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Top 10 FAQ ~ After Cycling the World

A Ten Minute Readimg_6969

“I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” ~ Pablo Picasso, Painter

Since I was a young kid I always loved getting out in nature and having mini-adventures. Building forts, having bonfires and exploring with friends from the countryside of rural Canada was always something that I will look fondly back upon. Growing up in the country allowed me to get hurt and learn from my mistakes. When I finally started my cycling adventure around the world my days spent camping were a constant throwback to a nostalgia that was waiting to be awoken again. Throughout the journey, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from those moments of hardship. They have continued to make me stronger and shape the way I see the world from the more comfortable side of the seat.

You never know where you will end up. I would have never thought years ago that I would have actually gone after my dreams and succeeded. That single decision has irreparable changed my life for the better. It has opened my mind to new horizons and given me a deeper perspective on what truly matters in life. There are certain things I no longer take for granted after seeing the hardships of our world firsthand. I see things more clearly than ever before.

In a world that has been so giving I feel that I am obliged to give back in some form, whether it be through charitable work, speaking engagements or maintaining this website. Recently, I spoke at the yearly ‘Just Us Youth Day’ with all Grade 10’s from the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario as the keynote speaker. It was an event I was honoured to be part of. We all have the power to make a change in our lives, community and country. It was inspiring to see the engaging attitude from the youth of tomorrow.

This post of ‘Top 10 FAQ’ was inspired by that talk and the collection of questions I typically get on my ride. If you have any others please feel free to drop me a line at any point.

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“The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” ~ Nancy Wynne Newhall, Writer

1-How many countries did you visit? 

I visited 40 countries on my round the world cycling tour. I have travelled to over 60 countries total in my life. Other notable adventures include a motorbike adventure through the wild steppe of Mongolia and the rolling beauty of Laos. I also have fond memories from my backpacking trips in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

 

2-How old are you?

I am 28 years old. I began the trip around the world when I just turned 26. I am happy that I started the trip when I did. However, it is never too old to begin an adventure such as this. I met people doing similar things who were more than twice my age. I believe that a journey such as this ages you internally, rather externally.

 

3-What is your favourite country? Least favourite country?

This is one of the toughest questions of all. I really do not have a favourite country from the journey. I like different countries for different reasons. For example, I like Mexico, Greece and India because of the food. I liked Peru and Lesotho because of the diverse stunning views. I like Kyrgyzstan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa, Paraguay, Colombia and Mexico because of the people. I liked Bolivia and India for the mental as well as physical challenge. China because it will always hold a special place in my heart. I like Canada because it feels like home. I do not have a least favourite country, however, I did have a very difficult time in Ethiopia. But, that is a story for another day.

 

4-Did you ever feel lonely?

The honest answer, rarely. I think if I did this trip even ten years ago I would have felt a lot more of that lonesome feeling. However, with the recent development and improvement of new communication technology I was typically able to stay fairly connected to my wife as well as people back home when I wanted to. In most of the world, phone plans are quite cheap. I would simply get a SIM card and top it up with some 3G data. There are simpler ways to do this, but I became an expert in figuring out the easiest way to communicate back home. When I knew there might be long periods where I would be out of touch, I would try to let certain people know in advance, so they didn’t worry. They still worried though.

 

5-Did you ever have any problems along the way?

This is the most popular question of all. It is the most popular question because when people ask they are not asking about problems with my bike. They are asking if I was ever basically robbed, frightened or threatened along the way. The truthful honest answer is always a resounding no. In Peru I had a very tiny problem where someone stole my bicycle tools out of my bag at a busy port in Iquitos. Other than that, absolutely not. There were the daily challenges of finding food, places to sleep and the elements of course. I was hit by an ice cream truck in Greece, which was an accident I am lucky to have walked away from. If anything people were too kind in most of the places I visited. People are just nice, that is a fact.

 

6-Did you ever get lostHow did you know the way?

I was never really lost on my journey. Everything was always new, so I was in a way lost most of the time. I had a good navigation system using HERE Maps and consulted paper maps whenever possible. I had an external power source which allowed me to charge my electronics for up to four days. Between that time, I could take a break somewhere to get things booted up. If I had to do it again I would get a dynamo hub that charges your gadgets while you ride.

I really did not know the way, but would plan key points I would like to reach as a guiding direction. The plan changed almost daily as I lay awake in my tent planning routes at night. Some countries I missed entirely as routes, weather and feeling guided me towards another. As I got close I would research Visa expectations and what would be feasible. You are never really lost if you are not sure exactly where it is you were supposed to be in the first place.

 

7-Are you married?

Yes. I am newly married to my wonderfully supportive wife Eliza. You can actually check out our wedding story from China with explanations, videos and pictures by CLICKING HERE.

 

8-Did you have any sponsors and how did you pay for the journey?

I get this one a lot more often from adults. Many believe it must take a massive sum of money to take off on a trip for two years. Most of these people are used to the week away holidays and do not understand the actual cost on the ground as the locals live. I will say that I had a good job and I made saving money for the adventure a top priority. Some people save for a new fancy car, I saved to have an adventure of a lifetime with memories to last the same.

On a daily basis I tried to live very cheaply and camp for free whenever possible. I took breaks to get caught up on my life in cheap hostels and guesthouses. In many places I could find a place to sleep for 10$. It was not luxurious, but it was a place to sleep and that is all I needed. On days where I ‘free camped’ I could usually live off around 5-10$ a day. If I had enough food on me, sometimes I would spend nothing in a day. Of course unexpected costs arose, airplane tickets between continents were a hassle and paying for a fair amount of travel visas got slightly expensive. But other than these types of things my day-to-day was fairly cheap. I have no exact number and frankly, I don’t want to know how much I spent. There are no regrets in that respect. Money is made to be spent. I would rather spend mine on memories.

I did have a massive support base of people from all over who helped me raise enough money to build schools throughout the world. You can read a recent post on an update from all five of the countries we were able to build schools in with WE Charity by CLICKING HERE.

 

9-Would you ever do it again?

This is a tough question. Would I do the exact same trip over again? The simple answer is no. Well not right away. I would return to almost every country I have visited, but knowing everything I know about how difficult some of the places along the way were, I would be hard pressed to get out there and do it all over again.

That being said, after getting back into a comfortable sort of life, I do yearn a bit for that thrill of adventure. That big question mark of the day. The wonder and awe for the world. The beautiful camp spots and the friendly locals that go with exotic lands. I am always looking to new places and there are quite a number of locations along the way I had to make hard choices about. Places like Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Namibia, Chile and more of the Balkans.

I would have liked to go everywhere of course. All of these places were serious considerations and hard bypasses. Some places I chose over others and some it simply wasn’t in the cards. Time of year, visa restrictions, conflict, logistics and the mood of the day changed my course quite regularly.

It is my hope that I can go back some day and fill in some of these gaps. I desperately would like to see Iran, Pakistan, more of the Middle East and Western Africa. I was not going to rush it then and I am not going to rush it now. It is a long life.

 

10-What made you want to cycle the world?

A huge combination of things led to me wanting to cycle the world. However, actually getting started is another thing entirely. It is one thing to dream, but another to go live it. The dream was born back in university after reading an excellent book on the topic and deciding that was something I would also like to do. After first it was a hopefully little idea, then it became something I had to do. It was during a time that my love for international travel was growing. I devoured travel books by the dozens and poured over the globe with dreams of wild far off lands from the literature I was reading.

In 2010 I moved to South Korea for a year to teach English. I had a phenomenal time getting to know a culture I knew almost nothing about before going. It was here that I really started to travel on my own to new exotic lands. I returned to Canada to get my Bachelor of Education and then got an incredible offer at a Canadian International School in Sanya, China. It was here that I knew I would begin my cycling trip around the world after my two-year contract was complete. I would have time to save some money and mentally prepare for such a journey.

During my time in China I further entrenched my love for travel and explored a variety of very interesting countries in Asia like Mongolia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Philippines to name a few. I always travelled light and cheaply. This was preparing me for the challenges that were to come.

Before I left, I knew that I also wanted to do something more than just ride circles around the world. I wanted to give back. Education was something I was very passionate about. After careful research and a few phone calls, I found that Free the Children a Canadian based International charity was a perfect match for me. In the beginning, I was not sure how the charity would be received. I had goals of raising enough money to build five schools, in five different countries that I would go through. The locations on the map I believed would keep me motivated and moving towards a larger goal that would continue to give back long after my ride was done. I started with one school and worked my way up from there.

When I finally set out, it was this dream of a putting forth a challenge bigger than myself. As the final days of preparation loomed, I felt a sense of extreme fear and excitement all at the same time. The dream was finally coming true after six long years of quietly daydreaming. I wanted to read, write, meet people, take photographs, experience hardship, failure, get to know myself and most of all, feel alive. For all of those reasons, I set off into the wild unknown. It was just something I had to do.

 

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*Thank you to all the people who continue to follow and read my website. It is because of you that I continue to write and share my story. I am also working away at my book when time affords. Be patient, these things take time.

