Full-time Travel by Bicycle with the Family on Bikes & Rob Lutter

Nancy Sathre-Vogel and her family on bikes, in the Peruvian mountains near Lake Titicaca

Photograph by John Vogel

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In 2006, I rode a bicycle from Newport, Oregon to San Francisco.

The coasts of Oregon and Northern California are, quite honestly, a Neverland. Small craggy islands formed by million year old lava flows from Idaho, known as stacks, protrude from a violently beautiful Pacific Ocean. Misty coastal fog rolls over and between it all. You can be above the clouds one moment, and in their soaking midsts the next.

Riding a bicycle through it all, you have an opportunity that no other means of transportation can really provide, in that you’re free to sit back and watch the world go by at a pace neither hiking’s slow trod where footsteps must be watched nor an automobile’s dashing through it all wishing you had more time to look at your every last surrounding.

I took ten days to do that trip, which was still a fairly quick jaunt down the coast. Napping on beaches, sleeping in state parks, eating bowl after bowl of clam chowder for energy, it was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

But it was a hard one for sure. No bathroom, no rooms at all, save my tent, to call home. My legs were sore, my back was sore, my crotch, most of all, was sore. Would I do it again? I certainly hope to.

Now, imagine if you made a lifestyle out of this method of travel. If two wheels of your own muscle-powered propulsion were your every day adventure. I was lucky enough to speak to two people who’ve made this their means of exploring this world. One was the mother of a family of four, including her husband and two young boys. The second is a young man, traveling solo around the world on his bicycle. It was a pleasure hearing both of their stories and I couldn’t be happier to share them both with you.

A Family on Bikes

Way back in the 1900s, a young man named John Vogel was growing out his hair and riding bicycles all around the world. He exchanged tire tread for travel everywhere from Alaska to Albuquerque, Norway to Australia.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, a young woman was arriving in Honduras, about to experience life as a Peace Corps volunteer. She would soon discover that, despite being a seemingly drastically different culture, the people there were not that much different from those she’d encountered in the United States. She thoroughly enjoyed her time with that organization and, using the money they give volunteers to re-establish themselves in their homelands, began backpacking through more of South America. Eventually she would return to the United States and, a few unorthodox experiences later, decide to put an ad in a magazine focused on extreme adventuring. She was looking for someone to cycle around Asia with her, and figured placing an ad in a magazine geared specifically toward people who were unafraid to take wild risks was exactly the way to find a companion.

woman with silver wise hair and a similar gaze in her eyes
Nancy Sathre-Vogel, matriarch of the Family on Bikes. Photo courtesy Family on Bikes

Her ad was not answered directly, but even better, in a twist of fate surely out of a modern comedy: someone else had placed a similar advertisement, looking for a cycling partner to accompany this person from Pakistan to China, and then onward. Both ads mentioned leaving in June. Presumably, both of these people were a little crazy.

a man with long hair, long beard, and large glasses
The man who would one day make Nancy his wife, John Vogel. Photo courtesy Family on Bikes

It was a match made in heaven, or at least some bicycle scrapyard afterlife where an all powerful Cupid spends his days fixing up bikes and his evenings fixing up adventurers.

The woman in the story is Nancy Sathre, and her happenstance partner in random similar advert crime? John Vogel. Six months later they would be engaged to be married. A few years later, children.

So what does a couple consisting of two world-class travelers do when children arrive? Sell the bikes, buy a house and get to saving for retirement? Not entirely.

“We cycled in Mali just a few months before I got pregnant, but once the boys entered our lives in 1998, we laid off the biking for a while.” Nancy explains. “John continued to take a lot of day rides, and a few short tours, but I didn’t ride hardly at all.”

Though raising young boys did mean a lull in touring around the world on bicycles for Nancy, they still managed to get around the world via other means, children and all.

“In 2004, we met the owner of the KHS bike factory in Taiwan, and decided to have some tandems made for us with the idea of taking the boys out touring.” The following year they spent four days riding into the mountains and canyons around Boise, Idaho.

