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Falling Uphill

Falling Uphill

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Falling Uphill

Length:
532 pages
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 14, 2017
ISBN:
9780982784211
Format:
Book

Description

** New 10th Anniversary Edition of the best-selling travel memoir. Relive Falling Uphill with a new afterword that paints the journey in a new light that only time can tell. Plus new chapters, e-book with color pictures, and much more! ** 
** Finalist in the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Memoir Category, specifically for Personal Struggle.** 
** More bonus content online.** 

FROM THE BACK COVER

If you could do anything, what would you do? Falling Uphill is the story of one man's quest for happiness around the world on a bicycle.

In one week, Scott Stoll lost his job, his best friend, his girlfriend and his confidence. Disillusioned with society, full of angst, suffering from depression and with nothing left to lose Stoll asked himself a question: "If I only have one life, one chance, if I could do anything, what would I do?" 

His answer resulted in a 4-year and 25,752-mile odyssey around the world by bicycle using nothing more than a paper map as a guide. Stoll searched for answers to the great mysteries of life, vowing to find happiness or die trying. The quest wasn't easy. He was imprisoned, held hostage, mugged, run over, suspected of terrorism, accused of espionage, nearly trampled by elephants, wounded, diseased, heartbroken—he nearly died a dozen times. But more importantly, Stoll discovered the wonders of the world, kindness among strangers, the meaning of life, peace, love, faith and—Yes!—in the last place left to look, he found happiness. 

Re-live and re-imagine an archetypal adventure as a man stumbles through moments of pure survival and moments of pure enlightenment.

Publisher:
Released:
Feb 14, 2017
ISBN:
9780982784211
Format:
Book

About the author


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Falling Uphill - Scott Stoll

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Guide

Cover

Title Page

Epigraph

Map

Table of Contents

Start

Afterword

Appendix

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Falling Uphill: The Anniversary Edition

Celebrate the 10TH Anniversary of Falling Uphill with a new afterword and a new chapter from the recently discovered lost journals about the first month of the trip, including the fateful days of 9/11. Falling Uphill is the coming-of-age journey seen by tens of millions in the international media, an independent bestseller with over one year on Amazon’s Top 100 Travel Memoirs list, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people in over 37 countries, translated into Korean, Spanish and more.

Acclaim for the book and the journey

Stoll did some planning but allowed chance to govern his journey.

~ The New York Times

[Stoll] did something most of us would not do: He decided to ride his bicycle around the world. His impulse isn’t as strange as it might sound. Humans have always sought answers to life’s perplexing questions by undertaking long and arduous journeys.

~ San Francisco Chronicle

It was an exhausting yet exhilarating trip filled with both human kindness and treachery, with nature’s beauty, challenge and danger.

~ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Scott Stoll lives a life the rest of us only dream of. With a keen eye and an open heart, he expresses the joys and aggravations of traveling the world on two wheels.

~ Michael Berry, Bay Area book critic

Stoll’s attitude and observations verge on Paul Theroux, which I love!

~ The Gear Junkie, Stephen Regenold

See! There’s something else for us out there. We just have to dream a little bit.

~ WGN Chicago

The book is fascinating to read.

~ Showcase Minnesota

A bad day turned into an incredible adventure.

~ KION News Monterey

They are fascinating books. [Falling Uphill series] And, I’m telling you—I really enjoyed reading about [Stoll’s] experiences.

~ Wisconsin Public Radio, Larry Meiller Show

What do you do when everything around you seems to crumble? Break down and cry? Roll downhill? Soldier on? Scott Stoll found an alternative: Get on your bike and fall uphill.

~ Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina)

A Milwaukee man has ended his 40,220 kilometer trip in Cape Town. He cycled through snow in Lesotho, was thrown in jail and landed in a hospital — in search of happiness… [But] it was a journey that was not all downhill.

~ Cape Argus (Cape Town, South Africa)

And hundreds more…

Books in the Falling Uphill Series:

~ Falling Uphill: One Man’s Quest for Happiness Around the World on a Bicycle

~ Falling Uphill: Young Adult Edition

~ Falling Uphill: The Secret of Life (Children’s Edition)

~ Cayendo Hacia Arriba: El Secreto de la Vida (the Spanish Children’s Edition with all new illustrations by children in Argentina)

~ The Dream Playbook

~ And more books and translations coming.

Falling Uphill

One Man’s Quest for Happiness Around the World on a Bicycle.

