This will be my final post to this blog. Yes, I made it back home on June 23 and within days saw a doctor who prescribed some nice painkillers as well as steroids which he said should help my spine problem.
So that’s it. I want to thank everyone who commented on my blog posts. One thing I learned about blogging is comments are a great psychological boost. It confirms that people are actually reading your stuff. Otherwise you don’t know. The blog was tough at times. Internet access was spotty and slow most of the time. In China the internet cafes were filled with dozens of young Chinese kids, all smoking so the room was thick with hazy smoke. I was usually tired and did not feel like writing. But I felt compelled to continue with it, encouraged by your comments and knowing people were expecting more. Without that, I probably would have abandoned the activity.
A few special thanks. My uncle, Captain Don Kilpela, probably wrote the most comments, all with some angle or aspect that expanded my original thoughts and observations. My cousin Ben was always ready with a challenge to my assertions and questions, and with ease and eloquence poked holes in the logic of my arguments. My father Stefan and sister Katrina also commented many times. One of my favorite comments, though, was posted by my brother Steve when I was in Turkey. I had explained that I had posed several philosophical questions over the past few months but no one had responded to them. In his subtle dry humor he provided some answers.
Here are the questions I posed with my brother’s responses in italics.
– Is it right or wrong to give money to poor begging children?
Its OK. I give Karl (his son) a few coins, once in a while.
– What are the merits of Ramadan from a Christian point of view?
Had lunch at the Ramada after a funeral coupla months ago. It was OK. Sat with the minister.
– Is it wrong for humans to try to control nature?
Good question. I’m taking pills for that.
– How people selectively remember history.
I used to whup Ben’s rear in Monopoly and chess.
– Is it wrong for a state to pacify its citizenry with subsidies to keep them quiet and peaceful?
They’d better decide on that one in Michigan pretty quick.
– The Russian influence in Georgia–justified protection of its citizens or unwarranted meddling?
Is it worse than the Finnish influence in da U.P.?
– Are wars inevitable?
Hey, its October in Houghton County. Its gonna get wars before it gets better.
– Should dog owners be held responsible for the behavior of their dogs?
Listen, if you didn’t want pups, you shouda had the dog fixed.
For the record here are some statistics of the trip.
-Distance pedaled: 22, 097 km (13, 730 miles)
-Duration: 645 days (just over 22 months)
-No. of countries: 30
(Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania)
La Paz, Bolivia
Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, Colombia
Panama City, Panama
San Jose, Costa Rica
San Salvador, El Salvador
Qingdao, Xi’an, Urumqi, Kashgar, China
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Nairobi, Mombasa, Kenya
Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Tanzania
-Highest elevation: 4500 meters (14, 765 feet), Peruvian highlands
-Lowest elevation: 408 meters (1338 feet) below sea level, Dead Sea, Jordan
-Hottest day: 52 deg C (125 deg F), Turpan, China
-Coldest day: -5 deg C (23 deg F), Peruvian highlands
-Highest one day distance: 134 km (83 miles), central Paraguay
-Number of consecutive days without a shower: 5, Tanzania
-Number of flat tires: Lots, about 50
-Number of tires: 7
-Number of falls: several but none serious
-Number of broken spokes: 1, Uganda
-Number of times hit by a car: 1, Amman, Jordan
-Cost of the trip: about $30,000
-Most difficult day: This is a tie between the day I rode into Abancay in the Peruvian highlands and the road to Kargi in northern Kenya. The road to Abancay was incredible. I rode/walked by bike uphill for 40 km, climbing 2000 meters in about 10 hours. At the pass, it was dusk and I sped down into the town of Abancay in the dark, a stupid, dangerous thing to do. I arrived completely exhausted.
The road to Kargi was in the desert on a difficult rocky road. Hot and with no water, I felt I was a goner. I also had a kidney infection. Luckily I was helped out by three Rendille warriors who I paid to push my bike for 20 km, arriving in Kargi after dark, exhausted and dehydrated.
