From a young age, self-taught British photographer Alex Gandy dreamed of going on far-flung adventures, inspired by childhood stories of Ernest Shackleton and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”
Working as an urban planner in chaotic London, Gandy took up cycling as a temporary escape from city life.
“Zipping through the streets, dodging cars and pedestrians became … almost a form of meditation,” he told Business Insider.
After some hard saving, Gandy came up with a plan. In 2013, he left his job and began training for a massive undertaking: a bike ride across the Asian continent.
Starting in Istanbul, Turkey, Gandy set off on a 15-month journey through 13 countries, encountering hospitality and kindness, as well as countless obstacles, along the way. He used his photography skills to document his travels, keeping a blog of his trip as he went. He also collected money for a charity for children in Nepal.
From a dog bite in Turkey to cluster bombs in Laos, the trip definitely took its toll on Gandy. Still, the freedom and experiences he gained by the nearly 14,000-mile-long adventure were priceless.
“On the road, I could be whoever I wanted to be,” he said. “Not everyone has a 22,500-kilometer bike ride to put on their CV.”
Gandy has shared photographs from his series, entitled “May Your Footsteps Fall Upon My Eyes.”
Why a bicycle? 'The bicycle gave me the freedom to go just about anywhere I wanted and forced me to travel at such a slow pace that I really got to know the countries I was travelling through,' he explained.
'It's remarkable how just being able to say hello to someone you're passing can completely transform your experience of a place,' he said. Here, villagers converse on the side of the road in the eastern Turkish town of Savsat.
Gandy spent a couple of hours chatting, drinking tea, and playing backgammon with stall owners in the new market building in the Turkish city of Ardahan.
High in the Anatolian Plateau, this woman rolls out dough and prepares dinner while the men of the family look after the livestock.
While difficult, the most challenging roads ended up being the most rewarding. 'Those were the times when I really felt like I had found the adventure I was seeking at the beginning,' he said.
In Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, he met up with another British bicyclist, Jon, who was heading east. They both crossed the Caspian Sea by ferry and were soon biking through the desolate deserts of Uzbekistan.
He met many of them while waiting in hostels for visas to be processed. 'It became a close-knit community very quickly,' he said. 'And as we all bumped into each other again and again, a great camaraderie grew between us.'
Cycling through Tajikistan's Badakhshan National Park, he came across these three men fishing. They used a strange technique that involved slapping the water, scaring the fish from their hiding spots, and then grabbing them with a net.
Resu and his grandson live in a small, dusty village in Kyrgyzstan. They are supported by family members who work in faraway cities.
Gandy had many experiences of kindness during his journey. Aybek, for example, offered to host Gandy in his home in the Kyrgyz village of Kok-Dzhar.
Gandy accidentally wandered onto an onion plantation where this man was butchering a sheep. He and his family treated Gandy to a lamb dinner with tea and vodka, telling him tales of hunting on the steppes.
'When I started receiving invitations into people's homes, they really started me thinking about how we in the West treat strangers,' Gandy said. 'I don't think that a Tajik man cycling through Surrey would be treated the same as I was, which saddens me.'
The road across the Tibetan Plateau is long and arduous, and any restaurant along the desert highway is a welcome respite.
China was by far the toughest country for Gandy, and not just because of the rough and wildly shifting weather. A pickpocket in Lanzhou lifted his wallet, stranding him until he could get a wire transfer.
'The number of people, the language barrier, busy roads, and the economic revolution which has destroyed so much of their natural heritage make (China) the most difficult country I've travelled through,' he said.
'Everywhere I have been there is always somebody digging up a river bed, mining a cliff face, damming rivers and manipulating nature at the expense of complex ecosystems and social structures,' Gandy said.
But in the midst of China's woes, kindness has always prevailed. Villagers often built fires for his campsites and offered meals and entertainment. Just a little bit of company can mean a great deal when you're on the road.
He spent Christmas Eve in a local villager's home and was fed a simple meal of fried pork and rice. He said it was the best meal he'd had on the whole trip.
'(My host) didn't realise the significance of that day, but the act brought me to tears,' Gandy said.
On Christmas Day he helped out on the family's humble farm, picking radishes and herding cows. Gandy was blown away by how readily they helped him, and he wished to give back to them in any way he could.
Just up the road he bumped into Daniel, who accompanied him through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and Stephane, a French cyclist whom he repeatedly crossed paths with throughout Central Asia.
The winding roads through Laos are remote, but the forests were bustling with activity nonetheless. Workers advised him to stay on the road, lest he run over a bomb left over from the country's civil wars.
He came across an incredible amount of kindness during his journey, and Gandy says he learned a great deal about himself and others.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.