A Three Minute Read
(NOT INCLUDING THE VIDEO BELOW)
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch, Author
Looking back at old clips from my journey around the world, it transports me to a different time. It evokes a feeling of wonder inside, at all I went through to reach my final goal. Now looking back, it has all started to feel like a dream from yesterday’s past. Going through the thousands of hours of footage, one of the most important messages continues to jump out at me. It was always about what was in-between and never about the destination. I am happy that I learned this lesson very early on. Looking back on these videos of challenging, bright, tiring and beautiful days, I can honestly say it was worth it all.
Please take a look at my cycling video around the world. It was shot on my GoPro Hero 3+ and my DSLR Camera. For two years I kept the same mount and recorded it whenever I was able to do so. I have used those thousands of hours of footage and compiled it into a single video. I take you on a first person perspective journey around the world. Through 40 countries and five continents, from China back to Canada. Enjoy the wonder that this is our world. The struggle, strength and power of the human experience. A tour on two wheels.
The Video: 2 Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
*We totally did it. The ultimate goal of $50,000 to help build five schools in five different countries around the world is complete. Now that we have met our goal for the fifth schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua, the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity) are working on a full update. This review will include all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is a big update so it will take a bit of time. Once it is out I will be sharing it will all of my sponsors. Thank you everyone!
**You can see the completed donation page for yourself by CLICKING HERE.
***I will be condensing the video into a more succinct version for future presentations and speaking engagements, complete with all of my own music. In the meantime, you can check out videos, articles and podcasts on my ‘Media’ page HERE.
****If you are interested in learning more about my new side project, making healthy and delicious original recipe ‘Chicken Jerky’. CLICK HERE to check out my new website.
(Dancing in India: Verdara, Rajasthan)
Lesson #1- You are the Only You: Be Yourself
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Writer
—-> Of all the messages I learned around the world, I believe this is the most important one of all. Just be yourself. Out in the wild reaches of our Earth I was forced to come to terms with who I was. On those long days, the bicycle allowed me to come face-to-face with my own shortcomings, failures and things I would like to improve. It taught me about who I was as a person and who I would like to be in the future.
When things went wrong during my trip, I had no one to blame but myself. If I didn’t pack enough food or water, took a horrible road or forgot to buy extra bike parts. In those moments, I got to experience myself just as I was. Things went wrong quite often. In the beginning, I would get stressed out about the little things. Soon I came to realize that it was all part of the puzzle that was this adventure. A new personality began to take shape. When I was alone, if something went terribly wrong there was no one to complain to. I usually said nothing and got on with fixing the problem or finding a solution. There was no one there to keep me motivated. I had to figure things out myself.
I believe that knowing ourselves is the most important thing we can have in life. However, in the modern age with all of the distractions and busy lives it is hard to cut through the noise. Past the advertisements, Facebook pages and familial influences, there is a person that is just you. Getting past all of the outside influences can be tough, but there is a great deal we can learn from ourselves.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Writer
For two years I was stuck with myself. On that type of trip, you have to know who you are before setting out. I had already done a great deal of group and solo travel beforehand. I always found that I do better on my own. Sometimes it is hard to like yourself all of the time. But, if you always need other people around, you never get down to the true spirit of your personal being.
Remember you are an individual. You are your own person. You have the power to control your future and be whomever you would like to be. Don’t forget to be you.
My 10 Lessons From Cycling the World:
Lesson #10 ~ Everything Will Never Be Perfect: So Start Today
Lesson #9 ~ You Don’t Need All That Stuff: Cherish What You Have
Lesson #8 ~ The World is NOT Scary: Travel
Lesson #7 ~ Exercise is the Best Medicine: Get Outside & Explore
Lesson #6 ~ Times Will Change: So Will You
Lesson #5 ~ The World is Full of Delicious Food: Have a Taste
Lesson #4 ~ We Can Make a Difference: Give Back
Lesson #3 ~ Never Give Up: It’s Not That Bad
Lesson #2 ~ People Are Friendly: Say Hello
Lesson #1 ~ You are the Only You: Be Yourself
Thank you for reading all the way to the end. I believe all ten of these lessons do not just pertain to a bicycle ride, but are part of a much larger picture of how we can live. Take care of yourself, explore and be the best person you can be.
*Two days ago we reached the final goal for the fifth school in El Trapiche and the ultimate goal of $50,000. I am overwhelmed with the support over the course of the last two years. Additions are always welcome and will be put towards work in developing the community of El Trapiche. Updates on all of five of our schools to come soon! CLICK DONATE.
** Stay tuned for future posts and thank you for continuing to read!
Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?
What can we take away from this life? I believe we all come into this world a blank canvas. Throughout our days, the people we meet, our parents, friends and even the media, all splash colours on us. They coat our canvas with hopeful blues, emerald greens and radiant yellows. Others dash our picture with aged greys, sunburnt browns and scarring blacks. They contribute all of their different colours onto our blank sheet in different ways. Over time, some colours run deeper than others. If we are not careful, we become more of them, than our own selves. It is up to us to figure out how we want our picture to look. How we want to stand out from the rest of the beautiful works around us.
Over the last two years, I have learned a great deal about a variety of cultures, foods, people and myself. The hard lessons I gained along the way, have shaped who I am today and hope to be in the future. This is the type of post where each point, has the potential to be a whole story unto itself. However, there will be a time and place for that in the book I am currently working on. In the meantime, I will be sharing with you a bit of that wisdom which I have gained on my cycling journey around the world. These lessons I learned before, during and after my ride, I hope can inspire anyone to go out and ‘Find Their Bicycle Ride.’
I have spaced these short reads over the next ten days. Each day, I will share a new lesson from the road. This will allow you to gain some perspective, on just what my journey was like and the impact of those times. These are just my lessons. Simple mixtures of the paints that were dealt to me. You can take bits of the colour, but it will never be all your own, nor would you want it to be. We are all individual and must paint our own canvas. We are all still learning, growing and changing. It is amazing what a dash here and there can do. Remember, it is never too late to start that picture over again.
