Seven Lessons From Cycling Around the World: Two Years and Counting

It’s been two years to the day since I left my life back in Oregon to embark on a lifestyle which has taken me from the highest passes in the Himalayas down to the Amazonian jungle. Though what I’ve seen and experienced has been amazing – from the rushing colorful rivers in Patagonia to homestays with friendly people in the rural villages of Nepal – more than anything else, the things that I will remember for the rest of my life have nothing to do (directly) with the bike; they are the lifestyle lessons I’ve learned from meeting and befriending so many people from such different walks of life.

Community: Some of my fondest memories from Asia revolve around drinking tea or simply sitting in the sun with a whole crowd of villagers who wander into and around each other’s houses as if they were their own. “It takes a villages to raise a child,” still rings true in some parts of the world where children run freely from house to house and where adults live side by side as brother and sister in an exquisite support system that we could never dream of in the States. I didn’t even know the names of my neighbors growing up – something which is unfortunately common in American suburbia – which seems absurd after experiencing community after community of people who help each other, laugh together, and raise each other’s children in a multigenerational, multifamily sort of way. In our isolated closed fenced world back home I’ll never have the sort of community life I experienced in Asia, but Kevin and I do plan to make family and friends a priority. By moving back to Kevin’s hometown (Astoria, OR) we hope to make our own version of a support system that works for us.

Resourcefulness and Waste: It seems like no matter what country we are in,every few kilometers we pass hundreds of diapers dumped at the side of the road. And of course it’s not just diapers; it’s plastic bags, bottles, cookie packaging, and old TVs. It’s all of the junk that we consume and dump without a second thought, junk which ends up in our rivers and in our fields because there is an incomprehensible amount of it piling up around the globe. Though there are many things I dislike about the USA, the fact that we are the world’s number one consumers is somewhere very high on that list. After seeing how the locals in India could and would literally fix anything with whatever they had laying around, Kevin has become incredibly gifted at fixing and making things along this trip as well. We have realized how sad it is that every aspect of our consumeristic society promotes buying new things instead of fixing the old, and what a waste of money and the environment this practice supports.

Though we too will slowly accumulate things (though we plan to build a small yurt as a home so that we don’t physically have enough space to accumulate much), we plan to buy our food in bulk, fix old things instead of simply throwing them away, make our own food instead of buying prepackaged junk, and use cloth diapers (when we have kids) instead of the disposable plastic ones we have come to see as a complete environmental disaster. You don’t have to live on a bike to realize that our consumeristic society is what is destroying Mother Earth, and you don’t have to live on a bike to change what your contribution to the mess may be.

You Are What You Eat: Food has become a constant topic of discussion between Kevin and I, not just because us cyclists are perpetually hungry, but because we have a whole new view on where food comes from and what it looks like throughout different cultures. In a meat market in Peru a burger is not a nicely packaged piece of precut meat, but rather it’s a huge chuck of cow with its head still in place and its eyes still glaring at you. Your burger use to moo, and your bacon use to oink, and I think it’s extremely important for non-vegetarians to truly realize this because in our world back home they have presented meat to us in such a dainty unrealistic way that it’s easy to overlook this crucial fact. Once we get home, Kevin and I plan to only eat the meat or fish that we (or someone in our family) caught or killed because then, and only then, do we really realize what we are eating.

We have also realized how important it is – both for the environment and for health reasons – to ignore everything in packages and start every meal from scratch. A market in much of the world is composed of huge heaping bags of rice, beans, veggies, and homemade yogurt instead of isle upon isle of frozen dinners, premade pizzas, and aerosol cans of “cheese.” Instead of buying packaged bread we plan to make our own, and instead of buying packaged raviolis or potstickers when we don’t have time to cook, we plan to prepare our own supply for when we need a quick meal on hand. Though we can’t change what the stores back home have in stock, we can change what appears in our our own cupboards.

Simplicity Is Everything: I think I could write a whole book about how important simplicity is, both for saving our environment (less waste!), and for your own overall wellbeing and happiness. Things just tie us down, physically when we are on the bike, and mentally in life and general. On the bike this one has been pretty easy; we live in a tent, we eat a whole lot of noodles and rice, and we can’t physically own more than we can carry, but back home we will have to work a bit harder not to get sucked into the complex world of stuff. That being said, we know that we don’t need two cars, a huge house, or three TVs, nor do we need a whole closet full of different colored shoes. We plan to build a small home for ourselves which doesn’t physically have room in it for much clutter where we can live a slower, most simplistic life which resembles ever so slightly that of the villagers around the world we had the honor to stay with.

Meet Different People: I’m the first person to admit that I love meeting other cyclists because, more often than not, they are a whole lot like me. It’s fun to meet people who get what you are doing and why but at the same time, I’m bound to learn a whole lot more from a Turkish shop keeper than I am from my cycling soul mate as his daily life is probably more different than my own. Learning begins when you leave your comfort zone, when you speak to those from a different socioeconomic or polital background, when you integrate yourself in another culture, and when you learn another language or another way of life. Though back home I will no longer be traveling and therefore won’t have such an array of different people to meet, I can still make an effort to meet different people in my own community which will be an important way for me to continue to grow and learn right from my own front door.

The Art of Doing Nothing: I use to live a typically way too fast paced life back in the USA, but this trip has taught me the importance of slowing down; of slowly meandering through a forest, of drinking tea with your neighbors, of a full day of reading in the sun. Though once we get home we will inevitably be busy with work, family, and small adventures, we will also make sure to schedule in some down time in order to keep a healthy balance between productivity and living in the moment.