Then, when their boys Davy and Daryl turned 8, they spent a year cycling around the United States and Mexico. A year and a half or so later, they were all on bicycles, leaving Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, with their sights set on Argentina. For the geographically challenged, that’s essentially the top of the Americas to the bottom. With kids.

How many times have you considered how dangerous it would be to simply cross into Mexico, let alone cycle it’s breadth and then continue into territory even less familiar to us Americans?

a family standing near bikes in Bolivia
Nancy, son Daryl, husband John and son Davy in Bolivia, posing for a photo for the Guardian.

Over the course of three years they cycled away their days, slept in tents at night, repeat. They battled hills, weather and the necessary timelines required to avoid winter in both Alaska and Argentina. Twice, in three years, they took extended breaks–6 weeks each time–once in Ecuador while young Davy required surgery to remove an ingrown toenail or two, another time when John required his entire mouth be redone by a Bolivian dentist.

a man and woman stand in front of a sign written in a foreign language, bicycles at their sides
John and Nancy on Khunjerab Pass, at the Pakistan / China Border. Photo courtesy Family on Bikes

To anyone who sees full-time traveling as a permanent vacation, ask yourself if what you spend your everydays doing is as physically and mentally demanding as such an excursion?

“I don’t think they truly understood what we were talking about.” Nancy is referring to the first moments when she and John asked the boys if they’d like to ditch 3rd Grade and ride bikes around North America for awhile. “At that age, kids will do pretty much whatever their parents want them to.” So the four of them toured the States and Mexico together. It was apparently a success, as the boys not only agreed to a much larger journey, but as Nancy puts it. “[They] were totally on board for the Alaska to Argentina journey.”

Signing up for a 17,000+ mile journey through fifteen countries and the entirety of the New World is one thing.. Actually pulling it off though? Wouldn’t those boys get over it at some point?

“Were there times when the kids said, ‘Can we just get a house and a microwave…?'”, Nancy tells us, “No, not at all.”

With a pause no longer than it might take a pair of seasoned cyclists to shift gears, she admits however, “If you rephrase that question to be were there times when mom was like, ‘Um, can we just….’ Yes, there were. Many of them.”

What was she longing for specifically, though? The comforts of a warm bed? A luxury day spent at the spa? Not exactly.

“It wasn’t a microwave that I wanted – it was water. A consistent, reliable source of water. A river, a lake, a pond, a tap – it didn’t really matter as long as I had water. While out on the bikes, I certainly learned the value of water. And a toilet – that was the other thing I really missed.

We take water so very much for granted in our modern society, it’s always just a turn of a tap away. Something so vital to our existence has become a given in the Western World. Until you leave behind plumbing and realize just how much our lives will revolve around that clear cold liquid were we living in a more natural state.

“What got me through?” she recants. “The dream. Reaching Ushuaia,” their ultimate destination in Argentina, “on our bikes was such a big goal that we were so committed to, I was willing to go without in order to make that happen.

“I honestly can’t tell you if it was my commitment to the dream, or my sons’. Did I continue on because I didn’t want to let them down? Or because I wanted it for myself?

“I can’t answer that question.”

What came of all of that commitment? Aside from some serious family time, facing hardship and struggle peppered with gorgeous views and mind-opening new experiences, the boys Davy and Daryl now hold the world record for the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Highway. That’s one of those achievements that, at such a young age, will undoubtedly propel your self-esteem for decades to come. At the very least, it’s an accomplishment greater than many of us will attain in our entire lives. Inspiring, to put it mildly.

But what about the little details? Did they really live in tents the entire time? Was it safe? What were the people they met like?

a mother and son ride bicycles through the desert
Cycling through the deserts of Peru.

Nancy relates that, in her considerable experience traveling the world, people are generally more similar than we are different. I asked her this specifically. Her answer?

“Absolutely,” and with vigor she professes, “people are all the same!

“When we strip off all the wrappers–the clothes we wear, the language we speak, the food we eat, the god we worship–when we strip all that away, we are all the same. We all want to live with happiness and we want the best for our children. People should not be feared.”

Not that she’s without caution. While people may all be similar at our core, there are places in this world which affect their situations and therefor the reality of what encountering new people will be like.

