Name(s): Katie Moss and Joseph Thomas
D.O.B: K: 11/10/91
You both left jobs to pursue enterprise-adventure Gearing Up, what is Gearing Up?
K: Gearing Up is a project which involved cycling 10,000 km from Vietnam to Nepal whilst meeting social enterprises working on two issues: climate change and gender inequality. We met these organisations to raise awareness of these issues and how social enterprise is helping to tackle them. We used social media to discuss these issues, interspersed with some pretty decent cycling shots too!
How long were you away for in total and how far did you cycle?
J: We cycled 10,100km over 8 months. Not including non-cycling days, this averaged out at about 85 km/day. We had 5 weeks at the end in Nepal having finished the cycle tour, so we were away for 9 months and a bit in total.
How did you prepare for Gearing Up?
K: We both wanted to go on a cycle tour, but neither of us wanted to just go cycling. We wanted to give the trip a purpose and a perspective through which to explore these countries, which involved topics and issues we were interested in exploring.
J: There was an evening after work, about six months before we left, when we started talking about it seriously. It was at that point, perhaps without realising, we had both committed to each other that this was what we wanted to do next.
K: That was a really exciting moment! But the hard work was to come as it took a while for the idea of Gearing Up to come to fruition – and it continued evolving whilst we were away too. But building our idea was the focus of our preparation. We barely remember when or why we decided on a start (Vietnam) or an end (Nepal) and the route was planned as we went. We needed to get our kit together, such as bikes, stove and tent, but Jo has nerded out about that stuff for years without an excuse to buy it, so I pretty much left that to him.
J: We both cycled a lot before we left, so we didn’t need to train, but we did go to west Scotland the summer before we left on a 6-day cycle tour just to be sure! Although Scotland in August is not the best place to try out a tent suited to tropical south-east Asia – and I should have brought a jumper!
What planning went into it?
K: Most of the planning was about the project itself. We were developing the idea and trying to make contact with different organisations along our route before we left the UK. In hindsight we shouldn’t have worried too much about making contact, as it was much easier to contact people once actually in the country. Anyone who we spoke to before we left the UK found it quite difficult to fathom that we would be arriving in their country by bicycle at some point in the future.
J: Some of the partnerships we made before we left were really worthwhile, but otherwise the work we did on the website and social media pages (with the help of https://thirdedge.co.uk/) was vital to the success of the project later. It would have been very difficult to have built a website when we were on the road.
Why did you choose gender equality and climate change social enterprises?
K: These are two issues that we are both passionate about and wanted to explore further – they are also very closely intertwined as climate change disproportionately affects women more than men in developing countries.
J: We didn’t initially think we would focus on social enterprises, simply because we didn’t know that there were already quite so many in Asia. But after arriving in Hanoi we immediately saw the advantages of social enterprise and the impact they could have, without the same income generation problems that are linked to charities.
What was challenging about the trip?
K: We are so often asked this question and it isn’t the cycling! The biggest challenge was working on the project after a long day or week (or more) of cycling, posting regularly to Facebook/Instagram, making contact with organisations, arranging meetings and researching and reading about the countries we would soon reach.
J: The cycling can get challenging, but only on days featuring the magical combination of mountains and eight hours+ in the saddle.
How much money did you save to go and how much did you spend in total?
J: All in, including flights, bikes and daily spending it was ~£6500 each. Our average daily spend was £14 each. We had budgeted for more, particularly ‘contingency spending’, but didn’t need it. Cycle touring is incredibly economical. Even in the countries where camping is difficult, guesthouses are still £4-8 for a room and food is very good value (which is lucky, because you need a lot of it!).
Financial sponsorship is an attractive idea, but in reality it is very hard to achieve and requires a huge investment in time to contact potential sponsors; compare this to the money you could earn by staying in work a little longer.
What were the more memorable social enterprises you visited?
K: Social enterprise is not a widely understood concept in the countries we travelled through, which is why one of our goals was to promote it! We really enjoyed getting to know Project 72 Hours in Nagaland, India, who are doing incredible youth-involvement projects to improve community spirit in their mountainous town. Bikes in Yangon, based in the ex-capital of Burma, are trying to make cycling a viable form of transport in a city overflowing with taxis. Destination Justice in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a non-profit fighting an uphill battle to end injustice in Cambodia.