The Top 10
People sometimes ask what are the most memorable places I saw. So I put together this “top ten” list. It is in chronological order.
1. Bolivia. A fascinating place where you can see how the Quechua indigenous people live. Spectacular mountain views. La Paz and the Highlands are worth a visit. You can also explore Lake Titicaca. Around La Paz you can bicycle the World’s Most Dangerous Road.
2. Peru. Peru has it all: Machu Picchu, highlands, Lake Titicaca, Beaches. You can spend a lot of time there. Great place to see Aymara and Quechua cultures. The floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca were fascinating.
3. Colombia. Hospitable people, nice mountain views, great salsa music, and of course, my favorite, Cartagena. Cartagena has great beaches, beautiful colonial buildings and a wonderful atmosphere.
4. Panama, the San Blas islands. Tranquil, postcard like beaches populated by the interesting Kuna indigenous people. a great place to get away from everything and everybody.
5. Japan. Anywhere in Japan is fascinating. Clean, orderly, everything works. Way out in the middle of nowhere you can find spotlessly clean vending machines to buy water, juice, beer or coffee. Amazing. But Kyoto and the many shrines are worth a visit.
6. Western China, especially Kashgar. You travel back in time to the great silk road markets, a fascinating glimpse into the crossroads of the east and west.
7. Kyrgyzstan. A mountainous beautiful country. Great for hiking or horseback riding, Wonderful cold fast flowing rivers to get water and bathe.
8. Jordan. Wadi Rum. A stark, beautiful desert, the HQ of Lawrence of Arabia and home to the Bedouins.
9. Kenya. The traditional tribal communities are fascinating. Then you have the animals: elephants, buffalo, giraffes, lions, zebras, hippos, monkeys, etc. Nairobi is a great city and Meru has the best mangoes I have ever tasted.
10. Tanzania–Here the Serengeti National Park stands out. More wild animals per square mile than anywhere I have seen. Zanzibar offers a fascinating glimpse into the Swahili culture and has some fine beaches.
Best of the rest
I loved the NW coast of Peru– nice beaches and beach towns. I saw the sun rise over the ocean one day after staying up all night chatting with some locals. There are great places to sway in a hammock and watch the waves while sipping a rum and coke.
Turkmenistan – A look at what totalitarianism can get you. An interesting police state with some weird places like the burning pit. Elaborate, gaudy statues to the former ruler, Turkmenbashi (Head of all Turkmen) still dominate the capital.
Georgia-Tbilisi is a great city. Cool architecture, lovely churches, a quaint old town with nice cafes and bars, and cheap accommodation.
Damascus – An interesting historical Muslim city. Nice hamams (steam baths) and souqs.
The Dead Sea, Jordan – A cool place to float. The lowest spot on earth and the saltiest lake.
Nuweiba, Sinai – great beaches
Cairo pyramids – Fascinating ancient Egyptian artifacts
Medellin and Cali, Colombia – Salsa until the sun comes up on a party bus. Then lie in bed all the next day with a hangover so bad you wish you were dead.
Xian, China–Terracotta warriors
Uzbekistan–The great Silk Road cities of Bukhara Samarkand, also a great place to get a massage.
Some final thoughts
One thing about bicycle touring: you get a lot of time to think. I started thinking about all the people I pass everyday who are working to make a living for themselves and their family. I sometimes felt a bit guilty that I was indulging in this hedonistic pleasure while the rest of the world has to work. I had to remind myself that I deserve this. I worked hard for years to save the money to take this trip. I have no cause to feel guilt. I tried to convince myself I was still adding value to society. I was providing entertainment value to the local population, I was boosting their economy by spending my dollars, and I was hopefully inspiring and entertaining people with this blog.
They say there are two kinds of people: those who live to work and those who work to live. If you define “work” as something you must do to make a living, I definitely fall into the latter bunch. But I suspect there are many people out there who in fact continue to work even though they did not need the money. Why? People need to feel productive. they need to feel they are adding value to society. I wonder sometimes how professional golfers feel. Do they feel any guilt that they make millions of dollars playing a game? Are they adding value to society? Are they “working?”
