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Has it Really Been a Year?

We’ve relied largely upon our own grit and hard work to get us this far, just as we will rely on it on to get us through the long days and miles ahead.

–excerpt from the Braking Boundaries Mission Statement

The dark eyes looked up at me from behind a scraggly mess of steel-grey hair. The gnarly knuckles and thick, leathery fingers made a feeble attempt to straighten the wilting cardboard.

–Have you got change to spare?

What should have been a scene set to inspire the kind of heartfelt sympathy that moves mountains, merely triggered a wave of self-loathing and despair. I shuddered to think that, at twenty-nine, I had more in common with this disconsolate figure, than I’d like to admit. Was it possible that I was the same woman who had, just under a year ago set off to cycle the breadth of Eurasia? Every fiber in my body wanted to say:

Scoot over buddy. I’m homeless and unemployed too. What do you say I hold your sign and we split the profits?

But, instead, I reached into my wallet and handed over my last dollar bill. Because, while on paper I am, quite literally, a wanderluster turned broke vagaboner, I am not really pedaling unsupported, so to speak. In spite of my fractured finances and professional foibles, I’ve somehow managed to hang onto my two greatest assets: remarkably supportive friends and an infinitely fabulous family. And while the curmudgeon-of-a-Yankee in me continues to cling stubbornly to this hereditary propensity to extol self-reliance, I know that, as some really smart dude whose name I can’t remember said yonkers ago, No man is an island.

On this, the one year anniversary of Braking Boundaries’ epic adventure some 14,000 plus kilometers from Beijing to London, I’m particularly aware of how all people, regardless of their socioeconomic or cultural histories, are bound together by the simple quality of being human. And it is this humanity that, indeed, breaks boundaries.

Yes, the trip took grit and gumption. It took determination and teamwork. But, in spite of the fact that we did all the ‘legwork’ ourselves, there were many helping hands along the way.

It would take a dozen newsletters to outline all the random acts of kindness we received en route, but suffice to say that there was a string of them stretching from Beijing to London. From the slightly-ridiculous but assuredly-helpful police escort in China to the man who’s trailer sheltered us from a storm in the mountains of Kosovo, we were almost daily surprised by the selflessness of complete strangers.

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Our journey seemed to inspire them, and their capacity for often-unsolicited generosity provided the inspirational impetus that propelled us forward, through the good and the bad.

As a general rule of thumb, our more uplifting memories were born out of less than ideal circumstances. On the very day that unrelenting headwinds and desert sun drove me to denounce my teammates in a maelstrom of frustration, we met Xiao. A fellow bike-enthusiast turned adventurer this Chinese national was in the process of circumnavigating his homeland. His can-do attitude and oversized heart provided a much needed boost to our sagging spirits. In the month to come his mantra, “It’s Okay!” would sustain us through visa delays, heat stroke, man-eating spiders, and general malaise.

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A true friend that we miss dearly : Xiao

In the spirit of all those who helped us along the way, I thought it apropos to update everyone on the KIVA loans you so selflessly helped support with your donations. In all, 53 individuals worldwide were able to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams thanks to you. You can check out a complete list of these individuals and their stories at:

http://www.kiva.org/community/teams/view/loans?team_id=1199

People have often referred to my trip as incredible, unbelievable, or amazing. It was, in fact, all of those things. And I have spent the greater part of my post-trip days contemplating why such an ostensibly life-changing experience was in many ways, not life changing at all. I am for all intents and purposes the same woman who hopped on her bike all those months and miles ago. I had no great epiphany on the road. I don’t visit elementary schools tooting my own horn and spouting Oprah-style inspirational speeches.

I have, at times, been dogged by the perplexingly anti-climatic nature of the journey. After 187 days and 21 hours of self-examination, where was my life changing lightening strike that would clarify my earthly existence? Should I have turned off the iPod and tuned into more lofty musings?

I’ve realized, however, that some ‘aha’ moments are more practical than profound. Using a Chinese squatter after 8 hours of cycling, for example, led me to exalt the genius of toilet seats. Fourteen consecutive days of cycling sans a shower revealed the convenient power of indoor plumbing. The meaningless banter between teammates at the end of a long day illuminated the comforting importance of good company. And the simple act of opening one’s heart and home to complete strangers spoke to my enduring belief (hope?) that sometimes the smallest acts leave the greatest impression.

And so, while the trip wasn’t necessarily life changing, I realized how easily individual actions can change lives. In a country that, until recently, was largely racing at breakneck speed towards bigger homes, flashier cars, and trendier clothes, it’s illuminating to realize:

True success isn’t measured by the amount of money you make, or number of mountains you’ve climbed; it’s all about being thankful for what you have, and using it to help others. Because, bum or businessman, what goes around comes around:

I hit a wall today. I’ve hammered out 9,000 kilometers up this point, but for some reason the thought of just 300 more to a much-needed rest in Istanbul nearly broke me.

And then, we met the Spaniard and his sidekick from Chicago.

We chatted for a while—the four of us engaged in the entertaining but sometimes monotonous pleasantries of typical ‘travel talk’: Where are you from? What are you doing here? Etc.

When the Spaniard quietly disclosed that they’d walked from Spain, I was stunned. What a feat! Twenty minutes ago, I could barely fathom cycling another 300 kilometers and these wise-guys had walked that very route! All I could muster in response was, “That’s ridiculous!”

Ever the diplomat, Tom patted my back, and with a cocked smile said,

“What my friend meant to say, is that’s amazing!”

And he was right. It truly was amazing. I was dumbstruck. And, profoundly thankful that I, being slightly more pragmatic than these two clowns, had chosen to bicycle rather than bi-pedal my way across the Eurasian landmass. Suddenly, the 300 kilometers to Istanbul seemed surmountable.

Seeing that they carried nothing except the clothes on their backs, we asked them what they did for food and shelter. They told us that they just find a town or village and knock on people’s doors. When I asked them what happened if they didn’t stumble across such places, or if they were turned away they just shrugged and nonchalantly said they’d always managed to find someone, somewhere. And that they’d never been turned away.

Things just have a way of working out, they said.

Just before we parted ways, Jared rifled through his bag and handed them a pack of biscuits. Having just informed them that the nearest town was still a day’s journey away on foot, he thought they might need some sustenance.

Reaching for the packet, the Spaniard started to chuckle a bit, and when I asked him what was so funny, he said:

About 5 kilometers back, we were talking about how hungry we were and what we wouldn’t give for some cookies.

At this, I couldn’t help but smile: They got their cookies, and I got my inspiration to keep on truckin’ to Istanbul.

Things do have a way of working out.
Pay it forward.

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