Your donation will go directly to Syria Relief and Development to help Syrian refugees and victims of the war within Syria

Monday, November 18, 2013

The New Plan:

Looking for intrepid, committed, compassionate cyclists to cycle any distance from 200 to 4500 kilometers, starting August 1st from Brussels, and finishing in Antakya, Turkey by the end of October, in a 'Cycling to Syria' relay to fundraise for victims of the war there. The route will be from Brussels to the Syrian border, passing through cities like Cologne, Budapest, Belgrade, and Istanbul. The idea is for cyclists to travel a leg of 200 or 300 kilometers-- for example, from Brussels to Cologne-- then to 'pass the baton' to the next cyclist or group of cyclists. This is NOT a race, but a fundraising project, so cyclists should expect to go only some 50-80 kilometers per day, depending on the terrain and weather. And of course, a cyclist can do more than one leg of the journey, including the entire distance. Cylists who are not actually cycling at the moment can help others who are on the road by raising publicity or finding them hosts along the way. If you would like to join the team, either to help organize or to do some cycling, contact me!
or, if you prefer, help victims of the war in Syria now by donating to Syria Relief and Development

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cycling with Marco Polo

I was having a cup of coffee at a bratwurst stand along the Rhine, in Bonn, when a barge called the 'Marco Polo' cruised past, making its way upriver. I thought about the Italian merchant who travelled to China so long ago, and about the journey that others were now making in the same direction, on foot or by bike, and about my own journey to Syria, now delayed indefinitely. The 'Marco Polo' moved on, and my thoughts moved on to American football for a time, as I chatted with the owner of the bratwurst stand, Stephan, who was not only a fan of American football, but also played it professionally in Bonn and Cologne.

Back on my bicycle I glided southward along the river, enjoying the scenery and the freedom that comes with a flat, well maintained bike path, good weather, and a route easy to navigate. The Rhine flows north but I was flowing south, to Koblenz, with a plan to continue for another three weeks before returning to Aldenhoven, where I'd sojourned a week before. The ease of the cycling had my mind wandering, so my thoughts flowed like the river, to a few days before, when all the seemingly absurd predicaments I had found myself in converged to a single point of clarity and purpose. There I'd been, carrying everything I owned on a bike, in autumn, in Germany, having cycled from Italy back in August, intending originally to get to Syria by this time, but having waited a month for others, in vain, and then planning on waiting yet another week for someone else to cycle with as far as Nuremberg before continuing to Syria alone, all with the intent of raising money for Syrian refugees, but having raised absolutely nothing. 
I wasn't penniless, however, so moving forward was the solution to any problems I had created for myself; moving forward had been the answer for the past two years. But then, suddenly, I'd had another option. I was offered a home. Indefinitely. And my role in the Theater of the Absurd had come to an end.

Back on the Rhine, I flowed along at 15 to 20k an hour, passing a hill on the opposite bank with a castle ruin on it; I was sure I'd seen that ruin when I was 16, on a Rhine boat tour, and I'd commented on it to one of my German exchange student hosts, about how beautiful and amazing it was, and he hadn't understood what all the fuss was about. I saw now that it was only a ruin, and nothing to make a fuss about, but I've been living in Europe for 17 years. A teenager coming from flat, semi-tropical Florida sees more in a castle ruin on a hill by the Rhine than the natives do, just as they had seen more in a Florida beach than we had.
I caught up with the 'Marco Polo', and passed it, slowly. It moved along steadily, but like the tortoise; it was more certain of arriving than the hare, which pulled ahead, then took another break.
I smoked, and as I sat on a bench on the river, the barge passed by, something of a companion now. I thought back to Dahab, in Sinai, where I hadn't known what to do after being denied entry into Israel for the second time. My peace walk was finished, and I was in Egypt without money or a plan. I had quickly made some friends there; Dahab attracts people like me , and I had found a new passion in free diving, so I seriously considered remaining there. I imagined Dahab had been the reason for my quest; the treasure I'd sought without realizing it. But then another plan had formed, another quest, faster, on a bike, and with more attainable goals, money for refugees rather than undeliverable petitions for peace in the Middle East. And with a friend, rather than alone.  

I cycled on, up the Rhine, which flows unceasingly, like time. The 'Marco Polo' had passed me because it also moved along steadily, like the river, and with my limited perspective, unceasingly, like time. I'd fallen behind it, dwelling on the past, and now I was with it, slowing down to measure its speed, 11 kilometers per hour, the speed of the present moment; but then growing impatient I surged ahead of it, now in the future.
I was going to Koblenz to stay with university students for a night, then I'd head northeast to stay with other hosts before meeting this latest potential cycling buddy near Frankfurt, where I would bide my time, floating from host to host until she was ready to cycle with me to Nuremberg. Then she would return home by train, and, because of that single point of clarity and purpose that had come to me like a flash of lightning, I would also return to a home and something like a future rather than pushing forward to Syria, where I would probably find myself once again broke and without much of a plan, and, if the trend continued, without having accomplished what I had set out to do.

At Remagen I stopped for a while, and the 'Marco Polo' passed me yet again. My head wasn't in the past, but the history of the bridge that was once there drew my interest. During World War II the US Army had crossed the bridge, the only bridge left standing on the Rhine. It had finally collapsed after being damaged by bombardment. The towers on either side were intact, however, and the tower on the side I was on now housed a Peace Museum. It was hard to imagine war there, in that peaceful setting, so long ago. When I was 16, visiting Germany for the first time, the war had been nearer. My host's father hadn't seemed very friendly in the beginning. I remember then that I thought it must have been because of the war. He would have been a kid when the Allies were dropping bombs all around him, and he would have remembered it. But after a few weeks my host's father had become friendlier; I think he'd realized I wasn't so different from his own son.

Then I thought of the present time, not there, but in Syria, and the war there, and I thought of the future, also in Syria, when someone might visit a Peace Museum in Aleppo or Homs or Damascus, and not be able to imagine that there had been war there.