By Scott Stoll

Anniversary edition.

Copyright © 2017 by Scott Stoll. (Second edition © 2010. First edition © 2008.)

Published by The Argonauts. Printed in the United States.

All rights reserved as per international and United States copyright law. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, photocopy, electronic or otherwise, without the written permission from the publisher, except for brief quotations. For permission requests or other information, please contact the publisher via the website below.

For bulk orders or signed copies contact us:

http://theArgonauts.com

Permissions: Cover photo of American Bull by artist Dwayne Wilcox, as photographed by Scott Stoll, courtesy of Sandy Conard (owner). Center cover photo and Guatemalan chicken bus courtesy of Dennis Snader. Additional thanks to Edwin, Debbie, Matt and everyone else that played impromptu photographers or models upon my request and who I believe wish to remain anonymous. Some names, places and events have been combined and/or changed to protect the identity of those involved and/or provide artistic clarity, but do not significantly alter the story’s emotional authenticity as experienced by the author. For up-to-date information on this title page, please visit: http://theArgonauts.com/about/copyright#books

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016908459

ISBN: 978-0-9827842-7-3 (Print edition)

ISBN: 978-0-9827842-1-1 (e-Book)

The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad.

~ Mark Twain

Map: Where did you go?

Like everything in life, this map forms a pattern. So in retrospect, it becomes obvious that where my trip was too difficult, such as South America, or too easy, such as Australia, I didn’t have much to report; and, where I established a balance between pain and pleasure, that is where my trip was the most rewarding.

Acknowledgements

It took decades for me to absorb the lessons I learned while I traveled, and one of the toughest lessons I learned was the lesson of coming home, not only to my country but to myself. I feel I owe everyone a debt of gratitude for helping make my journey of self-discovery and my book possible. Specifically, thanks to my family and Dennis for setting my wheels in motion, and the tens of thousands of people that I met along the way who kept them spinning. Your kindness and hospitality have been a tribute to humanity. Thanks to my armchair fans; many days I was inspired to keep going for everyone who said they never could. I even feel thankful for those people who fueled my passion by saying that I couldn’t do it, and I was a fool for trying. Thanks to those who encouraged me to write a book saying that I owed it to humanity to share my experience. And, finally, thanks to all my future readers that will help bring Falling Uphill to life. I hope you find my adventures and misadventures entertaining, inspiring and somewhat enlightening.

May the winds be with you. ~ Scott

Table of contents

Map: Where did you go?

Introduction: What was the greatest discovery you made?

Part I: The Call of the Wild

1) Why are you riding a bicycle around the world?

2) How do you ride a bicycle around the world?

3) Aren’t you scared?

Part II: Survival

4) How are you?

5) Give Money?

6) What do you want?

7) Where are you going?

8) Where are you from?

9) What are you doing?

10) Did you ever get attacked by animals?

11) Did you ever get attacked by people?

12) Did you ever get robbed?

13) Did you ever get run over?

14) What’s the worst thing that happened?

15) What’s the hardest part?

16) Don’t your legs get tired?

17) Don’t you get lost?

18) Don’t you get sick?

19) Where do you go to the toilet?

20) Where do you sleep?

21) Where do you find water?

22) What do you eat?

Part III: Questing

23) Why don’t you quit?

24) How much does it cost?

25) Can I help you?

26) Would you please visit my home?

27) Are you married?

28) Do you have children?

29) Don’t you miss your family?

30) What is your tribe?

31) Who cares?

32) What are you trying to prove?

33) How did you get so lucky?

34) Are you crazy?

35) Why? (Part 2)

36) How? (Part 2)

PART IV: Oneness

37) Are you on a spiritual journey?

38) What gods do you worship?

39) What was your favorite ___?

40) Did you find peace?

41) Did you fall in love?

42) Did you find happiness?

43) Do you believe in magic?

44) Did you find the meaning of life?

45) Did your trip change you?

46) Did your trip change the world?

47) Do you have any regrets?

48) What are you going to do next?

49) How does it feel to cycle around the world?

PART V: The Return Home

50) What’s it like to return to the real world?

51) Did you find what you were looking for?

Afterword: What are you doing now?

Appendix:

Metric conversion table

Bibliography

Bonus chapters and more fun

Introduction:

What was the greatest discovery you made?

I marvel at the alien world of Africa as I pass several wild zebras and ostriches; if this were my homeland of Wisconsin, I would have seen nothing but cows and turkeys. The land around me now is dusty and hot despite being the rainy season, the equivalent of winter. Giant white ground creepers are blossoming on the edges of the jungle. And, two Maasai warriors emerge between the flowers. The Maasai are one of the few tribes in Africa that still practice their indigenous culture. They wear the traditional blood-red robes, with heaps of rainbow-colored jewelry, and carry spears for protecting their cattle from lions. They are giant men compared to me, two meters tall, with glistening muscles. I am equally glistening with sweat, and regarded as a giant in many other countries with smaller humans than myself. I reach backwards to see if my machete is still strapped to my panniers with bungee cords. It is meant to be an advertisement to potential bandits. I have been robbed several times, but still I have no intention of using it except for bushwhacking.

Jambo, (Hello.) I say.

Jambo, bwana. Habari safari? (Hello, sir. How is your journey?) They reply.

I am near the border, and I know the Maasai people are nomadic, so after the usual pleasantries I ask, Are you from Kenya?

No, Maasai, they say.

Are you from Tanzania?

No, Maasai.

I know they have more affiliation with their tribe than their country; but, still, I am interested in their citizenship and how they navigate the borders with their cattle. I try a non-verbal approach, I point to them and then to Kenya. Then Tanzania. I point to myself, United States, and to them again.

Maasai, they say every time.

I am out of ideas how to confirm their citizenship, so they jump in with their own questions. Through a combination of Swahili, English and sign language, they ask me the usual questions that I’ve heard dozens of times a day for years, in over 65 countries.

Where are you going?

Why?

Are your legs tired?

Does your butt hurt?

Where do you sleep?

How many flat tires do you get?

Are you alone?

Are you crazy?

Are you happy?

It makes me angry. I think, Everywhere I go people ask me these damned questions. This is my biggest peeve of traveling. I want to learn about the people of the world; instead, I have to answer the same questions a dozen times a day.

However, this time I wonder how these men—who don’t even know in which country they live!—can possibly be asking me the same questions! Presumably, like the other Maasai I’ve met, they have never gone to school, can’t read a newspaper, have never watched television or traveled further from their home than the next village—some have never even seen a foreigner or heard of the United States—how can they spontaneously be asking me the same questions as everyone else in the world? More importantly, why are the questions in approximately the same order?

I’m still wondering how this is possible as I depart my newfound friends and continue cycling towards my next destination—wherever that might be. As I contemplate my recent encounter I think, people do almost always begin with a survival question, like: Have you ever been robbed? Or: Aren’t you afraid you’ll be run over or get sick and die? Or: What do you eat? That last question seems innocuous, but considering how frequently it’s asked, it implies the majority of the world’s inhabitants haven’t met their basic needs or haven’t overcome their fear of survival despite their abundance. Indeed my quest for the meaning of life is most often usurped by a quest to simply survive.

The second set of questions is asked by people confident that they will survive, both physically and emotionally. The questions are more curious, as if people are puzzling what their dream may be or how to make it a reality, for example: How much does your trip cost? Or: Do you miss your family? Or: Why are you so lucky? Most people view my bicycle trip as a dream come true, though I view it as a means to an end.

And, eventually, the questions people ask become more profound, like: Did you find what you’re looking for? Or: Did you fall in love? And, of course, the common question: Are you happy? which implies happiness is a commodity in short supply. It seemed people wanted verification that if they followed their dreams, they could also find happiness.

It is a fascinating mystery. How could these Maasai and all the people of the world—regardless of age, race, gender, culture, language, religion, education or any other factor—be asking me not only the same questions, but in the same order?

Then, as if a bubble popped, I realize that the questions are prime evidence that people everywhere are fundamentally the same and that we are all on the same instinctual quest.

The pattern seems obvious in the light of my own journey around the world. Somehow this pattern has been ingrained into the soul of humanity: we all struggle to physically survive and are challenged to befriend our emotions like fear. The more successful we are at surviving, the more freedom we have to explore our world. And ultimately, we—human beings, every single one of us—seeks to create a meaningful, fulfilling and joyful life.

After years of questing, suddenly my philosophy is no longer a matter of faith, wishful thinking, dogma, or even logic, now I have the direct experience that there is a greater meaning to life!