“Begin today. Declare out loud to the universe that you are willing to let go of struggle and eager to learn through joy” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach, Author
#10- Everything Will Never Be Perfect: Start Today
—-> Starting something new is scary, intimidating, and challenging. It is everything that most of us hate. That feeling of leaving everything that is comfortable and heading out into some unknown space can be hard. That same fear is what keeps us on the couch, keeps us at home and makes us feel like we are not good enough. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid people will laugh at us. We remain stagnant because of own looming self-loathing fear.
We use excuses for our short-comings and not beginning that new project. We blame others for our inability to make a change, like our children, spouses, family and friends. We blame everything and everyone but ourselves for not making that change in our lives. That change to a new career, losing the weight, starting your own business or traveling the world. I get that fear, because I have lived it over and over, each time I started something new.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Change can be the most exhilarating feeling in the world. The feeling of working towards something you are genuinely passionate about can be just the thing you need to get all the other aspects of your life in order. It is what allowed me to keep pushing forward on my journey. That feeling of doing exactly what you were meant to be doing in that time and space.
When you step back and look at your dreams, how does it make you feel? Does it feel fully complete or full of unfinished business?
I remember when I first developed the dream of cycling the world. It was almost eight years ago, that the original idea was born on an idle Tuesday back at Trent University. At the time, I laughed at myself and barely entertained the idea. But, it remained. Every time I went on a trip, looked at a map or read something about travel, it was always there. Like a haunting memory of a former self, it jumped out more frequently as time went on. I knew I needed to act or I would regret not having tried for the rest of my life. The I started telling everyone I knew, so they would make me accountable. If I failed the whole world would know, but it didn’t matter, I had to try.
The bottom line, is that everything will never be perfect to make a change. There will always be an excuse to stay exactly where you are. It is in our human nature to search for comfort. In the end though, we have to consider if that comfort is getting in the way of what we really want. Is fear of an unknown failure keeping you chained down? Change does not come overnight, it comes with hard work and time. It begins with one choice. Your choice.
So, I encourage you, to start today.
*We are now on the final few days of fundraising for the fifth and final schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua. With less than $550 to go, it feels truly amazing that we are so close. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for all of support to make this dream come true. A full update on all of the communities will be given once we reach the final goal of $50,000. I look forward to sharing this with you very soon. I would also like to thank J. Quattrocchi & Co. Ltd., Nick Pankiw, Donna Healey, Dorothy Edwards, Pat & Barb McGlade and our 300th donor, Brent Webley, for all their recent generous donations. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO EL TRAPICHE, NICARAGUA.
**You can check out a new feature in the Ottawa Citizen from Free the Children’s Marc and Craig Kielburger by CLICKING HERE.
***You can also look up an interview podcast I did on ‘Alumni Voices’ with Trent University Radio by following the link HERE.
****Thank you to everyone for your continued love and support!
—–> Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #9.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician
This week I was given an update on the progress of our work with the schoolhouses in China, India and Kenya. The update (see below) highlights the recent achievements and development in the community of Verdara, India. With the new school underway, the students are now able to realize their full potential and become makers of change. I love their unfailing enthusiasm towards education and personal development. It makes me so happy to wonder at all they are becoming and hope to be.
Seeing this made me well-up and feel a extreme sense of pride with all we are achieving. After a long day in the sun and wind, I usually find myself spending my last moments of the day looking up at the night sky. I’ve looked up from quiet camping spots on many clear nights. From quiet hills of Mozambique to still nights on Kyrgyzstani steppe. When there is nothing but nature, air and sky. I see the stars and the shimmering moon. It is in these moment I contemplate the ever moving wonder that is our world. The beauty that has passed me and all the struggles our people face. I feel how small we are, as I gaze up at those distant galaxies. It is in these moments of extreme peace and solitude, I am transported to old worlds of my lifetime. They seem lifelike. I see it all in clarity. Maybe it is only exhaustion, hunger or a haze of confusion, but in my mind, I am there living the experience once again. On starry nights I think of people and faces long past and wonder if they look up all the same.
It reminds me of the extreme significance of our world and all the people in it. People I have met from worlds over with their own dreams, hopes and ambitions. We are all individuals and all apart of this thing we call humanity. As I trundle along the road through Africa my mind often wanders to far off places months behind. On long endless roads I sometimes wonder if I was really there or it was just some distant dream. When I think of Verdara I see the smiling faces of the children. I see them dancing. I see myself in that moment, completely out of place, dancing all the same. I remember the friendly conversations with the headmasters of the schools and their burly moustaches they were both so proud to showcase. The goats of hope and the shiny new bikes. The smells of the countryside and the mountain roads that wind their way up to the schools.
For me though, it is the resolve of the teachers that can never be forgotten. They continue to press their communities to new levels of development on a daily basis. They are the real change makers. I am only happy to help give them the opportunity to teach in a safe environment. It is here we can give parents, teachers and students alike the assurance that education does matter. For today and tomorrow. To the continued prosperity and hope of the people in Verdara.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller, Author/Political Activist
Pieces of my heart are scattered throughout the world as I ride. They are left on the cracks of the road, on golden sunset hills, quiet flowing rivers, soft camping spots and warm conversations. But, I left one of the biggest pieces in a small community somewhere among the Aravalli mountains in Rajasthani, India. From Botswana on a sunny Thursday, I cannot thank everyone enough for your unwavering support!