**News on a big change for the new year to come soon!

***In my presentations, I do not show the whole clip of my cycling trip around the world, but just the first few minutes. I am working towards a more concise and revised version. In the meantime, enjoy!

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Packing for that Big Trip: 15 Tips to Travel Cheap, Light and Smart

A Ten Minute ReadGear

(My Gear: Post-Trip)

“He who would travel happily must travel light.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Travel Writer

When I set out from China on my journey around the world, one of the hardest things was choosing what to bring with me. I had my four bags laid out on my bed and a mound of stuff that I thought I needed to take with me. I spent months before I left figuring out just the right stuff to bring on the trip. I am not sure what you would pack for two years, but it is easier said than done.

Before, I had done a number of lightweight trips that usually lasted a few weeks to a month. However, on most of those trips I didn’t need to be self-sufficient. They were also much shorter than the journey I was about to undertake. I knew I needed equipment that would last and would be durable in the rough conditions ahead. In most of China though, outdoor adventure stores are a niche market and expensive. As a result, I had to navigate Chinese websites to get all of my gear ordered online. With the help of my teaching assistant in China, I was able to do just that. It was a headache of a process, but I learned a lot.

Finally, with all of my gear laid out on my bed, I packed it up into my four bags with a tent. When I plopped it all on my bike, I felt the weight of all that stuff. After a heartfelt goodbye, I was off riding along with this monstrous load of weight in the sweltering heat of the South China summer. After a hard first day of riding, I was shattered. My bags were far too heavy.

That night I unpacked everything from my bags. I took everything I truly didn’t need and gave it away. For a week, I did the same thing almost every day and lightened my load to the point where I only carried what I truly needed. Periodically, I would go through my gear as seasons changed and my needs. Eventually, I rid myself of all unnecessary items. By the end of the journey, every single item had a purpose and a place. It was liberating. I could move faster, longer and happier. Freeing yourself from shackles of things, allows you to see the world around you as it is. It allows you to see the face of travel as it was meant to be seen.

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“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” ~ Spanish Proverb

There are many ways that you yourself can travel cheap, light and smart. I will dive more into how to travel cheaply in the future, but in many ways what you pack can directly impact the cost of your trip. This will make more sense later. The most important part, for myself, has always been to travel light. This allows you to have an increase in mobility throughout your journey. After traveling to over 60 countries, most of which was done lightly as possible, I have learned a few things from my different adventures. I will break down packing tips and tricks into a few categories below, with a bit of practical context for each. Remember, in many ways, what you own in turn owns you.

Money

(The only souvenirs I collect, besides memories & photos. I suppose I would be a mild collector, with all the bills from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam from Iraq, a Pakistani collection, old Russian rubbles & Chinese bills before Mao, as well as an extensive collection of all countries I have been to and more)

1. Travel Light:

It is easy to travel light if you know a little bit about where you are going. Look at your upcoming trip. Do some research. Google is your friend and easy to use. Where are you going? What season is it? Will you need a winter jacket or will just a T-Shirt be fine, even at night? How long are you going for? What type of trip are you headed out on? Are you going for a week or a month? Will you be moving your bags a whole bunch? Are you planning on camping or staying in nice hotels? These are all things to consider when thinking about what you may pack for your trip.

If you are wondering if you will be able to buy something related to clothing, the answer is yes. If you are going anywhere outside North America or Europe, things will generally be cheaper to pick up on the fly. In most cases, aside from specialized equipment, you will be able to find almost anything in the country you are headed to. I do understand that if you are on a shorter trip, chances are you’re not going to be interested in looking for a power adapter or a new pair of socks the moment you arrive. Weather and seasons aside, here are a few packing tips to save space, weight and mental breakdown with your luggage.

Roll your clothes. This frees up more space for other more important items. Packing what is needed goes a long way to avoid lugging around a heavy bag or suitcase for weeks on end. For two years I had only 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 pairs underwear, 2 hats, 2 buffs, 1 toque, 1 pair of mitts, 1 pair long johns, 1 sweater, 1 pair of cycling shorts and 1 set of lightweight rain gear. This all fit into one small bag at the front of my bike. On my other trips where the weather was consistently warmer and I did not need to camp, I packed much less than this. Time and time again I have seen backpackers on short trips with double what I packed for two years. Most only stay in hostels and rarely need more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What the heck do they have in those bags? Pack what you need.

Again, check the weather for the season and know where you are going. It is easy also to wash your clothes as you travel. A bit of laundry soap and travel clothes line or even a piece of rope can go a long way. Wash your clothes when you have the chance in a sink. Most places I stayed for a day off had at least a fan, things dry quickly and you save a bit of money. Even if you are going on a week-long trip, you can save time and money by washing your clothes yourself. You can also save time by just taking a carry-on backpack. You don’t need to wait for your bags after getting off the plane, you just get to go. Aside from moving to China and South Korea, I have never traveled with anything besides a small backpack. You beat the rush at immigration and you’re off on your adventure before everyone else gets their bags.

First Five Tips:

-Bring only what you will actually need

-You can get the little things later

-Roll your clothes to save space

-Pack for the occasion, not the end of the world

-Know the seasons & where you’re going

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2. Travel Smart:

There are many items that you can bring that will make your trip much more enjoyable and safe. Bring a small lock with a key. If you are not staying in some fancy hotel with safety deposit box, then you will need to have peace of mind when going out for the day. Chances are you are not interested in lugging all of your things around each day, especially if you are hiking a mountain or walking long distances. In any hostel, there should be locker, where you can use the lock I just mentioned. You will likely be sharing a room with 8-10 people and sometimes you won’t even meet most of them. It is hard to know what everyone is thinking.

When there were no lockers, I pushed my bags underneath the bed and locked the most important bag. Nothing ever went missing. I have heard all of the horror stories about people being robbed. In most cases, in my opinion, people were doing something they shouldn’t have. Leaving a phone on a table in a busy restaurant, taking expensive cameras to a market, going to a bar late in a bad part of town and leaving a bag at a table to go to the bathroom. All of these people were robbed and they wonder why it happened.

Throughout my two years on the bicycle around the world and all of my other travels, I have only had two things stolen from me. My bicycle tools in Peru and a travel towel (little bit gross) in China. Truly inexpensive items, though slightly annoying things to replace. Maybe because I always looked poor, people left me alone. There are still a number of things you can do to prevent theft. One is trying not to look like a ridiculous tourist. Wear what you would normally wear and bring what you would normally use for a domestic trip back home. That way your clothes will be familiar and you don’t look like a target. There are people who make a living out of this type of thievery. In most cases, you will be fine.

If you are worried about your health, pack medicines and health items which are versatile. Check the health warning and any vaccinations you may need for an area. Even if something terrible does go wrong, I assure you, health services are better than you think in most countries. If you have adequate insurance then you should be covered, if anything goes terribly wrong. Don’t over pack on the medicines. You can get most of the same things for coughs, sore throats and diarrhea in any country. A basic medical kit is all that you need. Take regular vitamins to stay healthy, especially when you cannot access healthy foods and take care of your body.

For two years I carried the same bit of pills and medical equipment around the world. I rarely used any of it. I was only truly sick twice during that time. For all of the terrible places I ate and the worn out rough conditions I was through, I think that is pretty darn good. Along the way I ate a ton of garlic and onions, took my vitamins and ate healthy whenever possible. Preventative measures are the best way to keep the doctor away. It also helps you lighten the load and maintain a healthy mood. No one likes getting sick on a holiday. Take care of yourself before your go and while you are abroad.

Also, don’t forget a good set of earplugs. Much of the world is quite noisy, especially in the developing world. A decent set plugs will save you a good night sleep and your enjoyment the following day.

Five More Tips:

-Bring a lock

-Look like a normal person

-Don’t do dangerous things

-Pack only necessary medicines

-Ear plugs

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3. Extended Travel:

There a good number of key items that will allow you to cut down costs, save space and make your trip more liberating. For myself, the number one thing on any adventure trip is the camp stove. You can get a lightweight stove that runs off liquid gas for less than 80$ at your local camping outlet. Over time, this little invention will save you much more in terms of food costs as well as mobility of where you can travel freely. The stoves are easy to carry and less than a dollar to fill up. I used regular unleaded gas, because it is available everywhere. It is the most beneficial item you can have if you are on an extended trip into expensive or far off places of the world. Also bring a small knife, plate and lightweight pot. A spork is a handy tool for eating on the road and useful for stirring your pasta or rice. You won’t be able to cook the most amazing meal in the world, but I have whipped up some pretty satisfying things on the fly.

Bring a lightweight and easy to set up tent. Again this only pertains to extended travel, but that tent, like the stove, will allow you to be out in the wild. If that’s what you like, the tent will allow you to experience nature and the people who live in those parts of the world. Free camping is exactly that, free. There are only a few occasions on my trip around the world where I agreed to pay for camping. When I rode my motorbike around Mongolia, I never did. It depends on the country and the type of comfort you are looking for with your travels. People are kind, so say hello. They will almost always allow you to camp on a patch of land near their home. I have a rule of always asking, if I don’t know. Gives you peace of mind while you sleep. You never know, you may even make a new lifelong friend.