In retrospect, this moment of enlightenment would never have happened if it weren’t for a lot of embarrassing and painful lessons. Now, I realize that despite my emotional immaturity, near-death experiences, moments of agony, months of chronic pain, illness, injury, overexposure… my journey was many times more joyful than painful; however, ironically, it was the misadventures that forged my character and revealed my true self, like suffering from heat exhaustion and realizing that everything I owned was worth one glass of water, and like standing on mountain tops in foreign cultures, realizing that my entire belief system didn’t work anymore, and that it was possible, if not desirable, to survive with a totally different concept of reality.

During my long years of meditative cycling, as the Earth spun under my wheels, the miles began to burn the self-pity out of my mind and body. I slowly realized that I had trained myself to be comfortably numb—or should I say?—that my American culture had conditioned me to be numb and feel helpless. Conversely, my culture also demanded force and encouraged the attitude that you’re either running with the wolves—taking what you want before someone else does, thinking you’re smarter, faster and better—or you’re hiding among the sheep—playing follow the leader, hoping to be sent to pasture rather than slaughter.

My travels sparked a new perspective: conceivably life can be a cooperative endeavor rather than competitive. Perhaps our cultural concepts like, Life is a bitch, and then you die are illusions; and, stumbling and suffering through mistakes one-by-one to learn life’s lessons and grow is only half the formula—or less than half. What if the spiritual cliché, Enjoy the moment, is the other half? Furthermore, what if there is no such thing as making a mistake as much as making an accidental discovery? And what if fear is not something to be afraid of, but a friend protecting and guiding me? Perhaps life isn’t a matter of knowing the right answer or pleasure versus pain, but appreciating the whole palette of emotions, finding the middle path, artistically dancing on the edge of the unknown and discovering new mysteries.

Author’s Note:

I invite you to join my journey in the form of a story, because I believe my story is a metaphor for everyone’s journey through life. I hope that you find my adventures and misadventures entertaining and inspiring as you imagine embarking on your own journey. And I believe that as you combine your life experiences with mine, you will make even more enlightening discoveries.

This book is a collection of short stories written in first-person, present tense so that the reader may re-live and re-imagine the various good and bad experiences of cycling around the world. Each chapter is a common question the citizens of the world asked me almost daily. And, the chapters follow a similar order as the questions asked. Thus the book, rather than follow a chronological order, follows a developmental order, serving as a metaphorical map for the spiritual path that we all travel. As you may know, if you don’t learn your lesson the first time, it comes back bigger and badder the second time around; so, the inner journey is anything but linear. It is more like climbing a spiral staircase in an Escher drawing with tempting doorways that lead back to other times and places.

In other words, the stories are melodramatic to begin and become more inspirational as the book progresses; however, you may read the book in any order by consulting the map and chapter key.

In addition to a thousand tweaks and a new lost chapter, this anniversary edition includes my new greatest discovery in the afterword, one that could only occur after many years of integrating everything that I had learned from my trip.

Finally, one caveat for the reader: though people may fundamentally be the same, cultures vary tremendously, and the beliefs of every person within that culture vary tremendously. So please imagine cycling fifty moons in my moccasins as I attempt to set aside my beliefs of right and wrong and sample the world. In this book, I have shared my most embarrassing, dangerous and enlightening moments as an illustration of the path from fear to doubt to hope. I am still surprised that I survived my immaturity and ignorance—but a perfect journey would have been perfectly boring.

I used a film camera. It was expensive, so I only took one picture per subject matter, unless it was really impressive, like the sphinx, then I took two. Most photographs I didn’t see developed until I returned home.

Above: My start and finish: The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California, United States of America,

Below: Bolivia. Going under, over and through the mountains and rivers. Photo courtesy of Dennis Snader

Part I:

The Call of the Wild

Better to sink in boundless deeps, than float on vulgar shoals; and give me, ye gods, an utter wreck, if wreck I do.

~ Herman Melville

1) Why are you riding a bicycle around the world?

My life is falling apart.

Lounging on a couch that smells like old newspapers, I drink bitter ice beer because it has the highest alcohol to expense ratio. The shades are drawn and the hypnotic, blue flicker of mind-numbing television floods the apartment. This is my home remedy for depression. A week ago, just before Christmas, my girlfriend dumped me: I love you, but I don’t like you. Her ghostly memory has been haunting me, slowly prying open my heart, revealing an empty spirit.