I kept following the river towards Koblenz. The cycling remained pleasant, but with a hint of melancholy for having made the decision to quit life on the road. I'd grown accustomed to it, and to the freedom it represented. But much of that freedom had been illusion. The waiting for others to cycle with, the hoping for help from others to raise money, or to contribute money, the constant need to find help earning money, or to find a host; this was not the freedom others imagined I had. But there was also a deep sense of gratitude for all the help I'd received over the past two years, and for the experiences I'd had, and the people I'd met. There was relief at being able to stop, to really stop, and a feeling of acceptance despite not achieving what I'd set out to do; acceptance for who I am, independently of what others think; independently even of what I think about myself. This feeling was rooted in the present moment. I have been, in the minds of others, a hero, a saint, an enlightened man, but also a vagabond, a wastrel, a deluded man. I've been seen as happy and full of inner peace, and as chronically depressed and full of anger; as confident and strong, and as lacking initiative and weak; as compassionate, and as a man of integrity, and as selfish, and a liar; as capable, and as incompetent; as inspired, and lost. But in what was the present moment, then and there, I was simply whatever I was, in love with being there, at that moment, and feeling love for everyone everywhere. This last statement makes me weak and deluded to some, compassionate and saintly to others, but none of these judgements are right. Or all of them are. Who cares? Who among us aren't all of these things at one time or another?

I passed the 'Marco Polo' one last time as it struggled up a particularly fast current at a bend in the river, then I lost sight of it as I entered an industrial zone near Koblenz. But I still imagine it and all of those I know walking or cycling to Shanghai or Tibet or Nepal or Myanmar moving steadily forward, like time, and when I imagine this, the melancholy returns, but with a smile.

On my very last day on the road I cancelled the future, not continuing to Nuremberg, and I got my head out of the past, not regretting any of my decisions, and I returned to Aldenhoven, where I am now. Meanwhile, the 'Marco Polo' surges onward, and I'll try to cycle alongside it at the same pace. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cycling to the Grocery Store

Though I've only been 'cycling to Syria' for two and a half months, I've been on the road, in the broader sense, for almost two years. In that time I haven't returned home once, as there has been no home to return to. Thanks to the generosity and compassion of hundreds of people, I've been sheltered and fed most of the way, and I've found a temporary home or two, but no matter where I've been, or for how long, the road has always beckoned me; where next?
For most of my walk from Portugal to the Middle East, I was certain of my intentions, and confident, and joyful, but somewhere along the way I lost that certainty. I tried to revive that confidence with this fundraiser to Syria, but I found myself moving just to keep doing what I've grown accustomed to. Perhaps that lack of confidence is the reason I've failed to raise any money for victims of the war in Syria.
But it seems I've found a home now, in Aldenhoven, near Aachen, Germany. Syria is still on my mind, and I won't quit trying to raise money for the people who have suffered unimaginable loss there, either at the hands of a vicious regime or at the hands of equally vicious fundamentalist rebels. But I won't be cycling there anytime soon.
As I write this I'm in a t-shirt, nice and warm, and looking out the window at the cold street. I've spent too much time looking into windows and imagining the warmth inside after walking or cycling through the rain or snow for days. But maybe I can do more for the people who are on the outside, looking in, by being inside.
I won't stop this blog or its intention, but any cycling I'll be doing anytime soon will be to the grocery store.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Please Don't Donate

I may have made enough money to get all the way to Syria while I was working in Germany. This means that if you believe in what I'm doing, instead of donating to me (as so many of you did on my peace walk to Egypt) you can donate to International Rescue Committee by clicking right here:
or, if you prefer, you can donate to Polish Humanitarian Action,
 which is an NGO I have a personal interest in, as I had the opportunity to meet one of it's workers while in Antakya last March. 
Both of these NGO's are helping victims of the war in Syria. 
If you donate, you´ll be helping people who have experienced loss that is unimaginable to you or I. You will be helping them to survive and rebuild. Just ten or twenty euros to help someone survive; damn, I'd call that a privelege, having the means and the opportunity to do that.
If you don't donate, you'll contribute to helping me get into the 'Guiness Book of World Records' for the most kilometers cycled on a fundraising tour without raising so much as one cent. So far I've done about 2300 kilometers without raising anything, so I'm well on my way. Thanks.

After returning to Antwerp, I did a little cycling towards the coast and back with my old pal Inge VanHulle. We cycled and camped in the rain, just like old times. No snow though. Then I set off for a return to Brussels (to see another pal, another Inge) before heading towards Germany, where I am now, near Bonn. I'll be back in Neuhonrath in a couple of days, this time by bike, to earn just a little more money before heading southeast towards Frankfurt. Then it will be Vienna, Budapest... and on to Syria.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gaziantep Revisited; Gardening in Germany; the Elusive Brad

Back in March I was in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, not far from the Syrian border. Though I had been heading for Iskenderun to catch a ship to Haifa, I'd made the detour to Gaziantep because I was hitchhiking with 22 year old Shusaku Hayashi, from Japan. We'd met in Konya, and had decided to hitchhike together towards south central Turkey; in my case to catch my ship, in his case to visit Gaziantep and Hatay to visit local sweets and pastry shops. My mission was to deliver peace petitions in Palestine, his was to collect local sweets recipes from Paris to Shanghai.
Shu fulfilled his mission in Gaziantep by sampling baklava in various parts of the city. In spite of the fame of that city for baklava, Shu had decided the baklava there was second best; he'd had better in Bosnia. We stayed that first night there as guests of a teacher of Koran, who we'd met at a Muslim guest house. The second night we spent in a bus station until getting a free ride on a coach to Hatay.
I mention Gaziantep because I've just seen on CNN that there is now a US military presence near the city to protect it from Syrian missiles. The reporter made no mention of baklava.

As CNN is the only English speaking channel I can get here in the German village of Neuhonrath, I've seen almost nothing but Syria in the news. The emphasis is on the possibility of US military involvement there. There is not so much news  about the Syrian refugees, who amount to about 1/3 of the country's population.

I'm here in Neuhonrath, which is not far from Cologne, clearing an overgrown yard, and getting paid for it. Not only am I earning a good wage, I'm working as many hours as I want to work, unsupervised. I also have a room of my own in this house, and all I can eat. I should have enough money to get to Syria once I'm finished here.
Many thanks to my travel buddy Inge, who I walked with through the Balkans last autumn, and later on to Istanbul. She arranged the work for me. My 'boss' is her dad, Patrick, whom I met once before in Asenovgrad, Bulgaria.

