Words and photos: Beth Puliti
We’re sitting with friends on our deck when the request is made to share the awesome and awful details of our travels to date. While our bike tour is far from over, we’re home for a week to attend a wedding and clean house in between renters. It’s a nice opportunity to reflect on what we’ve experienced so far, and as the sun sets and the stars rise above us, I lose myself in memories from the past 14 months on the road.
“Alright, Justin. You start with the highs,” I joke.
Why is it so much easier to remember the lows? Truth be told, it’s difficult to limit myself to pick just a few experiences worthy of sharing—good or bad. But there’s a crowd and, like an ‘80s band on a comeback tour, I have no choice but to play the hits.
In December 2014, I convinced my 24-year-old brother to travel with us in Southeast Asia. Working his first job out of college, he didn’t have much time off, but when his company–an indie video game studio in Philadelphia–shut down for two weeks over Christmas, he tacked on an additional two weeks and promised to check in with his co-workers regularly via email and video calls.
That month saw us walking barefoot through the many colorful shrines that dot the landscape, weaving through Bangkok traffic in a tuk-tuk, sipping steaming mugs of hand-picked tea at Malaysian tea plantations, sleeping in tiny bunk beds on the overnight train, watching our lives flash before our eyes as monkeys encircled us outside Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves, navigating through a fresh monsoon-triggered mudslide, sharing vivid dreams inspired by the anti-malarial medicine and creating New Year’s resolutions while letting lanterns loose into the sky on the Thai coast. It was his first time bike touring, and I don’t think it will be his last.
Far and away the most disheartening experience of our bike tour thus far took place when we attempted to re-enter Kyrgyzstan after pedaling the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan. After talking with several tourism representatives and a local travel agent who placed multiple calls with the authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, we were assured that entry via a small border crossing wouldn’t be an issue.
So we made our way there, pedaling through a handful of checkpoints where, at each one, our passports were checked, our information was recorded and we were sent on our way with no further questions. Several days, mountain passes and bouts of food poisoning later, we reached the border only to be told it was a locals-only crossing.
Pleading and bribing (suggested tactics from our newfound friends in tourism) didn’t work. Justin even hitched a 30-minute ride through no man’s land to try and gain sympathy from the Kyrgyz border guard. He was denied entry a second time. Defeated and utterly exhausted, we pointed our tires the way we came eight hours after we arrived, forced to pedal 1,000 kilometers in the opposite direction of our intended destination.
These events made the B-side, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be shared.
- Hitching a ride in an 18-wheeler on a one lane dirt road dug into a cliff above a raging river paralleling Afghanistan with a midnight pit stop to sleep on the side of the road.
- Food poisoning that had me heaving in the dirt from dusk until dawn.
- Meeting my relatives living in Italy and sharing with them photos of family now living in America.
- A sandstorm so strong I was repeatedly blown clear off of my bike.
- Creating a slideshow of our travels to share with a wonderful group of orphaned children.
- Retrieving our stolen phone—which was a means of communication as well as a GPS and camera—from a shepherd at the top of a mountain.
No matter the distance you tour by bike, a mix of highs and lows are par for the course. And while you ride in search of the highs, rest assured the lows will always make for some of the best stories, especially when gathered on your deck surrounded by close friends.
Beth Puliti is a writer and photographer currently traveling the world by bicycle. Visit bethpuliti.com and follow her travels at @bethpuliti.
Adventure Cycling Association invites people of all ages and abilities to join National Bike Travel Weekend: the largest-ever weekend of bicycle travel across America and Canada—June 3-5, 2016—by registering an overnight bike trip or joining an existing one.
“Our goal is to inspire new and experienced bike travelers alike to enjoy an overnight bicycle trip with thousands of other people throughout North America on the same weekend,” says Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling Association. “National Bike Travel Weekend is for big groups, small groups and solo bike enthusiasts. It can be one night or two nights, travelers can sleep outside or indoors, and the distance covered can be one to 100 miles — whatever works for you.”
