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

Friday, November 14, 2014

From Failure to Success to More than Success

In early August, four cyclists started from Brussel's Grote Market to begin Syricipede, the revamped version of my failed 'Cycling to Syria' fundraiser.

Three and a half months later, Syricipede has succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. Three cyclists are currently in Antakya, Turkey, helping with labor and fundraising to build a center for Syrian refugee children there. Over six thousand dollars have been raised for Syria Relief and Development, a thousand dollars more than the original 'Cycling to Syria' goal, and double the Syricipede goal. Ten cyclists-- from Belgium, Holland, Thailand, Australia, Turkey and the US-- have participated in the relay.

I had a lot of  doubts about this idea-- after cycling 2000 kilometers on my own I hadn't raised a single dollar-- but Lien backed me up and connected with Lore and she connected with all of Holland and Belgium and cyclists joined and money came in and the cyclists have not only reached Antakya and inspired people to donate to help victims of the war in Syria, they have also effectively got their own humanitarian organization started just a few kilometers away from the Syrian border. So from the failed 'Cycling to Syria' came the successful 'Syricipede' and from that something new and even better has started.

So thanks, first and foremost to Lien Derycker, who took the dying ember of a spent fire and got it flaming again. Thanks to Lore Termont who turned the flame into a blazing bonfire.

Aside from Lien, Lore and myself, the other cyclists have been Nadine, Sirapon, Feike, Kurt Vandelanotte, Wouter Decock, Senturk Kemiksiz, and Greta Kading. Thanks to all of these courageous and compassionate heroes.

In addition to these cyclists, thanks to the fundraising team: Lien, Lore, Sirapon, Kurt, Wouter, Senturk, and Greta from the cycling team, as well as Jasmine Low, Markus Mayer (RIP), and Ellen Cocquyt.

And thanks to the dozens of donors who so generously gave, and to those who have helped the cyclists on the road, and everyone else who has supported in some way.

Also special thanks to all the people who helped me when I was on the road,  and to those who were there to help again in some way, most notably:

Lorenza Gamberini who told me to get settled before doing the fundraiser, and she was right. Lorenza helped me get my bike and helped to start the 'Cycling to Syria' page on Facebook and gave me a place to stay when I was almost penniless.

Sabina and her family in Montecchio Precalcino, who also gave me a place to stay and found me work and helped in a dozen ways and backed me up 100%. 'Cycling to Syria' officially began from their house.

Inge Huijssoon who not only hosted me twice when I was cycling alone, but hosted me again at the start of Syricipede and hosted Sirapon too.

Yvonne Somers, who hosted me and then four Syricipede cyclists a year later.

Elke Sohler, who also hosted me on the road twice, then took me in for good before hosting two other Syricipede cyclists.

Dejan Vickovic, who hosted me two years ago in Bosnia, and hosted Lore and Feike in September.

Lozinka Bakalska, who helped my travel buddy out two years ago in Bulgaria, and was there to host Lore recently.

And also the half dozen hosts of mine from two years ago who were ready to host our cyclists but for some reason never had the chance.

And finally, thanks to Selda Bozbiyik, who hosted me in Ankara almost two years ago, and rekindled my hope for peace, and who worked hard with me in Antakya to find a way to help the refugees there, and who gave me the idea to return to finish the work.

Follow the ongoing efforts of the cyclists in Antakya here:

And you can still donate to Syria Relief and Development here:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Join a Winning Team

We cycled out of Brussels' Grote Markt-- four of us-- in the wrong direction. I'd thought the others would know the way. They'd assumed I would know it. So I took charge and asked Lien to lead the way. I cycled alongside her. From behind, Nadine called out that we should be going east instead of west. How did Nadine know which direction we were going? Why wasn't she leading the way?

Sirapon cycled behind Nadine. Sirapon may have been annoyed, but perhaps I only imagined this because she was by far the most experienced trekking cyclist among us, and what experienced trekking cyclist wouldn't be annoyed having to follow a couple of amateurs? Or maybe she was just amused, as what experienced trekking cyclist wouldn't have learned to accept all that happens on the road with a feeling of amusement? Indeed, Sirapon had said just the night before that the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is a state of mind. So, the adventure was underway.

My navigation skills having been learned at sea, I looked for the sun, but the sun is hard to find from the center of Brussels. And as it was near midday-- two and a half hours later than when we had planned to begin-- as it was near midday what would I have gained by finding the sun? It would have been neither east nor west. If I'd found it, it just would have been there, peaking.  But I looked for it anyway, feeling wise. I found interesting Belgian facades and a thin strip of sky, but no sun. Giving up on the sun, Lien and I reversed our course and we cycled past Grote Markt and we asked for directions and eventually we were on the road to Buvingen and Holland.