In a way I was also “working”, although I doubt anyone would pay me to travel (but if anyone reads this and does want to pay me to take another bike trip, please contact me asap).
I’m curious what other people think. If you suddenly became wealthy (or are already there) would you continue to “work?” Would you change your job? Would you volunteer doing something you truly enjoy? Would you feel less of a person if you did not work like most everyone else?
The other thing I realized is how lucky I was to have been born in white, middle class America. I and most people I know are in the top 1% of all people on earth in terms of wealth and prosperity. The vast majority of people I saw, from the Quechua farmers in the Bolivian highlands, to rural Chinese peasants, to Rendille tribespeople in Kenya eking out a living herding goats, would probably not believe how good we have it. We have more freedom, more opportunities, better health care and education…the list goes on. Is it fair? Well one of the things I have come to believe is that life is not fair. You have to do the best with the hand you were dealt. You can’t feel guilty that millions of people around the world live in dirt hovels and get by on one meal a day. At least, I try to not to feel guilt. In any case, just appreciate what you have, many others must survive on far less.
I will close with those thoughts. Thanks again for reading my stuff. I hope you enjoyed it. My next project is to go through some 20 hours of video and more than 5000 photos to create some kind of video of my trip. Check theaters soon.
Well, true to my practice, I will respond quickly. I don’t really know how I will get through my day without my morning check of your blog. But I will await your video and your (our) plans for the family reunion and your next trip. Don’t wait too long for I’m no spring chicken.
It is unfair that the developed countries consume so much of the world’s resources, the oil and metals and especially the protein, with much of it wasted, trashed, as a form of indulgence. As for you, Kevin, you didn’t consume many resources on your journey and that could be a good model for the rest of us, maybe not to that extent but to some degree. I do know that you have made me more aware of the problems facing the generations to come.
Occasionally I used to tell my children before a Thanksgiving dinner: “Remember, kids, the only reason we can eat like this is because someone else is willing to starve.” And that is the truth. This planet cannot sustain in the old “American Way” the level of consumption it reaches.
So what’s the answer? It doesn’t matter because the answer swill be forced upon us by the underdeveloped and developing countries. They will affect our children’s future as no dictator or tyrant has been able to in the past.
Finally, I feel kind of sorry for you Kev, because inevitably you are a changed person from the Kevin of August 2007. It will haunt and sadden you at times as you compare your surrounding living standard with those in the world. And this is not to get into the subject of the human value system or, Heaven help us, religion. See you soon.
Affectionately, Uncle Don
Kevin, I’m just so in awe of what you’ve accomplished. And jealous. Aside from the bike riding part. You’ve done something few will ever do. You’ve seen things few will ever see. Plus, you’ve made yourself a more interesting person. Believe me, you needed that. 😉
Seriously though, I’m so amazed and inspired by your journey. Looking forward to the photo/video presentation!
Hey Kev, just finished the blog. I’m already a little upset that there aren’t any pictures taken from South Beach. Must have been an interesting trip from the airport to your condo, what about the beaches there, must be a few honeys… Can’t wait for the documentary to air. I’m really happy you’ve made it home in one piece. About the neck “malfunction”, exhaust the 2nd opinion. Having someone messing with your spine should always be the VERY LAST resort. Take it easy and hope to see you soon.
hey John, well I guess I can take a few pix from south beach. But a lot of women go topless on the beach. Not sure if that would offend you. haha.
What? They’re BALD???
Kev – You signed off with “Adios”. Is that a clue to your future travel wishes? Give some thought to “Näkemiin” after you shake the kinks out: Good roads and bike trails, relatively flat, midnight sun, ruisleipää, suolakalaa, etc. Bob Orton is trying to get Karl and me to cycle to Rovaniemi with him. Who would’ve thought!