*To be apart of the change happening in Esinoni, Kenya. CLICK HERE TO DONATE
**New post on my travels through Tanzania to come soon. Stay tuned. Sign up and share!
A 12 minute read
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done while jostling in the street.” ~ William Blake, Painter/Poet
Hiding behind a woollen cover I look out onto another day. Breathing in the cool mountain morning I put the last piece of my daily bicycle puzzle together. Every piece a place. Jumping up I kick my slow horse into gear. Everyday similarly individual. The raw world can shake us to the bone. Revealing our weaknesses. Bringing out characters we never knew were there. I’ve played many men on this journey. A revolving drama of many actors. Men of confidence and utter fear. Contempt and pain. Overjoy and peace. Reality and fiction. I live in all of these moments. When I wake in the mountains on a cool morning sunrise, I play the man of hope and light. If only for a few hours.
I moved out of Thessaloniki with careful reluctance. The cobblestone roads bounced me down through a maze of hilly city. Beautiful does not describe these types of places. Where you move from grainy black and white into modern colour. I prefer the black and white. The unknown and obscurely solitary. On coloured highway I shot under threateningly full clouds across the ancient landscape of Greek Macedonia. Pulling into a service station after a mornings ride to fill my water bottles I plopped down to have a break. Over a cheesy breakfast pastry I discussed the road ahead with a jovial man. The station seemed to have seen better days, but he was more than excited to welcome me in. He explained that less than ten kilometres down the road was the birthplace of the famed conqueror Alexander the Great. Palla was the village. I had to visit. Surveying the area with low-lying ruins, I was transported to a different age.
Thousands of kilometres back in Afghanistan I visited Balkh. Here was the ancient capital where Alexander spread his empire and married Roxana of Bactria. (Read about my experiences in Afghanistan HERE & HERE) How amazing our lives can be. The road under my tires easy and free. His road one of historic conquest and tyranny. Different lives, centuries removed. Rolling along I could feel the history in the low hills. One of the most iconic figures in ancient history lumbering on horseback to the unknown horizon. My ride is easy for me in a sense. I can find out about the road ahead, the weather, countries and people. Most things have been discovered. There is generally an opinion, article or document on almost all of it. Generally, I have no idea, time or regard for these things, but they are there. Alexander expanded, explore and conquered almost as far as India on his campaign. What a journey it must have been.
Today, adventures are much different. They are more about personal development, education and exploration. Though most of the discoveries I make each day have already been made and documented by others, they are all new to me. The name of the game is to experience these new moments in my life and take it in stride. We only have one shot at life and I intend on making the most of it. Each of us has our own paths. This is mine. Someone else may think it ludicrous to ride a bike through many countries, I find it exhilarating. Our journey through life is all our own. Choose your adventure.
“I am inclined to measure a tramp by the time taken rather than by the miles. If a hundred miles is covered in a week it is a longer tramp than if it is rushed in three days.” ~ Stephen Graham, Author/Visionary
While I was riding along I met a fellow adventurer on an early morning ride. He was tramping along and I just had to stop. He shouted across the road and asked if I had a minute for a chat. Of course I did. We discussed travels ahead and behind while I devoured some bread and jam. He offered me fresh honey and pomegranate juice. His name was David. He is currently walking from Italy to India. Meeting him in Greece, he had already been on the road for a year. Stopping in some places for longer periods than others. David has an awesome outlook on life and a fantastic road ahead of him. Making my bicycle look like a rocket ship, I give him special credit for tackling such a monster. Step-by-step he’ll make it. To follow along on his epic journey check out his website HERE.
My final day in Greece was one of my most memorable rides of the entire trip. The views from Edessa to where I finished my day in Bitola, Macedonia were astounding. I began the day with a rather large climb out of Edessa and the cool morning shone all the way into a warm afternoon. Through slow valleys I shot, with snowcapped mountains looming and quiet monasteries resting. A sign proclaiming the ‘Wine Roads of Macedonia’ emerged on the highway. Riding along I watched the beautiful green hills being prepared for the following year of growth amidst blowing mustard seed. Grape trees being trimmed broke the silence on that open road. Words cannot describe the magic or beauty.
About ten kilometres from the border of Macedonia I made a quick stop to get some water. I saw an inviting shop in a tiny town, on a thin road. I rolled over and was greeted by some of the most friendly people on my journey. They served a full meal and we talked of my travels and their history. They were a Greek family who had lived in Toronto for over seventeen years before moving back in the nineties. The wife claiming they were, “The best years of my life.” Feeling insanely proud of my home, I began to prepare my bike to leave when they handed me a packed bag full of delicious baguette sandwiches, feta, fruits and chocolate. I was lost for words again. Hopping back on my bike I flew to the border and crossed into my eighth country, Macedonia. Wild peacocks roamed around freely at the border and a curious border guard welcomed me in. Strange and wonderful was the first feeling. The afternoon silence descended upon my bike and eerie bails of hay in the distance.
Macedonia was outstanding. The ride from Bitola to the Lake Ohrid was fantastic and a journey not to be missed. Easily doable in a day and one of breathtaking views. However, in the last downhill I got caught in some painful hail on the top of a mountain climb with nowhere to hide as huge trucks splashed me with freezing water. The hail turned into ice cold rain as I made my plunge down the hill. Thankfully there was a warm place to dry out at the bottom of the hill in touristic Ohrid. I aired out and explored the picturesque city before making the journey to Albania on the other side of the lake. The border of the two countries cutting the Lake Ohrid almost in two.
Huffing up a very steep climb of 15km’s I rolled over into Albania. Exchanging a few Euros I grabbed a cup of tea and sat in a smokey cafe with a load of long distance truckers. Though stretches between countries are very small in this part of the world, they are all very different. Upon entering Albania I noticed that it was immediately less wealthy, but no less beautiful. The landscape took me up and down a dangerous road with heart stopping views. I think I had been alone too long in obscure countries because I distinctly remember screaming for no other reason than to scream. Screaming for joy. Singing terribly off key songs up steep hills with all wrong lyrics. My legs strong enough to carry my heavily loaded bicycle over long mountain climbs with relative ease. Powerful is the word.
