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Wanderlust 4 min read


What's it like to travel across an entire continent? On a bike? Or on two feet? Either way, Coronavirus lockdown makes an attempt sound appealing.

By Cary Littlejohn
Wanderlust Post image

The allure of the outdoors is great in normal times, but in these days of lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, a mere walk around the block feels like a radical act. Feeling the sun on your skin is to be recharged; the smell of freshly cut grass makes you long for simpler times.

Carefree wanderlust is the opposite of what we’re allowed right now, making it the ever-tempting forbidden fruit. It’s easy to romanticize anything outside the four walls of our homes right now. Living vicariously through others on social media has become the norm, but I’m still a believer in the power of a beautifully written piece of journalism to transport you to another reality.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

I give you the tale of Leon and Noel, seemingly destined by the universe to be the inverse of the other. (I’m ashamed that I didn’t realize their names are backward versions of each other until I was done reading the story.) The two men, both in their mid-to-late-20s, one from England and one from America, each set out to do the unthinkable: ride across the Eurasian landmass on a bicycle. Leon headed west; Noel headed east. They didn’t know each other, but inexplicably, they crossed paths on a random desert road in Kazakhstan.

When all was said and done, Leon had ridden 15,376 miles and 402 days; Noel had ridden 287 days and 10,610 miles. And in the midst of all those days and all those miles, they found each other, for the briefest of moments, at a small teahouse along a Soviet road. The unlikelihood of such a chance encounter is reason enough to read the story, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not just a dueling adventure story (though it’s absolutely that); this is a tale of wonder and serendipity. It’s a tale of how grand and expansive the world is while at the same time being smaller than we can appreciate. It’s about adventurous spirits, care-free and trusting. It’s about misfortune and hardship. It’s about the unending kindness of strangers, which in this coronavirus moment, we could all stand to remember. It’s about solitude; it’s about togetherness. It is, quite frankly, the story we’re all needing right now.

Here’s the incredible opening to the story:

Once upon a road in Kazakhstan, two men converge in the desert. Strangers born an ocean apart, riding bicycles burdened like camels, they emerge from either horizon, slowly approaching a common point. Day by day, hour after hour, they make their way through a land as flat and featureless as a page without words. Thousands of miles spool out behind them. Thousands more lie ahead.

One rides east. The other, west.

For months now, each has been pedaling, alone, through sun, wind, rain, and snow, climbing mountains, crossing plains, and loading his bike onto boats to float across minor seas. Now, on a Sunday morning in August, they soldier down an unpaved Soviet road that never seems to bend. The only sound is tires crunching on gravel and, now and then, the lonely roar of a truck hurrying between two somewheres.

The earth spins. The sun rises. Long shadows shrink into puddles of shade beneath their spinning wheels. From dawn to dusk, in every direction, the landscape looks the same.

The only thing that changes is the angle of the sun.

Then, through the shimmering heat, a blur appears on their common horizon and gradually comes into focus: a simple white box of a building on the edge of the dusty road. Next to it, a metal shipping container marked by a hand-painted word, шaихaнa. Translation: /chaikhana/, a teahouse, where travelers can find water, food, and shade. The nearest city, on the Caspian Sea, is 235 miles away.

Here, under a noon Kazak sun, two sagas, by chance, eclipse.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s ridiculously beautiful in its writing? Because it is.

Read the entire unbelievable tale here:

Two Strangers Meet by Chance on Their Epic Bike Ride Journeys | Bicycling

For those of you who prefer your continent-spanning journeys in the north-south orientation as opposed to the east-west, I have one more story to share. This one is documents a 6,000-mile run from the Arctic to the Panama Canal. Noé Álvarez’s new memoir, Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, chronicles the run he made as part of “Peace and Dignity Journeys (PDJ), an ultramarathon for runners of indigenous background like himself.” The concept of the run makes it all the more impressive:

PDJ runners start and end each day with a ceremony, and carry feathered staffs during the run. Daily destinations are indigenous communities across North America. At each stop, community members share an important cultural story with the runners, signifying the story with a feather to add to the staff. Sometimes they also shared running traditions, including running as a group in the Tohono O’odham territory in the Arizona desert.

Check out the full article here:

Spirit Journey: one man's role in a 6,000-mile run through North America | The Guardian

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