Steve, no I don’t know why I signed adios. I guess because I am back home and hearing more spanish again. No plans to return to south America. I would like to finish this trip by going from Malawi south then along the west coast of Africa as per my original plan. But others places also beckon: Scandanavia is a possibility, as are the Balkans. Cycling in the midnight sun has got to be an experience.
I am amusing myself by re-reading your blog from the beginning and I am up to “Southern Paraguay” in September 2007. There were several comments such as “That’s another story” sprinkled throughout those early blogs. I hope that you are putting the “other stories” into some form.
For those of you who are having withdrawal pains, I might suggest re-reading as I am.
Also, I really enjoyed Katrina’s blog and wish she would continue it.
Don, perhaps this will help your withdrawal pains: I have emailed this couple a few times over the past year. They are a husband and wife (French and American) who have been cycling around the world for three years. They are currently in America. Here is a description of their trip:
Welcome! World Biking is an 80 country- 80,000 kilometer cycling tour around the world. We’re Eric and Amaya, two slightly adventurous souls who’ve been pedaling around the globe since June 2006. Our around the world bike tour has already taken us through 55 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and now we’re cycling across the USA.
We’re two middle-aged adventurers setting out to achieve our dream and, in doing so, hope to inspire you to achieve yours.
Plus we’re raising funds for World Bicycle Relief. Giving a bicycle to someone in need is a simple, cost-effective way to help people in developing countries achieve their dreams.
Here is a link to their web site and most recent entry, describing their arrival at JFK in New York.
I know a few others who are biking around the world. I will post their web sites also.
There is another bike touring web site called http://www.crazyguyonabike.com.
I met one guy in Kyrgyzstan who has his journal posted there. His name is Bill Weir, from USA. He has some great commentary and photos. He even posted a photo of me that he took. Here is the link.
Welcome back….I am relieved that you made the choice to come home. I was worried. I didn’t send a note earlier as I was on a trip.
And, I too will really miss your blog as I read it every day, several times in fact, and I look forward to whatever video and pictures you can put together. Reading it again is a good idea and I will do that as well.
As usual, you post difficult questions for all of us regarding resources and our wasting of them. Personally, I am making an effort to cycle and bike whenever I can.
We should all thank you for taking us along on that wonderful trip.
And, thanks for the links….I have heard about “cvrazyguyonabike” somewhere…perhaps in my Adventure Cycling Magazine.
Now that you are back (thankfully), one question…how fat are Americans, truly, compared to the rest of the world? I remember when the lassila’s came back from Brazil how grossed out they were going to the beach in Miami (and that’s Miami, not Hancock!) and noticing how fat people were. No seriously, so glad you are back and looking forward to seeing you one of these days.
I too, enjoyed your blog immensely. I would often wrap up in a blanket on a cold winter Sunday and plop down in front of the computer for an hour or two to catch up. It took me away, but I have to admit it made me jealous. But that’s just my problem. Not yours. I would say to myself “must be nice”, but that could easily be me bicycling across the world if I had chosen to do that, and worked really hard to do it. I did say to myself as well that “well, he doesn’t have a family of his own, so he can do that” and that’s true, but you can do things adventurous with a family if that’s what you chose to do. You can have adventure anywhere. Life is what you put in to it. You can make it happen for yourself everyday, every where you go. But most of the time we sit around saying “I wish I could do that” or “Some day I’d like to do this or that”…..and feel sorry for ourselves, waiting for the day when we will do things, but never doing the things we need to do to make them happen. Anyway, I probably don’t make sense.
I will most likely never take a world tour of any kind. But I’m going to find adventure in this life and see as much of this World as I can with the years I have left. Which is still quite a few, God willing.
Look forward to the day when we have a laugh over pasty,
Love ya, JoJo
I took the time to read your blog. Being a Rendille and from Kargi ,Kenya, i felt like Kevin was a mini-god writing about the alternate hell in my home town.
