Who wants to be a millionaire? The answer to the oft-posed and pop-culture-famed question is: Just about everyone. Armando Basile falls squarely into the “just about” category. He is not interested in accumulating what we typically define as wealth, but instead has dedicated his life to accumulating kilometers by bike. In fact, Armando has banked a solid 1.35 million of them on his odometer. Since 1982, he has probably spent more hours in the saddle than most of us have in our office chairs.
Cycling Around the World - Seven Times
38 years ago, Armando’s doctor gave him a choice: swim, run, cycle, or continue to live with debilitating back pain, the result of years of hard labor on construction sites. Armando, 35 years old at the time, decided to take the third option and has been riding away from the pain ever since.
He has circumnavigated the globe on two wheels seven times to date. These are not just straight lines around the equator: he rode from North Cape along the Atlantic coast to Portugal, across North Africa, coast-to-coast-to-coast crisscrossing the United States of America (including Alaska) - to name just a few of his tours. His recipe for success: just keep riding. He dispenses with mundanity of detailed preparation, relying instead on chance, instinct, and his friendly demeanor. All he needs are his maps, a minimalist gear list of clothing and shelter, of and of course his bicycle. Insurance and plane tickets are his two most significant living expenses.
He spends most nights in his tent - and they are rather short. He often rides until the wee hours of the morning, setting up camp around 2 a.m. He will sometime forego the tent if he has an invitation to stay overnight in a with a host along his route. Over the years, his address book has filled up with hand-written contact details of friends from all over. He visits some of them again and again, always welcomed with open arms.
In the Philippines, Armando became a legend for crossing a very steep pass with his fully-loaded bike. Television and press covered his ascent, giving him the name "Legs of Steel". When he returned to the islands a few years after his epic climb, there was a small crowd waiting to greet him at the airport. News that "The legendary Legs of Steel is back!" spread quickly over the Internet. Although he does not shy away from the attention, Armando chases fame about as much as he does wealth. In India, he even earns a little extra karma by picking up a letter from his friend, a policeman, and hand-delivers it to the man’s son in Australia.
On his tours, Armando becomes a part of stories like these almost daily. The smallest details are his greatest treasures and are documented in his most important piece of luggage: a calendar, which he uses like a diary. There he meticulously records his experiences, where he sleeps, what he eats the details of his route. Armando travels analog. He doesn’t use a navigation app or a GPS – in fact is doesn’t even carry a phone. He relies on his map, his calendar, and his address book. His only electronic device is a small digital camera. Armando keeps in touch with his family and friends at home through the people he meets on his travels. Armando’s hosts write e-mails to his son Dirk on his behalf, letting Dirk know when and where they met Armando and often including photos from the visit.
But not every entry in Armando's calendar is a positive one. In 38 years and in 1.35 million kilometers, he has also seen the dark side of life on two wheels. He once lost everything – his bike, his clothing, his passport, his calendar – when his bike is stolen, together with his luggage, at an airport. He has been attacked several times and had to defend himself. He has fallen. He has broken bones and survived various accidents - even serious, life-threatening ones.
Despite these experiences and setbacks, Armando keeps getting up and moving forward, the epitome of his “just keep riding” philosophy. He knows the risks, but he believes in the good of humankind. He does not carry a weapon for self-defense, no matter where he travels. He has everything he needs: courage, endurance, confidence, and experience. Through the many ups and downs, his outlook has evolved to understand that the best experiences often go hand in hand with the worst ones. After an accident in the USA, a doctor in Baton Rouge brought Armando into his home and looked after him until Armando was strong enough to ride again. In Manila he had a similar experience: a doctor made sure that he could keep riding and on schedule despite his injuries. When Armando travels through cities and towns, cyclists from local clubs often join him and support him as he passes through. His tours are truly epic journeys, but what motivated him to make them as long as they are, was the death of his wife who passed away in 2005 from a stroke.