The story of the end of the first day's cycling, in Buvingen, Belgium.  by Lien

Here is Lien's fundraising page:

Four days later, in spite of my navigation, Sirapon, Nadine and I were weaving through the crowd along the Rhine, in the center of Cologne. Lien had turned back in Aachen, as she had things to do back in Belgium. Though we had missed Lien's enthusiasm for the last day and a half of cycling, Sirapon, Nadine and I had reached our goal to complete the first leg of the journey.

At the beginning it had been uncertain as to whether anyone would be able to cycle from Cologne to Slovenia, where the next cyclists would begin from. Now Sirapon made it clear that she would cycle as far as Passau, near the Austrian border. Before we parted, I removed the green ribbon from my bike and cut it in half and gave half of it to Sirapon to carry to Passau. The other half I would give to Lien or to Lore to carry from Slovenia to Reyhanli. I said goodbye to Sirapon, and to Nadine, who had been an unexpected but welcome addition to our group. Nadine's plan is to cycle on her own from Cologne to Basel, and then to Milan.

As I write this, Sirapon is somewhere near the Rhine-- perhaps in Bonn or Koblenz.  She is raising money along the way for Syria Relief and Development. Here is her page:

Sirapon is from Thailand. She's been on the road cycling for five years-- a hardened trekking cyclist. And now she's Syricipede's cyclist on the ground.  

Meanwhile, Lore, who will be one of our cyclists from Slovenia to the Syrian border, has been fundraising like mad. She recently hosted 'Syricine', a big fundraising get-together with films and food. The result of that initiative had been a near doubling of the total money raised for Syria Relief and Develpment, to over $2,200.

Here is Lore's fundraising page:
This is a winning team, especially now that I am not the navigator. Join the team by donating, or by cycling for a stretch of the journey. I'm right here, waiting to hear from you.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Then and Now

The official start of 'Cycling to Syria' was one year ago today. By 0821 in the morning-- the time I am writing this-- I had been cycling for some 30 minutes. I was pedaling hard after spending three weeks in Montecchio Precalcino with Sabina and her family. They had risen early to see me off, and there had been a little 'cutting the ribbon' ceremony, and Sabina had given me half of the ribbon to put on my bike to carry all the way to Syria. I had tied the green ribbon to my headtube, and it flapped noisily in the wind.

Roberto and Sabina one year ago today, in Montecchio Precalcino, just before I cycled away

By the end of that first day I'd cycled some 120 kilometers and felt that I'd overdone it, and the next day I cycled another 140 kilometers just to make sure I'd overdone it. I made my way back to Milan, then into Switzerland and through San Gottardo Pass in the Alps. I cycled towards Paris to meet a friend-- Brad-- who was going to cycle with me, but as it turned out, we never hooked up. I cycled on to Antwerp to meet another friend who I thought might like to go as far as Istanbul with me, but she had other plans. When I left Antwerp, finally heading towards Syria instead of away from it, I reconsidered what I was doing.

The seed of the idea had come to me when I'd been in Antakya, near the Syrian border several months earlier. I had wanted to do something to help Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey because of the war, but I had been on the road and on my way to Palestine and Egypt. Once in Egypt I'd been stranded for a few months, and I had no idea where to go or what to do next. A friend in the US helped me to get back to Milan, but it was only when my friend in Antwerp agreed that we could cycle to Istanbul that I thought of making a cycling trip all the way back to the Syrian border to raise money for victims of the war there.

I was excited. I had a new plan-- a goal to work towards-- a raison d' etre. When Brad also agreed to cycle with me, I envisioned a fulfilling journey by bike back to Turkey, with a group that had grown to four people, and with the added benefit of raising money for a good cause.

But after a month cycling to Antwerp, waiting there for another month, and then heading into Germany alone and without having raised any money at all for Syria, I felt that I was on a mission of futility. I was still pushing forward-- hope and vitality are antidotes to despair-- but I was cycling to Syria at this point mainly because I had nowhere else to go.

Then I met Elke...


Though I stopped cycling last October, I hadn't given up on 'Cyling to Syria'. I thought it might be better to organize things a bit now that I was off the road. I thought it might be better to get more people involved-- people who were interested in raising money for the victims of a war, and people who were interested in cycling for that purpose. As it turned out, now that I was stationary and stable, people found me, most notably Lien.

Lien is a Belgian student who has decided to take a break from school and take on the bigger challenge of cycling across Europe and all the way to the Syrian border to raise money for Syria Relief and Development ( She has already cycled most of the way from Belgium to Valencia, and we cycled together for a couple of days in Belgium. Lien has become the driving force behind 'Cycling to Syria', and because it has become something new over the past 10 months, we've re-named it 'Syricipede.' We now have a website:
and a much better fundraising platform:
If you take a look, you will see that we have already raised over $1000, and you will see the others who have joined our fundraising team. You will also see that a friend of Lien's-- Lore-- has been the driving force behind the fundraising.

