Roei Sadan 248.88 .
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"I need only five minutes with people, it doesn't matter the language or anything. If I come with my energy, I'm at home. People invite me home, suddenly I'm eating with chiefs and sleeping in their houses, and some of them offer me their daughters to marry. But I always say no because I need to go."
Roei "Jinji" Sadan, 27, with his bright red beard and easy, raspy laugh, may not seem like Israel's most likely ambassador to small Andean villages in Peru or tribal chiefs in Africa. The Oronit native, whose last name means "anvil" in Hebrew, is now at the halfway point in his five-year, 80,000-kilometer odyssey to bicycle around the world. What started out as a two-year personal journey after the army has morphed into a five-year informal ambassadorship introducing people around the world to another side of Israel.
Since it's hard for the average person to wrap one's head around such a big journey, consider that the Guinness Book of World Record's definition for bicycling around the world is 4 continents, 20,000 miles, and a London man named James Bowthorpe just completed it in 174 days, a new record. Bowthorpe, surprisingly, also sports a flaming red beard.
Sadan congratulates bikers who do it in that style. But, he says, "I want to look at the map of the world and say I did it my way."
"When you're biking, you can see the road, you can smell the people. There is no shield between you and the earth," Sadan says. "After all the kilometers that I've done, and all the people that I've met, and all the countries that I've been, I can say that I'm not only cycling around the world, but I'm cycling into the world."
After the army, Sadan finished the Israel Trail from Mount Hermon to Eilat in 35 days. "I can be very fast," he says, shrugging.
He also flew to the Himalayas and spent over a year exploring the mountainous region, including a three-month training stint with the Indian Army on one of the area's infamous peaks. "While climbing that mountain, I thought about the biggest journey, a really big journey I could take, and, well, that's it," Sadan says, explaining how he came to the idea of a cycling journey. "I didn't know anything about cycling before. I started from zero - from fixing a flat tire to cycling around the world."
The Guatemalan embassy was the first government organization that Sadan contacted to try to spread his message on a wider level after more than nine months on the road. He e-mailed the embassy to let them know he'd be passing through and wanted to tell his story.
After successful meetings in Guatemala, the embassies started sending teletexts ahead to other countries, letting them know when Sadan would be passing through. "On the way I saw the influence I had, I saw that I could reach people's hearts," he says.
Two days ago, Sadan met with Yuli Edelstein, the Minister of Information and Diaspora (Likud). Sadan is optimistic that Edelstein will be able to help make more official and more organized connections with host countries on the second half of his journey.
Sadan realizes the details of his journey are fascinating - how long, how far, how heavy (see box). He answers those questions patiently, but he really lights up when he speaks about the impact of his trip.
"When people think about the world, they think about this place, this street, this city, this country. This is their world. But they need to look at the world with a wide-angle lense," Sadan says.
For many people in remote parts of the world, a strange-looking white guy with a bright red beard and a bicycle laden down with all of his earthly possessions is a jolt and brings some of the wider world to their forgotten corners. "We grow up and we are only a drop of water," Sadan continues. "There's an ocean out there. We're so small. This is the world. The obstacles? It's ok. It's a part of the journey."
Sadan has certainly faced his share of obstacles. Two days into Mexico, all of his gear, except for his video camera and his bicycle, were stolen while he took a break off the side of the road. He's been hit by a car twice, in Bodega Bay, California, and La Paz, Bolivia. The car accident in La Paz, Sadan says, was the darkest moment of his trip. "It was a hit and run - they kept going. No one stopped. No one came over to see, hey are you ok?"
For someone who'd been experiencing the unexpected kindness of strangers in the forms of opening up their homes for the night, small donations, or free food, he was shocked at the lack of concern. "I woke up, brushed the dust and everything, and cycled over to the hospital," he says, still shaking his head in disbelief.
But for every tough day, there have been hundreds of more rewarding moments. "Every day is amazing. Just to finish Ethiopia - one week ago I finished Ethiopia and I said wow, I did that all by bicycle. You know, its hard to digest it. I didn't digest yet that I cycled all of America. Now I've done all of Africa."
A friend's sister, who met up with Sadan in Columbia, wrote a song about his journey that he heard for the first time three days ago, during his 10-day break to come back home.
After heavy media coverage here, people have recognized the trademark red beard all over the country, congratulating him and telling him how much his journey has inspired them. While sitting in a burger joint in Givat Shmuel, a steady stream of young haredi men come over to talk, in disbelief that out of all his journeys all over the world, he's come to eat burgers right in their neighborhood.
Sadan's faithful partner throughout his journey is his best friend Emuna (Faith), a blue and white steel frame hybrid Thorn touring bike. "She's my best friend. Of course she's a girl - I couldn't cycle that long with a guy," Sadan laughs. "Sometimes Emuna is pushing me, actually, usually Emuna is pushing me," he adds.
As for his message to the general public that's maybe a little overwhelmed by his mammoth journey: "Do whatever you want to do, but do it the best way. Wake up in the morning and start to train. It doesn't matter if you want to cycle around the world or you want to be a lawyer, every guy has his journey. There are bad parts, but it's all part of the journey - things happen. Listen to the heart. The heart is the best compass."
And then he adds: "You don't have to be crazy to do what I want to, but it helps."
Follow Sadan's journey on his Web site: www.dreamwithopeneyes.com
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