One thing I did notice about Albania was the complete excitement of the children to see me rolling by as they walked home from school. Giving them a thumbs up I raced on. I also noticed the mountain landscape covered by hundreds of military bunkers. History lesson: Over 700,000 bunkers were commissioned by Enver Hoxha during a paranoid period of dictatorial rule. For years Albania was closed to the world and has only recently begun to recover and prosper. Stopping to recharge at little shops I was greeted by excited people wearing quizzical looks. I felt fantastic as I made my way through the capital of Tirana and eventually onto the coastal city of Durres. The mixture of mosques and churches was very interesting to explore as I sorted my bike for departure.
Getting soaked in a huge downpour I made a quick escape and boarded an overnight fast ferry headed for Bari, Italy. Drying off inside, I curled up on the floor of the ferry in my sleeping bag for the night. Listening to the hum of the engines as the boat rocked back and forth in the stormy weather, I reflected on the whirlwind last few days. Did it really even happen? Here I was headed to Italy. It seemed almost as if another chapter was opening. One of new roads and panoramic exploration. History and culture were mixing for me on the other side of the ferry doors. I say yes to the next chapter. Making my way through Italy and onto Africa I jump at the chance. Here’s to not knowing what will happen next!
*I would like to thank all of the school kids in Canada for continuing to support my journey. I hope everyone had an amazing, relaxing and safe March Break vacation. Work hard and dream with full minds. I have also taken this opportunity to have a short hiatus while some people very close to me have come to visit in beautiful Italy. Back on the bike next week and headed towards Africa. We all need and should remember to take a break somtimes. To continue supporting the children in Verdara, India and the road to a new school CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Also, for those of you that missed it at home or online, here is the link to the wonderful story on my ride done by the amazing people at Global News. Thank you to everyone who liked, shared and spread the word about my journey. I would especially like to thank Jennifer Tryon for making it all come together in the end as well as Mark Blanchard for being a hero in getting the video files sent from India. CLICK HERE TO WATCH.
***Here is an exert from an amazing e-mail I got from a close friend after my interview aired. It captures what I sometimes find hard to say.
“You are a tramp, you are a vagabond. You are welcome everywhere but you belong nowhere. Not now. You see that this is no one’s land, even though we seem to think it is. We seem to think we own it, and that it owes us something. The land owes us nothing, but we can use it, temporarily. We build and we build and we forget what was there before we built. We forget about rivers, we forget about trees, about mountains, and deserts and rocks and dirt. We forget to watch the sun set, and to watch it rise. While the rest of the world worries about about a recession, terrorism, vaccinations, and playoffs, Mark is going day by day. Mark is awake, and then he isn’t.”
An 8 minute read
After a week long ride from Istanbul, I rest in the ancient city of Thessaloniki, Greece. It is cool outside. A light drizzle in the sky. Water runs down cobblestone alleys all the way to the sea. A buzz of excitement in my head. A vibrant city with a grand history. I crossed the gateway from Asia to Europe via Istanbul. I leave the open road to do what it will. The next leg will continue to be challenging. It will test my perseverance as mountain climbs, chilling cold and empty roads shine the way. I have an intended route as I weave across Eastern Europe and then down into Africa via Sicily. But, if history has taught me anything, all planning will be nothing more than smoke and memories in a few days. Nothing is constant. The road is as static and unpredictable as our weather. An update from Europe will follow. I now reflect on my final days in India. To the open road and nameless questions ahead.
I flew to Istanbul from Delhi. It seemed like the most logical place given my original plans. Had I been able to continue my unbroken route around the world, I would have already been there by now. Problems with Iranian Visas and an impending Kazak winter, shot me down to India for a whirlwind loop tour spanning 3800km from Chennai to Delhi. Reflecting back on those days, I can safely say that they were my hardest and some of the most rewarding so far. The crushing hum of the traffic was relentless and the sights were like no other.
During my ride through India I experienced dreadfully dark days and extreme exhilaration. Some of these highs and lows were often in the same afternoon. I saw amazing architecture and landscapes. Temples, Mosques, beautiful beaches, mountains, marshes, forests and complex ancient cities. Beautiful flowers. Wildlife living in its purity and amongst humanity. From cows and monkeys to rare birds, elephants and camels. I ate like a king for next to nothing. Tasting a wide dichotomy of foods from South to North. The food changed with the road. Regional dishes are my favourite. Vegetarian dishes that would blow your mind. Experienced the best physical fitness of my life. I camped all over. Was welcomed into local homes and shared many meals. I slept on roofs and in backyards, at truck stops and in villages. I met too many kind people to count. We shared stories and laughs. I never really felt alone, because I never was. There is always something happening. I met up with my parents as they took a leap outside their comfort zone and paid an eye-opening visit. Experienced intense pride when seeing the site of the next school in Verdara. The energy that India emits is addictive. You never know what is around the next corner.
I also saw the struggles of an ever expanding India. True heart-wrenching poverty. Some days it was all I seemed to see. The real look of urban migration. Dusty villages with dying crops. Children begging in the streets for their parents or for themselves. The garbage cannot accurately be described. I dodged traffic all day sometimes. I got hit once by a man with an onion cart. Oncoming cars, trucks and bikes going the wrong way were relentless. Selfish passes that continually endangered my life and chased me off the road were the norm. Close calls that I really don’t even like to think back on. Horns of all kinds blaring at all times. Honking for honking sake. Never have I seen so much roadkill. A dog eating a cow sticks out especially. Getting food poisoning and feeling doomed in a dirty home clinic looking up at a dripping IV. Repetitive questioning and curiosity were both a blessing and a curse. I am stronger for it all.