I never did get to Paris.
I was supposed to meet my friend Brad there. We'd taught English together in Portugal, and at an International School in England. After not seeing each other for several years, we were going to cycle to Syria together, from Paris.
At first, Brad wanted to cycle south from Paris, through Italy, as he has a strong aversion to cold weather, and even September can be a bit chilly north of the Alps. As I was in Italy at the time, I had suggested that Brad could cycle south to meet me there. My going to Paris would be the wrong direction to get to Syria, unless I meant to cross America and Asia after Paris.  But Brad wanted us both to start from Paris. As I liked the idea of cycling in northern Europe, and as I wanted to visit Inge, who was in Belgium, I agreed, and I cycled towards Paris.
 But Brad has a strong independent streak in him, and he is elusive. When I was walking through the south of France a little over a year ago, Brad and I had agreed to meet in Marseilles. He was going to walk with me for a while. I'd wanted to go north from Nimes, through the Alps into Italy. Because of the possibility of cold weather in the Alps, Brad had wanted to get to Italy by sticking to the Mediterranean coast. I agreed, and started walking towards Marseilles. But then Brad was unable to do the walk for various reasons, so from Aix-en-Provence I'd headed north again.
So now, a year later, we were going to meet in Paris. Brad already had his bike, and seemed excited to go. He told me we'd stay with friends of his in Paris before setting out. But when the hosts he'd arranged in Paris fell through, I suggested we meet in Reims, where I had a host. Instead, Brad cycled southeast from Paris, to Dijon. I sensed he still wanted to go south. Nevertheless, I then headed towards Antwerp to find work, and to visit Inge. As our plan was to cycle through northern Europe, I thought Brad could meet me there. But Brad cycled to Basel, Switzerland, where I'd just come from. He then cycled into Germany, to Bavaria. He was logging 150 kilometers a day. Brad was cycling like mad. I suggested to Brad that he cycle north to meet me. He suggested I meet him in the Czech Republic. I started to think we might eventually meet at the Syrian border.
However, Brad is stalled for a bit now in Munich, as he's become ill. His message to me sounded urgent, that he needed to get to a doctor. He's been cycling through a lot of rain, cold rain, and is now paying the price. Maybe I should have heeded his request to cycle south.
Brad, if you're reading this, let me know how you are.

Meanwhile, I may be here in Neuhonrath for another week or so. I like the work; simple, manual labor sets my mind free. I like seeing the results. Other than the thousands of kilometers I've left behind me, I haven't seen tangible results from my work unless it's been on a farm or in a garden.

After I leave Neuhonrath, I'll go back to Antwerp, where my bike is waiting, to do some maintenance on it. And after that?  At some point in the near future I'll be cycling towards Syria, and not away from it. But right now I'm a little tired of planning my trip and worrying about where I'll stay next or whether I'll ever raise any money for the refugees, so I'll just say that tomorrow I'll be clearing an overgrown garden.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Think Small, Save the World

Several Western nations are poised to act with military intervention in Syria, with the aim of stopping Assad. The regime's alleged use of chemical weapons is the reasoning behind this. The stated goal is to stop an inhuman regime from killing its people with chemical weapons.

Of course, the rebels aren't all the team of freedom fighters we'd like to think they are; they are largely fundamentalists, and they've committed their own share of atrocities. And saving people from chemical weapons by using other weapons that will cause "collateral damage" is ridiculous; I know I wouldn't feel that I had been saved if my saviours accidentally killed my family. Furthermore, the use of chemical weapons could have been staged to promote military intervention. I don't know what the truth is, nor will I blindly accept the media's slant on the truth.

So instead of thinking big, of buying into a version of the truth, an ideology, of stopping Assad; I'd like to think small, of helping a Syrian child, for example, who has been the victim of a brutal war.
Instead of thinking big and paying taxes to provide weapons or to support military intervention to topple Assad and save the world with a lot of "collateral damage" along the way, I'd like to think small and ride a bicycle from Western Europe to Syria. I am hoping to encourage others to think small, that is, in human terms, and to contribute a little money, which will go to the International Rescue Committee's Syrian refugee crisis fund, or to Polish Humanitarian Action, whose members work inside Syria to deliver goods and medical aid to the victims of the war.

Enough money redirected from providing weapons to helping people in need will get rid of every Assad who pops up.

So put political ideology aside for a while, stop thinking big, and think small, in human terms. Stop  pondering the best way to use weapons to make the world "safe for Democracy", and act to provide for those caught in a war rife with ideologies.

Here's how you can think small to save the world; put ten bucks or ten euros aside and donate to:  Polish Humanitarian Action;

or to International Rescue Committee


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The First Three Weeks; a Summary

On July 31st at 0745 I cycled down the gravel road from where I'd lived in the village of Montecchio Precalcino and headed southwest to get to Paris, then Syria. If this doesn't make sense, keep in mind I'd walked from Portugal to Morocco a year and a half earlier to get to Egypt via Europe. Anyway, down the hill I went with one of my new 'Cycling to Syria' t-shirts on and a red and white keffiyeh on my head, saddened at leaving my surrogate family behind, exhilarated to be on the long road again, anxious for the same reason, and a little annoyed that my odometer wasn't working after all the preparation I'd done. At the bottom of the hill I turned right onto the asphalt towards my first hosts waiting 120 kilometers away, and with the adrenalin of a new journey I pedalled along at 20k/hr until realizing I'd better slow down a little if I was ever going to reach my final destination.

In Montecchio Precalcino, my friend and host Sabina had tried to drum up a little publicity for the start. I'm not big on publicity; during my walk to Egypt I had let publicity find me and not the other way around. But this time I was cycling to raise money for a cause, for two NGO's, International Rescue Committee and Polish Humanitarian Action. Without publicity there would be no one to donate to these organizations. But the media wasn't interested, so the starting ceremony was composed of the four members of the family that had taken me in and cared for me the previous three weeks while I earned a little money working on an organic farm. We'd said our goodbyes quietly, everyone was a little sleepy, and they'd stretched out a green ribbon in front of Knulp, my bike. I'd cut the ribbon, and Sabina had handed me half of it to keep. I tied it around Knulp's head tube, and off I went.

For the next couple of days I pushed hard, not so much because I wanted to, but because I had to to reach my hosts. I stayed near Mantova the first night, with Francesca, Gian Carlo and Nico at an old rustic farmhouse. It was a good ending for a hard first day on the road. We talked about everything and drank Gian Carlo's Lambrusco. I'm sure I've acquired yet another surrogate family with these guys. Francesca gave me a wonderful gift, a wish balloon, just like the one I'd seen in the desert in Sinai only a few months earlier. The wind caught it and it sped westward into the night, until it looked like a distant, flickering star. So my trip westward was assured, anyway. Gian Carlo gave me a bottle of homemade Lambrusco, and he was worried about the extra weight I'd have to carry.
"A bottle of your Lambrusco is weightless," I'd said, or something to that effect. By the time I'd  left Milan it really was weightless.

The next day I cycled 147 k to reach a host who was farther than I'd thought. Thirty plus kilometers farther. I was glad no one was cycling with me because they wouldn't have been pleased with my inattention to certain details, like where exactly the destination was. I arrived at 10 pm exhausted. I was fed well and immediately went to bed. The next morning I was off to Milan.

