Cycling Shorts : Q & A with Amaya of WorldBiking.info

Image: graur codrinOver 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.

“Cycling Shorts”

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.

Amaya Williams

Amaya and her husband Eric Schambion are on quest to cycle every country in the world.  Beginning in 2006, they have cycled 100,000 kilometers through 80 countries on 5 continents!  A huge inspiration to many cyclists and non-cyclists alike, they share both their joys and heartaches (dengue fever, anyone?) via their online journal at WorldBiking.info.  Most recently, they’ve had to take a detour from cycling since Eric’s bicycle was stolen in Bolivia, flying back to the U.S. to get a replacement bicycle and replenish their gear, but they are not stopping!  This week, they head off on the next leg of their adventure, cycling over 4000+ km from Montana to the Arctic Ocean (Prudhoe Bay).

Beyond their own epic adventure they also manage the website, GoBicycleTouring.info, which pulls together and profiles all the best bicycle touring blogs on the Internet.  It’s a wonderful resource, offering information for cyclists and adventurous blogs for everyone to follow.

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Eric & Amaya camping in Mauritania, West Africa

Why did you decide to travel full time?  What did you want to accomplish by traveling?

I never really decided to travel full-time.  As with so many things in life, it just happened.  My first long-term travel experience was way back in 1997 when I backpacked around Asia.  A friend was dreaming of seeing the world and I decided to tag along.  Since that first Asia experience, I’ve spent around 7 years on the road–five of them bicycle touring.

Travel for me is more about just being and growing as an individual rather than accomplishing a specific goal.  That said, we do have a goal:  cycle through every country on the planet!

How long did it take you to plan for long term traveling?

I’m a fairly spontaneous person and don’t believe it’s necessary to spend years and years planning an escape from the cubicle.  The idea of a bicycle tour first took seed sometime in the fall of 2005 and we set off in June 2006.

Before setting off, we’d been working for three years in Europe.  Frugal living had been a lifestyle choice so the bank account was doing pretty well.  We didn’t get around to sorting out bikes, gear and a route plan until a few months before starting our tour.

What was the number one personal fear you had about taking the leap and realizing your dream of full time travel?

I’d given up a career in corporate America back in 1995.  Since that time I’d supported myself by teaching English in various locations around the world. Such jobs are relatively easy to come by, so I never feared becoming destitute due to my long-term travel lifestyle.

What was the number one obstacle you had to overcome to be able to start off on your adventure?

My husband.  He was the number one nay-sayer and didn’t believe we had the fortitude to cycle through Africa.  Now he’s the one who urges me to keep on going when I’m on the verge of quitting.  Talk about a changed man.

Eric cycling in Bolivia

Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt high/alive/fully human.

Cresting the Tizi-n-Test pass in Morocco.  It’s ‘only’ 2,000 meters, but (not being an athlete) I was extremely proud of myself when I made it to the top.  That was the first high pass I ever conquered.

In the Andes, I’ve biked up to almost 5,000 meters, but nothing beats the initial high of doing something you’ve never done before.

Meeting this challenge early on in the tour gave me enormous confidence that carried me through many hard times on the road.

Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt low/tired/pathetically human.

In a remote corner of Gabon near the Congo border, my husband suddenly came down with a raging fever.  He was burning up, lethargic and his speech almost incoherent.

That was a scary moment because I knew it was up to me to take charge of the situation.  The medical workers we went to for help were poorly trained and the medicine they suggested did nothing to bring down his fever.

Finally, I diagnosed him myself using a Lonely Planet Africa Health Handbook.  Gaging from his symptoms, I concluded that he was suffering from typhoid fever.  After administering the medicine suggested by Lonely Planet, he miraculously recovered.

That situation made me realize how vulnerable one is when travelling by bicycle.

Amaya cycling in the jungle of Guyana

How did your experiences on the road change who you are?

I like to think I’m a more grateful individual.  A hot shower is cause for celebration, a slice of pizza makes my eyes light up and a soft bed, well, that’s pure ecstasy.

I’ve seen first-hand how rough life is for much of the world’s population.  The simple fact of being born in the developed world has afforded me many opportunities.  I feel privileged to be able to lead the life of an adventurer.

What assumptions or preconceptions did you have before leaving that were changed by traveling?

Before I began traveling I didn’t know much about the world.  I was living in my own little corporate America cocoon and wasn’t really interested in what was happening on the rest of the planet.  This lack of interest had a positive side in that I hadn’t developed a lot of preconceptions.

Has your relationship to material things/possessions changed by your traveling with only what you can carry on your bicycle?

I love the simplicity of life on a bike.  Having a lot of possessions to look after would feel like a huge burden now.  I appreciate each and every one of the possessions I carry with me on my bike.

Other than “just do it”, what one bit of practical advice would you offer to someone who is dreaming of touring/traveling?

Reach out to those around you.  Don’t be afraid to ask strangers for help.  ‘Initiating kindness’ leads to some amazing encounters and true friendships.

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