One of the very best things about being cycling blogger is connecting with extraordinary women and their bikes, and the World Bike Girl Ishbel has an amazing story to share. She is travelling around the world by bike rescuing homeless dogs. She actually contacted me a few months ago and we’ve been corresponding by email. Here’s a few Q&As, but I encourage you to visit her website to learn more.
Q: I read that you grew up in Scotland, but now travel the world by bike. Is there a country you call home? Do you still see your family? Do you ever plan to stop riding around the world?
I have British/Iranian dual citizenship, Scottish Mother, Iranian Father, born in Manchester and brought up in Scotland which is quite a mix of cultures in my blood!
Having been in foster care and suffering terrible experiences as a young adult I had built a wall around my heart to protect myself from being hurt again. When I began cycling the world over three years ago there was no where in the world I called home. I didn’t have family and had never allowed myself to get close to anyone. So I was pretty much on my own in the world. Cycling the world changed everything.
In my first year I met a street dog I called Lucy. She was alone in the world too and had been hurt by humans also. She had chronic disease, broken bones and had 31 shot gun pellets inside her body. The story of her rescue went viral and strangers around the world helped and I travelled with Lucy in her dog trailer attached to my bicycle. During our time cycling across Turkey Lucy broke the wall down around my heart with her tail wagging and her eyes loving. It was the first time in my life I experienced unconditional love. Tragically she died in my arms from her chronic illness. But I knew I didn’t want to build that wall again and my whole world changed.
I have the most incredible relationships and since have adopted a Dad and a sister and just recently another street dog called Maria . I’m building my wee family!
I’ve still got Lucy’s trailer attached to my bicycle which I use to rescue injured or dying street dogs as I cycle the world. I’ve pedalled across 20 countries now.
My home is where my loved ones are so Glasgow and Denny in Scotland and Fethiye in Turkey.
Q: What’s the most scared you’ve been during your world travels?
Three moments I’ve been most scared:
In 2014 I cycled along the Turkish/Syrian border with the war in full swing. I found that really scary. And heart breaking witnessing the Syrian refugees fleeing war.
I was really scared one time wild camping in a remote place when a tractor and trailer full of drunken men arrived and they were shouting at my tent in the night. I was really scared when they began walking towards my tent but Lucy moved in between us to protect me and scared them away.
I crossed into Bolivia from Chile by cycling over the Andes and my first night in Bolivia was in a refuge at 4500 metres. There were no locks on the doors and holes in the walls around the windows. In the middle of the night I woke up with a flash light in my face blinding me and a soldier from Bolivian Army was insisting on sex. I was scared in the first moments but then survival kicked in and I knew from my earlier years of being homeless and suffering violence that the only chance I had in this situation was to be alpha and to have him think I was crazy and question what I was capable of.
I shouted I would punch him in the face if he didn’t leave. He didn’t move, so I leapt off the bed for him, and he ran.
Q: What’s the most beautiful place you’ve visited by bicycle?
Bolivian Altiplano high up in the Andes is like cycling on another planet and at night the sky turns an incredible blood red with the sun set. There are no roads, only bumpy tracks left from the tyres of 4 x 4 adventure tour jeeps.
Crossing the worlds largest salt plain was also incredible. It’s called the Saler de Uyuni and is 11,000 square kilometres! Everything was a brilliant white and sparkly and it seemed I was pedalling over millions of glistening diamonds. The sky was a deep blue and met the brilliant white salt creating an incredible horizon.
I absolutely loved cycling through the Pantanal Jungle. Can you imagine cycling dirt tracks through the worlds largest tropical wetland with hundreds of alligators on either side of you and all different coloured parrots flying around your head? It was so hot one day I went swimming in the wild surrounded by alligators and pirañas. It was surreal swimming with alligators eyes watching me in the water. Sometimes, I left the bicycle to walk into the forests with electric blue Macaw parrots up above me in the trees. Incredible.
Q: Why are you so passionate about rescuing homeless dogs?
When Lucy died I made a promise I’d help all her friends. This promise is the inspiration behind my first book which is being published around the world next summer.
Q: Tell use about the bicycle you ride and the equipment you carry?
I ride The Kibo from Stanforth Bikes in-fact you’ll see some of my photos on their website.
I used to be a velodrome sprinter and a road racer so I’m well acquainted with bicycles but the Kibo was my first steel bike.
My bike doesn’t have suspension but I’ve spent months at a time off road and I didn’t get sore. I’m totally converted to steel – it’s so comfy because it absorbs all the vibrations. www.stanforthbikes.co.uk
My tent is the Hilleberg Akto – arguably the best one person tent in the world!
I do a lot of extreme camping and because most of the time I’m on my own it’s essential I know my tent will survive anything. Camping in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia I saw tents flying through the sky with 140 kph winds. But I had no concern as I knew my tent would be just fine. www.hilleberg.com
I use Ortlieb pannier bags. I love Ortlieb’s vision about sustainability – they deliberately produce gear which can be repaired rather than having to buy new again. I’ve used the same bags the last 3 years and I haven’t treated them well but they still treat me well! www.ortlieb.com
I’ve fallen in love with the brand Exped. I have an Exped air mattress and also their dry bags. The most luxury item I have and which every time I use has me thinking ‘ooh this is so good’ is my Exped Pillow. Best £30 I’ve spent! Pure luxury after a hard day in the saddle! www.exped.com
Q: How do you fund your travels?
I don’t think about money to be honest. Maybe it comes from having been homeless for some years. Sometimes I have ran out of cash but I always get by.
I cycled across Bolivia with no money because my bank card didn’t work there. No bother – I just made small bracelets from thread and swapped them the whole way for what I needed including meals in cafes. I usually blog when I’m travelling and people who enjoy reading it donate small amounts of cash – enough to keep me going. But I’ve just came out of Brazil and didn’t blog there because I was writing the book. I can’t believe I’ve actually written a book. I think it’s the first thing I’ve ever finished in my life ha ha.
Q: I believe you’ve travelled to my country of Australia. Where did you visit?
I had an Aussie boyfriend at the time ha ha ha so was in Australia for 15 months hanging out on the Gold Coast and Cronulla, Sydney. It ended because he wanted kids and I just wanted to be out there riding my bike. Instead of kids, I cycled around France, Spain and Portugal.
Bicycle touring is one of the best forms of therapy in the whole entire planet!
INFORMATION FOR READERS: my website is www.worldbikegirl.com and my Facebook/Twitter and Instagram is World Bike Girl.