In Milan I did some house sitting for my friend Cristina, and some cat sitting, but her father, Renzo, came twice a day to cook for the both of us, so I'm not so sure I was really house sitting. Renzo helped me make Gian Carlo's Lambrusco bottle weightless. I also visited my friend Sara a few times. We'll meet again in Belgrade or Istanbul or someplace without even trying, I'm sure of that. I'm pretty sure we've met a few times in previous lives, if there are previous lives.

In Como, Italy I was invited to stay at a university dorm full of Chinese students by Qin. She made me a nice Chinese meal, unlike any meal I ever had at a Chinese restaurant.

In Switzerland I'd already paid for a few things with euros before I realized Swiss Francs are used in this non-EU nation. I just cycle on without a clue sometimes. I stayed in Lugano with Barbara, and as far as I was concerned I was still in the north of Italy as we ate loads of pasta and drank a little (ahem) wine. Just more of Italy but with a different currency, Swiss Francs.

After Lugano the mountains began , the real mountains, and by the end of a hard day I was camped by a river near Airolo and San Gottardo Pass, where I was stuck for a couple of soggy and somewhat anxious days in thunderstorms, as related in my previous post. I got through San Gottardo Pass, the highest point I would be in the Swiss Alps, and for the next two nights, as I headed towards Basel, I camped at paid campsites, there being no abandoned houses or discreet wilderness campsites in view. At both campsites I met people who are now friends, the first being a Dutch trekking cyclist named Casper who lives in Switzerland, the second a German woman named Julia who's got a Moto Gucci she travels on.

Then finally, Basel, where I stayed with high altitude hiking host Beatrice, and for the first night there, also with two travelling musicians from Germany and Sweden. With Beatrice I would get the opportunity to float down the Rhine River, through Basel, clutching my 'fish bag', a waterproof bag which serves as a container for your clothes and a float. It seems to be the thing to do in Basel in the summertime, as we were not alone. Beatrice gave me a tour of old Basel, which to me looked like a reproduction of something I'd seen in Disney World, somewhere in the Epcot Center maybe.

Switzerland is a bit of a paradise if you have a lot of money, or even if you haven't, if you've got people to host you. Everything seems... perfect. Cyclists have their own lanes, not only in the cities but also on big roads. There are roadsigns for cyclists. Motorists respect your space. And cyclists follow the rules. They stop at stop lights, stay on the bike paths. Having been trained on the streets of Milan, I was a bit of a renegade as I hopped from sidewalk to road to bikepath, cycling through red lights and down one way streets. People stared.
Yes, so, old Basel, like a Disneyland street reproducing old Basel. Or like a movie set reproducing old Basel. That's how perfect Basel seemed. Beatrice seemed almost offended by my referring to Basel as perfect.
"Zurich is far more perfect," she said.
She also pointed out the slightly less than perfect nature of her neighborhood, which is an immigrant neighborhood.
"Look at the rubbish," she said. But I noticed all the rubbish that had been put out was in perfect, blue, official Basel rubbish bags. No rubbish on the streets.
I tried hard to look for imperfections in Basel. While watching a concert along the Rhine I did notice a beer bottle floating by. Aha!
The night before heading into France I showed Beatrice my photos of San Gottardo Pass to impress her. She showed me photos of herself high atop even higher parts of the Alps, looking down from the peaks instead of up at them. Also photos of the Andes and other far more impressive places. Never try to impress the Swiss with your photos of mountains.

In France the bike paths and lanes stopped and I was once again being squeezed by big trucks onto the margins of the road.
I camped for the next two nights in farmer's fields, then cycled to my next host in Langres, a beautiful and interesting walled, hilltop town which I cursed at first, as I pushed my bike up the steep hill it was perched on.
I went to the tourist office first to meet my host's flatmate. Robin pulled out a map of Langres and circled the points I needed to know to navigate the two hundred meters to the house.
"Benjamin is waiting for you," he said.
I navigated the 200 meters successfully and Benjamin, my host, was indeed waiting. The house where he lives is built like a castle, and I had to push through two heavy doors to get into the courtyard. The house is shared by three families, but Benjamin's part of it is spacious, and on two floors. I settled in, had a shower, then got to see his studio, where Benjamin does his sculpting. There were statues and busts along one wall that he had sculpted, statues of soldiers from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and of fantasy figures, and medieval scenes. What was most interesting was that many of these figures were tiny; as big as your fingernail, but sculpted in fine detail. What talent! What finesse! Where I to try this the clay would end up in a little ball, flicked away into a corner.
Though Benjamin's studio is a bit like an artist's garret, he is by no means starving, as he sells these figures online for a price.
For the next couple of days Benjamin and his flatmate, Robin, treated me like a special guest and gave me a tour of the town, which boasts the longest fortress wall in France, and a trip to the countryside to visit the ruins of a Roman estate while having a French picnic. We also played an absurd game of antiquity while at this Roman estate, in which one has to throw a wooden disk onto a gravel filled triangle for points. As I couldn't get the disks to stick to the gravel, the game is absurd.

After Langres, I enjoyed the two most pleasant days of cycling I've had so far, along the banks of the Marne River Canal, often in the wilderness, or passing through tiny villages, and the path absolutely flat with few other cyclists. I stayed in Chaumont at the invitation of a med student from Catalunya, who invited me to an evening French BBQ at an old abbey. Then two more nights camping wild, once in the woods along the Marne, and once in a farmer's field before reaching Reims.

I'm staying in Reims, the city of the coronation of French kings, with my current host, Caroline. Cycle-buddy -to-be Brad is still in Paris, which I avoided as I had no host there (though I've been invited by two people since making that decision not to stay there). Brad and I will meet in the near future, I think, perhaps in Bavaria. Meanwhile I'm heading further away from Syria by cycling towards Belgium; Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp. I'll be looking for more work, any work, picking grapes, shoveling manure, anything to help me get on with my mission, which is this:

to raise money for the victims of the war in Syria.

Most of the population there has been displaced. They are homeless and without the basic necessities. If you would like to help these people, you can donate just ten or twenty dollars/euros to:  which will go to International Rescue Committee, or to: which will go to Polish Humanitarian Action. PAH regularly works inside Syria in the most dangerous areas to get goods and medical help to those caught in the middle of a sectarian war.