With a rattle and a puff of mildew and pet dander, the front door swings open. What are you doing here? my roommate and best friend Samuel asks. We had moved to Washington, DC, with dreams of shedding our Midwestern, corn-fed roots and reinventing ourselves in the cosmopolitan mecca of our nation’s capitol. Our plan was to climb the social ladder by befriending rich, famous and powerful people and to climb the corporate ladder by working harder, faster and smarter than everyone else.

I got fired today, I say despondently.

What happened?

I went into my boss’s office to wish him a happy New Year’s Eve and he said, ‘I’ve been in this business for thirty years, and—I have to be honest… for your own good—I’ve never seen an art director as bad as you.’ (My advertisements would win awards in the near future, which would add more color to my picture of an unjust world.) Then he said, ‘Don’t bother to come back next year.’ Meaning Monday.

Is that true? Samuel asks.

Just before I left he said, ‘Don’t ask me for a recommendation. Consider yourself lucky to have had a job through the holidays.’

Did you tell him about Mary Ann? That woman was harassing you. I told you to watch your back. You can’t trust anyone.

No. It didn’t matter what I said. The damage was done. But based on what he told me, she was taking credit for my work and bad-mouthing me—playing me against my boss. Man! She sabotaged me. I sigh and look to Samuel for sympathy, but he hangs his head sheepishly and looks at me with worried eyes. What? Why are you looking at me like that? I ask.

There’s something I need to tell you…

I pour myself another beer, waiting, as he fidgets, as if afraid of my reaction. Well? Just say it.

I eloped.

What? Since when were you engaged? I thought you didn’t even love her, I say, my voice edged with betrayal.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I made a list. She’s almost everything I want. He takes a deep breath. There’s something else… I’m moving to Omaha.

Nebraska! Isn’t that the corn something-or-other state? I thought we were escaping the Midwest.

I’m leaving this weekend.

Who’s going to pay rent?

I’ll try to help, but you’ll have to find somebody else. I’m sorry. He walks into the bedroom, shuts the door and calls his new wife, leaving me to my bedroom, which is really the living room with a couch patterned like a bad Hawaiian shirt.

I feel robbed of the American Dream. How did this happen? I wonder. But, even when I first arrived in the big city there were bad signs. Soon after my first freelance job, I exited the metro near my home. It was raining and canvassers were handing out political advertisements. The ground was covered with postcards like confetti. I was surprised to recognize my artwork. These were political ads that I had created a few weeks earlier. It was exciting to see my effect on the world… but only for a moment. I realized people were hardly glancing at the advertisement before throwing them on the ground and trampling them. Regardless of public opinion, I needed a real printed piece for my portfolio to help get another job. But I was too late, they had just given the last one away. So, I peeled soggy postcards off the ground one after another, but they were all damp, scuffed and dented. I found one floating away in the gutter. It was undamaged except for being soaking wet. As I searched through a nearby trash can for an old newspaper to dry my precious advertisement, I had a moment of clarity: I could see myself as if I were a passerby watching a man scrounge through gutters and garbage cans seemingly looking for loose change or a half-eaten sandwich. I thought, I never wanted to work in advertising or politics. I wanted to be an artist and create something people would admire for centuries, or a scientist to discover something that would change the course of humanity.

Nonetheless, somehow I had been swept up in the bright lights and big city and forgotten my idealism. Now, my life seems not only meaningless but fruitless. This is not how my life was supposed to turn out. Where did I go wrong? I bemoan. I did everything I was supposed to do…

I can’t conceptualize my fear yet but, deep down, I realize that I’d been working overtime to collect all the cultural symbols of success advertised by television—by people like me: the hip job, fat paycheck, edgy city, fashionable apartment, trendy toys, prestigious friends, sexy-smart girlfriend, and even my cool, calculated charm—things I didn’t necessarily want, but feared I needed in order to be loved—to soothe my ego—and it had all backfired. I had been living an illusion of what I imagined the world wanted from me—and it seems that is a world full of lies and backstabbing.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been looking for a solution to life—some kind of meaning, a purpose that would make my life worthwhile—but I haven’t found any answers in a thousand books—mostly contradictions. Nor have I met anyone with satisfying answers or proof—evidence!—mostly dogma and theory and opinions.