A good sleeping bag. You can now get very warm and tightly packed sleeping bag that will allow you to sleep comfortably anywhere. In some places where I found the cheaper hotel beds to be completely filthy, (ie India and Ethiopia), a sleeping bag also comes in handy to separate yourself from the unclean sheets that won’t be cleaned even if you ask. Forget packing the bulky travel pillow and roll up your sweater or your towel for a fairly soft place to lay your head. If money is an issue, the more you save on buying the best of everything, will allow you to do what you came to do. Travel.

Lightweight electronics. Forget the huge laptop at home and invest in a small tablet or use your phone. This does not include a nice camera, if taking pictures is what is really important to you. The worst part about electronics though, is charging them. There are now many types of external battery sources from solar, electric and even self-powered energy devices. Find the one best suited for your trip and it will allow you to still stay connected in far off places and even enjoy your music.

Obviously with all of this stuff your bag is getting a bit heavier, but if you are going on a long enough trip with a budget and seeking adventure, I believe all of these items are liberating and will return their weight in cost and memories over time. Though it weighs more, I recommend bringing some sort of journal for those extended trips and making a point of writing as often as possible. It only takes a few moments to fill a page. Online blogs are nice, but there are certainly things you would write in a journal that you wouldn’t publishing online. It isn’t for anyone but yourself. You will likely be the only one interested in looking back later at your former self. On any long journey, always remember to bring an open mind. This can be the most important thing of all.

Last 5 Tips:

-Small Stove

-Tent

-Sleeping Bag

-Lightweight Electronics

-A Journal & An Open Mind

 

These are just a few points to get you going in the right direction for your next trip. If you would like to learn more about these topics or have questions about travel in general, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at markquattrocchi@hotmail.com. Until next time, take care, travel light and live for the adventure.

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*Now that we have reached our goal for five schoolhouses in five different countries, an update is underway by the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity). I look forward to sharing the full update on the progress of all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua with all over my sponsors. Stay tuned!

**If you didn’t see my new video from cycling around the world, you can check it out below, or even just watch it again! 🙂

 

 

10 Lessons From Cycling the World: Lesson #4

A Five Minute Readimage5-e1438805529127

(Study Group: Masaai Mara, Kenya)

Lesson #4- We Can Make a Difference: Give Back

“We so often feel powerless to do anything about the many problems in the world around us. We are so often left to wonder whether one person can possibly make a difference.” ~ Craig Kielburger, Free the Children/ME to WE

—-> In the grand scheme of things Canadians are pretty lucky. I read an article the other day that said Canada ranked number two in the world for the highest quality of life. After cycling around the world and visiting over sixty countries throughout my life, I can say for certain that the article is not far off the mark. We have it very good here. Yes, we complain about the rising prices of goods, gas and taxes, but the services we get in return, cannot be matched. We are well off and monetarily we live above many other places in the world. With our disposable income and time we have the power to make change a reality for people in struggling parts of the world.

It doesn’t mean we all need to start a fundraising campaign to build schools, health clinics and clean drinking water projects around the world. What it does mean is that we all have the power to make change happen. This can be right in our home community. I also understand there are plenty of Canadians that are going through a tough time and need our help as well. Volunteering at the local shelter, lending a hand to an old neighbour or using whatever skills we possess to help the less fortunate are just some way you can help. We don’t need to change the whole world with our actions, but we have the power to change individual lives in the present. I know when I give back, the feeling of having done so goes a long way for my present state of mind.

On my cycling trip I decided to partner with Free the Children, because I was passionate about education. As a teacher I knew the power that education can have on the lives of people around the world. In the modern age, without education, many people are lost and without much hope for the future.  Because of that initiative, four schools have been built and one final school in El Trapiche, Nicaragua is on the way. It is hard to believe, but we are almost there. With less than $320 to the final goal of $50,000, I am blown away. When I look at the long list of over 300 individual donations from great people throughout Canada and beyond, it leaves me speechless. If you would like to donate on the last push of the fundraising journey, please CLICK HERE.

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*A full update on all of the schoolhouses constructed under my cycling journey will come once the final goal of $50,000 is met. Not long now!

**You can expect Lesson #3 tomorrow. Almost there! 🙂

Free the Children – Who We Are

After Cycling the World: How Does it Feel to be Home?

A Ten Minute Read

DCIM102GOPRO

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” ~ Greg Anderson, Writer

Doing something you love is a hard feeling to describe and even harder when it comes to an end. To be working towards something that is bigger than you, delivers powerful energy into everyday life. I believe that if you invest every ounce of your mind and energy into a project, you will achieve it over time. It may sound cliché but, ‘all good things must come to an end.’ This is true of anything and an annoying reality.

After you have worked towards something for a long time eventually you will achieve it. That big promotion, building a home, getting married or riding a bicycle around the world. Sooner or later it will come true, if you stay true to your goals. Then what are you to do? It is easy to feel lost and slightly empty at the end of something like that. It may feel as if there is something missing from your daily existence. This big achievement was your definition forever. Where are you to go next?

However, I believe that a singular achievement should not be the whole definition of our reality. Famous sports stars, musicians and actors often fall victim of these types of feelings. One day they have an injury, are not seen as relevant anymore or simply get ‘too old’. These people sometimes struggle and fall into depressions. They can’t let go of their past selves. Attaching too much of ourselves to one side of our personality is never a good thing. We must remember we are not one dimensional creatures, but have a good number of things more to share with the world. My message is that it can’t define you wholly. There is more to you.

When I was traveling around the world, there is one question I almost never asked anyone. What do you do? I believe that someone’s job shouldn’t be their defining characteristic. Sometimes people let their jobs define who they are. However, I believe that we are more than that. We are brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. We have interests, values and characteristics which are outside this one aspect. Deep down though, we are something so similar to one another. We are most of all people, uniquely complicated and individually beautiful. This is what we must remember, when we think our goals are all complete, washed up or forgotten. We are still ourselves living a dynamic and ever-evolving story.

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“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe, Writer/Poet

When I crossed that finish line, I knew that my dream had come true. It had the feeling of finality. The goal was complete, with only a few loose ends to work out. The pride I felt at the end of the journey is something I have been coming terms with. The unique feeling that I can in fact do anything is a powerful pill to take. I feel like more doors have opened now than ever before. The problem is finding something I enjoy doing and am passionate about. I know what I would like to do, but here I stand at the beginning of a new challenge. It lays beyond money and superficial feelings.

The question I get most often now is: How does it feel to be home?

Plain and simple, it feels great. I set out and completed my goal. That ultimate dream is over and I can rest easy in the knowledge, that I worked towards something that was near and dear to my heart. I will always have this feeling of accomplishment. Home is comfortable. Friends and family are close by. Life is in a word, comfortable.

So, what is next? What will I do now that I am home and what have I been up to? Is there a next adventure in store?

Now that I am home, I have a good many things to do. I believe that life is not one singular adventure but a multitude of individual adventures. Together all of these things work together to define our being. They shape who we are in the present. They leave our past looking like a mysterious ghost. Sometimes, I think we find it hard to gaze back at our past selves. As we pass through different tracks of our lives we reflect on the moments of old and wonder at how we could have been so brave, naïve, immature or bold. I know reviewing old photos and videos from my journey has sometimes blown me away. How could I have ever fought through some of those days on wild isolated roads?

“On the first day of school, you got to be real careful where you sit. You walk into the classroom and just plunk your stuff down on any old desk, and the next thing you know the teacher is saying, ‘I hope you all like where you’re sitting, because these are your permanent seats.’” ~ Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid

As I sit back from the comfort of home, the outside world of adventure seems a million miles away. I still enjoy riding my bike, but it is not the same as it once was. Now I ride to keep fit. Before, I was never riding to stay in shape, I just was. In the past, getting on my bike meant that the adventures of the day were limitless. My whole existence was a liberting question mark. I never knew where exactly I would sleep or who I would meet. Interesting conversations were abound and I was constantly learning. Now, I sleep in the same place and there is routine of the day. I do miss many parts of the road. However, I do not miss some of the bad days, the longing for a friendly face, horrible winds and soul crushing distances.

I am happy to be home though. In my final days cycling through the United States and Canada, it felt like the end. As I rode through low hills and alongside the budding pastures of early May, I knew my journey had served the purpose. It was in those days, I was ready for whatever my next mission should be. I was ready for the next adventure. When I finally arrived home, I was ready to hang up the bicycle.   They journey was over and the next one was beginning.

When I mention the word comfort, it has a two pronged meaning. You could see it as sitting in a safe place to watch television and a warm reliable place to sleep. But, you could also look at it as a change to something more stable. I believe that too much comfortable, stability and predictability is not a good thing. At the moment, the idea of being comfortable is nice. For two years, I was rarely comfortable. I realize after getting a bit of stability back in my life, it is not what makes me happy. This is not the thing which makes me want to get up in the morning. For most people, the eternal search to better our lives is followed by the quest for an easier life. I could easily go back to this life, but it is not what would make me happiest.

I know from my experiences that the world for many people is not comfortable at all. I am privileged to have been born in a country where luxury is the normal expectation. I work towards something that is difficult, challenging and exciting once again. Because this is what fuels me. This is what makes me a better person. I want to challenge myself. The day flies by as they always used to. You’d be surprised how fast a day on a bike can go. If you are working towards something you are passionate about, eventually you will achieve it, and even have fun in the process.

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” ~ Oscar Wilde, Novelist

The idea of needing a ‘Life Purpose’ is a completely new concept in our world. This can be a stressful and liberating commodity as we are bombarded with messages and information about how we should live out our days. Pokémon Go, Donald Trump and ISIS aside, we are fortunate enough to form our own opinions. It can be a daunting task as we move further into our comfort zones and away from the hard choices that call themselves our dreams. Life can take us in a spaghetti bowl of lines. It is up to us to figure out which strands of life we connect with the most. To follow the lines that make ourselves and those around us feel the happiest. Life has no one set purpose, but is made up of a multitude of layers. The freedom of this reality is ours for taking. It is never too late. As terrifying as it may seem. I have said it before but, follow those dreams.

I now plan to take the next steps and turn my trip into a new adventure. One I am passionate about and frankly a little bit nervous. I am writing a book on my journey as a tool to encourage others to follow their dreams. I am also developing a new platform for my website and my speaking engagements. I want everyone to experience the feeling of, ‘Finding Their Bicycle Ride.’ Soon I will also embark on the adventure that is marriage to my wonderful fiancé. I have a lot to look forward to. I believe we can all do great things with time, dedication and hard work. With a little searching, you will always find whatever is next.

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*After a successful night at my open talk to the public in Smiths Falls last week we are very close to the goal for the fifth and final schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. There is now less than $1,700 to the ultimate goal of $50,000. Together we are making a difference in the lives of people throughout the world. Giving hope and bright new futures. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**To read a recent article by the founders of Free the Children and ME to WE Marc and Craig Kielburger on my cycling journey around the world, CLICK HERE.

***Stay tuned for a look at my new website and more frequent posts in the brand new format.

The Red Ribbon: Cycling Home in Canada

A Twenty-Two Minute Read

image“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~ Aldous Huxley, Writer

What constitutes as someone else’s regular? After spending two years rolling through the regular lives of forty different countries, my prior perceptions have been changed forever. I can tell you that the people I met along the way are just that, people. They are not all that different from you and I. We really all just want the same few things in life. We want a few people to hold close to us, a roof over our heads, food on the table and our health.

However, what is so interesting about these regular needs and wants are the cultures which make all regions of the world unique unto themselves. This is why we travel. Because, it is new and different. Along the way I experienced many societies in the way local people do. I got to see the daily grind, struggles and fascinations on the ground level. Stepping back from the things we consider normal, you would be surprised how easy it is to forget what makes our own home amazing. Quite often I would tell someone that a certain area is beautiful and they would stop, look, think and finally agree. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need those gentle reminders.

I was so long in someone else’s regular, that I was very excited to return to my regular. With Canada around the corner, I was beyond excited to experience old things in new ways. What is interesting about your regular?

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“Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.” ~ Pierre Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister

With a friendly welcome from Canada’s border officials, and a picture down by the water in Windsor, Ontario, I was off riding. After nearly two years of cycling I was finally back in familiar territory. I took in a bit of the scenery and I honestly have to say it really felt like being home. Though Canada can be compared to the Northern United States, in many ways, it really is a different place. I felt a huge burst of energy and made my way towards London.

One thing I did miss immediately from the United States were the wide shoulders that are perfect for biking. People in Canada were respectful, but in a blowing side wind, I felt a little cramped on the side of the road. I pushed on, rolling down country roads alongside Hwy 401 through places like Lakeshore and Chatham. On my first night back in Canada I made camp near a little town outside the home of a farmhouse thanks to an old couple, Ed and Donna. They were happy to let me camp for the night. The sun was nearly set and I got to work cooking my pasta with garlic, onions and a can of beans I picked up earlier.

I set up my tent for the night and put everything in place. For nearly two years my things have all had a spot. The same tent with four bags and a bearded man. The routine of the nightly cook and preparation for bed was almost finished. While my pasta cooled, I wrote in my journal as I always did. Then I watched the sun set from my tent while slurping up some bean filled penne. I knew this would be one of the last times I could experience this type of moment. The peace and quiet of my tent after a long day of riding. The ache of my muscles and the final zip of the tent as I closed myself off from the world for a few hours. I lay back and let out a big breath, as usual. The strain of the road wafting into the corners of my tent.

The following morning, I was up early and headed for London. A 140km kind of day was ahead of me. The weather didn’t look that promising, so I started moving quickly after a few bites of peanut butter and bread. I was to stay with a cousin, Mary-Anne, and her family. I was excited to see a familiar face and have a warm bed to sleep in that night. Dark clouds were brewing behind me. For most of the day, I kept a strong pace while the clouds spit rain at my tail. However, this was not to last forever. The rain came in freezing cold buckets. The only thing keeping me warm was the movement of a bike. I was about forty kilometres from my destination. I decided to press onwards in the rain and worry about my soaked shoes and clothes later. Every time a car passed a freezing cold burst of wind would blow up my soaked rain jacket.

After about an hour of riding in the rain it cleared with the sun warming my body once again. Stopping to shake a bit of water off, I squished around in my old shoes bought way back in Peru. The heels were broken and had seen nearly six months of road. They owed me nothing. I jumped back on the bike and made it to my destination in the early afternoon. It was so wonderful to see someone I knew once again and get caught up. We all talked that evening over a beautiful steak dinner with Mary-Anne’s family and a close family friend named Christine. It was great to have people to share my evening with.

In the morning, we had a delicious brunch and I was full of energy for a much easier day of riding to Stratford. We took a few photos together and I thanked them for their hospitality. Being part of a large extended Italian family has many wonderful benefits. Along the way Christine took photos as I rode up along the undulating hills north of London. I waved as she snapped some shots and thanked her for all the support she gave during my journey. With the wind at my back once again, I zig-zagged down country roads towards Stratford.

I was staying at the house of a long-time friend who I had not seen in quite some time, Spencer. He was out of town when I arrived, so I stayed with his parents, John and Kim. They were beyond hospitable and very enthusiastic about my trip. When I arrived a family friend and cycling enthusiast named Brent was there to meet me. We talked about routes, our cycling trips and looked at some maps for my trip home. Recently, I heard that Brent had a stroke, and is currently on the road to recovery. Please keep this friendly man in your thoughts.

During my time in Stratford, I ate like a king and relaxed before making the push to Toronto. Kim, who is a professional massage therapist, helped me get out the months and years of strain in my muscles. I felt like I was a new man afterwards. I also visited ‘Ross’ Bike Shop’ to replace my tires that were balder than anything. This would explain my recent heroic spill in downtown Detroit a few days earlier. When I arrived he had already heard of my story through a friend, Scott, who I did an interview with a day earlier in the Stratford Herald. (READ THE ARTICLE HERE) He told me not only did he have new tires for me, but he was going to do a whole overhaul on my bicycle for free, along with brand new water bottles. I think he felt a connection to my story, the work I was achieving through Free the Children and my hopes for the future. I was blown away by his kindness and chatted with the guys around the bike shop. In no time at all my bicycle had a new heart put back into it. It was one of the most generous acts of kindness on my whole journey. I cycled back to Spencer’s place, feeling humbled once again by the beauty of humanity.

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“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer

That night I got caught up with my old friend and made plans for seeing each other at the finish line of my journey back in Rideau Ferry. I shot off towards Toronto on a 160km day with rolling hills. There was traffic up to my teeth as I approached Toronto. Riding through Brampton was very busy as I cut along near the airport and headed for my cousin Marina’s house in Etobicoke. Marina was one of my biggest promoters and supporters of the journey. This was also a very special day, as the love of my life, Eliza, was flying in that night from China. I could not wait. It was going to be a very special day of familiar faces. Once I saw her come though those gates, my heart felt whole again.

Picking Eliza up at the airport with Marina late at night was an emotional time. Seeing my fiancée after eight months of separation was one of those moment you never forget. United Airlines annoyingly lost her bag though. We were too happy to be bothered much by it. The following day Marina had arranged a potluck dinner and an opportunity to talk about my ride. It was the first group of people I was able to share my ride with in a long while. The food was fantastic and I was even able to meet Alexas from Free the Children, who helped me coordinate the construction of all five of the schoolhouses. From Etobicoke, I made my way on a short ride downtown Toronto after saying goodbye to Marina. Eliza and I got settled downtown and prepared to meet up with Global News and visit the offices of Free the Children. This was also something I had looked forward to a long time.

The following day, I spoke at Free the Children and got to meet some of the amazing people behind the scenes. They even had a cycling cake prepared for me after the presentation. However, the table broke as we were about to eat the cake. It was not meant to be. Global News wrapped up their story and I was able to rest up in Toronto for the next few days before saying goodbye once again to Eliza. She went to be with my parents, and I rode onto Lindsay on route homeward. This would be the final leg of the journey home.