So please help. Merci!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting Through San Gottardo

It hadn't been a bad day cycling from Lugano to just a few kilometers short of San Gottardo Pass; I'd had a nice 50k/hr downhill ride into the UNESCO heritage city of Bellinzona, and then my first serious climb on a bicycle, which I managed to do successfully. I'd cycled 90 kilometers, and now it was time to find a place to camp so I'd be ready for the 2000+ meter pass through the Alps the next day.
I wasn't sure I'd find a spot, as the gorge leading to the pass was crowded with a river, two highways, train tracks and farms, and there was little space for a discreet place to pitch a tent. Getting a cheap room in Airolo, the last village before the pass, was out of the question, as cheap rooms don't exist in Switzerland. But just two or three kilometers from Airolo a gravel lane led down from the road I was cycling on, and to a spot by the river, at the sheltered corner of a farm. It was nearly perfect; the grass was cut short; in front of me were the river, high aspens, and the mountains; behind me a mountain; to my right a thick copse of trees and brush; to my left more brush, but also the only imperfection, a view of a brief stretch of the four lane highway. I sat and relaxed a bit before pitching my tent, then went about the business of setting up camp. The next morning I would cycle the 2 or 3 kilometers to Airolo, have a coffee, recharge my phone (and camera) battery, then climb San Gottardo Pass.

It began raining before nightfall. My tent had been given to me by a friend in Milan; the last cheap tent I'd bought was finished after a Balkan winter. As grateful as I was for the tent, it was made for fair weather, so I had to cover it with two tarps I'd cannibalized from the two previous tents I'd had. This left the lower sides exposed, and it wasn't long before the rain started dripping in. I covered my bike with the poncho I'd started my walk with nearly two years ago but experience had taught me it was far from waterproof. But it was all I had.
Along with the rain came the sounds of thunder. This was encouraging, as I thought it probably meant just a brief period of rain until the thunderstorms passed, but the rain and thunderstorms continued into the night. It became heavier, and at one point hailstones pelted the tent. The thunder grew louder, and more frequent, and there were many close lightning strikes; there was no time at all between the flash and the booming thunder. I sat in my tent occupied with damage control, mopping up the water with a dirty t-shirt and wringing it out through the front flap. I tried to position my things where the water wasn't dripping in, or to get them in plastic bags, but there was no escaping the saturating rain. Everything got wet, including my sleeping bag. Once the heaviest lightning had passed, I fell asleep, but I woke often to grope around to check the flooding (I had given away my headlamp in Egypt, thinking I was done with camping for a while). I woke another time because of the sound of the river; it had become a raging torrent, and I was worried it might overflow it's banks.The rain continued all night long, heavy at times, light at others, but it was incessant, and while the sounds of thunder were more distant, the sound of the river became a surging din.
In the morning I ate stale bread and granola cereal and washed it down with water. I still had another liter of water, and more bread, so I decided to wait out the rain. Surely it would stop soon. But it didn't. There were finally some breaks, about two minutes long (I timed them), just long enough for me to step out and check the river but not long enough to have a smoke before the rain came down again. The river had risen considerably; two boulders I'd seen on the opposite bank were nearly submerged, and a small tree near the tent was no longer there. The river was brown now, and violent, and whole trees sped down with it's current. If it got much higher I'd have no choice but to head for Airolo. I decided I'd wait until 5pm to make that decision.
By mid-afternoon the rain stopped for thirty minutes. I was tempted to pack up and go but decided to stay put. I couldn't stay in Airolo and I didn't want to climb the pass in this weather. The rain came down again but by five o'clock it had stopped, and I was certain it was finished despite the clouds still rushing through the gorge. There is beauty even in scenarios like this; smoke seemed to be blowing through the aspens on the mountain opposite me. The river, still torrential, was lower now, as I could see the tops of the boulders on the opposite bank, and the tree I thought had been washed away reappeared, its highest branches thrashing on the surface. Then the rain came again, and I spent another night in a soaked sleeping bag, waking to mop up the water.
All this time in a dark, soggy tent was trying, and aside from the constant mopping I tried to meditate, or write in my journal (I'd protected it enough so that it was merely damp and not wet), or sleep. I was going stir crazy though in the end.
In the early morning hours the rain finally stopped for good. I stepped out to see a few stars poking through the clouds and never felt happier. I could see the little tree near the tent, now nearly free from the river's current, still leaning but upright. At first light I spread my tarps on the ground and sorted things out, wringing clothes and knocking dozens of slugs off of just about everything. I put on my wet shoes and some miraculously dry socks, packed up, and cycled into Airolo, where the early risers looked at me as though I were an alien. I paid a small fortune for coffee and a croissant but I didn't care. After charging my phone, which serves as my camera and GPS, I cycled up into San Gottardo Pass.

Though the climb was a struggle-- it took me 2 1/2 hours to ride or walk Knulp up the steep cobbled road to the top-- I was absolutely elated. These are the moments I love being on the road. The view was tremendous, and I was moving again after being stuck in my leaky tent. I had told myself earlier that I would cycle all the way up, even if it meant stopping every two hundred meters for a break, but once I'd dropped down to the lowest gear and found myself pedalling as hard as I could to do 6 1/2 kilometers per hour, I did some walking. In all I probably walked my bike about half the distance up into the pass. The cobbled road made it that much more difficult to cycle up, and I took some comfort that the only cyclists who passed me going up were on bikes without any luggage. In the meantime, a dozen trekking cyclists passed me going the other way down the cobbled serpentine path. They cycled very slowly because of the steepness of the road and its hairpin curves, but also I suspect to keep from breaking the spokes on their heavy bicycles. I decided that once over the pass I would take the small highway down so that I could enjoy a nice long 50k/hr descent. I would learn later that this decision was a big mistake.
The top of the pass was socked in with fog, and dozens of tourists who had arrived by car were eating in a restaurant. A man was selling bratwurst for 5.50 Swiss Francs each, but despite the high price I was hungry so I bought one and wolfed it down. It was cold so I pulled out the only winter clothing I had left after so much time in Egypt and Italy, a sweatshirt with a hood. I found my highway and I was soon speeding down through the fog. From that point on, for the rest of the day I was braking and keeping my speed down to 20k/hr, first because of the fog, then the wind and cold, then, once again, the rain.
The biggest threat came once I'd broken through the fog. I released the brakes and sped along at 40k/hr before realizing I was shivering so badly I could barely control my bike. I managed to stop at a pullover and I nearly laughed at how badly I was shaking. I tried to roll a cigarette but after two attempts gave it up. After trying to warm up I continued down the highway at half the speed, but I was still shivering. To make matters worse, when I'd come around a curve the wind would hit full force, and that along with my loss of muscle control, speeding cars, and the absence of a guardrail had me wavering on the point of doom once or twice. I stopped more often and for longer periods to warm up, watching with envy as road cyclists flew down the mountain with their expensive, high tech foul weather gear. As I got lower it got a little warmer and the rain came down again. I donned my new rain poncho and mosied down the mountain,, no longer elated to be on the road.