Speaking to her earlier voyages with John, before the boys were conceived. “We did have a very scary situation in Pakistan where hostile locals were throwing football-sized boulders off cliffs down at us while we rode our bicycles. That was enough to frighten the daylights out of me! Now, with all the tensions there, I’m not sure that I want to deal with it. I’m sure the vast majority of the people are still lovely, and I’m certain that we would have some amazing experiences, but it’s not worth it for me – there are other places in the world that I can explore.”

a father and his two boys on a bike built for three
John and the boys pedaling by a saguaro cactus on their trip around the US and Mexico. Photo courtesy Family on Bikes

So that’s Pakistan, a country we’re shown to be a battleground for the Taliban on a daily basis. What about the countries they rode through together, those in South America, Central America? What about Mexico? We hear so many horror stories from our neighbor to the south, it’s amazing how vastly different that nation must be, right?

“I would go there in a heartbeat.” Nancy is speaking of Mexico.

“The issues in Mexico are horribly blown out of proportion in the media. The key is to look beyond the American media. There is so much politics driving our media that it can’t be trusted.”

So who do you trust? How safe is it to load up your family and move around the Earth? Nancy has a simple solution for that.

“If many countries are reporting an area to be dangerous–Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand–then it’s probably worth heeding their advice. If it’s only the American media, ignore it.”

More to the point of the friendliness of people from other nations, of people in general, the family did not sleep in tents the entire duration of their trip. They were put up on numerous occasions by hosts offering them a warm place to stay for a night or so. People who are willing to take strangers into their homes, who actually seek out adventurers to provide a respite from the rigors a life spent outside on bicycles must portend.

three cyclists in an auburn paradise
Cycling through Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina. Photo courtesy Family on Bikes

“Sometimes, we reached out to people through WarmShowers–a hospitality site online specifically for bike tourists. Most often, however, if was someone who heard about our journey through the media and wrote to offer us a place to stay when we passed through their town.” One such host was actually the then-current world record holder as the youngest person to have cycled the length of the Americas.

“He was the current world record holder,” she tells us, “as the youngest to cycle the length of the Americas. My sons would ‘dethrone’ him. We ended up staying with him for a week and it was such a great experience–wonderful young man.”

It seems folks who have the gumption to take on such endeavors aren’t out for the glory as much as they are welcoming the companionship of their fellows.

Was it all fun and games? No. Nancy admits to some small defeats, and how she turned them into triumphs.

“The hard times are always mixed with good times.” These are the sentiments that make reading her journey so interesting, she’s not afraid to paint the whole picture. She doesn’t sugar coat such an experience as being akin to a day at the movies or a roll in the proverbial hay.

“One day in Argentina,” she recalls, “we were pedaling furiously to try and make it to a host’s house. The idea of being in a real live house rather than our tents was riding in the forefront of our brains all day–and then it started to rain. We were on a dirt road, which was quickly turning to soup, and it was cold. Riding on a muddy road in a cold rain is the pits–trust me on that one.” So close, as they say, yet so far away, they admitted defeat for the day.

“We stopped to set up our tents.”

But adventure is full of setbacks, of coming short of a particular goal you have in mind and struggling with what might be easier and achieving said goals.

“The following morning, it was still raining. Our host’s warm, dry house was a mere 20 miles away,” which may sound far to you and I, but to seasoned cyclists was no unrealistic distance, “twenty miles in the freezing cold rain with icky mud splashing all over our legs. Stay in our tents? Or pack up and go?”

They decided to make it happen. Their was a warm place to call home for a moment or so, and the temptation of such a reward far outweighed the effort required to make it all happen. Isn’t that really the difference between those of us who struggle (which is all of us), and those who overcome? The get up and go we each latch onto, and how willing we are to hold onto it.

“In the pouring rain, we rolled up our sleeping bag and took down our tents. So as to not get too many clothes wet, we wore shorts rather than long pants. It was a messy, icky, cold 20 miles, but all four of us were thrilled that we made the decision to do it.”

The tale leads Nancy into another part of her memory, one where jealousy could have perhaps taken over their adventure and cut the journey short in favor of more passive means of transport.

“A few days later, I sat down to write a blog entry and, funnily enough, I wrote about how that day cemented in my mind how traveling on bike was better than in a bus.” The following is an excerpt from that blog post.

The other day as we cycled through the Argentine Lake District in pouring rain, I wasn’t having much fun. The plentiful lakes we passed were nearly hidden in the clouds and I most likely missed many of them altogether. Rather than the vibrant green of the trees and magical blue of the lakes that we should have seen, everything appeared to be some shade of gray. It wasn’t the lovely jewel of Argentina that people come from the four corners of the earth to see.

My fingers were freezing, my toes felt like they would fall off and crash to the ground the second I took off my shoes. It was wet, it was mucky, it was not a whole lot of fun. But even so, when a bus passed by and the passengers opened their windows and stuck their heads out to gawk at us fools pedaling in the elements, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sorry for them. Yes–for them.

Don’t get me wrong–I was feeling plenty sorry for myself. It wasn’t exactly perfect bike touring conditions, but even so, I was out there in Mother Nature’s world. I was communing with nature, as my father used to say. And them? They sat in a climate controlled world in a glass-enclosed cage. Their windows were fogged up so they missed most of even the pathetic bit we were seeing. They didn’t feel raindrops drip off their noses or see the patterns water makes when a car wheel splashes it out of the mud puddle. Yes–they didn’t even feel that water splashed onto their legs.

Talking with Nancy, it’s clear that they made this journey for themselves. It was not to prove anything to anyone else, or even for the primary purpose of the boys becoming the youngest people to ever accomplish such a feat. But it wasn’t only for themselves, at least in retelling it she makes it clear that there’s a bigger goal here.

“I’ve seen the magic. I know how special and life-changing it is to live a life that is uniquely yours and passion-filled. Knowing what I know, I want that for everyone and believe that our world would be a better place if we were all living the life of our dreams. I feel I have a voice that others might not have, so decided to use it to encourage people to grab life by the horns and take it for a ride.”

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, and still on his bike, adventurer, photographer and cyclist Rob Lutter is a little less than halfway through his own bicycling journey.

No, he’s not cycling the entirety of the Americas. He’s not even cycling the breadth of Europe and Asia or any one continent.

He’s riding his bicycle around the world. Two years ago, in 2011, Rob picked up his life in London and headed East. Since then, he’s ridden 15,000 kilometers (that’s over 9,000 miles for the Americans out there) through France, Greece, Turkey, Uzbekistan, China and so many zigzag places in between. And he’s done it alone.

a man leans against a guard rail, near a bicycle
Rob Lutter, cycling 'round the world. Photo courtesy Rob Lutter

Many of us would be frightened to even “endure” a layover in countries with names like Azerbaijan or Kyrgyzstan, the illusion of some unknown threat ready to blow us up at any moment lurking in our “modernized” minds. Rob was not without such thoughts as he left England, left even Europe and moved, one revolution of his tires at a time, toward the Middle East.

“I’ve not lost my fear of these countries,” he admits even today, writing me from Hong Kong, “I’ve just come to realise that is nothing to fear respectively. The relationship between mankind and the unknown–the land beyond the water, the stars, what comes beyond death, what came before life–has always been a fascinating one. It drives us. It makes us strive, makes us dream… but it can also make us hide away, gloss it over and build up fears. It’s easy for me to say to people sitting in their homes, thinking of a far away place like Central Asia, the Middle East, and say ‘Ignore the news. Don’t listen to the rumours. Go see for yourself. Challenge the things you’ve been told about the world, about other cultures. Venture out like I have and know what is true and what is not.’ Having cycled all of that already it’s easy. But there was a time when I looked at the map and saw that places like Uzbekistan, like Kyrgyzstan (places I’d never heard of and knew nothing about) were halfway around the world, barren, desolate and,” with the honesty of a truly wise man he confesses, “I feared those places.”

He used this fear to propel himself through it all. Excitement built up inside of him, pushed down into his calves and was transformed from mere potential into raw kinetic energy.