And then there was Corona
The latest setback, however, had nothing to do with loss, crime, or injury - but with Corona. The pandemic thwarted Armando's travel plans just as it has so many other’s. It was in November 2019 that he had embarked on his eighth round-the-world tour. He had travelled through India, crossed over to Sri Lanka, flew to Thailand and cycled on to Malaysia. It was there he noticed that the mood of the people around him was slowly changing. People started wearing masks, nobody invited him to their homes, and restaurants were shutting their doors. A landlord smuggled him secretly into his restaurant to make Armando some dinner. Before his next planned flight to Jakarta, Armando spent a night on the beach near the airport. He was surprised that the planes were only taking off every 10 minutes or so. It was too quiet.
The check-in for his flight to Indonesia was denied the next day. With his Italian passport his only option was to return to Europe. And so, it was in Kuala Lumpur that his eighth round-the-world tour came to screeching halt. The pandemic did something that nothing else has been able to do: it stopped Armando from riding.
He jumped on to the only European flight out of Kuala Lumpur which was headed to London. From there, he made plans to fly to Basel in Switzerland, the closest airport to his home in Heitersheim in the south of Germany. In Heathrow, with travel restrictions tightening by the hour and no Swiss passport, he was also denied a ticket. Finally, with the help of his German pension card he was permitted to board a plane to Frankfurt. Frustrated by this involuntary odyssey and the abrupt end of his journey, he took a train back home from the airport. Just a few years previous he had ridden this same stretch, from Heitersheim to Frankfurt and back again – a 612 kilometer round trip a single go.
While his international journey is still on pause, Armando’s drive to pedal has not abated. He continues to ride out his front door, making daily excursions between 50 and 250 kilometers. He stays largely within Germany, but when restrictions are relaxed, rides into Switzerland and the Alsace. He likes the small, quiet backroads in France which get him away from traffic. These local rides have other welcome benefits: his girlfriend, with whom he lives when he is not travelling the globe, now often rides alongside him.
Armando has long since parted with his possessions - everything he has fits into his panniers. Armando gets support for his unique lifestyle not only from his partner, but also from his son. Dirk has spent his summer vacations cycling with his father, and now takes on a managerial role in support of Armando. He looks after Armando's Facebook Page, takes care of requests from the press, and keeps in touch with Armando's fans and companions. He also helps his father when it comes to tracking his kilometers and gave it his best shot to have Armando’s achievements officially recognized.
Guinness World Record - Longest Distance Cycled in a Lifetime
2011 was Armando's record-breaking year- the year when he became a millionaire. It was his biggest year in the saddle, averaging an impressive 145 kilometers per day for a total of 53,000 kilometers during the calendar year.
On the days Armando was to roll over the odometer to the 7-digit mark, he was at home in Heitersheim. In the days previous, he had recalculated his mileage several times to be sure he was on track and would finish his goal precisely in the town at the end of his planned ride. The mayor and a television crew were going to cover the event, and his friends and family would be awaiting his arrival. Everything went as planned, and it was a true triumph.
Every stage leading up to “his million” had been meticulously documented. Armando not only draws each route on his maps and adds small weather symbols, he also notes where he has slept and eaten. Wherever possible, he gets a stamp or business card - at gas stations, hotels, or post offices. It is evidence of his journey and his achievement, which might otherwise be unbelievable.
That year Dirk and Armando contacted the Guinness Book of Records. All the documents had been collected and everything was prepared as Guinness required. The final step necessitated a lawyer be flown in for a financial audit to verify the recorded mileage. Armando did a quick calculation of the legal fees and politely declined the lawyer’s visit, and thus the record. For the cost of this document, this single piece of paper, Armando could more than afford another tour around the globe. And just like that, he goes back to doing what he does best. He just keeps riding.
Armando will eventually continue his eighth round-the-world expedition - as soon as the virus allows it. But it will probably be his last. It is not because he plans to retire from cycling - he just doesn’t want to pay the insurance costs which increase dramatically every year. Will he reach the two-million-kilometer mark? Anyone who knows Armando knows that he is capable of just about anything.