By day's end the rain had diminished as I'd gotten farther from the pass, and I was resigned to finding another wilderness camping spot as my next host wasn't until Basel. This wouldn't have been a problem if I hadn't been so wet, but as it turned out I couldn't find anyplace discreet to camp, and I saw a campsite by the lake that Lucerne is situated on. Though it was 20 Swiss Francs for a place to put my little waterlogged tent, I could also get a hot shower, so I took it. I had my shower, dried out a bit, and enjoyed the scenery and absence of rain.
The campsite had several trekking cyclists in it, and having seen my 'Cycling to Syria' T-Shirts hanging out to dry, they were all very interested in my journey and incredulous that I was making it with such equipment. One of them, a Dutchman named Caspar, invited me for a drink. We had a good talk about bikes and routes and philosophy, and the next morning he treated me to breakfast and helped me out with a donation. When I hit the road again that morning, I felt rested and happy to have gained another friend. I was once again ready to roll.
For photos have a look at my Facebook page under 'Kenneth Lawrence Schroeder.'

Monday, July 29, 2013

Montecchio Precalcino, and the Official Start of Cycling to Syria

About a year ago, when I was walking across the north of Italy, a friend and I stayed for a few days with a family in the village of Montecchio Precalcino. In the short time that we spent with Sabina, Roberto, and Sabina’s sons, Alessandro and Christopher, we felt we had each gained a family. Indeed, over the next eight months, as I walked through the Balkans into Turkey, then travelled on to Egypt, Sabina was always there for me as though she were family. When overwhelmed by doubt, Sabina always sent an encouraging word. One night in my tent in frozen Bulgaria I was overcome by a feeling of utter desolation. I sent out a few SMS messages, hoping for any kind of a response, and Sabina was the only one who answered, all the way from Italy. When faced with financial difficulty Sabina helped me out with money; I never had to ask for it. The last donation I received while on my ‘peace walk’ was from Sabina; I would have arrived in Italy absolutely broke without it.
It’s no wonder then that Sabina and her family have been here for me in getting started on this new journey. While I was still in Egypt Sabina invited me to stay in Montecchio for as long as I needed to should I return to Italy. When I asked her if there was any short-term work available there, she said she’d look into it, and she did. As a result, for the past three weeks I’ve been living with Sabina and her family and for the past two weeks I’ve been working on a nearby organic farm, earning enough money to get me cycling and back on the road.


I’m up before seven, but not for the farm work. I meditiate for 30 minutes with Roberto and Alessandro before having breakfast. Roberto seems like a guy who would meditate; he’s softspoken and spends much of his day quietly working in the garden and tending to household chores. Alessandro, Sabina’s 18 year old son, does not seem like a guy who’d be interested in meditation; he’s a heavy metal guitarist. But there we all sit each morning, in a little semi-circle, focusing on our breathing and trying to detach ourselves from our thoughts.
I set off for work at a quarter to nine. It’s late in the morning by farming standards, but Pierluigi is merciful to his short-term migrant laborer. I cycle up a steep hill from Sabina’s house, and within ten minutes I’m at the patch of land where Pierluigi and I have recently planted lettuce and cabbage. It’s not quite nine o’clock when I get there, and as I stretch the hose out from the water tank that Pier has brought in with a tractor, I admire the view from the hilltop. Then for the next hour and a half, I carefully and quietly water the seedlings until the water tank is empty. On this particular morning, I sing a bit, and I feel grateful, and I am consciously happy for the first time in months.  I’ve been brooding since Cairo, but that heaviness is gone. The feelings of loss and disappointment at the end of my last journey have vanished. The past is finished. New horizons lie ahead, but my renewed happiness comes from the present moment, and not from an overly optimistic view of the future.  Whatever the future brings, I’ll take.
After stowing the water hose I hop on Knulp and cycle down the steep hill to Pierluigi’s organic farm in the village. But for one stretch of rough asphalt, I let Knulp fly down the hill without braking, feeling the wind in my face and enjoying the silence of motorless speed. At the bottom I cross the road leading into the village and onto a perpendicular lane that borders the farm. A right turn puts me on a grassy lane taking me past rows of tomatoes and beans where three white chickens congregate every morning. As always, the chickens sprint directly away from my bicycle, and as long as they keep in front of it I keep up my speed, relishing in the brief chase. They finally break right or left and only then do I slow down to coast into Pierluigi’s driveway.
Before I’m able to get to my late morning work, which today will consist of stacking firewood and digging up potatoes, Pierluigi’s mother shuffles out of the house. I always hear her before I see her as she likes to chat, and as always she’s chatting about how hot it is and that I should have something to drink. Though it is only 10:30 in the morning she offers me a choice, water or beer. For now I choose the water. I’ll be driving the old Fiat tractor to load up firewood, and it’s best that I have my wits when I back into the narrow garage to unload. As I thank Pier’s mother for the water and walk away towards the Fiat, she’s still chatting.
For the next hour and a half I drive the tractor back and forth along a 30 meter stretch, loading the firewood piled outside, throttling past a half dozen bee hives, then backing carefully into the garage where I neatly stack the wood. Nearly every time I back into the garage, there’s Pierluigi’s mother again, chatting away despite my lack of comprehension, and offering water or beer. With thirty minutes left in the morning’s work I park the tractor and head to the potato patch with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork. Yesterday I was digging up red potatoes, which were small and scanty because of the winter’s excess of rain and the summer’s lack of it. But today I’m digging up yellow potatoes, which, though small, are surfacing with every turn of the fork. In just a few minutes I’ve already got a small load of them in the wheelbarrow, and when I push it back to the house, there is Pierluigi’s mom, a bottle of water in one hand and a big beer in the other. She looks at the potatoes with a smile and chats away. I’m sitting down to gulp the beer when Pierluigi arrives from his morning at the organic farmer’s cooperative. He gulps a beer down himself, rolls his eyes and laughs a bit as his mother shuffles about, talking, then he asks me to be back in a couple of hours. We’ll be working with the bees this afternoon.  But before I go Pierluigi’s mother gives me an ice cream, which I wash down with the last of my beer.