I am losing hope and sinking into depression, an entropic force that has drained the life out of distant family members. As I slump into my musty hand-me-down couch, I’m saved by a thought:

I realize that I only have one life, one chance, and that I don’t want to be the guy lying on his deathbed full of regrets and what-ifs. So, I wonder, If I could do anything, what would I do? Anything at all! If I weren’t afraid, if money weren’t an issue, if people’s opinions didn’t matter, if women would still love me—what would I do?

I roll this thought around inside my head, listing all my dreams and fears, the things I enjoy and don’t enjoy, and imagine possible or, even, impossible.

After hours, lost in my imagination, when the answer to the meaning of my life persists to elude me, I groan and sink deeper down into the couch, resigned to a life of mediocrity, then during a moment of peacefulness the impossible answer pops into my head with an explosion of tingles: Why not ride a bicycle around the world?

Surprised, I sit up and think, Yes. Why not throw away my books and television and see the world with my own eyes? Why not just experience life for myself? Why not go and find the answers? If there is rhyme or reason to the universe, why would it be a secret? Why would God be a secret? Why not go find happiness?

And so at that moment, I vowed to discover the mysteries of life and the secret to happiness—or die trying, because as cliché as it sounded, I figured if I couldn’t find happiness, life simply wasn’t worth living.

Eventually I would discover a dog-eared copy of Walden by Thoreau, one of many synchronicities that would propel my trip. It summarized and reinforced my motivation: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

The idea grew out of control, like a virus with its own mind, and the following year I tested myself by riding across the USA from coast to coast and border to border. And, the year after my 6592-mile warm-up, my friend Dennis, whose bicycle path I crossed in the Grand Tetons, asked, Scott, were you serious when you said you wanted to bicycle around the world?

Of course, I’m serious, I replied with bravado.

I’ve decided—I’m going to do it, and I invite you to join me. Dennis has a natural talent for following his heart without analyzing the logistics and taking the path less traveled without regrets, whereas my nature is more like the first stanza of Robert Frost’s famous poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth.*

Dennis concluded with an ultimatum, If you don’t want to come, I’ll find someone else. Our friend, Vilmar, witnessed the exchange and contributed, Why don’t you guys just sit on a beach in Mexico and have the cabana girls bring you umbrella drinks every day for four years? Vilmar’s comment would echo throughout the trip because I was about to sacrifice the ephemeral pleasures of the body and endure extraordinary amounts of pain to chase rumors of eternal joy.

I’d already made the decision, but if it weren’t for Dennis I may never have had the courage to begin. I expected to fail, but I figured the bigger failure would be to never try.

It took three years to prepare, including: knee and eye surgery, earning enough money to survive for about 3-5 years, quitting my advertising career forever, selling everything I owned except sentimental objects, purchasing supplies and saying goodbye to everyone I loved, which was not the easiest thing to cross off my list. Then just five days before the fateful destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City, I left behind everything that I think I am—or so I thought—and made the first pedal stroke of a four-year quest that would cover an additional 41,444 kilometers (a distance greater than the circumference of the Earth** not including planes, trains, automobiles, boats, donkeys and swimming across one crocodile infested river) and traveling through 59 countries, 6 continents and 4 moments of enlightenment.

* See: the Bibliography.

** The equatorial circumference of the Earth is 40,075 kilometers. See: Why the Metric System?

Above: My navigation system. In the first year, my fancy odometer/altimeter was stolen, my compass melted and the handlebar map case was ripped to shreds.

2) How do you ride a bicycle around the world?

If the first question a person asks me is Why? I know they’re a person who makes their decisions based upon emotions; whereas, if the first question they ask is How? I know I’m talking to someone who’s very rational, and like myself, much more likely to get bogged down in details before, if ever, doing anything.

Since the world is mostly water, Dennis and I had to be creative with our definition of cycling around the world. I considered cycling every continent and every country, but the definition between continent, continental plate and island aren’t clearly defined; and Dennis said it was silly to zigzag between the invisible and often disputed political borders. So, we defined bicycling around the world as cycling the equivalent distance of the circumference of the Earth without treading the same ground twice, while visiting as many cultures and world wonders as practical. Dennis discovered that by crisscrossing the equator (the seasons are in opposition), we could follow a perpetual summer around the world. As far as planning specifically when and where to go, including visas, guidebooks and maps, Dennis made the prophetic remark, One wrong turn and everything will change. I don’t see the point of planning.