“The fact that I was fearful meant that these were places worth traveling to. The fact that I was scared meant that adventure would be had out there, whether good or bad, I would face up to preconceptions and my mind would change. And now I can say that, having been in the deserts and in the high mountains, sleeping by the road, beneath the stars, perfectly happy and perfectly safe, that they are no more or no less dangerous than your own backyard, your own home even.”

He goes on to relate that, in reality, many of the locals in the small villages and rural areas he’s pedaled through were likely more afraid of him.

the city of instanbul
Scenes from the journey: Istanbul. Photo courtesy Rob Lutter
young blonde people, a man and a woman
Scenes from the journey: new friends in Greece. Photo courtesy Rob Lutter
the blur of the French countryside
Scenes from the journey: France. Photo courtesy Rob Lutter
a small farmhouse in croatia
Scenes from the journey: Croatia. Photo courtesy Rob Lutter

“When you are scared, when you want to go to these kind of places, or want to face your fears of whatever kind–whether it be jumping from a plane or swimming in the ocean–you should know that there is a much greater danger that comes from not doing these things, from living your whole life being scared and in judgement of these places.”

What we should really be frightened of, Rob tells us, is “to die old, having never questioned or sought for yourself these cultures is much much more scary.”

the city of hong kong
Hong Kong, Photo courtesy Rob Lutter on Instagram

Easy for a young man to say, fit and good looking with money in his pocket and no responsibilities but his own free time. Perhaps those of us who are afraid to question things, who are too stuck in our own comfort zones that we feel the need to want to paint those who are out and about living life as an adventure into some type of “exceptional case”, would look at Rob and think, “Well I might do that were I in his shoes, too.”

But Rob is not necessarily exceptional. He is not without struggles of his own.

That’s not to say that he has certainly become an exceptional case of humanity, but he was born naked into this world like all of the rest of us were, with the same planet beneath his feet, the same air in his lungs. He was not handed a worldly education and a small fortune to make his way around the globe as he wished.

“I speak no other languages and I am not very good at learning. I get by, mostly, by sign language… not official sign language but more me looking like a monkey in front of locals, waving my arms around to make the shape of the world and the movement of pedals going round,” he laughs.

He’s raised the necessary funds he needed to make the first leg of his journey entirely on his own, working a somewhat regular job in a big city, sleeping on friends’ couches to save money, cycling around England to loosely prepare himself for what would become the next several years of his life. Along the way he’s found the kindness of strangers–similar to Nancy and her family–to help. He put three months in “helping out”, as he describes it, in a hostel in Istanbul.

During that time, he learned a few simple phrases. “How are you? How old are you? Do you have children?” That sort of thing.

“It changed everything…it got me so much closer to the locals and I had so many more laughs than before. I missed Turkey after leaving and only realised later on, when I entered Uzbek again and they also used little bits of Turkish in their language, that it had been the language that had made it all better.”

Learning a new language is no small endeavor, and even familiarizing himself with a few tidbits of small talk are a testament to the type of man he is: one who’s not afraid to improve upon himself. That’s not something you’ll find innate in every white guy from the modern world you run into. We’re more likely to be born thinking we’re the top of the food chain than seeing ourselves as another kink which could do with a little foreign grease in our gears.

“They respected my efforts,” referring back to his admittedly meager advances in learning the Turkish language, “even though it was laughable, and therefore respected me as a person rather than a tourist.”

Though he’s recently pulled off a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the next leg of his journey, he was adamant about doing the first stretch on his own.

“I was a nobody–I probably wouldn’t have been able to generate money if I had wanted to,” he admits. But it seems to have been more than that for Rob.

“The thing is though, this has always been a project for me, a creative project–but back then it was just an idea and I am a humble and honest person and there was no way I was gonna ask for money for an adventure that was just an idea. It’s been important to do this by myself because I had to deal with so much mental stuff, freeing myself from 27 years of ideologies and conceptions and adjusting to the open road. I also needed time to prove myself, to create photos and tell a story in such a way that people said ‘Wow, your pics are good, your words are nice, your adventures means something to us’.”