I am as grateful for the employment Pierluigi has given me as I am for Sabina’s having asked for it on my behalf. The work that I am doing for him, he normally does on his own, or with the help of one of his sisters. He wants to help me to get to Syria though, and he doesn’t mind paying me to lighten his heavy work load. I enjoy working for him, as he is easygoing and intelligent. And though he is an organic farmer who is open to new ideas and theories, he’s got both feet on the ground. He works hard and his farm is productive. I’ve seen too many pretentious New Age permaculture or organic farmers whose farms are covered in weeds and producing very little because they spend more time on the djembe chanting for fertility than getting their hands dirty. Pier gets dirty though, and I get dirty with him, and when the work’s done we have a beer and a smoke and a few laughs. No subject is taboo, and our conversation will range from that of the typical laborer’s bawdy talk to the finer points of beekeeping to esoteric Tibetan longevity exercises to Rudolph Steiner on education or organic farming.


I cycle back up the hill to Sabina’s, where the youngest son, 15 year old Christopher, has prepared lunch for the family. Sabina is back from work, Roberto has come in from the garden, and Alessandro has returned from his on-the-job training as an accountant. Just as one would never guess that Alessandro meditates, one would never guess he’s training to be an accountant with his long hair, sunglasses, knee-length shorts and Converse All Stars.  He prefers playing with his brother in their heavy metal band to the thought of being an accountant, but he also prefers the idea of having some kind of meaningful work to a life dedicated soley to heavy metal. But it won't be accounting, he says. 
Afterwards I race down the hill on Knulp, again speeding down the grassy lane at Pierluigi’s and chasing the white chickens. Pierluigi is already putting on gloves and his beekeeping hat, which looks like a Spanish equestrian’s hat with a net. It is hard to imagine Pier as a Spanish equestrian though. He's a bit too heavy for that. 
Pier has already trained me in the basics of honey extraction, and I follow him out to the hives which are only some 15 meters from the house. As he pries open the top of the hive I shoot a little smoke into the opening with a bellows to calm down the bees. I am unprotected but not very worried about being stung as I’ve found Pier’s bees to be as easygoing as he is. My first time watching Pier do his work I kept well away until Pier’s mother arrived, chatting away and marching up to the hive to pick up two honey-laden frames. Bees zipped around her but she kept chatting and ignoring the bees as she brought the frames into the garage. Since then I’ve felt cowardly not to march up to the hive as she does. I try to be quiet though, and a little slower in my movements than Pier’s mom.
Once we’ve got the first two frames out of the hive I carry them into a room to slice off the edge of the honeycomb so the honey can be extracted in a centifugal drum. As I slice, honey oozes out onto a tray and I can’t help but use my fingers to gobble it up. Parts of the honeycomb fall on to the tray as well, and I shove them into my mouth. The last time Pier was doing this job I had the honey and wax all to myself until some kids came in to compete with me. I’d found myself shamelessly consuming the honey as fast as I could to keep it from the boys. They’d been eating ice cream, so I’d thought it only fair. After slicing off the wax from the frames I put four of them into the centrifugal drum and turn the crank handle to get them spinning. In just a few minutes I reverse the frames, then a few minutes later remove them. They are feather light now, revealing empty honeycombs. The honey they contained is at the bottom of the drum. I then empty the drum to fill a large honey pot and repeat the process several more times. As a bee has entered the room, enticed by the honey, I close the doors and windows. Pier had warned me to do this as the bee will tell his buddies about where the stolen honey’s been taken and they’ll all return to take it back. I’m mischievously curious, and I’d like to see all the bees swarm into the room for their honey, but I’ve done my job and the lone bee will have to do his best to carry the honey back on his own.
I spend the last few hours of my workday in an open field, planting fennel and more cabbage. Pierluigi and I have measured out the distances between rows, and he’s given me a tape measure to measure out the distance between seedlings, in this case 50 cm or more. I’ve got several hundred to plant, and it’s nearly 40 degrees (C) so it’s the hardest work of the day. Unlike the little household garden where planting is slow and leisurely, this planting is done quickly or it will never get done. Every once in a while I have to stop to stand erect though. I may not feel 53, but I am. Other small breaks occur when Pierluigi’s mother makes her way from the house to the middle of the field where I’m planting. She’s got a cold bottle of water and a glass, and her chatting is never annoying. It is always a harbinger of refreshment.
Once the work is finished, Pierluigi and I sit in the same room where I did the honey extraction, drinking a beer and talking some more. His sisters arrive, and some nieces and nephews, and his brother and some in-laws, and there is some argument about what to plant next and where. Pierluigi’s mother and the oldest sister are ganging up on him. He looks at me and rolls his eyes.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes… si mama! Mama mia!” he says laughing with exasperation. Apparently his mother and sister have got their way.

I’m digging the whole scene, and I’m happy to be in Montecchio Precalcino. 


But I'll be leaving this little paradise in two days. I'll hop on Knulp and speed down the hill before turning right towards Vicenza, then Mantova, Piacenza, Milan, Como and into the Alps, to Basel, and to Paris, hopefully by the 20th of August or thereabouts. Then to Syria. 

As I'll be officially starting my cycling trek to Syria from Sabina's house on Wednesday morning, those of you who would like to donate 10 or 20 dollars or euros to International Rescue Committee, or to Polish Humanitarian Action are welcome to do so. The money will not go to me, but to those organizations, and the money will help victims of the war in Syria. These people have suffered unimaginable loss through no fault of their own; they're caught in the middle of a sectarian war, so let's do just a little something to help them. 
To donate just look to the right at 'How to donate', select the NGO you prefer, and the NGO's page will take you from there.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Shady Hamadi: 'Why is the world not outraged?'

Last night I went with my friend Sara to an event in Milan featuring Italian/Syrian author Shady Hamadi. We spoke briefly, and he was concerned about the indifference he encounters regarding Syria in Milan. 

I found an interview with him that I found interesting, entitled, 'Why is the world not outraged?'

As I didn't have much time to speak to him, I didn't get much information other than that his family is in a village near Homs, where there is ongoing sectarian violence, and that he has recently lost contact with them. 