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“The fact that over 50 per cent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city’s biggest strength, and it is Toronto’s unique strength.” ~ Anthony Bourdain, TV Host/Chef

I made it to Lindsay after breaking through the traffic of Toronto. I stopped on the way to chat with an old friend from South Korea and swung by another friend’s house on Lake Scugog, Dale and Nikki. With so many people to greet me along the way home, my face hurt from permanently smiling. A great problem to have as I rolled into Lindsay to stay with Aunt Bev. I arrived at a familiar house, where I made many fond memories as a child. We drove over to her son Dave’s and we had a delicious dinner with their family. The following morning Aunt Bev and I had a bit of brunch at a diner (awesome) before I cycled off to Peterborough to stay at her other son John’s place in Peterborough.

Now I was really back in familiar territory. For five years I lived and even worked in Peterborough while I went to school at Trent University. I went by Trent and a few of the old places I lived just for the sake of nostalgia. After an interview with the local paper, I continued on cycling to a few old haunts with a big smile on my face. Not far to go now, I thought to myself as I rolled over to John’s place to stay with his family. All these extended relatives opening their homes to me and sharing their lives was so amazing. We dined on some delicious kabobs and I jumped into the hot tub with the kids before it was time for bed. I was gaining weight for the first time in weeks after being so well-fed everywhere I went.

In the morning, I met my Aunt Joanne, Uncle Scott and their daughter Christina for a diner style breakfast. How could I complain. A great way to meet close family and get my day underway. After a proper breakfast I was off riding. The weather started to turn while I rode on route to Sharbot Lake. During the day I got soaked three times along busy old Highway 7. Trucks splashed piles of water onto me and the sun would appear to tease me. The humidity would rise high, while the storm turned around and hit with another cold shot of rain. Even during all of the horrible rain there was a brief pause where I came over a hill and watched a beautiful rainbow form. Eventually, I made it to Sharbot Lake after 170 kilometres of hard riding damp and ready for sleep. During the day I had stopped for a quick poutine, just because I could. To see a recipe for a Canadian classic CLICK HERE.

The following day, I met up with Eliza and saw my mother for the first time since South Africa. It was a nice reunion before heading off to Granite Ridge and St. James Major Schools to share my story. I had whipped up a quick PowerPoint to share with the kids and answered a ton of questions. I thanked them for all they had done to help me achieve my goals with building schools in different parts of the world.

Sharbot Lake holds a great deal of memories from my childhood. I always remember visiting my Grandmother there and going to play at the beach. I rode by her house and thought about the old days. Grandma was a pretty big traveler herself and I often thought of her on my journey. From time to time, I wondered what she would think of the whole thing. We all had lunch with an old friend named Marg and my great Aunt Edith before I rode off to spend the night at my friend Josh’s about 30km on backroads away. More friends and friendly faces were to come.

It wasn’t far from Josh’s place to Perth. I made quick work of it and rolled into town ready for a talk at St. John Elementary on my ride. They were wonderful supporters throughout my journey, so it was so nice to share my story there. I had an interview with the local radio, Lake 88 and a final presentation at Queen Elizabeth School nearby. A few days early my best friend Dave & Tara McGlade had their first baby. That night I spent the evening with family having dinner then returned to Dave & Tara’s place to meet cute new baby Charles, before drifting off to sleep. It was a wonderful time to be back home.

From the other side of Perth, I made my way to Smiths Falls for three presentations on my ride to some of the supporting schools there. The speaking tour continued. Visiting St. Francis School where I went to as a young boy, was a very surreal experience. Returning to speak about my ride and encouraging young kids to follow their dreams seemed like it hit home for many of the listeners. As I wrapped up my day, I felt a huge sense of pride for all I had accomplished with my ride. Riding over to my uncle Joe’s I got caught up on a laundry list of e-mails and joined my family for dinner nearby at Aunt Fran’s with two friends from Trent. After a bit of celebrating it was time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day. My final day on the bicycle

After a good breakfast, I loaded up the bicycle one last time. I wheeled out into the driveway and thanked my everyone for their support. Global News was there to cover the last stretch of my ride. I pulled out on the road and began to ride as I always did. It was a cool and misty morning. The only difference between this and a regular day were the people cheering and signs posted welcoming me home. As I got closer to Rideau Ferry, I started breaking up on the bike. I had no idea it would be that hard. I saw a few more friends before I made my way towards the bridge to greet the group that would join me on bicycles to my home. Pushing over the bridge I saw the large crowd of people waiting with their bikes and signs. I was blown away. Tearing up as I roared down to the smiling faces I was overwhelmed and met with an endless supply of hugs. You can watch the whole story by Global News HERE.

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“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” ~ Drake, Songwriter

After a quick bite to eat at Jimmy’s Snack Shack and a final interview, the group of riders kicked off to cycle the final seven kilometres to my family home from Rideau Ferry. From then on it was only smiles and laughs all the way home. All ages of people with a variety of bikes joined in riding together. Near the finish line a friend had set up a lemonade stand for everyone. A welcome break for those on route. In the final moments of my ride I took the lead at the front of the line. I was riding down the same old road I had cycled a thousand times. It was all too familiar. I rounded the corner to a group of family and friends. I picked up some speed on the bumpy dirt road and broke through the red tape at the finish line.

I was finally home.

Be careful following your dreams. One day they just might come true. 🙂

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*I would like to thank everyone that has made this entire journey a huge success. From all of the people along the way that helped me get a place to sleep, some food to eat and spent some time to chat. To all of the sponsors who have helped us raise over $47,500 to construct five schools in struggling countries around the world. With the help of many schools in Eastern Ontario and over 275 individual sponsors, we have helped give young children hope for a better future. To Free the Children for all of their encouragement and the opportunity to make a different. To all of my friends who rooted me on during the course of the trip and joined me for the final leg home. Thank you to everyone who went out of their way to make my final days on the bike a warm and welcoming memory that will last forever. To my parents, Vince & Dorothy, as well as my brother Luke for always being there. And of course, my rock, Eliza for being my support throughout the entire journey. I couldn’t have done it without all of you working together. Thank you all for making it the ride of a life-time.

**We are now so close to the final goal of $50,000 for the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. With less than $2,500 I know that we will soon achieve our goal there. You can read about the community of El Trapiche by clicking the link HERE and scrolling to the bottom for an overview of the work being done there. It is truly unbelievable how generous people have been and how near we are to the final goal. It is a wonderful feeling, with too many people to thank. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

***Now that I have finished my ride I am continuing to speak around Eastern Ontario. On July 11th at 6:30 pm at St. James School (5 Catherine St.) in Smiths Falls, Ontario, I will be giving a general talk to the community about my journey. I call my presentation, ‘Finding Your Bicycle Ride’. It is designed to encourage young people and adults alike to follow their dreams through the use of my bicycle ride as a jumping off point. I share the hardships of people around the world, beautiful pictures and stories from my trip. There will be a period afterwards for refreshments and socializing. For more info on booking a speaking engagement CLICK HERE.

****Though my journey is over, I will continue to maintain this website. I have a great deal still left to share and travel articles to write. Look for updates and changes to the site in the following months, as I start my transition to a new format. I am also in the beginning stages of writing a book on my experiences over the last two years. Stay tuned for updates on this and other events. Thank you for following along!

*****Watch the interview with CTV Morning Live HERE.

******Happy Canada Day! 🙂

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The Home Stretch: Cycling the States

A Seventeen Minute Readimage

On the road to success there are always obstacles that will stand in your way. Some will seem like they are impossible to overcome, while others will just be minor annoyances. Overcoming these roadblocks are all part of the larger struggle that leads to new avenues of personal development. Change in the face of opposition can be the hardest mountain to overcome. But, with determination, all good things will come to light.

After over twenty-three months on the road I have finally completed my journey around the world. However, it does not stop there. My trip continues on in my heart and my mind. There are a good many things I still have left to share and a message I want to make known to the world. The bicycle served as a guidance system to bring me through the challenges I needed to face. In many ways, the ride was more of a mental struggle than any other aspect. It was a daily obstacle course that involved split second decisions and chance encounters. I believe that the game of life is no different. We just do not see the consequences of our actions as quickly. The impact of our actions are in fact compounded over time.

In the quiet moments over the last few days, I have had periods to contemplate the ride. Sometimes I think I have a handle on all of the things that happened over the last two years and in other moments it seems to just be a cloudy dream. Images of people and places jump out like stalking lions. Some lay on in plain view. It will take some time to make sense of all that has happened. I have taken the messages from the road and know what obstacles I must overcome to move on. At the moment I am encouraging people to, ‘Find Your Bicycle Ride.’

You can check out the recent story on my completed ride and homecoming by Global News Canada by CLICKING HERE.