Rob relates that after proving himself on the battleground of real life, he changed his views a bit. “I feel like [now] I deserve to ask for a Kickstarter and also am ready to take this project to a new level.”

In his opinion, “Kickstarter is not about money, it’s about creativity and I didnt want people to think that I just wanted money–I wanted Kickstarter so that I had more responsibility on this project in terms of delivering creativity to people.”

Rob wanted to give himself the extra impetus to deliver the photos and videos and writing that the journey was supposed to be about for himself, even when perhaps a long days ride multiplied by weeks didn’t leave him feeling so spry and creative at the end of the day.

“I wanted to have a pressure on me to complete and to share it.”

So Rob is not rich, nor was he necessarily well-traveled or well-learned when he began the adventure. But surely he is exceptional in some way? There must be something that sets him apart from the rest of us, some reason we can give ourselves as to why he is able to do this and we’re not.

Well, Rob does suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, if “suffer” is as correct the term as “conquers”. I asked him whether or not he thought that might actually be a reason he was able to strive for something as monumental as this journey, if perhaps having already needed to overcome a difficulty most of us don’t face in life prepared him in some way for it all.

“Because OCD is just there, in me, even though it feels separate to who I really am–in a bad way–its not something that I consider anymore. I have had the problems all my life. So if I were to think ‘If I did not have OCD would I be cycling?’ is like asking ‘If I did not have OCD would I be the Prime Minister right now?’ I know nothing else, no other time where I did not have it. So therefore when I think about myself cycling the world I don’t think I can do this because I already have struggled with my mind…it’s hard to explain, but its all one package, me and the OCD, so when I think about a cycling adventure I am just as scared or determined as any other person out there.

“We all have our troubles though and the will power we think we have is only relevant to our own lives.”

Rob goes on to reveal that even the questioning of it all, even the fact that world knows something so personal about him that he worked hard at to keep to himself, secret even, for many years, was a bit difficult. It’s clear he doesn’t see the disorder as something that either pushed him into this life or prevented him from it. He speaks with humility, perhaps lined with a remnant sliver of some past embarrassment, but he does so beautifully.

A man who’s cycled halfway around the world could take extreme offense, or could be downright haughty. But perhaps such a man would never endeavor such pursuits in the way Rob has. In the end, he makes it clear that while his DNA may have included OCD, what drives him is far more complex than any one factor.

He admits that it has been a struggle throughout his life, but that “My adventure spirit however, is not about OCD–it’s about who I am genetically, my dad was a climber and my mum sportive and a pro windsurfer and I was given books as a kid on adventure and fantasy worlds and so I have always dreamed of bigger things and far off places… The OCD made me depressed in London and destroyed my ability to get on with people and create and work efficiently there, so it lead me to the point where I had to make a decision to change…but I believe it was my upbringing and my blood that made me decide that the answer was to travel.

“When I think of OCD driving me on this trip I feel like I am traveling without an aim…but when I think of me being on this trip because I am an explorer at heart and have a sense of adventure and have imagination–then it makes me realise why I am doing it, that there is purpose. OCD makes me feel like I am escaping again. Who I really am makes me feel like I am discovering.”

With every phrase he writes you can hear it in his voice, Rob is an amazing man who has achieved Everest-sized accomplishments but still struggles with who he is by nature. He is the definition of adversity overcome, and though he is perhaps afraid of what might be one day, he doesn’t allow that to keep him from what he actually is today: an inspiration if the word ever needed definition.

At the same time, it’s clear that he is not just someone with OCD, in fact, that is barely a part of him at all, regardless of how much it affects him.

Rob Lutter is Rob Lutter. He’s a cyclist, an adventurer, and a modern day man’s man. Reading through his stories you can feel the longing he has to slow down as he meets kindred spirits in places like Greece, even as the road whispers incessantly in his ear to keep moving on. You can hear the reality of him as a person, not just another avatar and feed on the Internet, as he talks about winding along desert roads uncertain of where the next respite might come from, debating hitching rides occasionally to make necessary time in order to keep visas on track. His audience has grown to thousands, but he has taken the time to reply to even one of us, and to provide answers to questions that he’s spent years keeping hidden away.

