After the route changing of the Sun Trip 2015, 7 questions to Florian Bailly, the creator and director of the adventure.
1. Three months before departure, we are astounded by the cancellation of the arrival in Astana. Why this decision now?
Firstly, we had to face the sudden withdrawal of our historical partner, Astana EXPO 2017. After a year of discussions, hopes, false expectations and despite the clear support of the Deputy Foreign Minister and Commissioner of Astana EXPO 2017, the economic crisis currently gripping the country has hit us hard with a major budget cut. This is a very big disappointment but we wanted to avoid the cancellation of the event at all costs. Also, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has only worsened over the months. Recently, many border crossings have been closed between the two countries, even far from the front line. The confrontation has never really ceased, and the risk is real for an event like ours, where participants are released into the wild, so to speak.
In short, we no longer hold the key to organizing an adventure in such conditions. Going so far away, with so many people, we can’t just improvise.
2. Shouldn’t the situation in Ukraine and Russia have led to this decision earlier?
We waited as long as possible to give the situation a chance to settle down. It is probably because we were very attached to Ukraine. In 2013, we were welcomed in that country like nowhere else and many participants were eager to go. Also, many Ukrainians are waiting for our return. It is heartbreaking to turn our back on them. This conflict is absurd to us, travelers who were able to experience the limitless kindness of these fraternal peoples. To prevent passing through Ukraine, we imagined a bypass through Belarus or even to ask everyone to go through Turkey and then by ferry, but the simple fact of going through Russia began to worry participants. As part of the “race” challenge, the most direct route goes through Russia, but it would have been questionable to force people to go through this country in order to remain in the challenge.
3. How are participants reacting to this announcement?
The group has been divided since the first withdrawal announcement of our major partner, a little over a month ago. Some wanted to maintain the Kazakh destination at any cost, others have instead expressed their concerns about pursuing this extreme adventure on such a low budget. To date, some participants remain attracted by Kazakhstan because it was the dream of an adventure, even the dream of a lifetime to go over there, in the steppes of Central Asia. We will discuss with them in order to ensure their fir within the project, but it is very clear for everybody that the Sun Trip 2015 officially stops in Turkey. Those who choose to continue beyond will be riding on the sidelines of the organization. We will do everything to maintain a sense of community and collective force within the participants for this project because the main asset of the Sun Trip is this sense of participation in something bigger than oneself.
4. Have you considered cancelling The Sun Trip altogether?
Honestly, yes, because our budget strategy was based on our major partnership with Astana Expo 2017. To lose such investment four months before departure is the nightmare no organizer wants to live. The Sun Trip could have been cancelled.
But unlike in 2013, I’m not alone in the organization. Five former participants have joined forces by my side. We have faced difficult times, feeling low and having fights with each other, but we also found the collective strength to get back on our feet. Let’s also mention that since we are lucky to coordinate a group of 43 travelers-dreamers that invested a lot of time, money and energy in the project, we must give all we’ve got and find solutions to go forward!
5. How will this 2015 edition of the Sun Trip unfold?
It will happen with a much reduced budget, which will not allow us improve all we had planned to following the first edition evaluation. But with our participants’ enthusiasm and energy, we hope to surprise people on this new course towards Turkey.
Unlike in 2013, we begin with the idea of a return trip. It had been requested by many participants in the first edition’s evaluation because it is more in line with our eco-mobility values. In short, we won’t need to charter a truck to bring back the bikes and the participants won’t need to take a plane to return home.
This year we will also offer a beautiful major scale prologue. Over a week, many participants will ride as a group from Chambery to Milan and the Universal Exposition. We will be welcomed in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Turin, Santhià and then at the France Pavilion at the Expo!
The official departure should take place at the EXPO GATE, at the Castello Sforzesco on Saturday, June 6, 2015, in the historic center of Milan. Immediately after, adventurers will be allowed to freely choose their course, beginning their loop to the South by the “boot” of Italy (taking a ferry either in Bari or Brindisi) or going East through the Balkans. Two mandatory checkpoints will be set in southern and central Turkey, in order to find room for adventure and ride through some world famous landscapes, such as Cappadocia. Participants will then take the opposite route to perform a loop back around the Adriatic Sea, so we will have solar bikes everywhere on the map!
The return trip makes it an adventure of roughly 7 000 km, with much more elevation than in Kazakhstan. Perhaps will we see some participants take detours in Turkey and in countries like Albania, where the roads are not always in the best condition.
In short, I think the new course will almost be harder than the original towards Astana. Strategic choices of itinerary will be more important than ever.
6. In 2013, The Sun Trip was affected by the terrible accident of Jean-Marc Satgé in Turkey. How is the return to that country considered?
We have obviously taken this into account because the trauma of this accident marked all of us. The main preventive measure will be prohibiting access to tunnels because they are too narrow in this country. We have a map listing them all, and everyone will be equipped with enough knowledge to know how to avoid them.
We will also request that participants avoid Istanbul, crossing between Europe and Asia through mandatory short ferry connections. Istanbul is far too dangerous for cyclists. Participants may make a detour there using a ferry, or maybe some could be escorted because we have established links with Mr. Murat Suyatbatmaz, who was among the people who helped rescuing Jean-Marc Satgé in 2013. President of the influential NGO Bisikletliler Derneği representing the interests of cyclists and promoting cycling in Turkey, Mr. Murat Suyatbatmaz will also help us secure the trip and put us in touch with cycling enthusiasts all over the country. It will certainly be an opportunity for some wonderful exchanges, since Turkish hospitality is, after all, legendary!
7. Should we imagine The Sun Trip back in Kazakhstan in the coming years?
It is too early to tell. Today, the entire organizing team, who worked hard for over a year (and I warmly thank them), is focusing on the 2015 Edition towards Turkey. The organizing budget will be very small, but we will be creative!
We had projects until 2017 with Kazakhstan, and the Deputy Foreign Minister had asked me last August to draft a very special Sun Trip for 2017, in connection with their Expo Future Energy. Never say never… but for now our priority is rather to look towards Morocco. Discussions are ongoing and it is not entirely impossible that before the end of this year 2015, our solar bikes might be seen in Africa…
The Sun Trip adventure continues!