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“The great thing about the United States and the historically magnetic effect it has had on a lot of people like me is its generosity, to put it simply.” ~ Christopher Hitchens, English American Author

Our story picks up at the Mexican border post in Brownsville, Texas. Crossing over from Mexico was like stepping into another world. The affluence of the United States instantly blew me away. Throughout my journey stepping into a new country was always different. However, sometimes the changes were more apparent than others. Instantly people spoke English and I understood the world around me much better. In Southern United States there is still a heavy Spanish influence, but most people are able to speak English well. It really felt like I was coming home.

After a quick and relatively painless border check, I went to stay with some old friends who I hadn’t seen in five years, David and Diana. We had all taught English together in South Korea. During my break my good friends ensured I got a taste of American culture through some of the awesome food, sights and events in the area. It was a wonderful time catching up with them. Almost as if we had never been apart of one another. I even made the front page of the Brownsville Herald and was awarded a special honour from the Mexican consulate thanks to their help. It felt good to be with people who I had known from a different life. You can read the article in the Brownsville Herald HERE.

After a good rest and a hard goodbye, I was off cycling into a northern headwind. The landscape was flat and punctuated by massive ranches. On the first night I had rode all day and as the sun went down the wind began to pick up. I hid my bike and tent behind a wall of a ranch entrance, hoping no one would discover me in the night. Waking early the next morning I found that my water supply was running a bit low and no service stations were present at all. I saw a guy waiting in a rest area and asked him for water, to which he happily gave me a few bottles. Eventually I made it up to Corpus Christie and continued onwards through the beginnings of rolling hills. The views were quite pretty and the camping was fairly easy.

One evening in a small town the police said I was not allowed to camp in the local park. The sun was going down and I saw a man on his porch so I asked if I could camp. Mike said it would not be a problem as long as I didn’t cause any trouble. He made it be known that he had lots of guns and was not afraid to use them. Later that evening he came out to my tent with a huge venison steak, a couple sausages and tortillas for my morning breakfast. I was blown away and very thankful for his generosity. Throughout the United States I was taken in by people or the recipient of random acts of kindness just like this.

“A huge dollar bill is the most accurate way to teach children the real motto of the United States: In the Almighty Dollar We Trust… Until the average American realizes that capitalism damages her livelihood while augmenting the livelihoods of the wealthy, the Almighty Dollar will continue to rule. It certainly is not ruling in our favor.” ~ Kyrsten Sinema, American Politician

The following morning on I went north. Throughout my time in the United States I also spent a great deal of time getting caught up on my calories in the various gas stations. The excess and consumption was sometimes hard to handle after so long in countries where people struggle for the basic necessities. However, many people went far out of their way to help me through this section of my ride. It was humbling and endearing to witness. There are simply too many stories to share from this leg of the ride in a single post. I spent a great deal of time camping in trailer parks, where I met down to earth locals and people with genuinely curious smiles. I ate with rehabilitated criminals, chatted with remote farmers and shook hands with cycling enthusiasts from all over the United States.

On I went through Texas towards Arkansas. The hills continued to roll and the scenery was beautiful. I loved the roads through Arkansas with their wide shoulders and quiet swamps. One night I slept on the lawn of a family who brought me out beef stew and some ice cream bars. I was a happy camper as I passed my way through Arkansas experiencing the Southern hospitality. While resting outside a dollar store one afternoon, a man walked up to me and gave me a dollar. I tried to return it to him and explain that I did not need any charity, but he was not hearing it. When he came back from inside the store, he gave me a flashlight from his car and would not take no for an answer. What a guy.

Throughout the United States there were many people who walked up to me just to ask where I was coming from and where I might be going. Sometimes I did not want to get into the whole story, but if they were able to get it out of me, they usually did not believe it at first. I had gone to many countries on this trip that people are taught to fear. I continually tried to convey the message that even people in the ‘dangerous’ parts of the world are just that, people. Ninety-nine percent of people are not out to get you. Most would simply like to go about their business and be left alone to enjoy their lives. During the course of my journey I can say that people are not inherently bad. People become bad when they are pushed enough by internal and outside influences that cause them to rebel against certain factors. It is important to remember that the people throughout the world are not a statistic, but living breathing humans with similar wants, desires and dreams. We are all not that different.

Cruising along through Arkansas I eventually made it through a horrible crosswind along a flattened road to Memphis, Tennessee. I was in the house of Elvis and took my second day off since beginning my cycle across the United States towards Canada. With so many roads available, my route was continually changing. In most cases, the howling wind usually had a direct impact on where I ended up and who I met. Wherever I found myself at the end of the day, it always seemed right. It never felt as if I was lost or on the wrong track. There was always a new face to talk to or give me the motivation to continue onwards. Throughout the United States it was a mostly a mental battle I was waging against myself. I was trying to make it back to Canada in time to meet my lovely fiancee Eliza, who I had not seen in eight months. She was flying into Toronto and I needed to be there on time.

I rested up in Memphis and made my way onwards through spitting rain towards Kentucky. Very quickly the hills came rolling along with a ever increasing headwind. By the end of the day I got soaked in a cold rain. I was feeling low and miserable. Over the next few days this type of thing played on repeat with a cool northerly wind whipping across the landscape and hills that undulated for days. One evening I camped out in the yard of a retired Navy Veteran named Roy. He was a well travelled individual himself. We talked into the night about the history of Kentucky, shared travel tales and ate strawberries from his garden. I later found out he was a big fan of barbecued raccoon. Check out a few recipes for raccoon…HERE  😦

I left Roy’s house late in the morning after a second cup of coffee. I pushed onwards through roaring wind towards Indiana. As a made my way onwards I entertained myself with some FM radio after months of the same music on repeat. Biking through different regions allowed me to listen to a wide variety of music and genres. It was always entertaining as were the commercials. “Maybe your not fat, maybe you’re just bloated,” went the radio. “Take just one pill and see the results immediately.” I cracked a smile with the drone of the radio and advertisements in my ears.

“The United States gave me opportunities that my country of origin could not: freedom of the press and complete freedom of expression.” ~ Jorge Ramos, Mexican-American Author

Arriving in Indiana I pushed onwards towards Ohio and another friend’s home who I also taught with in South Korea. However, along the way I ran into a bit of bicycle trouble. My rear wheel seized one day on the side of a fairly busy highway. I pulled off the road and tried my best to fix the problem. I had been stubbornly fixing the same issue for months and it had finally given out. I was tired of repairing spokes and could not get the wheel to budge. I got the bike to the next service station and flagged down a ride to the nearest bike shop in the next town. I quickly got a new near rim, replacing the one that had rolled with me since Brazil. Truthfully, it owed me nothing at all. I continued on my way through Southern Indiana past a few ‘Donald Trump For President’ signs.

Later that same day, I got a flat. This was nothing new, as I was getting multiple flats almost every single day on my bald old tires purchased in Panama City. After patching the tube, that was now looking like swiss cheese, my bicycle pump broke. I was stuck on the side of the road again with no air and a very flat tire. As I was debating what to do, a man rolled up in a convertible. His name was Jim Jones and he offered to help me out. Stuck at the time, I welcomed his help. With the bike loaded up in his convertible we were off to get a new pump for my bike. Along the way, with the wind in our hair, he told me that he lost his leg on the very same highway when a transport truck hit him on the side of the road the previous year. His story of survival was amazing. As we drove he offered for me to join his family for a pizza, pasta and salad buffet. It was like a dream come true. We had dinner and shared some stories together.

After dinner we got the bicycle pump and he had originally planned to drop me off near where I left off. However, it was getting late. Jim suggested I come stay with him and his wife for the night. I was thrilled at the opportunity. When I arrived his wife was just getting home and she quickly welcomed me in as well. I was able to get a nice shower, wash my clothes and a soft bed for the night. I was blown away by this man. Even with his recent disabling accident, he had a lust for life and a genuine care for his fellow human. Saying goodbye the following morning was difficult, when he dropped me back off near where he found me the previous day. On I rolled towards Ohio with a heart full of hope and wonder for our world.

I had a good start on the day and had hoped to make it to my friend’s Zach and Bethany in two days. However, once I got rolling I decided to turn those two days into one. I arrived in Miamisburg, Ohio at 9pm after a huge 178km day over rolling hills and a crosswind. I was tuckered out and very excited to see some familiar faces once again. It was so nice to catch up with old friends and share some stories from old days working back in South Korea. I took two full days off to rest after my haul up from Memphis and was even treated to dinner at a Korean restaurant for old times sake.

From Zach and Bethany’s it was a long three day ride through the rest of Northern Ohio on into Michigan. I put in some big days and camped out along the side of the road. The wind was in my favour for once and pushed me forward through the final stretch of the United States. The terrain was almost entirely flat, so the long days were a little easier to handle. On the final few hours of my ride through the states I had to pass through the busy morning traffic of Detroit. At one point I ran into some construction, hit a patch of water and then a patch of gravel. Before I knew it, I had crashed and was rolling across the pavement. I was not impressed. I said I would replace my worn out tires as soon as possible back in Canada.