I've lifted a short biography from Wikipedia about him, and tried to edit the English translation:
Born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Syrian father, until 1997,he was banned from entering Syria following the exile of his father Mohamed, belonging to the Arab Nationalist Movement who was  repeatedly arrested and tortured while in Syria. Shady studied Political Science in Milan and began his career as a novelist with 'Voices of Souls'.
In March of 2011, at the outbreak of the Syrian uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad, he took a stand against the regime, becoming an activist for human rights and one of the main figures  of the opposition in Italy. He participated in numerous television and radio debates, including 'the infidel',  "Mediterraneo", "One Morning", Radio Three, and Radio Italian Switzerland.
In 2011, his work as a supporter for the Syrian uprising became more intense, resulting in intimidation by the Syrian regime. In Syria the secret services threatened his uncle and, during a raid in his village of origin, Talkalakh, they seized his cousin. In October he was invited to a forum on 'the Arab world', with particular attention to wing Syria, organized by the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament in Brussels.  In December he was invited by the Third Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Parliament as the only speaker for a  hearing on human rights and democracy in Syria. [6]
In December of 2011 he began working with "The Daily", where he has his own blog.
In February 2012 he wrote a letter-appeal published by the newspaper "Corriere della Sera", to start a campaign for Syria, proposing that people wear a black bow for the termination of the killings in Syria...
On 8 March 2012, being from a Christian family, he wrote a letter of appeal to the Pope on the position of Christians in Syria.
According to the website Avoicomunicare he is one of the most famous second-generation Italians in Italy. 

 Shady Hamadi's blog (in Italian) can be found at: 

 Shady's books can be found at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Knulp, the Hybrid

In David Lynch's film, 'The Straight Story', an old man decides to drive 240 miles to visit a brother he hasn't seen in a long time. As the old man can't get a driver's license because of his bad eyesight, he decides to make the trip on a 30 year old rider mower towing a travel trailer.
I happen to love these kinds of stories, where a journey is made with the traveller, or his equipment, or transport, or his companions not quite suited for the task. The story of Don Quixote is a perfect example of this kind of situation; neither Don Quixote, nor his companion, Sancho Panza, nor his horse, Rocinante, are suitable for knight errant adventuring.
And so it is that I have acquired a bicycle, certainly the biggest part of my preparation for cycling to Syria, that is far from being the ideal bike for making such a long-distance journey. It is a bicycle, though, and not a rider mower. Nor is it a Penny Farthing, which is what the first man to cycle around the world rode. Tom Stevens rode this contraption out of San Francisco in 1884, with socks, a shirt, a raincoat and a revolver.

'Knulp', as I've named my steed, is a used BTwin Daily, a hybrid bike made by Decathlon. Hybrids are a sort of town and country bike, useful for the city or off road. They're not generally used for long-distance touring. I think only those who can't afford a specialized touring bike would even consider them for a journey from Western Europe to Syria. But I like the idea of being on my very own hack pony, even when an Arab would be more suitable for the job.
And Knulp isn't really such a hack. The bike's in very good condition, actually. For 150 euros I don't think I could have done much better. It's just not going to be the most comfortable bike for 100+ kilometers a day, nor will it carry even as much as I carried on my back for the past year and a half. But what is comfort to me, really? I've done without it for a long time now. And it's about time I dumped a few things I've been dragging along. And having cycled my first 30 kilometers on Knulp, from the spot in Milan where I handed over the money to the village of Albairate, I am growing fond of the bike already. It got me to where I was going without any complaints.  Most importantly of all, 'Knulp' is ready to go, chomping at the bit, with panniers and other accessories.

I bought Knulp with exactly the amount of money I was paid for working as a teaching assistant last week. The work was difficult, as being around lots of 7 to 10 year olds all day long makes me want to run away to hide somewhere, but for the pains I've got a machine that will take me far into the countryside.

I have called this black pony of mine Knulp, after the character in Herman Hesse's book by the same name.
Hesse's Knulp is a real vagabond, also not quite suitable for the task as his health is failing, but very much loved by everyone he meets along the road. Knulp brings out a homesickness for freedom in his hosts, which in the end is his real purpose in life.

In the present story, Knulp's purpose will be to carry me to Syria for the serious business of raising money to help the victims of the war, but that doesn't mean Knulp will have to foresake being a vagabond of a bike which creates in people a longing for a freer life. Knulp is not only a hybrid town and country bike, after all, but also a hybrid serious business/vagabond bike. In the end many of us would do well to become hybrids; to temper our self-righteous, serious business side by finding a way also to be vagabonds on our life journeys. As Antonio Machado said, the road doesn't make the journey, the journey makes the road. And so it is I have hybrid Knulp-- made for a Saturday jaunt into the countryside, or a ride through town to the ice cream shop-- to carry me to the Middle East.

Finally, many thanks to Lorenza, my host in Albairate, for taking on the role of a sort of 'cycling to Syria' manager, for giving me a week's employment, for helping me to find this bike, and for being a good host for the past ten or twelve days. Lorenza hosted me here last summer too as I walked across Italy.

Friday, June 21, 2013

So What's the Plan?

After a 20 month journey for peace, which took me from Portugal to Egypt, I am now back in Europe, near Milan. Everything I own is in my backpack, I have no address, and I've got about 100 euros in my pocket.
It's obviously a perfect opportunity to plan my next journey.
Over the next six weeks I hope to find work, any work, to earn enough to buy a second-hand touring bicycle and to get by while cycling from somewhere in Western Europe to Syria.

When I was in Antakya, Turkey, I met several humanitarian workers who were either involved in helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, or who routinely went "inside", that is, into Syria to distribute goods and medical aid. I was impressed by their efforts, and while only there for a short time, a friend and I wanted to help out in any way we could. We were unable to link with an NGO to do temporary volunteer work, so we decided to buy a few educational toys and deliver them to refugee children ourselves.  We traveled by bus to the border town of Reyhanli twice,  and by the second time we were there we had managed to fulfill our little mission. A week later though, as I caught a ship towards Egypt, I knew I would be back at some point to try to do more.

While in Cairo I heard the news that Reyhanli had been bombed, the deadliest act of terrorism ever in Turkey. The Turkish car bombers were suspected to be agents of Assad's regime. As a result of the bombings, there was violence between Reyhanli's Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees, each blaming the other for what had happened. But all I could think about was the family whose children we had given the toys to.

Now several Western nations are seriously considering backing the rebels with weapons, though the rebels have committed their share of atrocities, and are largely fundamentalist.
I don't like the idea of working to pay taxes that will put more weapons into Syria; I would much rather work to help the victims of the war there.
Cycling to raise funds for a reputable humanitarian organization involved in Syria and at its borders seems like a good way to do this. The organization I have chosen is International Rescue Committee, which is rated with four stars by Charity Navigator
I plan to start sometime in August, and to arrive at the Syrian border six to eight weeks later. I am hoping to raise $5000 for the IRC, specifically for their work with victims of the war in Syria.
I've got a lot of work to do before I can start cycling, but don't let that stop you; feel free to donate now!
You can donate through 'First Giving' below, or by going to