We’ve also written cycle travel guides for each country which feature our most highly recommended social enterprises to visit.
What message did you want these enterprises to take away from the time you spent with them?
J: Ideally, they thought it was interesting meeting us and were happy about the publicity we were able to generate for them. We were also quite often able to introduce people to other organisations we’d met, which I hope resulted in some useful connections.
K: I hope that some organisations were inspired by the fact that two energetic foreigners on bikes were so keen on learning about them and helping them raise awareness of their work.
What jobs did you leave behind in London and will you be returning to similar careers now you have returned?
J: I’m a mechanical engineer and I was working in an SME producing clever innovations to allow gas networks to waste less gas. We’ve moved to Berlin and I am continuing a career in the energy industry – I’m shortly starting with a company that connects massive energy storage systems to electricity networks so that renewable energy can be used even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing!
K: I was on the Civil Service Fast Stream which I left for Gearing Up. I changed jobs every 6 months, but frustratingly did not have control over the jobs I was doing. By leaving the scheme, I was able to apply for a specific job in Berlin, still within the Civil Service, which I got. The last year gave me the chance to think about what I really value from a job and what is most important.
What pressures do you think many twenty-something’s are faced with?
J: Being unique and impressive, building a high-flying career, having children. Or maybe that’s because we’ve ended up in a district of Berlin with one of Europe’s highest birth rates.
K: Generally I think there is a huge pressure to stay in a job, everyone is faced with financial pressures so quitting is often considered too high a risk to take. A new phenomenon is the idea of being really ‘busy’; it seems to have become a synonym for ‘important’ or ‘hard-working’.
What would you tell other young professionals thinking of pursuing something similar to you both?
J: There’s more to life than a steady pay check and a job that keeps your parents happy. We all have excellent support networks of friends and family to help us if anything goes wrong – so just take the jump and quit your job. Most people in the world dream of having the sorts of opportunities we do, so we must take risks and venture into the unknown! Don’t work for a bank!
K: Don’t let concerns, like the worry that you won’t get a job afterwards, stop you. As long as you have a good enough idea, it will only be considered an asset later on. This is especially the case if you want to do something that might be linked to your preferred future career. If you feel that money is an issue, save harder, cycle rather than take public transport, buy less booze, stop eating meat. Your future career will always be there, your opportunity to pursue your idea might not. Also, give it a go and ask your employer if you can take unpaid leave! And if they say no, quit anyway.
What was your biggest low being away?
K: After a long day of cycling, I even surprised myself with how irrationally angry I got when faced with a crap meal. The last thing you want after cycling 100km, when you’ve been dreaming of food, is a plate of luke warm rice, a fried egg and incredibly watery, tasteless, yellow dal.
J: It also wasn’t great when we were both hit with stomach issues. Sometimes the only thing to do is just keep cycling anyway, even if that meant persevering through Burma’s hottest month.
What was your biggest high?
K: The feeling of having reached the top of a mountain, each one bigger than the last, is a pretty awesome feeling. It certainly doesn’t feel like it the whole way up, but the first mountain we climbed, up to Sapa in north Vietnam, 5 days into our trip, was by far the highest I’d ever climbed on a bike. Reaching the top, just before it got dark that day, was a huge achievement. In terms of Gearing Up, we were flattered to be asked to speak at a social enterprise conference in Phnom Penh, it was great that the work we had been doing was considered a valuable addition to the social enterprise ecosystem in South-East Asia.
J: Rather than one high, my favourite aspect of the trip as a whole was the fact that we were outside almost the whole time and exercising so much – a rare opportunity in life.
What do the next few months look like for you?
K: A lot less exercise!
J: We’re in Berlin, and both working now. So although we’d love to go off cycling again, we do need to earn some money, and at least we’re working in sectors we want to be in. Berlin is a brilliant city too. Katie already speaks German, but it’s been fun learning a new language. Even if she does take the piss out of my accent.
Just for fun
In my twenties the three things I tend to think about are…
J: Bikes, Katie and food.
K: Getting outside, how much I hate staring at a screen and the next cycle touring destination (was I meant to say Jo?)
When I look at my bank statement after a night out I usually…
We never feel the need to do this.
The Twenty Mile Club is….
K: hopefully getting twenty somethings to realise that they can do something different, you just have to believe in your idea!
Find Gearing Up’s links to their social media pages here!