After finally reaching Sydney, Phil discusses being an assassin, refusing to wave and “beating one out”

You’d already cycled the circumference of Oz a couple of years ago. What inspired you to try the 18-month trip all the way here from London?
The original plan was to ride from London to Vladivostok, which is on the east coast of Russia. I finished there in September last year. I arrived and I felt good and I had no reason to go back, I had no ties.

You must like Oz to have carried on here?
It seems to me the two gripes that Australians have – that they complained to me in my travels – are Aborigines and the price of fuel. If that’s their two biggest whinges then it’s a pretty lucky country.

Did you ever get lucky while you were on the road?
I actually met a girl in the middle of Russia who I had a bit of romance with for a week. She wanted me to go back to Siberia, to this town called Omsk, which is in the middle of a bog. It was founded as a prison city. She was beautiful, very intelligent, perfect English. So I had the choice of riding the bike onwards through China or riding her in the Siberian swamps. It was a hard toss-up between the two and in the end my little bicycle won.

How do you find being on you own so much?
You have to entertain yourself. You have to be happy with your own thoughts. When I take a long ride with myself I’m quite content. There’s no-one pulling at me. I’ve got music in my ears, chat to people occasionally, draw a few cartoons, sleep in the forest, there’s no aggravation. No-one’s annoying you. I’m happy with my own day-dreaming thoughts.

Any tips for coping?
Wanking. People get embarrassed talking about it, but most nights in the tent, after a long day’s ride on the corrugations you think, “ah, what can I do tonight?”. There’s no cinema, there’s a power cut in the tent, always, so you think, “oh, I’ll beat one out”.

Er, okay, good stuff. Most of the time you paid your way by drawing caricatures. How easy was that?
I haven’t touched a cash machine since[Darwin]. I’ve made a lot of money through the middle of Australia. You go into a roadhouse and say, “hello, I’m a professional cartoonist and would you be interested in a caricature for a shower and a camp”. Essentially I’m not interested in that, but the point is the staff then come over and look and say, “draw me, draw me,” and I’m like, “okay, $30”. You’re happy, they’re all happy, everybody wins. I think my record was $380 just for a day and a bit. I just want to make enough to travel for two weeks and then I’ll do it again. It worked most of the time in Australia. Only one place rejected me.

You flew the bit from Singapore to Darwin. How come?
When I got to Singapore my ego said to me, “ride through Indonesia”. My body was strong, but emotionally I was trashed, constantly having to present myself to people and all that goes with it.

How did you deal with that?
In Australia I pretend to be Russian quite often as a defence mechanism. The reason I do it is because if I’m myself, as a cartoonist, I see them approaching with their straws. They come for a good drink of me and just walk away. I feel a bit used and abused. But being a Russian, you can have a bit of humour with yourself. I don’t trick them in a bad way. They often go away with a smile on their face and feel quite happy to have met this Russian cyclist who said some funny things.

Yeah? What sort of things would you tell them?
Oh, like they’d ask me how I make my money. Now that’s a personal question, but as a Russian I’m happy to answer them. I’d say, “I work for maybe one or two week a year in Russia. I cannot tell you what I do, but I help people with problem, doing job other people don’t want to do. I do not clean toilets”. So that’s juicy gossip for them. They’re like: “Oh, I met a Russian assassin on the road the other day.”

How did you find other road-users?
What annoyed me in Australia was people waving at me. For me I’m happy where I am, I don’t wave at them. I had this image in my mind of people in their cars with a net out the window and they’re trying to catch as many waves as they can and there’s all these hands waving in the back of their car which they’ve collected, which they boil in a soup or something at the end of the day. I refuse to give them my wave, it annoys me. If they toot I respond because I can hear it, but I’ve got far better things to do than spot fingers.

So what’s next?
I’m going to go up to the northern beaches camping for a while, just chill out and do some writing. Get my head together, because the city’s full of distractions, all these beautiful girls everywhere, tottering around. From the deserts, it’s like woah!