Finally, the Ambassador Bridge leading across the Detroit River to Windsor came into view. Even with my recent crash I was excited about my return back to Canadian soil. I wound around a loop of trucks and traffic as I made my way up the bridge. When I was nearing the halfway point of the bridge, a security lady jumped out of her truck, stopping both lanes of traffic. She yelled at me to get into the truck and put my bike in the back. The surly traffic police woman claimed I was not allowed to bike on the bridge. I had never had this problem my entire trip and was a bit annoyed. Especially, since her blocking both sides of traffic made the situation even more dangerous for everyone in the process. We got in the truck eventually and I asked her to just drive me the rest of the way across the bridge to Canada. She said, “no”, it wasn’t possible as I was on the American side of the bridge.

When I arrived back at customs no one was pleased to see me. I sat down in the group of other ‘randomly selected’ people and waited for the them to figure out what to do with me. I apologized for breaking the rules, I did not know existed, and was told to go down to the tunnel where I could get a shuttle to the other side. Apparently, biking back to Canada was not going to be a possibility. I came outside with all of my belongs gone through on a table. Begrudgingly, I put things back together and was off towards the tunnel. I asked if I could bike under the tunnel, but was told I had to wait for the shuttle. A bit annoyed once again, I waited for the shuttle and the ten minute ride over to Canada.

When I arrived back I was greeted by a few friendly border guards who asked a bit about my journey. They laughed when I told the story about the bridge. We all wondered why they just wouldn’t let me go. In total it was over 3,000km in twenty-two days of cycling through the states. I moved like the wind up from Mexico and had the massive expanse of beautiful country behind me. From customs I rode out into a sunny afternoon. I pointed my bike in the direction of home and let my pedals do the talking. It was good to be back. 🙂

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*I am proud to announce with the recent outpouring of support from schools all around the Eastern Ontario region we are less than $3,000 from the final goal for the fifth school in El Trapiche, Nicaragua with Free the Children. This is like a dream come true not only for myself but mostly importantly for the young people we are helping around the world. A few donations are still to be posted online. #BeTheChange PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**After arriving home I have been busy speaking about my ride. If you would like to have me talk about my experiences in your area please contact myself at markquattrocchi@hotmail.com to arrange a date. I use my ride as a platform to help others, ‘Find Their Bicycle Ride.’

***To view the live interview I did last week with CTV Morning Live PLEASE CLICK HERE.

****Thank you to everyone near and far who have made my journey a wonderful success. To my family, fiancee, friends and online supporters who have made my trip an unforgettable experience, I cannot thank you enough. I will be sharing the final leg of the journey home through Canada in a post coming soon. Please stay tuned and thank you for following along! 🙂

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Just Like Us: Charity Update

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“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Writer/Historian

With over $30,000 raised, the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya is now under construction. I cannot thank everyone enough who rose to the call and gave what they were able. Together we are making dreams come true for young learners in different parts of the world. We have now accomplished building a school in Guangming, China and the second schoolhouse in Verdara, India is now underway. I am without words. When I look back at my humble dreams of making a difference in the education of tomorrows youth, I would have never expected this. Simply getting on a bike everyday and going for a ride, has given young children the opportunity for a better future. The dream of having a memorable childhood is the gift we are giving. Seeing the smiling faces in these communities is all the thank you we can ever need.

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My next hope is an additional $10,000 and a schoolhouse for the children in Shuid, Ecuador. I know working together we can achieve this. Together we are powerful. Together we are strong. We can make a difference. We have already proven that. Giving others hope and a better life is one of the best feelings in the world. We are already off to a great start thanks to wonderful donations by Eleanor Glenn and the Rutherford family. Below is a look at Shuid, Ecuador. Some of the accomplishments, needs and details about the community are listed here. I hope to visit the site in the coming months, as I make my way up South America. Together our potential is limitless. We may not change the entire world, but at least we can give hope and alter the course of someone’s life forever. This is what it is all about.

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The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~ Brian Tracy, Author

To make a difference in the world is not about throwing money at a problem and looking away. It is about extending your hand when someone else is down. When they are out in the cold both figuratively and literally. It is easy to forget about people worlds over or turn the channel. Those with the smallest voices need the most help. The people that just want to live in peace. My experiences throughout my journey are amazingly positive. If you open yourself to the world, you never know who you will meet. The people that had the least always seemed to give the most. When a little is a lot. When times are tough and they were still about to help. The places you’d at least expect kindness were the most giving. This world never ceases to inspire me. Something to think about:

Feels like Home

We closed up and left our shop,
We walked away, with no more talk.
Stealing away under darkened care,
Together we walked all the way there.
The heat rose from the daytime light,
While familiar noises banged in the night.

We took what we could drag, roll or carry,
We did it together, even if it was scary.
Arriving was not a typical scene,
“You’re a refugee.” What does that mean?
A girl I met had the same story,
There were no more bells, no more glory.

We waited in that place forever it seemed,
We talked knee to knee, in small spaces I dreamed.
Reports came in, they were always bleak,
There was no place to go, no shelter to seek.
Inside the gates, caught between curled spikes,
Out of mind and out of sight.

We finally got news of something good,
We packed our few things, happily with Mom and Dad I stood.
Boarding a big plane, it rumbled up high,
Into the night we flew, below dark as the sky.
“Where are we going?” I asked my Dad,
Looking off in the distance, a little sad.
He smiled and said “Somewhere beautiful where we can live free.”
“Welcome to Canada!” The man greeted happily.
I nodded and thought, “Feels like home to me.”

Complacent

Pieces of people walk,
They pass and they glow.
Open books, filled up with talk.
Hopeful we all know,
Know that there is more.
Lifestyles built on a hollow core.

We pass on open roads,
Practical and passive,
Bearing secret loads.
The gap grows, it is massive.
Plugged into lives dictated to be free,
While invisible forces of spirit divide you and me.

We trowel for diamonds in the dirt,
Searching with broken tools and sun cracked eyes.
Amid all the shroud of veiled hurt,
A child’s voice muffled, silencing all their old cries.
Goals lost to political treason,
Hate falls, halting all for no reason.

Flickers of light stain the side of turned faces,
As unwanted feelings bubble deep inside.
Complacent looks shrug away the traces,
Moods dampened, that we easily hide.
Distractions come by the many, they are plenty.
Not my problem anymore,
Call it someone else’s war.

This is dedicated to all of the heroes who have made my journey every bit possible. To all the people who have opened their homes, lives and hearts to me. I am forever grateful. For every bit of freedom you gave me and all of the hardship you saved me from. Thank you for allowing me to show that the world is a good place. Thank you for reminding a guy on a bike, wherever I go, there will be kind people. I encourage those all over the world to look inside and reach out to people in need. Please welcome those the same way you would want to be. We are all of the same world. Just like you. Just like me. Just like us.

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To join the cause and help give the children of Shuid, Ecuador a safe place to learn, CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

**Here is a recent article by Stacey Roy about my ride and charity from my hometown paper. A big thank you to all of my supporters back home! CLICK HERE TO READ.

Saying Goodbye: Dust, Salt and Tears of Egypt

An 11 minute read

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Egypt gave birth to what later would become known as ‘Western Civilization,’ long before the greatness of Greece and Rome.”John Henrik Clarke, Writer/Historian

“Hello, hello, hello!” “Stop, Stop, Stop!” Children walk in groups on route home from school. The occasional bicycle challenges and a friendly laugh. Questions and staring eyes ensue on a dusty road. Scorched by desert heat, the ground quivers in a haze. The morning sun blisters in the open spaces. Later, descending hard and fast in the early evening. Green on the right and endless desert expanses on the left. Don’t wander far. Respect the sky. Cherish the wind at your back. Finishing ever last drop of the day, like water in a crushed empty bottle. Rubber and pavement. Sun and sky. Water and life.Me and the road. Partners in this challenge.

Egypt. One of the countries I had been anticipating the most on this trip. An astounding history with modern complexities. The very notion of Egypt sends endorphins of anticipation to my senses. Walking about Cairo amid the pyramids and ancient markets, I was blown away. Words cannot describe the majesty and depth of power that radiates from it. This extends much deeper than ancient temples and tombs. If you look under the curtain of the tourist touts you will find something captivating. A modern Egypt. One without self-entitlement and full of generosity.

Staying for a few days in Cairo with an extremely nice family, I learned of the modern difficulties that plague Egypt as well as their successes over the last decade. There is a changing face of a new Egypt with a deeply passionate people. I shared my story of challenge and charity to eager students at the Canadian International School of Egypt. With a kind welcome to the school, it was an excellent start to a new continent. While staying with the most hospitable family they shared their house, food and experiences with me from home and abroad. A humbled guest, I was lost without words at the realization of how little I have to offer. How do I repay all of the wonderful people along the way? To the countless souls who have opened their doors and let this weary traveller enter their lives, I extend my most heartfelt thank you. For being an inconvenience, a drag and general annoyance at times, I am sorry.

