Heroic Dubliner returns home after raising thousands in year-long cycle through Africa

By Shaun Cronin

Picking up the phone, Derek Cullen first tells this reporter how good it is to hear his rather strong Cork accent.

Derek finally back in Ireland in Rosslare.

Dubliner Derek hasn’t been in this country for more than a year after feeling that life here had become unbearable for him.

Cullen - from Firhouse, Dublin - had recently lost both parents to cancer and felt his life was spiralling out of control.

Speaking to breakingnews.ie Derek told us about his situation: “I was unhappy with how life was going.

“My behaviour was self-destructive, I wasn’t happy with work and I suppose I felt like I wasn’t growing.

“I needed to get out there and I wanted a challenge."

In October 2013, Derek had applied for a work visa to emigrate to Canada and saved up enough money to meet the requirements to enter the country. He had a little left over to travel to Africa for a few weeks.

“When I got to Cape Town I thought I might go to Victoria Falls (on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia) and I decided to use a second-hand bike,” said Derek.

Cullen as he prepares to leave Malawi.

It was there his epic journey began as he hit the road having had no previous cycling experience.

“I decided I wasn’t even going to tell people until I got to the Namibian Desert and that’s when I started the Facebook page," he said. “The response was amazing."

Derek started the No Hanging Around website to document his journey and decided to help a charity close to his heart, Aoibheanns Pink Tie.

The charity is affiliated to the Irish Cancer Society and is a child cancer organisation that aims to support both children and their families.

As he got closer to Victoria Falls, a nagging feeling told Derek he had to keep moving on.

“I struggled at first with the loneliness and feeling of constant worry of what could happen, of bandits and even being attacked by wild animals in my tent.

“(But), once I made it through Botswana that all went away...I let it all go,” he said.

Derek at Victoria Falls.

After two and a half long months on the bike, Derek made it to the world’s largest waterfall at Victoria Falls on January 16 this year.

The mission then became to see how much further he could push himself, with the next target being the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

There were some low points for the intrepid traveller, such as not wanting to leave a bed provided to him by a kind local.

“I’d been having an awful time in Lower Tanzania and after a few days of constant hill climbs I didn’t want to go on," he said. “But, I made myself go on and found there were no more hills"

Just then, he heard a rustle in the bushes...

“I couldn’t believe my eyes as three giraffes started to run alongside me. They were joined then by some elephants…It was everything I came to Africa for,” said the Dublin man.

“On the same day I was taking pictures of the animals, a safari truck pulled up and the tourists started taking photos of me. It lifted my spirits and I knew I could carry on.”

Derek meets young Masai Warriors.

Having made it to Nairobi, Derek decided to dip into his Canada fund and go on through Africa to Egypt, from where he would make his way to the ‘Frozen North’.

“The locals were amazing. They were so kind and generous. No matter how much I objected they wouldn't leave me pay for anything, which is crazy considering you are travelling through some of the poorest counties in the world.

"They thought I was crazy too though, and kept asking why I wasn’t doing the journey by car," he said.

Derek makes it to the pyramids in Egypt.

Asked if he witnessed any of the political tension that has rocked the north African country in the past two years, Derek replied that it wasn’t noticeable to him.

“No I saw none of that," he said. "Some people even thought I was Muslim because of the length of my beard."

Having been humbled by the support of complete strangers over social media and on his website, Derek made the decision in Egypt that his epic adventure could only end back in Dublin.

Cullen made his way to southern France and then cycled through England and Wales to Pembroke to finally catch the ferry home to Ireland.

The final journey as Derek awaits the Pembroke ferry home.

At 6.45pm yesterday evening, Derek arrived on home soil in Rosslare. There was no great fanfare for him, however, as he insisted that the only time he wanted company on his journey was on the final leg of the journey from the Wicklow mountains into Firhouse.

After over 12,500km, Derek will be reunited with his brothers, uncle, cousins and some friends on Friday night and they will ride the last leg together on what is sure to be an emotional day on Saturday.

“I’m really excited and nervous to get home,” said Derek. “This journey has completely changed my outlook on life; I have changed completely because of it.”

“I need to say thank you to the families of Aoibheanns Pink Tie who I am doing this for. They have been through so much and it felt like at times they were the ones supporting me instead of the other way around.”

Checking out the view of the Blue Nile River in the beautiful Ethiopian Mountains.

There will be a party in Derek’s honour in the Speaker Connolly pub in Firhouse on Saturday and Derek has been told hundreds are planning to attend.

His efforts have raised more than €5,000 for Aoibheanns Pink Tie and we're sure he'll be greeted like a hero on his return.

Future plans are still up in the air for Cullen as his Canadian work visa is valid for another yea. However, he told us this journey had given him hope that maybe he can find something now to keep him at home.

Saturday will be the 379th and final day of this special man’s astounding trip and we think Derek’s legs deserve a long rest.

* You can find out everything about Derek’s unbelievable adventures on his website here and on his Facebook page here.

* You can also donate to Derek’s chosen charity here.

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