It was more than a whirlwind. Each day I woke up ready for the challenge. I could never tell you were I would be at the end of each day. I quit guessing myself. Am I glad I came and tackled the Indian Sub-Continent? Absolutely. I learned a great deal about myself. My boundaries and my limits. How far I can push myself and when I need to stop. I took beautiful photos and experienced a world I really knew little about. I now truly appreciate an oasis of quiet. India even offered a few tranquil getaways along the way. I saw the Taj Mahal, ancient forts and intricate temples. They were all amazing. But, it was never about the sights. Cycle touring is not about the destination, but what lies in-between. Those sights are just placeholders on a map. The smiles and struggles along the way are what is important. That is what I will remember.
***Have a look at the work being done by Free the Children in our current fundraising community project of Verdara, India. The road to the second school. To see an overview of my experiences in the village CLICK HERE.
To help the community of Verdara CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
A 10 minute read
“The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.” ~ Audrey Hepburn, Actress & Humanitarian
The white SUV bounces along through the foggy rolling hills of the Rajasthani mountain scape. Talk of change, history and development dances inside the vehicle in the early morning drive. Women carry heavy loads of branches and containers of sloshing water. The road curves around dusty roads with men guiding buffalo drawn carts. The cool morning leaves a listless start to the day for some. Crouching on the ledge of compacted mud, people watch covered under blankets or sip chai at busy stalls. The goats are being taken to pasture, children rock their way to school on bikes and I sit wondering at the cyclical flow of it all. These are the remote ranges of central Rajasthan.
Upon arriving in Verdara I was escorted to a special celebration taking place at a school by my host Ambrish. A kind loving and knowledgeable man. Luck would have it that my arrival in the community was marked by the yearly celebration of Republic Day. I was worried a few days back that school would not be running during my visit; however, most events take place at the focal meeting building of the village, the school. Ambrish introduced me to Lloyd, who has been a long time and dedicated team member with Free the Children. He was very in tune with the inter-workings of village life as well as having firsthand experience across the projects that Free the Children are currently active in. We walked through the gates of the school into the courtyard where it seemed the whole surrounding community had gathered. The secondary school is a feeder for many smaller communities in the area. I greeted the headmaster with a ‘Namaste’ and took my seat at the head table as a guest of honour. There were many wonderful performances by the children in the community to celebrate their Republic Day. Showing off their skills to their peers and parents with beautiful dances. A good old fashion concert with beautiful outfits and blaring music. Afterwards, dancing. Flurries of hands and bodies move in a schoolyard frenzy of celebratory relief.
During my site tour of Verdara and the surrounding area, I gained a stronger understanding of the complexities that go into developing sustainable communities. The High School will be the location of the next school building. We have currently achieved over a quarter of our goal towards $10,000. One building has already been constructed, however, there is a huge need to replace the remaining structures. They are completely unsafe and devoid of what you would call a happy learning environment. There is little light, no ventilation, children sit on the cold floor and generally are without resources. The teachers struggle to complete lessons in these crumbling and leaky classrooms. Children come late to school after helping their parents with work at home, if they come at all. Understandably, parents are less inclined to send their children to school if the facilities simply aren’t there. Even as a teacher myself, I couldn’t begin to comprehend the struggles staff and students must face. This is dedication to education at its finest.
“If you are in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” ~ Warren Buffett, Businessman & Philanthropist
Since Free the Children has come to the surrounding community of Verdara they have been educating people on many tiers. I believe this is one of the most valuable and priceless aspects of the organization. They are not simply giving handouts, but educating people how to develop sustainable agricultural practices, combat illnesses by boiling water and putting on healthcare education clinics. These are just a few initiatives taking place. By promoting the importance of education in the future of young learners, they are delivering more than hope. Providing an environment where parents feel comfortable to send their children has dramatically increased enrolment, but it is only a part of the battle. The new classrooms are beautiful, bright, safe and decorated in a way that is inviting for young learners. The one headmaster told me that once he opens the new classroom in the morning children enjoy poking their heads inside, wondering when it will be there turn to learn in there. If parents see that a quality system is in place in their child’s early education, then they are more likely to encourage their future studies.
In the schools which Free the Children does work, each student receives a full uniform and a bicycle. I think this is amazing. Prior to this most children had little or no personal possessions. The bicycle creates a sense of ownership and responsibility which they otherwise may have never experienced. They also learn a valuable skill, riding the bike. Rolling proudly to school in groups in their coloured uniforms, they tackle mountains of change that are larger than life. Representing a new generation of hope for their families and the quality of life they are able to bring. It was is a word, empowering. More children are going to school and staying there for longer, especially in terms of the number of girls continuing their education. This is fantastic to see. By educating a girl, they can later teach their whole family.
However, work such as this takes time in terms of convincing the local governments (Panchayats) and getting the community as a whole on board. There are currently many individuals working towards a better tomorrow here. You need dedicated individuals in the village to promote these initiatives for sustainable change to happen. From agriculture and healthcare to sanitation and alternative income programs. During my experiences speaking with the local members of the community I can see the impacts of the donations on a wider spectrum.
For instance, while I was there we visited a local farmer who was apart of the alternative income initiative. He was able to pick out two goats and his neighbours the same. These goats have given much more back to their families than can be explained. The new quality breed of goats are able to give back milk, reproduce and eventually be sold when they get older. For the first time in his life the farmer said he has some savings. This allows him to have a stronger sense of food security for his family. A bank account has also been opened as a central savings account for the women in the community. Amounts are deposited there and then discussed about by the women as a group. The project that seems so simple as giving a family goats has brought them so much closer together and given them an alternative form of income and eventual savings for a better, more secure future.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson, Writer
In the midst of the ancient Aravalli Mountain range the community of Verdara is set. A tribal population of kind and caring people dot across the landscape. Their smiles stretch as long as the rolling hills they cultivate. Shaking the hands of headmasters, farmers and countless students has brought the community to life for me. It has made me feel that lasting connection I can never forget. We are all intertwined in this chaotic magic called the spinning rotation of our Earth. The image I had of Verdara is now much more than a simple name. It has been brought to life by the colours in the clothes, smells in the country air and connection we all share to this brilliant world.
