On April 7-8, that is exactly what happened.
British doctors Lloyd Collier and Louis Snellgrove could be spotted in downtown on their shared bicycle as they headed north to UC San Diego. Their pitstop here happened as they attempt to break the world record for circumnavigating the globe on a tandem bicycle after setting off from Adelaide, Australia in August 2018.
They are riding through 23 countries and covering 18,000 miles in their efforts to break the record and in the hopes of raising $50,000 for the charities Spinal Research and the Brain Foundation.
Their efforts to fund research are what brought them to the spinal cord injury labs at UC San Diego, where they met with professors Mark Tuszynski and Binhai Zheng, who have previously been supported by Spinal Research.
Collier and Snellgrove worked in emergency rooms for years, where they saw the devastation a spinal cord or brain injury can cause.
“If it wasn’t for these [UC San Diego researchers], then we can’t provide any treatments. Spinal cord injuries and brain injuries are so limited at the moment. There’s lots of high-tech treatment for cancers and all sorts of heart problems, but traumatic brain and spine injuries, once you’ve got them, there’s very limited amount that you can done so you really need more money, more research into these conditions to help find cures in the future,” Snellgrove said.
“[Tuszynski and Zheng] are really passionate about what they do. It reinforces and justifies our decision to give up so much of our time to try and raise money for them too,” Collier said.
The two men took a year-long break from their careers and have self-funded the trip. All money raised goes directly into the two charities.
“We are extremely grateful to Lloyd and Louis for undertaking this monumental challenge in aid of Spinal Research. The awareness they will raise, and the much-needed funds will go a long way to changing the future of spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Mark Bacon, executive and scientific director of Spinal Research.
For Collier, this trip has been a long-time dream as a way to support his Uncle Alan, who was confined to a wheelchair after a spinal injury at work when he was 29 years old – the same age Collier is now. His esteemed male role model died in March 2018, and his death was one of the main catalysts for leaving.
“I’ve always wanted to do it; I just never had the balls to do it. I always wanted to do it for him, for spinal research because I loved him so much,” Collier said.
While love for his uncle was Collier’s inspiration, Snellgrove has always been inspired by early explorers and seeing patients’ lives cut short made him realize life is too short not to make the most of opportunities. When Collier asked friends and fellow doctors to join him on the journey, Snellgrove jumped on the possibility.
“My inspirations growing up were the olden-day explorers who would go off to Antarctica, the North Pole, or sail the seven seas and discover worlds people didn’t really know about. These days everything’s really been discovered,” he said. “You can’t really have adventures like they used to do, but to bike around the world is the next best thing. You discover things that you can only see on a bicycle.”
After agreeing to bike around the world, the pair then decided to take a tandem. Snellgrove joked, “Lloyd is fitter than I am, so I thought on a tandem he can’t cycle off. I can just sit there and not peddle.”
“Tandem is the next best decision after deciding to do it in the first place,” Collier said. He said it made people ask questions like “why are these two white fellas riding through India on a tandem?”
Curious people have also contributed to their fundraiser after hearing about why they are on a tandem bike.
“What we love about Americans is that they’re very open and very intrigued to know what you’re doing. That has led to a lot of people donating,” Snellgrove said. “Americans are excellent for that.”
One of the longest legs of their journey was spent in the U.S. after they landed in Miami, then rode to San Diego, and then to San Francisco before finally flying to Europe.
While they did not cook over an open fire in areas with a wildfire risk, for most of their journey they would cycle for 60 miles, before pitching a tent, collecting firewood, and cooking their dinner.
This method of travel means they have camped in snow as well as in the desert.
“You name it, we’ve slept there,” Collier said, with Snellgrove saying the list includes churches, mosques, train stations, city parks, beaches, abandoned buildings, swamps, and even a 30-year-old school bus in the U.S.
Their travels have also included many other adventures, some more terrifying than exciting.
“We’ve been robbed at knife-point in our tent in the Gobi Desert. We were hit by a truck on our first day. We came face-to-face with an eastern Siberian brown bear,” Collier said and added they were also confronted by military police in Turkey.
“There were times where the bike was falling to pieces and we were in the middle of India and we had no hope of sorting out our problems because some of the parts are quite unique,” Snellgrove said. “We’ve met ambassadors, and we’ve been through the slums of India.”
They both agreed some of the contrasts in the places they had seen around the world are what made the adventure so interesting.
Collier pointed to the difference between the slums of India and suburbs of Florida. “[I had] never seen such wealth – houses the size of castles,” he said. “One extreme to the other.”
One place they looked forward to visiting was San Diego, which neither of them had ever been to before.
“We’ve been to thousands of places now all around the world, and San Diego’s one of the places we knew about and heard about before coming here, so we were very keen to see it,” Snellgrove said. “It’s very multicultural.”
“It’s on the coast. You see incredible engineering in the naval ships. You’ve got world-leading research centers. Historic towns. Beautiful stadiums. Nice parks. You’ve got good sports teams. You’ve got modern infrastructure,” Collier said. “So I think to combine that all in one spot, in one place is one of the better cities we’ve been through so far. It’s just such a mix in such a small place. It is bloody nice.”
The latest stops on their adventure can be seen in their daily Instagram posts @worldtandem or on their weekly blog post on their website. More information on their journey, as well as how to donate, may be found at worldtandem.com.