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.