At the end of the day I was reeling on overload from all of the possibilities that are available. The surrounding community has begun to not only survive, but thrive. There is so much to be done for the eager and openminded people of this small slice of India. I was proud to be apart of such an amazing initiative. You can see it in the eyes of the people as you greet them and they return the favour. The kids smile and muse shyly as you experience their daily reality. It was a larger than life experience. After over 7 months since I began this bicycle journey around the world, it remains as one of my most memorable experiences. I will never forget that day. A new motivation and energy has been sparked. I hope to return and see the fruits of our labours. To see the new beautiful blue school standing at the centre of Verdara. To lend a hand as the bells clang, calling kids to class in a place that is inviting to learn. I will watch in pride, in awe and wonder as another child passes doors of dreams.
On behalf of the community of Verdara and myself, we would like to give a heartfelt thank you.
Be apart of the magic. Click HERE TO DONATE.
For more information on the Adopt-A-Village model in India click HERE.
See pictures of the day below then watch a quick video of DANCING IN VERDARA HERE.
An 11 minute read
“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.” ~ Keith Bellows, Editor-in-Chief, The National Geogrpahic Society
It is 5:45 at night with slowly setting sun. The time of day when I start looking and start planning. The cows and I continue our arguably aimless wandering along the road as the humidity of the day descends upon us. Covered by a hazy film of the days struggle I press on. We are both looking for something similar. Our bellies full from a previous stop, we have one goal in mind. Rest. The art of sleep begins.
As I pedal along at this time of night I am looking for but one thing, a safe place to camp. The road is too busy and too crazy in India, so it is best to turn down a side road. In other parts of the world I could simply set up shop without a care. But, peering eyes and a disturbed sleep is never fun. In India I prefer staying in proximity to people. Not that it is dangerous elsewhere, it is simply more comforting knowing you have permission to sleep. So I continue my slow trundle until I spot a house. On a good day I look for a more affluent place to stay, as I don’t want to overburden anyone. I simply want a patch of ground to pitch my tent, sleep a good night and be off by 7:30am. I remove my sunglasses, wash my face with some water and try to look as friendly as possible. Sometimes that is hard with a growing beard and no shower in a week.
Usually I start by looking for someone already outside, so as not to startle them as much. A grandfather relaxing or women taking down drying clothes are usual suspects. I suck up all of my courage, hold my breath and say quietly, “Here we go.” I dismount from my bike and begin my walk towards the new person. This is the hardest part of all. I then greet them with a happy smile and do my best to explain myself. I say that I want nothing more than a patch of ground outside to pitch my tent and in the morning I will be gone early. Sometimes this requires lots of hand gestures and others none at all. I explain I started riding in China and now I am here. At this point I am usually met with a bit of a laugh, a curious interest and disbelief. One man asked, “Who sent you?” I replied, “No one sent me sir, I just came here.” He nodded and I set up my tent.
This is where the kindness of people is truly witnessed. To take in a very dirty man off the road with little more than a few words exchanged. I always say where I am from and ask for their names. After the tent is all set up and everyone is done laughing at my strange house, I am either left to my own devices or beckoned inside. There is usually a general concern for my dinner. I have a practice of eating early if I plan to camp and carry extra food with me. However, almost always I am offered food. Usually I politely refuse, but then it is insisted and I eat something. Even after just eating dinner, I can always eat again with all the calories I burn in a day. Being welcomed into someone’s home after showing up a few minutes earlier is amazing. I have learned so much about the countries I have travelled, because of it. The side that most people never see. The side that is never in the guidebook. The side that is still difficult to explain. Simply put, this is a new home, a generous family, humanity at it’s best and another strangely regular day in my life.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ~ Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness
The story picks up from Kochi, where we last left off. I hummed out of the vibrant backwaters and into thick traffic heading up the west coast towards Goa. I moved at a steady pace of over 130km a day. It was tough at times with the road becoming more hilly. Eventually taking a day off I spent the night in a passable hotel in Kunnar and celebrated Christmas by looking at a fish tank and sending messages back home. After all the festivities, I pedalled on towards Goa. I had 5 days and over 600km of very hilly roads if I was going to make it and not spend New Years alone as well. That is the only thing that kept me going as my legs burned up another winding hill track.
One night a family even welcomed me into sleep in their guest room at their house. They would not hear of me camping outside. It was a nice relief to have a shower and home cooked delicious meal. The next morning as I carried my bags out I was looking for my bike. Where had it gone? The morning dew had made the stairs quite slippery and preoccupied with the whereabouts of my bike I slipped down the staircase as the family watched in horror. Nothing was hurt but my failing pride. We all laughed about it and the grandfather wheeled out my cycle from behind a wall. He thought it would be funny idea to hide my bike and see my reaction. Well, he got a good show.
When I arrived in Goa I was shattered with exhaustion. With the busy season, the prices in Goa were high by my accounts and little vacancy available. I arranged with an amazing group of people at a place called Road House Hostels to camp in their backyard. They were super accommodating and made sure everyone there was happy as we all welcomed in 2015, hundreds of miles from home with fireworks on Anjuna Beach. If ever in Goa look up Uday and the people at Road House Hostels HERE.
Then came time for yet another hard departure. Unknown road ahead that proved certainly to be hilly from all the squiggles on my map. I explored the wild Saturday night market and was on my way the next morning towards Mumbai. I had made minor repairs while in Goa, but that quickly seemed not to have mattered. My bike creaked up hills like a coffee grinder. With no cycle shop in sight and my tools not up to the task, I put in my headphones and ignored it. By the fifth day to Mumbai my body was feeling exhausted. Dirty from the road and endless climbs, I was weak. Looking back now, I even signed my journal, October 5, 2015!! I was delirious and worn out.
