare, everyone owns livestock and grows vegetables and crops and it would be no surprise to hear that we saw a lot less food waste. It all boils down to how we value our food. If you invest time and energy into growing, rearing and preparing your food then that food holds more value to you.”

With their focus on local food cultures the duo managed to sample a remarkable array of cuisines:

“We have been gathering recipes and hope to publish a recipe book in the future. We both agree that Georgian food was the best! Two dishes struck us in particular: Adjap Sandal, a basil version of ratatouille; and walnut paste with aubergine rolls.”

Julia adds:

“All the way through we sampled different variations of kebab and the further east we went the more exotic the animal parts became. Generally Central Asia has five dishes and each country had their own variation: Plov (rice), Lagman (noodles), Samsa (Italian calzone... at a push!), Manti (dumplings) and meat soup. All dishes and all variations were delicious; however after three months of eating them it became a little repetitive!”

With their journey complete Bethany and Julia now have plans to share their story, and continue campaigning around food waste:

“We see Forks on Wheels as a lifetime project – we are already underway with planning for our next adventure! In the short term, we will be talking at the Royal Geographic Society and schools, as well as preparing our recipe book”.

To find out more and add your support to Bethany and Julia please visit the Forks on Wheels website.

You can find out more about Sheffield’s work towards food security through our Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.

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Arriving in Hong Kong

Cycling along the Rhine

Meeting camels in the desert

Cycling along long, empty stretches of road

Camping in the desert

Walking through the snow between the Tajik and Kyrgyz border

Making friends along the way