I first “met” Cindie Cohagan back in 2006. On our first year-long family bike tour, we happened to pass through the town of Prescott, Arizona, and had dinner with some new-found friends. “I’ve got some friends who have been traveling the world on their bikes for a few years now,” one of the women said. And that was my introduction to Tim and Cindie Travis. Throughout the years, we communicated via email and Facebook. Now Cindie, recently divorced, is a huge inspiration to me and many others.
She was gracious enough to give me a bit of her time for an interview. Read and be inspired.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Cindie?
I was born on the east coast and moved out west to go to University. I spent all of my adult life in Arizona and New Mexico working as a geologist doing environmental permitting, cleanup, and water exploration. Tim Travis introduced me to cycling and then bike touring. This led us out the door on an around-the-world bicycle tour in March 2002. That was the beginning of eight plus years of bicycle touring through 26 countries. Along the way I also published three books about our travels.
Some of my favorite places were the Mayan ruins of Mexico and Guatemala, the volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru, the Perito Morano glacier in Argentina, Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the food in China, Thailand and Mexico, the wild life in Australia, and the stunning scenery in Alaska. Last, but not least, the people of the world who I will forever be grateful to for all the kindness, joy and laughter I experienced.
I have lived in Dharamsala, India for over two years now, studying Tibetan Buddhism, meditation and starting my own publishing company Drifting Sands Press (www.driftingsandspress.com). I have written and published my first book – Finding Compassion in China: A Bicycle Journey into the Countryside. Currently, I am working with three authors, Paivi and Santeri from Finland on their recent book about Global Nomads, and Elles from Holland on her PhD and upcoming books on Tibetan Buddhist Nuns living in the Northern Himalayas of India. I also do volunteer work with the Tibetan Government and in Dharamsala, this I see as a small way of giving back.
You traveled for many years, but then made the decision to change gears and do something completely different. How did that change happen? When/how did you know the time had come?
The change in my mind happened rather abruptly, but the change in reality took years. Let me explain. Tim and I were traveling in the northern part of Australia, a very remote area called Kakadu National Park. We were camping at one of the more remote campgrounds near Aboriginal land and as we left a park panger pulled us over. I remember he joked that we were speeding and then he seriously said, “You have an emergency in your family. You need to call home.”
We both called our families and when I talked to my brother-in-law he told me my older sister, Debbie, had died in a car accident the night before. I was devastated beyond belief.
I pretty much wanted to stop traveling then but I didn’t know it at the time, and I wasn’t in a position to just stop traveling. At the time it was better to stay on the road.
After the funeral I flew back to Australia and then Tim and I flew on to New Zealand. With a heavy heart I pedaled around the north and south island. Every time I saw a white cross on the side of the road, and it seemed like they were everywhere, I thought of my sister. I never regained the will to travel after that. I felt like I had missed my time with my sister.
Still we traveled in New Zealand, flew to Alaska and stayed with my twin sister while we finished our second book. We continued to bike tour from Valdez, Alaska and entered the lower 48 in September 2008, just in time to watch the economy collapse. When we returned to Arizona, to my surprise there were no jobs for me or anyone else at the time.
We rode across the USA, which was way easier than other countries in some ways and more difficult in others. With no jobs to be had, we made a job and we worked on our third book while we stayed with Tim’s family.
By the time we flew to India I was exhausted and out of shape. The will to ride just wasn’t there and you really need to have your wits about you in a country like India. In hindsight I never recovered my traveling spirit after losing my sister and when I landed in Dharamsala I had found a connection to people and Buddhism. After all those years on the road I had pretty much severed all ties to friends – I didn’t have any really – and my connection with my family was really sporadic. Mentally and physically I was ready to stop traveling.
Your journey continues, but it’s not a physical journey now. What kinds of parallels do you see in the physical and spiritual journeys? How do they differ?
I feel that my physical journey prepared me for my spiritual journey. Stripping away all the material things we get attached to while living in the West and pushing myself physically revealed to me what was important. At the same time, it gave me confidence to conquer physical and mental obstacles. Bicycle touring simplifies a lot of things.
While the physical journey was about connecting with local people, my spiritual journey is about connecting with me. While I have learned that I can’t make someone else happy, I have also learned I am responsible for my own happiness. There are many parallels between the two journeys like overcoming obstacles and finding connections and keeping things simple.
I personally think that if I remained in the USA and followed what society and others thought I should do, I would have missed out on what life and the world is really all about. The big difference between the two journeys is I don’t need all that equipment for my spiritual journey and a spiritual journey is more of a solo journey rather than doing it with someone else.
Fast forward ten years. Where do you see yourself?
Well that is a tough one because I will end up where the wind blows me and I don’t know where that is right now. I don’t think I will be in India and I could see myself living in the USA again. Then again I might assist an NGO who helps provide clean drinking water to small villages. I value clean water more now than ever before, we are truly lucky in the west to turn on the tap and have safe drinking water come out all the time. This is a huge luxury the rest of the world doesn’t have.
What has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned through it all?
The greatest gift I have received from the trip is realizing things will work out; they always do. I can’t tell you how many times we didn’t know where we were going to camp for the night and yet we always found a place to camp. In the beginning I worried and fretted about this and wasted a lot of energy on ‘what ifs’ and expectations. Worrying about things we can’t control just drains our energy. Just letting go and letting things happen is very liberating. This is not the easiest thing to do and to be honest I have to remind myself of it every now and then.
If you could give one piece advice to people, what would that be?
Live in the moment and be mindful of what you are doing and saying. Is that too many ands?
Along these same lines don’t worry about the past; there isn’t anything you can do to change it and don’t be anxious or have expectations about the future because things will always turn out differently than you think! I had to learn to put my expectations away over and over again. Like every time we crossed a border, what I expected to be there was never there. I always was surprised (not always pleasantly) how things could change by just crossing a man made border.