For a geographer maps are like crystal balls: look deeply into a map and you can see the past. Gaze at it long enough and you can see the future. That, in a nutshell is how ExpeditionPlus! began in 2004. It was February and it was snowing in Colorado and I was daydreaming. Eastern Europe had been liberated from the oppressive control of the Soviet Union for almost fifteen years. I had a wonderful map of Europe on the office wall (by Belletti Editore, an Italian publishing house) and that map kept calling to me.
Paola and I had traveled by train from Vienna to Belgrade and on to Moscow and Leningrad as leaders of a group of high school students in 1974. In 1975 and ’76 we traveled through Yugoslavia to Bulgaria and Turkey. But the exotic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had escaped us as had Poland and the ever appealing Romania, northern and eastern-most outpost of Roman Europe.
“What would it be like”, I wondered, “bicycling in those countries.” And then I thought, “Maybe we could go find out?”
That’s when it began. I mulled this over for a month or so. News reports of how these countries were re-tooling and preparing for life in free-market economies suggested that entrepreneurs were opening hotels and restaurants throughout the region. It seemed that hotels in the larger cities wouldn’t be a problem. But how would the roads be? …The drivers?
I took the idea to an ExperiencePlus! staff meeting and my enthusiasm must have been infectious. The conclusion was to give it a try. Over two years later, in June of 2006, we offered our first ExpeditionPlus! from St. Petersburg to Istanbul.
I was able to pedal the entire route that first year – 2,520 miles (4,056 kilometers). What do I remember most about that first ‘cross-Europe ride’? The eating and pedaling machines that we all became. It was addictive. At days end we’d lounge, write our journals or blogs, take our photos, drink beer, eat and sleep. At 6 a.m., often before the kitchen was ready, we’d be ready for breakfast and ready to ride.
Pedaling into Tallinn, Estonia along the Gulf of Finland, into Bucharest, Romania with a police escort (the officer didn’t realize it but we were right on his tail), or into the chaotic traffic of Istanbul are some of the more memorable experiences of that trip.
And of course, the people along the way: watching the Poles spill out of their churches onto benches in the churchyard on Sunday morning, stopping to ask the Romanian farmers if we could take their pictures, and watching the gypsy children run barefoot as we sped past.
Will I do it again, August 15 – September 29, 2012? In a minute if I can work out the timing.
As I wrote the opening to this story I was reminded of how Bike Across Italy (and ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours) started in 1972. It was February and it was raining in Oregon and I was daydreaming. Of course, there was a map of Italy on the wall. The rest is history.
Would I do it all again? In a minute if the scheduling worked out.