The Teacher on 2 Wheels is Still Making Her Way Home
March 30, 2014
I’m 18,000 kilometers from where I started, traveled through 24 different countries, visited 35 different schools, taken 167 hot showers, 32 cold, and gone 7 nights without any. I’ve stayed in 103 hotels, been hosted by 90 different people and camped for 25 nights. I’ve drank 213 coffees, been rained on 16 days, but had 154 days of sunshine and faced 56 days of grueling head wind, and changed 6 flat tires. With all of those statistics accumulated, I still have another 14,000 kilometers to go before I reach my hometown of Eugene, Oregon next October.
For those of you who don’t cycle, just reading those statistics must seem like a painfully long journey, but for me, the time has flown by and my legs are almost just as fresh as the first day I started, if not a tad stronger. I write a blog post almost every three days, but in reality with everything that I experience, I could do a daily post. Regardless of the country, I find that traveling by bike I’m constantly exposed to the world. I don’t have much intimacy on the road meaning I’m susceptible to my surroundings and traveling as a solo female, I believe I draw more attention to myself. People feel compelled to go out of their way to interact with me and take care of me, and I welcome their kindness with open arms.
I was an open-minded person before I started pedaling home, but now I become even more so, erasing all my prejudices. I’ve encountered incredible hospitality on the road wherever I am and never doubt once the sincerity global of human kindness. I start pedaling in the morning and the only thing I have planned is to pedal 100 kilometers, and sometimes that doesn’t even happen. I can never predict what my day will be like, who I will meet, and where I will end up staying. Of course I try to plan my accommodations in advance, but even then I can encounter surprises.
I’m on my journey alone, yet never once have I felt lonely. In SE Asia, I would stop for my mid-morning snack at a café with a few locals, and before I had my coffee in front of me there was a swarm of people around, mystified by my presence. Communication can be one of my greatest challenges, but through hand gestures, pictures, and Google Translator, I almost always find a way to express myself. I thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of traveling through SE Asia from November through January. It is a very easy to explore on bike. Although the road conditions weren’t always optimal, I had food stops almost every 5 kilometers, basic and cheap accommodation was plentiful, and the weather, although hot and humid, made for packing little gear, so I was able to lighten my load on my bike. As in Europe, distances from town to town were short and I never felt too isolated. That all changed when I arrived in New Zealand in February. All of a sudden I found myself in vast and remote wilderness with limited services. I had to prepare my daily routes, even 2 or 3 days out, carefully in order to ensure I had enough food. Although I had seen plenty of beautiful places along my route, New Zealand was by far the most breathtaking country for scenery because 95% of my day was spent alongside the most gorgeous and pristine nature. From crystal clear lakes and ocean, snow-capped mountains peaks, lush rain forests, and arid mountain passes, I never stopped ohhing and awwwing at the landscape. The terrain was by far the most difficult with constant elevation change, but it was also in New Zealand where I encountered the most tour cyclist to talk with along the way. On any given day I ran into 5 to 10 cyclists on the road!
I’ve been in Australia during the month of March, and have another 4 weeks of travel in this vast country, including a tour around Tasmania. I’ve been well accompanied for this portion of my trip, including a visit from my parents, meeting up with former colleagues and clients I had from working as a ride leader for a bike touring company in Europe. Their hospitality during the past month and the familiar faces have been a refreshing change.
When I visit schools, a lot of kids ask me which has been my favorite place so far on my travels, a question that is virtually impossible to answer. There are three main highlights to tour cycling for me: the scenery, the people, and the food. Each of these categories corresponds to a different country preference, but overall I think SE Asia, as a continent, is my first choice, again because of the contrast in their every day life routines, compared to what I’m used to. Naturally I’ve come up with a list of places that I could see myself living after this trip, from all the different places I’ve discovered on my route. After visiting all the schools along my route, I can’t help but welcome the idea to try living and working in a different location. Barcelona has been home to me for 10 years now and although it is a very special place for me, I am too curious about the other places I have seen to return, at least any time soon.
I’ve had a handful of school visits that have made hopping on my bike afterwards difficult. I’ve felt so inspired and motivated after some of my visits, fascinated by the school’s curriculum and pedagogy that I was ready to stay and start teaching again. The school visits have given me the opportunity to continue interacting with children during my year away from the classroom and exposed me to different teaching methods, both an added benefit to my trip. At the start of my trip I talked to larger audiences of students, however, now I prefer to work with a few grade levels and tie my experience and travels into a unit of study. For me, it is more challenging and interesting to link my real world experience to the conceptual framework of a unit and for students it makes my visit more meaningful. However, I never fail to have a question and answer session because they always have so many wonderings. In SE Asia, I came across a lot of school holidays, which made for fewer visits, but I did manage to contact a few local schools as well in China and Laos. Now that I’m in English-speaking countries, I visit a lot of public schools and a few private schools. Once I reach the United States, I look forward to hopefully visiting some bilingual schools to take advantage of my Spanish and talk with the Latino population.
If all goes as planned, I arrive to San Francisco at the end of April and although Oregon is north, I will pedal south down the coast and then into the interior. Starting with the Grand Canyon, I intend to make my way north through the various national parks, cross the Canadian border and reach Banff. From there I will head west to Vancouver, and finally travel south to Oregon, a loop that includes roughly 12,000 kilometers. I’m a bit apprehensive about traveling in such remote wilderness areas in North America, but as I have learned on this trip so far, it is better to trust others and give them the benefit of the doubt. So far I haven’t ever felt like I was in danger or encountered any threats.
After the last article was published in the International School Community Member Spotlight, I had several teachers contact me about visiting their schools and even a few hosted me. Please do look at my website and if I’m going to be pedaling through your area, or the area of a colleague, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement.