“What on God’s green earth am I doing here?” I thought as I gazed upon the pile of bikes, panniers, and miscellaneous gear strewn about the floor of the Pakistani airport – and at the strange man putting it all together. “How in the heck did I go this far over the deep end?”
Let me make this clear from the beginning – I am normally a fairly “together” person. I am intelligent. I’m confident. I’m… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t typically do something quite this stupid. I mean – why on earth would any reasonably sane woman fly to Pakistan with a man she didn’t even know and plan to spend the next twelve months bicycling with him?
That’s a very good question.
I hadn’t really planned on doing something quite so crazy – I had planned on doing the trip by myself. Yes, I planned to be a 29-year-old female out cycling the Indian subcontinent by myself. But that seemed a whole lot more sane than attempting the same journey with a man I had barely met. Or so thought I.
My parents, on the other hand, didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with me. They thought I was nuts. Loony toon. A few cards short of a deck. And they were panicked – terrified at the thought of their daughter out pedaling to the ends of the earth by herself.
So what does a good daughter do to put her parents at ease? Cancel the trip? Heavens no! I put an ad in an off-the-beaten-track magazine. You know the kind – the magazine that prints articles about the craziest trip mankind can dream up. About heading off into nooks and crannies nobody had heard of.
Every month I devoured each and every word of Great Expeditions magazine. I read about far flung corners of Mongolia or Ghana. I dreamed about visiting remote villages in the Amazon and little known temples in Egypt. I longed to be one of those travelers – the travelers who went beyond – beyond the normal and expected places to travel to really discover the world. And in the back of every Great Expeditions magazine they had a classified section.
“Sure,” I thought. “Like anybody is going to drop everything to take off on mountain bikes with me!” But at least I could assure my parents that I had done everything I could to find a travel companion.
Here comes that whole serendipity part of this story…
One day in April I came home from a day of teaching to find my new issue of Great Expeditions in my mailbox. “This is it! The issue with my ad!” I hurriedly turned to the back of the magazine and scanned the ads. I read an ad for a travel companion in Africa. Another man hoped to sell his backpack and other travel gear. A tour company had an overland truck heading off for South America.
And then – there it was. Not my ad, but a nearly identical one.
“Holy Mother of Pearl!” I thought. “This guy is doing the same thing I am!”
Remember I mentioned serendipity? Great Expeditions was a Canadian magazine. I lived in a small town in New Mexico. He lived in Albuquerque two hours away.
Four days after I first read his ad, I was sitting on the pavement outside a bookstore in Albuquerque when John walked up. He wore an old t-shirt two sizes too small, a pair of jeans left over from the 1970’s, a tacky green Boston Celtics cap, and an awkward grin splattered across his face. Nerd. Big time.
An hour later I walked out of the nearby Dairy Queen after having committed to spending the next year with this guy. We had discussed plans of what gear to take and where to fly to and which camera we would take. But I realized I didn’t know the man.
“What in the hell?” I wondered as I drove two hours back home. “What if? What if we don’t get along? What if he’s a lunatic? What if….”
And yet, in the back of my mind, I knew. I knew it would be OK. I knew it would work. I hadn’t the foggiest idea how it would work, but I was confident it would work itself out.
And so it was that two months later I found myself standing in the Islamabad airport with a bike, a mountain of gear, and a man I didn’t know. John put my bike together for me and off we went – off to explore the wonders of Asia.
It was six months later that John asked me to marry him for the fifth time and I finally agreed. And six months after that we arrived back in the USA and I walked down the aisle to become the wife of that man I barely knew so long ago. I had no idea what our lives together would bring, but I knew that – with John – nothing would be predictable. Unpredictable perhaps, but wonderful.
What Were We Thinking? Bicycling the Back Roads of Asia is our book about that journey.
That was 21 years ago in 1991. Since then, we’ve been around the world a time or two. We taught overseas for twelve years and discovered many hidden wonders in remote nooks and crannies of countries wide and far. In 1998 our twin boys were born and we embarked on our greatest adventure yet – parenthood.
If history is any indicator of the future, our adventures are far from over.