Zheng Sheng arriving at Red Square in Moscow, Russia on May 17. Photo: Courtesy of Zheng Sheng
The charms of the open road are easily matched by its daunting challenges - one wrong turn and you could end up in a very different place than you intended.
Yet for 23-year-old Zheng Sheng, a recent graduate of Shanghai Science and Technology University, such challenges were hardly a deterrent when it came to his just-completed four-month-long bike trek from Shanghai to London.
Setting off on March 5, Zheng traversed 11 countries, including, Kazakhstan, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, finally arriving at his destination - London on July 18.
"I've been planning for this moment for years," Zheng said. "The fact that I finally made it is something I'll keep with me until I grow old."
"A journey 14,000 kilometers is the goal - here I go!" Zheng had posted on his microblog before setting off. Zheng said that it was rewarding but that the difficulties he faced along the way were even more formidable than he had anticipated.
When it came to basics like eating and sleeping, Zheng said that his shoestring budget meant that he usually couldn't afford more than simple bread for his meals and had to rely on a tent for shelter most nights.
"One time in the wild mountains of Russia I couldn't sleep a wink, beset by bitter cold and torturous leg cramps," he said.
"That was probably one of the worst nights of my life."
Often his tent couldn't withstand the cruelties of mother nature, such as one instance in the Netherlands when it rained so hard his tent proved little more than a flimsy umbrella.
"I laid down some sheets of plastic tarp, but it barely made a difference," Zheng said. "I was practically sleeping on top of a moving river."
Usually, however, Zheng's fatigue from his daily exertions meant he could catch his z's just about anywhere.
"I really feel like I slept in every kind of place imaginable," he said. "I even snuck into a boiler house one time and passed out amid the roar of the steam generators!"
Fear and friendship
Zheng said his most memorable - and terrifying - moment occurred during a particularly desolate stretch of road on which he was chased by a ferocious wolf for hours.
"It was just the second day after I'd crossed the border from China into Kazakhstan - the desert seemed to extend endlessly in all directions," he recalled. "I remember stumbling upon a wolf carcass, after which one of its pack mates started after me with bloodthirsty ambition."
Riding as fast as his legs could carry him, he eventually managed to get the animal off his trail upon arriving at a roadside hotel.
"I just collapsed in the lobby, totally out of my mind with relief," he said.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Zheng describes the warmth and affection he felt from the numerous strangers and helpers he met along the way.
"One time in Germany a complete stranger decided to pay for my meal at a Chinese restaurant," Zheng said. "I thanked him profusely and we got to chatting about my travels - we still keep in touch to this day."
Now that Zheng is back in Yunnan Province, he said he is ready to face the more mundane challenges of life - finding a job and a house, for example - with renewed optimism and a fresh outlook on the world, basking in the admiration of his friends and family, some of whom were doubtful he could complete the entire overwhelming plan.
"I was always supportive of him, because I know he's a stubborn person who won't waver once he sets his mind on something," said Lin Hui, one of Zheng's best friends. "His courage and determination have become such an inspiration for me."
"I always told the doubters that it's just a matter of willpower," Zheng told the Global Times. "Here I am, all finished - proof that you really can do whatever you set your mind to."