By Leila Khalil
When most people decide to take a trip to Europe, they usually opt to hop on a plane, jump into a car, or maybe take a train. But what about using a bicycle? There are probably only a handful of people who would even think to cycle cross-country, and Helmy Saeed is amongst this handful. He recently took it upon himself to make the remarkable journey of cycling across Europe. Starting at one of Europe’s northernmost parts in snowy Norway, he traversed the continent all the way down to sunny Spain on a bicycle he had assembled himself. Spanning over 62 cities and covering a total of 6,541 kilometers, this journey took a total of 70 days to complete – 60 spent cycling and 10 spent resting. When it came to board and lodging, Helmy had no problem working in return for a place to stay.
But what was it that inspired him to embark on this adventure? The answer lies in his philosophy, which he applies to every aspect of his life: using himself to do anything he wants. Helmy explained that whether it is to transport himself, create his own tools, or work for board, using his own resources and skills to accomplish his goals and ideas is the best way to go. It allows you to form your own opinions based on what you are able to do. “I love traveling and using myself, so the two worked well together,” says Helmy.
Cycling is not the only sport Helmy partakes in. Having moved to Canada after spending three years studying economics at the American University in Cairo, he took up skiing. Knowing Helmy however, it was not ordinary slope skiing, but rather the more arduous cross-country skiing. Slope skiing depends on gravity, which is, as you know, way too easy. Cross-country skiing on the other hand, is based solely on body power and physical endurance which sounded much more appealing to Helmy as it fits with his life approach.
Once he got the hang of skiing, Helmy decided it was time to put his newly found skills to use. In 2012, he joined an international ski team whose members included skiers from Norway and Scotland. Together they headed towards the Finnmark Plateau in the Arctic regions of Norway to ski 130 kilometers through harsh winds and freezing minus 40-degree weather. “Most people would be uncomfortable with this,” says Helmy, “we would camp every day in the snow and endured a very harsh environment.” But in the end it was worth it for Helmy, who pushed his limit and expanded his horizons.
For many people, enduring such a trip would be more than enough for one life-time; however, upon finishing his cross-country ski expedition, Helmy immediately began thinking of his next challenge. “After the summer of 2013 came I thought of what I could do next,” recalls the adventurer, “so I decided to take up cycling”. He started watching Youtube videos in order to learn how to assemble bicycles (because cycling cross country is nothing if you do not build your own bicycle), to keep with his mind-set of doing everything himself. Upon completion, Helmy set off to Italy to begin his 800Km cycling expedition which took him across the northern half of the beautiful country.
Accomplishing this feat encouraged him to take his cycling a step further, and cross Europe on his bicycle. Once again Helmy pushed his limits and got one step closer to the impossible, something most people only dream of doing. By putting thoughts into actions, Helmy has been able to prove to the entire world that anything is possible if you have the passion and willpower to push yourself. Now being mentally strong is one thing, but being physically able to endure such extreme environments and situations is another! Helmy’s exercise regimen is comprised of running, cycling and being outdoors. He tries to walk everywhere he can or take the subway so that he uses his full potential – that means no driving!
Cycling across Europe was bound to raise a lot of attention. “As I gathered more distance, there were more surprised faces,” Helmy recalls of the people he met along his journey. Some of these surprised faces turned into friends whom Helmy is still in touch with. One of them is even visiting Egypt very soon on a scuba diving trip.
Due to the nature of his trips, the young adventurer picked up a lot of fans along the way. But how did his family feel about his trips? “My family was a bit hesitant at first ,” says Helmy of his family’s reaction after he told them he would be going to the Arctic to ski 130km while pulling a 30 kg sled in the freezing cold with no way to contact them for an entire week. Once the initial shock wore off, Helmy says, “they became very supportive and proud when they saw the scope of what I was accomplishing and fully understood what I was doing.”
Helmy’s journey was not just a physical one, it was a rather spiritual one as well. Helmy recounts a special spiritual experience he felt when he encountered the world’s oldest 9,550 year-old tree. “To be in the presence of a living organism that old, which is still living to this day is an incredible feeling,” he explains. Arriving to Tarifa was another high point, because it signified the official completion of his journey. “I get rushes from extreme environments” Helmy explained, so getting stuck in snow and rain storms was a major high for him as well.
As for the lows, going to sleep hungry at times after “a mega work out” while doing his 130 km skiing trip, and his arrival at the final destination of Tarifa, Spain (the southernmost point of the country), which brought mixed emotions were a few of them. However the main low Helmy encountered was the mental struggle. “Situations that create anxiety that put me in a bad, non-productive mood for the whole day…makes it an absolute struggle to complete my daily cycling goal,” he says, “but in the end it is these situations that count because you push your limits and realize that you can do much more than you thought.”
Egypt should really admire Helmy for the strength and self-endurance he possesses. From building his own bicycle that he used on his trip, to filming and editing all of his footage, to simply living a life based on being self-sufficient, Helmy is truly an inspiration to today’s youth as well as the older community members who feel they may have already lived the best years of their lives. He has shown that anything truly is possible if you put your mind to it, and that one’s own self is the best tool in life.