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” ~ Mark Twain

Due to the security situation in Egypt I was urged by many to start my journey a little further south of Cairo. To respect the wishes of government officials, family and the general concerned I took their advice. Beginning my African odyssey, I held the vibrant colours of the life-giving Nile River on my right and rocky moonscape of desert on my left. A slow wind urged me along as I explored Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Sites of eternal glory. As I rode towards Aswan the temperatures rose with the sun. My bike computer peaked at 52 degrees as my pants split in the decaying heat and my shirt crusted over like old cardboard from evaporated sweaty salt. Drinking water on the edge of being boiled, keeping cool was a constant issue. The dry weather cracked my lips and burned my face. Closing my eyes, I could feel the heat inside my eyeballs. Little room for escape.

Regardless, I loved the ride. It had been so long since I felt the warm scorch of the day. The visible strain and challenge of riding in difficult countries. Europe was a scenic break. Camping was simple and grocery stories readily available. Egypt was a rebirth into what I love. The moments of struggle. Seeing the visible rewards of my achievements and miles under my tires. Pushing hard with regained conviction of my purpose. Dirt, dust, sweat and salt of my labours. Badges on my fading clothes. To stumble with exhaustion into stores with cooked eggs for brains in search of nameless items. The local staple of ‘Kushari‘ (recipe) was my go to dish at less than a dollar per carbohydrate loaded serving. A dish that brings together the cultural influence of countless regions over Egyptian history. Rice, pastas, chick peas and lentils mixed in a hearty tomato sauce, topped with fried onions and spiced to taste. I was in food cycling heaven.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” ~ Fight Club

Arriving in Aswan I was set to acquire the elusive Sudanese tourist visa. My next destination. While waiting I got a frantic message to call home. Never a good sign. Tragedy had struck. My cousin Jamie had been swept away into the ocean by a wave while exploring out east with his girlfriend at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. I was in utter disbelief. My family brought to their knees in grief. How could something like this be possible? It is still very hard to believe. Life can change just like that. I was on a plane home the next day. During that time of extended solitary contemplation I had a great deal of time to think about Jamie’s life, our connection and what it all meant.

Jamie was a wonderful person that I shared many close memories with. Growing up together we were like brothers. We played together for years as kids and worked side-by-side for many more. He had an amazing joy for life and held dear to him the people that mattered most. He was never anything but himself. He brought the best out in those around him and made the world a better place. Fair and true. Funny and respectable. We will all miss you more than words can ever describe. To Uncle Jim, Aunt Caroline, Jessica, Jeremy, Jeanna, his loving girlfriend Brittany and her family, we are all here with you even if we can’t be near each other. Life is fragile. Love family. Cherish your moments together.

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” José N. Harris, A Story of Faith, Hope and Love

*CLICK HERE to read more about my Aunt Caroline and Brittany’s initiative to make Peggy’s Cove safer for tourists. It is the hope that no other families have to feel that same pain and loss of someone taken too soon.

**Thank you for the continued support of the schools in Eastern Ontario. I would like to thank St. Gregory’s and St. Mary’s specifically for your most recent donations. The kids of Verdara, India are now that much closer to achieving new hope and a new school. CLICK HERE TO DONATE

***Tomorrow I head to Sudan, my 13th country on this trip. It is with great anticipation I resume my journey through Africa. To the intense heat, sand and dust of the Nubian Desert ahead. See weather report for the next week with temperatures set for the mid-forties and UV index of 12 HERE.

India by Cycle: GoPro Hero 3+ Video

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Across the Bridge: My First Day in Afghanistan

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“I have not told half of what I saw” ~ Marco Polo, Explorer

I rode out of Samarkand, westwards towards Bukhara. I moved at an indifferent pace, as if something was calling me. My mind had been preoccupied for days with one thing. Afghanistan. It kept ringing in my head. I knew I had to go there. With the route to Iran blocked by visa restrictions, Afghanistan had become my new destiny. A slice of Silk Road obscurity like no other. Thoughts of it ate up most of my waking moments. Like a skipping record in the back of my mind the word rang on repeating cycles. I couldn’t shake it anymore as I read news reports and practiced speaking Dari in poorly lit rooms at night. Going to Bukhara would just prolong the inevitable. My curiosity peaked. I stopped my bike and consulted my map. Turning around, I headed Southeast towards Afghanistan.

First impressions of Afghanistan are ones of fascination and total confusion. It is decidedly the most unique country I have been to, for a myriad of reasons. After naviagting my way through questioning and searches by heavily armed Uzbeki customs agents, I made it to the other side. Upon crossing the ‘Friendship Bridge’ across the Amu-Darya River to Afghanistan, the view immediately changed. I was let into Afghanistan with barely a look by a joyful guard who just wondered at my bicycle with admiring eyes. All the advice I had been given and my general preconceptions were out the window. I was alone again. Alone in Afghanistan.

As my bicycle strode along the mud brick barbed wired walls, I felt a sense of adventure, fear, excitement and joy, like nowhere else I have felt in the world. I pedalled along trying to wipe the adrenaline enduced smile from my face. Though I was excited to finally have arrived, I was not taking the situation and my surroundings lightly. There is still a war being waged here, as the country fights back insurgency. Doing the proper research beforehand is essential and there are some places you just don’t go. It is no walk in the park. Infrastructure is limited and things can change quite quickly.

However, upon entering the country, the feelings I had were quite different than what I was made to believe. The demeanour of the men was of playful curiosity and resilience. Unveiled women walked by talking with friends, while some blustered along towards markets in the typical blue or white burqas (chaderis); the purposes of which are greatly misunderstood back home in the west. While some children played a game with an old battery and a crack in the road. This was not a backpacker trail to Southeast Asia or a gap year ‘adventure’ in Europe. This was the real thing.

After a few kilometres of riding I entered the nearest border town called Hairatan. I had an idea what I planned to do next, but thought I’d ask for some help. Stopping my bike I got off and in less than a minute I had drawn a gathering crowd of curious onlookers and gawkers. We both gawked. It was deemed unsafe for me to ride alone for the next 70km to the centre of my first destination, Mazar-I-Sharif. After a short haggle, my bike was strapped to the top of an old station wagon and gear tossed in the back. Climbing in with two men, two teenagers, the driver, a women in the back with a baby and all my stuff, it felt like any old road trip. We flitted quickly across flat scrubby desert landscape passing a tank going full speed in the afternoon sun. The people were curious about me and we laughed at the old man beside me who snorted snuff all the way to his stop and attempted to convince me to trade sweaters or lend him my glasses because of his bad eyesight. He held his snuff container like a jewel no one else could lay eyes upon.

Between enjoying the old man’s theatrics, a baby played with my toque in the back, I was asked by the teenagers for my Facebook and talked serious business with the guy beside me named Aziz. He appeared to be a hardworking man and complained of the lack of jobs in Afghanistan. He told me of the turmoil the Taliban and war has caused his country over the last thirteen years. Quoting, “Forty-eight countries have come to help Afghanistan, but it is no better, Canada too.” I could say nothing. What could I say? I immediately felt very small. The situation was no longer something I had seen on TV. This was a real person expressing a deep longing for peace and stability in lives of his family of eight. I got out in Mazar-I-Sharif, dizzied by the chaotic traffic bustling in all directions, loaded up my bike and threw myself into it, searching for a place to sleep.

I checked into the Aria Hotel. A quaint little hole in the wall on the edge of the beautifully famed pilgrimage Shrine of Hazrat Ali. It is the burial place of the Islamic prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law. While I peered up the stairs an old man shouted at a boy to get away from my bike as I went inside to find someone working there. I desperately wanted to be away from the street with my big bicycle. I met the manager of the hotel, quickly negotiated a price and we lifted my bike inside. At that moment, I met another man whom I hoped was not staying or working at the hotel. He was beady-eyed, unwashed, short and plainly unnerving man. Maybe this was all in my head. I later found out he was the caretaker nicknamed ‘Mr. Kung-Fu’ and would watch over me during my stay. Apparently, he takes his job very seriously and I actually felt nothing but safe under his care as he brought me a knife to cut open my pomegranates that afternoon. He would later take joy in hiding my shoes or knock at my door and run away. My room reeked of hashish and I could smell the communal washroom in wafts.

That first day I explored the bazaars, exchanged money on the street, purchased some suitable clothes and ate delicious Kabuli with a new companion I met at the hotel named Fawad. Kabuli is basically rice palao, with carrots and raisins served with grilled meat, accompanied by fresh veggies, brown beans, bread and obligatory chai. In Afghanistan eating with your hands is the norm and I quickly revived some of the sloppy techniques I had learned while traveling in Bangladesh. As night fell on the city and police trucks with machine gun instalments on the roof crawled by, I drank a fresh carrot juice from a vendor in the street. I watched as shopkeepers closed up with the scratch of metal doors. The evening call to prayer echoed like a falling siren washing across the city to the faithful. I took a final sip from my juice and returned to my hashish soaked sheets. I knew everything was going to be alright.

Also, check out this amazing video on the faces and beauty of Afghanistan. It really is like nowhere else. If you are having trouble viewing the video click here: Afghanistan – Touchdown in Flight

(See pictures from my first day below)

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