Get Outdoors: It feels ridiculous to even add this one as I’ve literally spent most of my waking (and sleeping!) moments outdoors for the past two years straight. Being outdoors is obviously so incredibly important and though Kevin and I will be sleeping indoors most nights once we move back to Oregon, we already have hundreds of different rafting, cycling, climbing, camping, and fishing trips in mind which we plan to do every weekend or holiday in order to continue to explore and adventure. Microadventures, meaning short adventures close to home, are going to turn into our ticket to happiness.

Now that Kevin and I have less than six months left we often talk about our plans for back home and how we hope to make the transition from such a stimulating and constantly changing simplistic way of life, back to a much more mundane lifestyle in the consumerist money-crazed society of the USA. There is no way either of us will follow the all too common pattern of work more hours to buy a bigger house to fill with all kinds of fancy junk, which no one has the time to use since you are working so many hours to pay for it all. Instead, we plan on becoming yurt living, chicken raising, weekend adventures who will continue to put time before money, and experiences before materialistic things. Though we will most definitely miss bike touring once we stop, we know that by putting these lessons from the road into practice in our daily life back in Oregon we can create the adventurous and fulfilling life we have come to love on the road. Here’s to the last two years of cycle touring memories, and to the next six months of them to come.

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

19 thoughts on “Seven Lessons From Cycling Around the World: Two Years and Counting

  1. All of the above, very well articulated! I look forward to hearing about your reentry into “first world” American life once you settle down. I do hope you can hold fast to your plans and ideals. I also hope you’ll continue to keep your public followers up to date. You guys really are an inspiration.

  2. How I love this blogentry! Have you evere concidered building an earth ship? I am a worldcyclist too and I visited THE earthships headquarters in Taos NM in 2008, I was very impressed!
    I am Reading your blogs for several months now and do understand your feelings so very much! I hope you maintain writing? Enjoy your remaining 6 months! Before you know, you are (part) of THE rat-race of “Life” again.

  3. I worry that you’re going to find it very, very hard to live the kind of life you’re describing when you “settle”. The aspect of community you talk about seeing is based on a shared set of expectations. People in the community know what to expect of, and from, each other, and know when to take personal responsibility for which things. This is directly in conflict with living a life of your own design.

    By living a life of your own design, you may inadvertently ostracize yourselves from the community where you live. For a simple example, if in your community everybody drives cars, and you prefer to bicycle everywhere, arranging where and when to get together can lead to conflict, and “well, why don’t you just drive your car this time?” This is a big, obvious example, but the conflicts will be innumerable, small, and accumulative.

    A huge advantage of being a world traveller is that you’re always a weirdo, and that’s expected. And it’s temporary, wherever you happen to be. But when you’re “settled” and trying to be part of a community, you’ll be coerced to conform to the norms of that community. It’s not that people are evil-intentioned, it’s just that’s how it works.

    I don’t want to be negative here. I’d love to see you succeed. I think my point here is to point out that you’ll want to try and find a place to settle that is as much inline as possible with how you want to live. The more like-minded weirdos you can surround yourself with, the more chance of success. 🙂

  4. Bonjour Shirine,
    Je lis tes rĂ©flexions sur l’Ă©tat de santĂ© de notre planète avec attention et je prend note de tes rĂ©solutions sur ton avenir, mais il reste encore 6 mois de route au devant de toi! Ça reprĂ©sente 20% de la totalitĂ© de ton aventure! N’est-il pas un peu tĂ´t pour rĂ©diger un post mortem?

    Je partage cependant ta vision sur plusieurs points mais je demeure prudent lorsqu’il s’agit d’anticiper l’avenir. La vie est très complexe et on ne sait jamais ce qui nous attend au prochain tournant. L’important Ă  mes yeux est de rĂ©ussir Ă  vivre pleinement dans le moment prĂ©sent et de cesser d’anticiper le lendemain. Ce n’est pas facile d’y arriver car on souhaite sĂ©curiser nos vieux jours pour se prĂ©server des coups durs. Ça nous contraint Ă  accumuler de l’argent avant la retraite, Ă  sacrifier nos loisirs pour se consacrer au travail et faire en sorte que nos enfants puissent profiter d’une Ă©ducation dĂ©cente.

    Je suis persuadĂ© que le bagage d’expĂ©riences que tu auras accumulĂ©es au cours de ce pĂ©riple fera de toi une personne exceptionnelle aux destinĂ©s hors du commun. Tu es une fille dĂ©terminĂ©e, curieuse, ouverte sur le monde. Ton entourage en bĂ©nĂ©ficiera et saura sans doute te rendre la pareille.

    Pour l’instant, je te souhaite de profiter pleinement des mois qu’il te reste et que tu ne te laisseras pas envahir par l’anxiĂ©tĂ© occasionnĂ©e par le retour au bercail!
    Ciao! et A+

  5. I’m so happy for you to have made this incredible journey! I’m hoping your travels find you riding back up the coast of California. If so, please stop and stay here in Long Beach again. Carl and I would love to meet Kevin and share in your amazing stories. You are always welcomed.
    Take care, be safe and enjoy the coming adventure!!!
    Karen and Carl from warmshowers, Long Beach, CA

  6. I love this list. The lessons are profound. May I suggest when you get home that you learn to make no knead bread. It’s very easy and delicious. Best of luck with all your plans.

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