At least i appreciate the effort of the Rendille warriors and the people in small town who gave you company.In their little way they acknowledged your presence.I hope they advised you to leave early as this is not your type of world —-one told me that the warriors were asking one another —”why did he come here to suffer? Poor soul.”
The Rendilles always say ‘Oh God we are still in the desert that you left us at ‘ =========== they are just honestly thankful of God’s allocation of the resources and land !
Your uncle’s statement to his kids ‘ that they are enjoying the good food because other people opted to starve’ is rightly said.
Hoping to see your videos
Glad you made it back safely. Looking forward to seeing you at the reunion.
Couple of comments:
1) You are crazy. I certainly admire your sisu in being able to accomplish a physical and social feat such as this (as well as your previous trips). I don’t think that many (including myself) would have the physical or mental endurance to complete such a journey.
2) On work: I think one of the reasons the US has been blessed with such prosperity is because we are free to choose our profession. As I have heard many times “Find something you love to do and then find a way to get paid doing it.” If we do not enjoy going to work, we are free to do something else which we do enjoy doing.
In my opinion, Professional Golfers are being productive; they are working. They are generating revenue for their advertisers, by promoting products and increasing sales of products. The materials for the products need to be acquired, they need to be built, they need to be assembled, they need to be shipped, they need to be sold in retail stores. People get paid to do these things. Some would call this wasteful over-consumption; some would call this good old fashioned economic stimulus. After all, what is an economy but the buying and selling of goods and services? Are we better off to consume less, resulting in less productivity by others and eventually ourselves and not simulate the economy as much with our dollars (which we would now receive less of due to our lower productivity)? That condition would be characterized as a depression, recession, or downfall in the economy. I don’t know too many people who strive to achieve that. [This is not looking at the fact that many abuse credit cards or borrow to spend money which is not theirs (especially our government), which is a whole other issue. Excessive consumption on someone else’s dime is unfavorable in my opinion because of the problems and laziness it creates, but economic stimulus via means in your possession, assumedly acquired by being extremely productive yourself, would be favorable.]
In short, I think if someone enjoys doing what “makes them a living,” they have no need to feel guilty (assuming we are within the realms of “good moral behavior”) or unproductive. They should feel blessed that they live in a country which allows people the freedom to enjoy making a living.
Would I change my job if I won the lottery? Yes and no. For one, I would work for myself. (I don’t have the guts to try this right now, the economic uncertainty outweighs the benefits in my own mind). I would do the same work, but would get more heavily involved in different strains of this work (ie Geographic Information Systems and their application to Land Surveying).
3) On America: Continuing my last item, though we are blessed with many resources, I think our greatest resource is our freedom (though diminishing) from oppressive government control and in turn, the capitalization of such freedom by the individual. I would venture a guess that some of the people you saw working had no choice of profession, and therefore, were not as productive performing said profession as well as someone who would enjoy it. I would also venture a guess that in some cases, this was caused by either direct or indirect governmental control which limits their freedom to do as they choose.
As we were recently reminded by the Fourth of July holiday, we must be thankful that the founding fathers had their own sisu to stand up and do what was necessary to obtain such freedom and allow us the standard of living we currently enjoy.
Here is a question for you: Let’s assume some of the goat herders and farmers tending their fields didn’t enjoy their work but do it because they need to provide for their families. Why don’t they buy a tractor, some electric fencing, and other more advanced tools and complete the work faster, therefore having more time to do some productive work that they like to do, or freeing up someone else’s time to allow them to do some more enjoyable work? Probably because they can’t afford a tractor. Why can’t they afford a tractor? Because everyone in the village is working in the field all day, barely providing food for their family, as their ancestors have been for many generations.
Why are they stuck in this cycle? Why doesn’t someone improve this situation? Perhaps some enjoy doing this, but I’m sure that not everyone does.