I woke one morning packed up my tent and had some breakfast. It was a questionable location, but on a tight budget most days, it fit the bill. I guess the food was mixed with some dirty water and I knew it about 10KM down the road. There is clearly something wrong when it is hovering around 38 degrees celsius and you are shivering cold while riding a bike up a hill. I knew I was in trouble. I was dizzy and getting quite sick. With my last bits or energy I took the bags off my bike and waited for someone to pick me up. I needed a doctor, a hotel or anything but being on the side of a busy road. I quickly lost all energy and was just sitting there waiting for someone to stop with feeble waves. Not long after a policeman came past, rounded my things up in his car and took me to the next town. It was the most terrifyingly dangerous driving I have ever witnessed. He could sense my apprehension as my stomach did backflips. He simply said, “It’s okay Mr. Mark, I am a policeman.” That still didn’t settle my stomach or repair the smashed guard rails where other drivers had lost control.
Upon arriving at the doctors office things were not good. The doctor was in no mood to see a sick foreigner. Eventually prescribing me some pills and subduing me with an IV in the backroom of a dusty home clinic. The first time I have truly been sick on this trip. I repeatedly thanked the policeman for helping me who kept returning to check on me throughout the day. After eventually regained some strength, I set up camp in the doctors yard with no hotel in sight. A miserly night to be in a tent.
The following day I felt almost at 100% again. Running on whatever reserves I had left. I needed to make it to Mumbai. The road veered upwards through terrible conditions. I inhaled piles of dust, was completely utterly filthy and done. Entering the labrynth that is Mumbai, I was overwhelmed. People everywhere. Extreme urban poverty and extreme wealth in the same second. I dodged traffic, until collapsing into a good night sleep in a real bed.
“I almost hit a monkey with my bike the other day.” ~ Me, Things you can only say in India.
I have grown to truly love the unpredictability that is India. There is a certain quality about it that makes the rest of the world seem like a lifetime away. Like a distant memory that flashes in my dreams. India invades your internal energy and squeezes ever bit of you out. Everything is on the table. A small cricket game as I float by. Mountain views with exhilarating declines. The wandering man. Beautiful sunsets. That little head wiggle of acknowledgement. A crawling need to know. To be seen. To be heard.
Life can be pretty predictable if you want it to be. There are the elements of personal potential prodigy in all of us. We are all only guides in the eternal spider string that weaves our destiny. In the end our true path is only but a shifting painting that rotates between cloudy and bright sunsets. Depending on how you view those moments, you are entitled to set the stage for the next rolling rise. I grew up in a small beautiful place called Rideau Ferry in Eastern Ontario. I spent a long time with little knowledge of that daunting outside globe. But deep down that interest was always crawling somewhere to the surface. Now as I continue to explore, I hone my curiosity and established new boundaries on my winding stage of individual hope. In the end though, all roads lead home. Wherever you let that frilled hat and broken body lay.
On the 26th of January I will be visiting the community of Verdara in Rajasthan Province. This is the site where we are raising funds to help build the next school in India. I wholeheartedly look forward to sharing with everyone my experiences there and give a little insight to the people we are helping develop sustainable livelihoods. To date $12,717 has been raised for my charity with over 100 donors for Free the Children. How awesome is that?
About a week ago I held a small, but short-lived contest. At the time there were 99 sponsorships, so I put out a message that said the next person to donate would receive a handwritten thank you from myself sent from India. In less than an hour one kind Stephen McGlade made that milestone come true. He simple put, “Call me #100”. Close second at #101 was Patrick Love. A wonderful gesture and even better friends. Stephen and Patrick’s letters are in the mail. Who doesn’t like getting a letter? Give me more excuses to write letters. I would also like to thank St. Joseph’s School in Toledo, for their amazing donation just before Christmas. The first of many places I was able to speak about my ride. Thank you for giving me the chance and for all of your support!
To continue helping out the community of Verdara click HERE TO DONATE.
Updates are also in for the community of Guang Ming, Sichuan, China. The first site is now complete with the help of our $10,000 contribution. Over 900 students now have access to a safe school. For those interested in reading more see the bottom of this post. More pictures to come soon. Thank you to everyone who contributed. I really can’t say thank you enough!
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
India. A full on attack of the senses. At times amazingly delightful and others a sour kick of reality. Bright colours flash with beautiful saris, delightfully surprising foods and curious smiles. School children walk in long rows down the road on their way home. A shy wave here and screaming “Hello!” there. Dusty cities open up into beautiful landscapes of marsh plains, coconut trees and rice fields. People toil with water buffalo on the land. Some carry heavy loads or guide goats to greener pastures. They all stop to wonder.
Magical temples and cows at every corner. Cows stealing bananas, eating from garbage dumpsters and always where you least expect them. They own this place. Deified creatures of wonder. Different types lumber through streets, crossing at their convenience, as the car horns blare. Amazing to stare at though.
But the horns. They blare on repeat as buses barrel like crazy through traffic and by crowds of people. Incessantly they ring. Different types of horns fire at piercing volumes and indicating patterns. The soundtrack to my insanity. I brace myself as the next wave comes. I loath the one that sounds like a circus. The bicycle puts me down at ground level for all of it. Right in the field of energy giving strength and crushing difficulty. The use of the horn here makes China look tame. There is no end and no escape.
But, why did I come to India? Because it is a place I have always wanted to see. Because it would be a challenge. Because I knew it would be crazy. Plain is boring and India is anything but. No cycling tour around the world is complete without struggling through and experiencing the wonders of the land of Kings, historic conquest, dazzling foods, religious power and the multiple faces of forgotten souls. I love it, it drives me to the edge of insanity, but I will never tire of it. Each day is a fight and each a surprise. I am learning a lot about myself in India and where I hope to be in the future. The struggles I face are only momentary and have helped me to become more in tune with reality of the world around me. For everything missed, there is something gained inside.
I arrived from Kabul, Afghanistan in Chennai, on India’s east coast. With the road blocked by being refused a Pakistan Visa and Canadian citizens only being able to tour Iran with an expensive guide, I was forced to fly out of Afghanistan. I flew to warmer weather and a new adventure. India was never on my original route, but things are always changing. With little planning I was launched into the tropical whirlwind that is South India. Welcomed into the home of an American living in Chennai, I stayed for a few days as I reassembled my bike, sent a ton of backlogged messages and prepared my route. The goal was to ride to the southern most point of India, Kanniyakumari, then head up the west coast towards New Delhi, as I explore the different regions in time with their food, people, history and customs. Along the way I will be visiting the next community with Free the Children, as we raise funds to help build a new school. For more information on Verdara, Rajasthan Province, check out the community profile as well as the video from Free the Children on their work in India HERE.
If you would like to donate to my charity and help be apart of building the new school in Verdara, India click HERE.
Riding out from Chennai I was buzzing. The streets were crazy, the traffic and air thick. There was food everywhere, fresh papaya, bananas, pineapple and street snacks. On my budget it is only local fare for me, which is full of flavour and exciting spices. The dosa and samba are go to staples. Eventually the busy city opened up into quieter country, where I could breath a bit and quit looking in 360 all at once. I pedalled to wonderful places like Mahabalipuram and then onto Auroville. I was welcomed into Auroville with open arms and allowed to camp at a place called New Creations for a few days. Auroville is an fantastic place where people come to live the simple life based upon healthy eating, mediation, yoga, peace and close community bonds. Some people live here full time, others come for half the year and some like myself are just passing through. For more information on Auroville check out their website HERE.
From Auroville I continued on riding long distances and pushing myself in the heat. I eventually reached the tip of India at the beautiful Kanniyakumari. From there I moved onwards on my journey up the west coast towards New Delhi. I now rest in the backwaters of Kochi, in a peaceful oasis on the southwest coast. It hasn’t been a race in India, but I have been able to cover long distances. With over 1000km of road already down and a top day of 162km, I feel like anything is possible. I even had time to break my third back rack on the rough roads. I hobbled along with a light heart over bumpy roads and patched the snapped metal with duct tape for a day and half until reaching a place with a spare rack. I have felt strong, motivated and energized by riding in the warm weather. Though my sunburnt nose would argue otherwise.
One thing I was very excited about on my first few days were the temples. They are everywhere. They are of all different shapes, sizes and forms. They are beautiful. They are intricate. They are individual to each region in terms of history, location and emphasis. Some of the cities date back to 1500BC. The temples of the south also boast as some of the oldest in India. Magical places to walk around barefoot in the early morning.
As I pass through different little villages, towns and heaving cities, it is apparent how important Hinduism and religion is here in India. It pervades many aspects of daily life. A lot of it I am only beginning to understand. But I am doing my best to read and ask questions in order to uncover the idiosyncrasies that make this place tick. Though many parts of the old system of India have been outlawed, such as the caste system is still very much alive in parts if you talk to the locals.
Hinduism in a nutshell is made up of a complex company of gods and deities, each with different specialization, power and purpose. I’m sure we have all heard of the trinity of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. The faith is heavily based upon the principles of religious harmony, unity of existence, divinity of humanity, as well as knowledge of the three Gs: Ganga (river). Gita (script), and Gayatri (mantra). Among all of the numerous animistic gods and polytheistic powers, there is the resounding faith that all can be joined within one ultimate unity. I have not even begun to understand the myriad of gods or the customs of following the faith. However, one passage I read from the Upanishads, sums things up very clearly and makes things that much more complex.
‘When a teacher was asked, “How many gods are there?” he replied, “As many as were mentioned in the formula of the hymn of praise to the Vis-va-devas: three and three hundred, three and three thousand.” “Yes, but how many gods are there really?” He was asked again. “Thirty-three,” he said. “Yes, but how many really?” “Six.” “But how many really?” “Three.” “How many really?” “Two.” “How many really?” “One and a half.” “How many really?” “One.” “But, then, what are these three and three hundred, three and three thousand?” “Oh, they are only the various powers.” ~ The Upanishads
For me though, it is all about the chai stand. That is my temple. I love it. Don’t get me wrong, my allegiance is with the pure and healing energy of Chinese teas. But, the sweet jolts of energy at 15 cents a pop can’t be beat. Getting me over the long distances. Shining holes in the wall that call me off the road for momentary breaks and recovery. The chai man is a person of skill and power. He controls the hoards tapping in waiting as he froths another pipping glass of dark sweetened tea at arms length. The mixing gives it the airy taste, cools it to drinking temperature and combines the ingredients perfectly. With a few arm movements and a splash of tea the job is done. I think of the great respect I have for these men. It is a thankless job in cramped and very hot conditions. For one day I remember thinking of opening my own chai shop with whizzing hands and an indifferent pride for my craft. Quiet dreaming and empty thoughts over long distances.
Continuing on up through the west coast, I think back on how far I have come. All the people that helped me get to where I am. The road drifts on by with the whirling grind of traffic and the rolling hills of Kerala. My bicycle ticks over 7500km since beginning this journey. Snapshots clip in my mind of days long gone months ago while riding in little Chinese towns, a funny time, a simple smile, a good meal, or nights sleeping out under the stars. I think of people back home during the holiday season. How I miss my family, girlfriend and friends. How I hope to make up for all the time I have spent away. In three years I haven’t been able to be home for Christmas. Sorry Mom&Dad. Sometimes there are too many hours to think as I spin silently through the day. But if you ever catch me laughing to myself while riding along down a backroad somewhere, I’m not crazy, just deep in thought. To the road ahead. Happy holidays!