“I will ride my bicycle around the World.” With an audible power, these words drew a fantasy into the realm of possibility.
People wanted estimates, people wanted answers. “What's your plan?” they asked.
“Plan? What plan? I told you – I will ride my bike around the world. That's the only plan.”
The only thing I knew for certain was that nothing is certain. On September 15, 2007, with a bike and a passport, I left my beloved Wisconsin. I went East on two wheels, food for fuel and freedom for breath.
Somewhere past Norfolk, Virginia, I discovered an ocean in my way. “What do I do now?” Deep inside, I knew I wouldn't fly across it. Airplanes are just too damaging to the environment, and besides, they move too fast.
So I went down to the docks to look for a boat.
What I found was discouraging, week after week: dirty freighters, patronizing shipping agents, and stern-faced harbor guards eager to disappoint scruffy visitors who can't afford cars.
Winter threatened and the road beckoned; I packed up and headed South. I rode until the land ran out, to the bottom end of Florida. The Miami coastline was crowded with megayachts and materialism, but here and there the mast of a sailboat was flying a flag of hope.
I knew next to nothing about sailing, but every time I honestly analyzed my desires, wind power was the only option with which I was comfortable. It was the only option that didn't leave a bad taste in my mind. I had to become a sailor.
Starting from scratch wasn't easy but after two months of building contacts and skills, certifying myself for boating safety, and tracking down leads on transatlantic crossings, I finally got a hit.
A Finnish skipper on the internet invited me to sail with him from Antigua, an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to England – 'all' I had to do was make it to his boat, more than 1400 nautical miles away.
I only had three weeks but luck was with me. Mere days later I found a flier - a captain soliciting for crew, sailing from Florida to Antigua! Perhaps it was something more than luck, actually, because as I was dialing his number with shaking fingers - “Don't screw this up, don't screw this up...” - I realized it was a Wisconsin area code, my hometown...
I was a shoe-in for his crew position, and in less than a week, my bike was loaded onboard and I was on the deck, watching my homeland disappear over the horizon.
"Someday I'll be back. Someday.”
Across the Ocean
Two months later I was reassembling my rig on the ancient shores of oh-so-green Cornwall in England, overjoyed to have my feet on solid ground after nothing but blue on blue for so long, but also with a greater appreciation for all aspects of life – especially water.
The “World” part of this world bike tour had begun, but it wasn't long before the true strength of my conviction was tested – my grandmother was ill, and preparations for her funeral were underway.
Would I betray her by continuing? Or would I sacrifice my principles and fly home to be with my family? I searched deeper in my soul than I ever had, until I finally knew the answer: my granny would want me to keep going.
So keep going I did: left side of the road, all the way to London.
France and the European Continent were close, but Ireland was a must-see, so with plenty of time to reach Spain before winter, I turned around and crossed Wales.
Somewhere in the Silvermine Mountains of Ireland, alone in the middle of nowhere, my principles were tested again – and this time in a very peculiar way.
It's not just the oil consumption and pollution of motor vehicles that really grinds my gears, and try to reject, but also their sheer convenience. I like to live slowly and naturally; anything that moves faster than, say, a caveman rolling down a hill – is too fast for me.
I believe speed and convenience to be opposed to self-confidence and community – give me the simple way of life, every time.
Motor vehicles are dangerous technology; they're too new to trust and they make things too easy for them to actually be healthy for us.
Soon the generation that knew how to live without cars or airplanes will be extinct, and their grandchildren grown into a society that doesn't know any better. Who will think to question? Who would be so bold as to refuse to use a car?
Well, I am trying my best.
And I had nearly weaned myself completely from the gasoline teat, too, when I crashed my bike coming down a mountain.
There were no reckless drivers, no one to blame. No potholes, no slippery gravel. I was just plain going too fast.
I had to let them put me in the ambulance after that, internal cumbustion engine or not; my bike was wrecked and there was a bone sticking out of my foot.
My ironically slow recovery from this injury was fraught with such compromises; one ride from the hospital, one ride out to a potato farm, where I was invited to stay with a Catholic family, and one bus up to Galway City after I had my chromoly frame welded back together.
Such a loss of mobility was crippling, even if I could sit on the saddle and sort of push my loaded bike around a little bit.
Three months was a long time to be invalid and broke in a foreign country, but I survived, by enthusiasm and honesty. Now I have a ton of new friends in Ireland, and my faith in humanity is stronger than ever.
An artist named Dawn helped me more than most in Galway. We never really rode bikes together, but when my foot was healed and I was packing up to keep going, she said she would follow me.
My first reaction was idiotic jealousy: “This is my bike tour!” My tough-guy ego didn't want me to have anything as soft and comfy as a beautiful woman to travel with. But I had promised myself I would remain open to every possibility that comes my way on this tour, and after some due consideration - some short consideration - I realized what a fool I would be if I didn't share it with her.
So what if it was late November and freezing cold? So what if she had never ridden a bike more than twenty kilometers? We zip-tied a rusty shopping basket onto her handlebar, borrowed some panniers, and set off for Dublin on Thanksgiving Day.
We had a blast together in the Irish winter, and said goodbye in Dublin's Fair City.
Land Of Bicycles
After a dangerously cold winter tour across Scotland and spending Christmas in Edinburgh, I finally landed in Holland, the land of bicycles, on New Year's Eve 2009. I found a nomad base in Amsterdam where I could stay for two months, and made it a major stop-over for my tour. It's easy to get stuck in a place like that, but despite all the reasons to stay, I still had a mission. When March rolled around, I was on my way again.
But I wasn't alone.
This time it was Lily who came with me; Lily who had always considered hitch-hiking the most sustainable way to travel until she met me.
She filled some second hand postal delivery panniers and slapped them on her single-speed city bike, eager to join the bicycle revolution. Together we struck off towards Paris, la cité d'amour, leading others by example and finding our own inspirations in the cobbled streets and hidden earthy dens of Europe.
We trekked clear across the continent, following the mighty course of the river Danube all the way to Budapest, camping wild and surfing couches, eating cheap and living free. We traded stable security for exhilerating liberty and floated on the wind, no worries, no reservations.
Lily finally upgraded to a bike with gears, and took off solo towards Greece, with a mind full of her own fantasies and that robust confidence only bike touring can cultivate.
I continued on my way, fixing bikes, giving interviews, and discovering new ways to help our Earth, in my own cyclophile way and at my own turtle's pace.
Adventure [ad-ven-cher] n. proceeding despite uncertain outcome
Now, two slow years since I pedaled away from home, I am on the verge of yet another new stage. Ahead lies Africa and a whole new set of challenges.
I plan a little more than I used to, the more foreign the locations become, but still only when I absolutely need to.
Pilgrimage, spirit quest; eco-mission or mid-life crisis, living proof or fantasy, wanderlust or fool's goal - call it what you will. But I will ride my bike around the world, homeward bound since the very first day, until I complete the circle, and finally return to where I started.
I don't know what the future will hold, but that's the way I ride, that's the way I love it - rubber side down with a cackle on my lips.
And the best thing to come out of it all? My mind is free.