And lastly, is this our fault that they are stuck in this cycle? Should I be concerned about it? As someone who has seen it first hand, are you? Are we to feel guilty of the lifestyle that we enjoy because our ancestors chose to better their lot in life while theirs chose continue working in fields and herding goats? Perhaps their ancestors were forced to work in fields. Should we feel bad that they have a lower standard of living because their ancestors chose not to fight back (or perhaps fought back unsuccessfully) and our ancestors chose to go to war against their oppressive government and were successful at providing us with freedom?
I’d love to hear your comments; I can only talk generality’s, perhaps you can shed light on specific cases with your first hand knowledge.
Dave, thanks for the comment.
As far as (1), I must agree with you. Crazy.
(2)—good point, I had not thought about the advertising angle. I guess all professional athletes get paid that way. They perform in return for advertiser fees. Some bicycle tourists do this also. Some get free biking stuff in return for letting the suppliers advertise on their blog. I did not want to do this.
So besides that, was I adding any value? I clearly provided entertainment value to many people I passed on the road. (“Look! A mzungu!!”) And I suppose to people who read my blog. I just need to find out a way to make money at it.
(3) You are right—we have it good here thanks to good ol’ George Washington and his fellow rebels. The poor goat herder in Kenya has it tough for many reason: First, as I have wrote before, he is a prisoner of his tradition. Goat herding is what they have done for a millennia. They really don’t know much else (although that is changing by necessity. As grazing land becomes more scarce goat herders are turning to other professions, like tourism.). The other main obstacle, as you implied, is the government itself. African governments have been a great burden on their people. The evil committed by rulers such as Robert Mugabe, Idi Amin and others is incalculable. Not just the tortures and rapes and killings, but the economic stagnation caused by their bloated and corrupt bureaucracies.
Should we feel guilty? That’s a tough one. I try not to, but I still do. When I cycled through Africa I tried not to think about the fact that my bike and gear cost as much as a Kenyan peasant family earns in a whole year. But then again, I can’t do much about it. I give them a few dollars but that solves nothing.
But we are culpable of some things. We elect leaders who pass laws that keep Africa impoverished. These laws relate to trade barriers, particularly in agriculture. African farmers face steep tariffs and quotas from rich western markets. The very things Africans can produce better and more cheaply—food and textiles, are the ones most shut out of western markets. Worse, we subsidize our own farmers (mainly large agribusinesses, anyway, not individuals) so lavishly that African producers cannot compete. The total value of agricultural subsidies in developed countries is almost a billion dollars a day: more than the GDP of all sub-Saharan Africa*.
The irony is that we then turn around and give billions to African countries in aid, most of which ends up in the pockets of government officials and civil servants.
Good discussion. Anyone else want to chip in?
*The Shackeled Continent, Robert Guest, 2004, p. 20.
It seems that you are implying that if the US government would keep their hands out of the free market by not giving subsidies to US farmers (which as you point out, mostly go to the big businesses anyway, not the “little guy”) and by not having such restrictive trade policies, not only would that help out the African economy, but that would also be good for the American consumer and the American taxpayer. In addition, the “help” we give mainly helps the corrupt and oppressive government when we could be helping the people to a greater extent by purchasing their products. By eliminating “government aid” to these countries, it may serve to reduce the power of the bloated government over the people.
I’ll sign that petition in a heartbeat. I’m most always in favor of less governmental control. Don’t tell my mother though, I know she is a member of the local chapter of Farm Bureau; I would imagine they must contribute to some farm lobby or another. I wouldn’t want any awkward silences over dinner when I go to visit.
I was going through some material of last year’s trip to Georgia and Azerbadjan, and reminded me of your blog once reached Tbilisi’s pics of Dodo’s homestay and those sulfurous waters! I’m happy you successfully reached your objective, and I want to congratulate you for it and for the blog, it’s been great to read you. I just can’t imagine how weird must it be to come back to normality after 22 months learning points of view each morning, each ridden km. Courage!
Greetings from Barcelona
Hey Gerard, I will post some video of you on youtube at the Tbilisi springs. Send me your email address.