Which leads one to wonder, is the lifestyle he’s now chosen for himself made him a better person all around? Stronger, wiser, something more than the rest of us are. Something that, given the right amount of desire, we might all become.

I wonder even if he simply feels stronger after all of this, or if it’s something more. If it even gets any easier as time goes on.

“Physcially, easier. Mentally, harder.”

The best answers, usually, are simple.

“The thing is a lot of people might find it mentally easier as time goes on. And in some ways it is because you’re less scared over time, more confident with the bike, with the road and with people over time,” he pauses, “but for me”, another, longer pause, “perhaps because of OCD, the routines that occur over time begin to create problems, irritations for me that will stress me out and cause compulsions. But this is specific to me. For any adventure I would say that aside from the occasional monotony–the further you go on the bike, the more you have to look back on and think ‘Yep, I did that so the next part should be a piece of cake.'”

He even states that he’d grown bored in China, physically at perhaps his peak and many, many months into the journey.

“I was getting a little bored. It had become so physically easy and the adrenalin rarely came anymore,” so he began doing what he calls, “crazy long rides.”

300 kilometers (186 miles) at times, “just for the sake of it.”

He ended up crossing China in 90 days before stopping to refuel the coffers, access the Internet, and generally refresh the entire journey.

By that point, he’d garnered a following of tens of thousands, raised £3000 for charity, and thousands more to help him complete the remaining 20,000 kilometers of Oceania, North America and on back to London. He promises to continue documenting his travels. A young man who made the decision to ride his bike around the world has now become an inspiration, perhaps even a hero, to people around the very globe he’s navigating.

“Whats more important to me now,” he stresses, “having stopped in Hong Kong and taken a moment to breathe again and contemplate how far I have come and what I have done so far, is to be happy.”

Rob has never seen the journey as something he needs to accomplish in a specific time frame. He’s taken breaks before to immerse himself in the cultural of wherever he found himself at the moment, or simply to recharge for a bit.

“If I am just racing, not seeing, not interacting with the world around me then the adventure has failed. In China it was becoming like this,” he admits. “Actually, I would rather take a week to ride a boring 300km stretch and take it easy, meet as many people as possible by the roadside to make it more interesting, rather than just blitz it in one ride to get it over and done with. Otherwise, mentally, it will just get harder and harder. Sometimes I forget that the journey and the here and now is what I am doing this for.

“As soon as I stop enjoying it there is no real finish line. I will never finish. I will forever be cycling towards something I am not able to find.” The journey not the destination, it seems, is a universal reality discovered by all travelers, whether they’re on a simple day hike or conquering the world.

“From here on it’s all about creativity and not seeing it as a project to finish, but one to enjoy.” Though he may have never been out to prove anything to anyone else, he certainly can find a newfound confidence in knowing that the rest of the world is behind him, now monetarily, even. “Thousands [are] waiting to see what I produce, share and where I go and what is possible. If I concentrate on this side of the adventure there will be no consideration of whether its more difficult or more easy. I want to push harder yes, but in living and in trying to be happy and be more positive and kinder.”

silhouette of a man and his bike

Rob left Hong Kong, and the firewalls in China which limited his ability to post even to his own website, less than a week ago.

Before he did, he had the following sentiment on the remaining longer leg of his trip, which he now refers to as “the trip home”.

“There is nothing left to prove when it comes to cycling or pushing my mind to finish the trip. Now its about life in the moment.”

Back to Nancy and her family, I asked her what all of this traveling by bicycle resulted in. What was the end net profit, if the culmination of such journeys could be defined in such a way.

“What I’ve learned from all this is that we only have one chance at this thing called life. We’ve got one trip here on Planet Earth, and we need to take advantage of that. Life is too short to live a life that others want for you–it’s imperative that we make it our own.

“In the end, I realized that it’s not about the travel at all – it’s about knowing that what you are doing today is what you have chosen to do. It’s knowing that you are in control of your life and that you are calling the shots. Whether you choose to travel or live in a brick house, as long as you can say, ‘What I do today is what I choose to do,’ then you’re good.”

Good indeed. end of article

Photograph by John Vogel