Besides, it was hard to plan for something that had apparently never been done before. In the early nineties, many people still hadn’t heard of the internet, so my searches for a world bicycle tour provided no results. I couldn’t find a book in the library. Nor did the local bike shops know of anyone who had done a world trip. For years, I thought I was the only one to attempt riding a bicycle around the world until I found the book Miles from Nowhere; however, considering the author gets run over and dies at the end, it was not encouraging.

The first challenge was saving money. Dennis estimated an average expense of 20 United States dollars (

usd

) per day including supplies, food, airfare and entertainment, about the same cost as an average car. (To Dennis’ equation, I added 10% for ignorance and 10% for stupidity, which proved to be a very accurate budget.) By depriving myself of some cultural necessities that had failed me in DC anyway, like fashionable clothes, restaurants, beer, coffee, music, movies, girlfriends and socializing, I was able to reach my goal in three years. (In retrospect, compared to the average world citizen, I was still living a life of luxury with hot and clean water, a warm and dry bed, three meals a day, and a car and bicycle. I even had a cushy job making art on the computer.)

We each bought a steel mountain bike (steel can be welded back together if you happen to snap it in half), filled our panniers with the standard travel supplies (clothes, passport, money, toiletries, hat, sunscreen, medicine, guidebooks, journal, camera, shortwave radio, et cetera), plus cycling gear (more clothes, repair kit, spare parts, road maps, et cetera), plus camping and cooking supplies (too numerous to list, but most importantly the gas stove and water filter) and many miscellaneous non-essentials that would be jettisoned, like most of the condoms. Notably, we lacked the modern-day electronic conveniences. We didn’t have a satellite phone and mobile phone technology would have been near useless. Nor did we have an electronic map or GPS device.

Late summer in San Francisco we aimed south and began pedaling. We were off the grid and soon we would be off the map.

Six weeks later after a false start in Tijuana, where we discovered our credit cards didn’t work in the cash machines and had to return to America, we reached the heart of the baking furnace of Baja, Mexico, where even the cacti must suffer dehydration and heat exhaustion. A local Mexican asked Dennis where we’re going, and he replied, We’re going to Argentina. Telling people we’re cycling to Argentina is much easier. When we tell them we’re cycling around the world, it usually results in a lot of blank stares and non sequitur remarks as if people are deleting our comments from their memory as soon as they hear it. Conversely, other people, rather than denying the idea, become confrontational, essentially accusing us of being fools for taking such a huge risk with no obvious payoff or guarantee of success. Dennis and I both have the impression these people find a simple idea threatening.

Americans would often respond by asking, Argentina? On a bike? Is that possible? Do they allow that? (Presumably, they means the government.) However, the Mexican isn’t surprised but does exclaim, ¿Por aqui? (Through here?) and looks around, as if for the first time, at the barren landscape shimmering in the heat. In the future, anytime our situation would look grim, Dennis would echo, ¿Por aqui?

Explaining how to circumnavigate the globe on a bicycle is even more challenging. Once, I tried to explain this concept to two Egyptian men with the aid of my map. Is this America? they asked.

No, that is Australia. I turned the map right-side up. Here is America.

What is this? They then asked.

That is New Zealand.

What comes after New Zealand?

On my map, New Zealand happened to be in the corner. So, I rolled my map into a cylinder to demonstrate the world is round, but their expressions were as stone-faced as Ramses’ granite statue until they switched topics, And where is Egypt?

Was it possible these two men, fluent in several languages, wise in the culture of Egypt and the religion of Islam, had never seen a map? It is here.

Ah! You see. Egypt is in the center of the world, they proudly exclaimed. That is the problem with Americans. They think they are the center of the world, but they are not. They should remember this before the Arab nations teach them.

One Egyptian pointed to my bike and asked, How do you cross the oceans?

I put extra air in my tires, I said and laughed at my favorite joke, but they weren’t amused.

After Baja, Dennis and I take an overnight ferry to the Mexican mainland. (In the beginning, dolphins surf our wake; and, in the end, the septic system overflows and sewage runs throughout the ship.) Once on the mainland, we cycle past the heat and annoying American tourists into the cool mountains, through rainbow-colored pueblos, up cobblestone streets with mountain streams flowing on both sides, through the smells of roasting meat and corn, past young machismo men wolf whistling at our spandex tights and young women in tight jeans slung low on the hip, past old women bent into peculiar shapes from a lifetime of scrubbing clothes or making tortillas and asymmetric men with every sinewy muscle formed to

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