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July 12, 2011

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Bicycle cowboy keeps on riding

RETIRED bricklayer Armando Basile aims to reach the 1-million-kilometer mark in his global bicycling odyssey this year. He tells Kerri Pang in Shanghai that he's a "cowboy" and plans to keep on riding into the sunset.

Armed with a German-Chinese pocket dictionary, 64-year-old Armando Basile, a retired bricklayer, took a flight from Frankfurt to Hong Kong, braved language barriers and bicycled to Beijing and Shanghai.

After a 20-day trip from Hong Kong to Beijing, the Italian who is living in Germany finally cycled into Shanghai last Tuesday. The 1,500-kilometer ride from Beijing took 10 days.

"I speak Italian, German, French, Russian, Turkish, Spanish, English, and now - a little Chinese," he says, laughing. "Nihao (Hello)! Xiexie (Thank you)!"

Basile began cycling in 1983 upon his doctor's suggestions to help heal a back injury. He took his first trip around Europe with his wife Gisela and his only son Dirk, who is now a 39-year-old father of two.

"I have two grandchildren. I tell people all over China that I'm a yeye (grandfather)," Basile says.

He then embarked on cycling adventures in Germany, Italy, and nearly every other European country.

For Basile, age was never an issue, and his annual health checks prove he is in good shape and his back is fine.

Though his wife died in a cycling accident, Basile continued his solo expeditions around the world. He has since cycled around Australia, America and Africa - covering around 980,000 kilometers in 28 years.

"I like China. The food is good, the people are very nice," Basile says, turning to a page in his diary where he clipped the plastic cover of a Kang Shi Fu instant noodle cup. Lamian (noodle) is good! So is the bread with the legumes and spinach."

Basile writes his diary every day, recording the distance, weather, people and food. Ever since he reached Hong Kong on June 1, he has been cycling in the day and camping out at night.

"I pitch my tent and sleep in petrol stations because they're open 24 hours, or in bushes," Basile says. "Sometimes workers at the station will offer me a bed."

While he found petrol stations to be safe and had no problems camping out, he was also pleasantly surprised and grateful for the Chinese locals who lent him a helping hand.

"Policeman in Jiangyin (a city in Shanghai's neighboring Jiangsu Province) took me to a luguan (inn) and paid for one night's stay," Basile says. "In one city where I stopped, it rained for 24 hours so I stayed in someone's garage. The family provided me with all three meals. They were very good to me."

Besides his tent, a sleeping bag, clothing and bicycle tools, Basile travels with two red bicycle bags that he attaches to the front of his bicycle.

"This is my office and this is my kitchen," he says, pointing to each bag.

While he stores bottled water and bags of mianbing (pancake) in his "kitchen," his "office" is filled with maps, articles and documents. Basile relies on a map to navigate, since he travels without a phone or GPS.

"During my first day in Shanghai, I cycled to the Expo site, it was beautiful," Basile says.

He aims to complete 1 million kilometers of cycling this year; he plans a European trip with his girlfriend.

"It's beautiful, I like to speak with the different people, and I like the cities. Also, I'm fit and there's no problem with my health," Basile says.

The undaunted cyclist will fly back to Germany on Saturday.

Asked if he will stop his cycling trips after reaching the 1-million kilometer mark, he says exploring was always his childhood dream as well as his retirement plan.

"I'm a cowboy," Basile jokes.

"There's no such thing as finishing," he says.


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