Everyone who registers a National Bike Travel Weekend trip by May 16 will be entered into a drawing to win a commemorative Salsa Marrakesh touring bicycle. The official National Bike Travel Weekend hashtag is #biketravelweekend.
Participants can connect with over 150 National Bike Travel Weekend ambassadors with questions about going on a bike overnight. These ambassadors, located all over North America, are eager to share their local and regional knowledge of bike-friendly routes and overnight accommodations.
The inaugural National Bike Travel Weekend is being launched as part of Adventure Cycling’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2016. Adventure Cycling was founded as Bikecentennial and started as a 4,250-mile TransAmerica Trail bicycle ride with over 4,100 participants in the summer of 1976.
By Beth Puliti
Published in Issue #31
It’s a bit surreal to finally be turning the pedals on foreign soil after so much planning went into freeing myself from life at home. I’m not going to sugar coat things: Taking the initial steps to begin a long-term bike tour was intimidating and laborious. It would have been so much easier to hire a travel agent, purchase a vacation package, escape for two weeks and return home. Albeit, financially and emotionally drained.
But I don’t do easy. I can’t afford easy. And I don’t have the desire to “escape” life (despite what the travel industry and my nurse at the travel clinic say). I want to live it, fully and on my terms. It’s the belief that life doesn’t have to only consist of the familiar routine we frequently find ourselves living, unless we want it to. I believe we have the ability to figure out what it is we want in life and more or less create our own reality.
Therefore, it is while living my life—not running from it—that I began this long-term, two-wheeled journey. And it was when telling my friends and family of my plans that I heard time and again, “How can you afford it?” It’s a valid question. And it has a simple, two-part answer: priority and sacrifice. I’ll attempt to explain in more detail.
When something becomes a priority, we take steps to make it happen. Many people find a way to finance a brand new car, designer clothing or dining out, usually by saving and/or sacrificing in areas deemed less important. In the same way, when travel becomes a priority, my husband and I take similar steps. We live a simple life and are frugal with our humble savings. When we decided to place a higher value on travel, we didn’t have to change our lifestyle drastically.
That isn’t to say we don’t make sacrifices. The following is a list of things we did, or were already doing, that afforded us the freedom to travel. I understand everyone’s situation is different. This is simply what worked for us, and perhaps it might serve as a starting point of sorts for those looking for some guidance.
- We don’t have a smartphone payment. I don’t have one and my husband’s is paid for by his employer.
- We don’t have a cable bill, or a television, for that matter.
- We rarely go out to eat.
- We owned one older car that was paid off. Several days before we left the country, we sold it on Craigslist to add a bit of extra cash to our savings and eliminate our insurance payment.
- We put our house up for rent.
- We sold expensive items we wouldn’t have a need for on the road, such as rarely-used camera lenses and hardly-ridden bikes.
However, being able to afford long-term travel extends beyond the planning stages. We’re just as conscious of our spending when we’re pedaling, too. Here’s what we do on the road to afford frequent travel.
- We buy and cook most of our own food.
- We almost always use human-powered transportation.
- We sign up for credit cards that offer bonus miles and use the frequent flier miles we’ve accrued from business travel.
- We “wild camp” or seek out Warm Showers hosts. (Have you heard of Warm Showers? It’s a community of touring cyclists around the world who open up their homes to other touring cyclists. We’ve been hosted by some truly wonderful people on our current tour.)
This column is proof that we’re also working from the road, as time permits. Saying that we travel “inexpensively” is pretty subjective. What does that mean, exactly? It means [we were] pedaling through Italy on $20 a day [at the start of the trip]. That’s less than our living expenses in the United States. We thought we’d need to rush through Europe to maintain our savings but, much to our surprise and delight, we’re able to take our time.
Traveling this way isn’t for everyone. It requires a bit of sacrifice, effort and faith in humanity. But it will afford you authentic experiences, leave you with more money in your bank account and reward you a thousand times over.
Subscribe today so you don’t miss any of our special features!