2014-15: Global Cycling Tour
I flew one way to South Africa in March 2014 with my bicycle, determined to pedal through some of the most remote, challenging and rewarding landscapes on the planet. The purpose was not to circumnavigate the planet; that's done fairly often and misses many of the most exciting countries. Nor was it to go cycling; I could do that in my own home region. The purpose, instead, was to see and experience little-visited regions and cultures in an intimate fashion. Walking is too slow, driving is too fast. The solution? Cycling.
After 14 months and 21,000 kilometers pedaled, all solo, I arrived in Shanghai, broke and hungry. I was featured on several Chinese news outlets before flying back to the US.
Highlights included the people I met, in every country, that offered so much assistance. I was routinely offered free places to stay, including in hotel rooms, given free food, and people were always eager to help out with directions - even if they didn't know how. I was asked 'Where are you going?' at least 100,000 times.
Lowlights included getting mugged and robbed in Lesotho, having my tent destroyed and my food stolen in South Africa by baboons (and then sleeping outside for two weeks until I was able to get a new tent), and waking up with a palm-sized cockroach on my eye in Thailand.
I was deeply changed by the trip. In addition to the cliche-but-true realization that there are plenty of good, honest people in the world, I was able to unlock my own motivation and energy to pursue any project. Waking up day after day to ride 100+ kilometers, in the rain, on dirt roads, or in Cambodian traffic required ample self-discipline and perseverance. The dedication required to this project became a skill that I learned to also apply to dedicate myself to any other projects.
The ending of the trip was unexpectedly anticlimactic. I arrived in Shanghai alone, to no celebration, with no one truly knowing how far I'd ridden. I then flew home to start grad school, sitting inside a classroom all day, every day, for the next year and a half. The benefits and lessons of the trip did not come until later, when I began to realize how this expedition had changed myself, and the magnitude of what I'd accomplished sunk in.
I don't think I'll be doing another long-distance bike tour. As meaningful as this expedition was, I feel that I've truly experienced so much of what cycle touring can offer. There are many, many other goals I have in life to pursue and keep advancing and learning. 'Going back' to cycling might feel like a lack of progress. I am aware that on a bike I can only go where roads or tracks exist. It cannot take me to places where humans have never gone, and is somewhat limiting in that sense. It's also, in my opinion, best done solo, without having to shoulder the difficulties of another cyclist alongside your own struggles. For now, I'll keep cycle touring as a difficult, beautiful and rewarding transformative previous chapter in my life.