Over the years, as we’ve prepared for our tour, we’ve followed a number of cyclists who were already out there experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle. Anxiously following their adventures online, their blogs provided inspirational fodder for our dreams. Although we hadn’t met a single one of these cyclists personally, we felt intricately connected to them somehow, and were moved by their online reflections, their struggles, and their triumphs.
We recently contacted some of these folks, to find out what motivated them to pursue long term travel, what challenges they faced, both in preparing for their trips and while on the road, and what advice they would offer others dreaming of traveling. Thus begins our “Cycling Shorts” – a series of short Q & A sessions with cyclists who are traveling or have traveled the world by bicycle. The answers we received in response to our questions were as varied and unique as the travelers themselves, but each of them offers us a glimpse of what it means to respond to the call of the open road.
Russ Roca and Laura Crawford
We discovered Russ and Laura when their website first debuted in 2009 and were drawn in by the reflective nature of their posts and their obvious desire to find and create community through advocacy. One of our favorite posts and a must read is The Great Fear, in which Russ examines how fear can turn “dreams into dust”. Be sure to visit their site and follow them on their next big adventure – on Bromptons!
In July 2009, Laura Crawford and Russ Roca left everything behind to bicycle around the world. Over the course of 15 months and 10,000 miles, Laura and Russ experienced the kindness of strangers, watched stunning sunsets and skies full of stars, ate amazing new foods, and learned that there’s so much more to life than they ever imagined. After a winter break in Portland, Oregon, they will head back out on the road in Spring 2011. They have no plans to stop traveling. Their blog is: www.pathlesspedaled.com.
Why did you decide to travel full time? What did you want to accomplish by traveling?
Before we decided to take the plunge to traveling full-time, we had gone on lots of short bike trips. Everything from a single night to a couple weeks. More and more, we would go home after a trip and get depressed about going back. We always felt so alive while traveling, and the contrast between traveling and being at home became more and more stark. Eventually, we started wondering what it would be like if we just didn’t go home. And once the seed was planted, there was no going back.
Our goal for traveling is really simple. There’s an entire amazing world outside our doors that we’ve always wanted to see and explore and experience, and we didn’t want to wait any longer. We keep our travels as open-ended as possible, so that we can experience unexpected places and foods and people.
How long did it take you to plan for long term traveling?
Our planning was actually really short. We started seriously thinking about leaving in March 2009, after Laura got the sense that she was going to be laid off from her day job. When she did get laid off in June, we decided to just go for it, and we set a leave date of July 30. The quick timeline meant that we didn’t have time to get bogged down in too many details or questions of ‘what if I regret getting rid of this thing?’ We just jumped in.
What was the number one personal fear you had about taking the leap and realizing your dream of full time travel?
Being destitute. What if it didn’t work out the way we hoped and we had to settle for something less than what we wanted? What if we couldn’t make money while we traveled, so that we couldn’t continue and we’d have to go back to a day job? (In truth, our travels have been so much richer than we expected, and we have somehow managed to make money and continue funding our adventures.)
What was the number one obstacle you had to overcome to be able to start off on your adventure?
Getting rid of all of our stuff. We knew that we didn’t want to pay for storage while we were traveling, and we also knew that we didn’t have too many things that were really worth keeping for some future apartment or house. So it was easy to decide to get rid of all of our stuff (especially when you remember that you will likely always be able to buy sheets and towels and dishes and whatnot). But we had no idea just how much random stuff we owned until we started trying to get rid of it. And because we wanted to be responsible about how we got rid of everything (recycle, find new owners, etc), it became a long and difficult process. We got to a point where we just wanted to set it all on fire!
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt high/alive/fully human.
Reaching the top of the climb into Chisos Basin, in Big Bend, Texas. As you enter Big Bend National Park from the West, you see a cluster of mountains. Tucked inside is Chisos Basin, where we wanted to camp, but we had no idea how on earth we were actually going to get there. And then you turn off the main road and begin an absolutely brutal climb. 2100 feet in 5 miles, with the last 2 miles pitching upward at 10% or more. It took everything we had to get up the hill. And when we got to the top, it literally took our breath away. The beauty of the place is so stunningly spectacular and the sense of accomplishment is absolutely amazing. You can read more here.
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt low/tired/pathetically human.
For Laura, it was falling apart in the middle of the desert in West Texas. Battling a 20 mph sustained headwind for 20 miles wore me out to a point where all logic and sense broke down completely and, sobbing, I threw my bike off the road in a fit of exhaustion and frustration. For the whole story, read this post.
(Ironically, our highest and lowest moments took place within 100 or so miles of each other. West Texas is an amazing and tough place.)
How did your experiences on the road change who you are?
This is a hard question to answer, because I think it changed us in ways that we’re not even aware. We have become more sociable and have developed a greater sense of appreciation for connection with other people, due to our continual meeting of new people and having only short periods of time to connect with homestay hosts or fellow travelers. We have become much more neutral in our politics, after meeting and talking with enough people to understand that life isn’t so black-and-white. We have become paranoid of planning, out of our deep desire to be open to anything that might come along.
What assumptions or preconceptions did you have before leaving that were changed by traveling?
Before we left on this trip, we were anti-car. We were so in love with the freedom of getting around on a bike that we didn’t understand why anyone would want to drive. And then we spent months riding through rural areas that are so wildly spread out that a car is an absolute necessity. Not everyone lives in an urban area with lots of other transportation options! We also realized that we had some pretty negative assumptions about what people and life would be like in the South. But, instead of finding yahoos who wanted to shoot at us from their pick-up trucks, we met delightfully welcoming and friendly people who genuinely wanted to hear about our travels and give us water or food.
Has your relationship to material things/possessions changed by your traveling with only what you can carry on your bicycle?
Yes. After 15 months of living out of the bags strapped to the bikes, we have become hyper-conscious of stuff. These days, it’s too easy to surround yourself with stuff that doesn’t really matter. We may not have much with us, but it’s all important and we use it all heavily. What we’ve learned is that you can live with extremely little and be blissfully happy, when your focus is on what you experience in life.
Other than “just do it”, what one bit of practical advice would you offer to someone who is dreaming of touring or traveling?
Do it however you can or need to. The first bike trip we took was a weekend to wine country. We stayed in a motel, went wine tasting, ate bread and cheese. We didn’t have any illusions of being ‘hard core,’ we just wanted to have fun. We also didn’t have any clue how to pack, so don’t let any gear doubts get in your way. Laura carried stuff in a basket on her front handlebars and packed a hair dryer and extra shoes – and still we had so much fun that we wanted to do it again and again.