Me and Lien, after cycling from Liege to Aachen

Lien's enthusiasm has attracted others who have their own strengths and a team has been built that can really achieve something. Cynics were my biggest obstacle when I walked for peace to the Middle East, and after being unable to deliver the petitions I had carried for over 6000 kilometers, and after I had failed to raise any money or real interest on my cycling journey to Syria, I was beginning to feel a little cynical myself. But Lien helped to change that. 

The plan hasn't materialized quite as well as we had hoped though. We'll be starting Syricipede in two days, on August 2nd, from Brussels, but without the interest of the media despite our efforts to publicize things. Three of us will cycle out of Brussels towards Cologne on the first leg of the journey-- Lien and an intrepid world-trekking cyclist named Sirapon, from Thailand, will join me-- but after Cologne there may be a huge gap in the relay. Again, despite our efforts, we've got no one at this point to cycle from Cologne to Slovenia. But no matter. In Slovenia Lien and her fundraising friend Lore will pick up the trail and cycle all the way through the Balkans, into Turkey, and right to the Syrian border. In the meantime, I'll be providing all the support I can from Germany, fundraising, tracking their progress, reporting it, and arranging hosts.

Tomorrow I take the train with my bike to Brussels, and the next day the journey to Syria will begin again. Lien, Lore, and Sirapon will be the cyclists now, and dozens of people will help them along the way, and by helping them they'll also be helping people in desperate, unimaginable need.

And Lien will be carrying the green ribbon that Sabina gave me one year ago in Montecchio Precalcino.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cycling to Belgium: Oui, We go to Huy

Meeting Lien in Liege was like meeting an old friend. I'd gotten to our hosts first; then, as I was settling in, Lien arrived, and if there really are past lives then Lien and I had surely been pals once before. It was more like, "Hey, it's been ages!" than "Nice to meet you."

Frederique made spaghetti carbonara for dinner, and as we ate, we told Frederique and Karl our plans.

"Our goal is to reach the Mount Everest of Belgium," I said. "What's it called again, Lien?"

"Signal de Botrange," she said.

"Yes, and to put a flag there, my boxer shorts or something," I said.

Over dinner, however, we decided that the highest point in Belgium would be too far to reach and return again to Liege in a single day.

"Also, it's too hard," I said. "I normally only climbed mountains when I was on the road because they were in my way, not because I wanted to."

Frederique and Karl then suggested we follow the Meuse River to Huy, a city some 40 kilometers distant. As it was mainly flat going along the river, and about 80 kilometers there and back, we decided on Huy, and to save the Belgian Himalayas for another time.

We left the next day sometime around ten in the morning. Traffic in Liege was light, and before long we were cycling along the river. Lien followed. I lost my way a few times. Then Lien led and I followed.

We passed a big aviary full of pigeons.

"Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?" she asked.


"That's because they're aliens, they arrive here fully grown, think about it."

I thought about it, and it seemed logical. They seem stupid, but that could be a ploy.

We cycled on, heading south, upriver. I had expected beautiful countryside. Instead, we cycled through a seemingly endless industrial zone. Neither of us complained, though. 

"It's very beautiful!" I shouted as we cycled through cement dust from a cement factory.

"Yes, beautiful!" she shouted back.

Lien understood my sense of irony.

Some 20 or 30 kilometers upriver the industrial zone thinned out. We approached a small side road. On a whim, I asked, "Should we take it? We don't have to go to Huy, right? No real destination, right?"

We took the side road and made a long climb-- long for Belgium anyway. The road ended in a dirt lot.

"Okay," I said.

"Okay," said Lien, and we laughed, both of us out of breath.

We decided it was a good place to take a break. There was a mound of sand nearby.

"That's it, that's the highest point in Belgium!" I said. "What's it called again?"

"Signal de Botrange," she said. "Yes, that must be it."

"Mission accomplished," I said.

"Hmmm, maybe not," said Lien.

"Anyway, the good thing about going the wrong way uphill, is that all you have to do on a bike is coast back to go the right way."

"True," she said.

A minute later a sports car from Holland showed up. It was a convertible with a sporty, fashionable couple in it. They had also come the wrong way. They stopped and asked Lien directions in French. She replied in French, then in Dutch. We all headed back down the hill.

Huy was an interesting town. It was picturesque but a little bit gritty too, like Belgium in general. We found a grocery store because we were hungry. I watched the bikes as Lien went inside to do the shopping. The grocery store could have been a grocery store just about anywhere in the world, but the view from the parking lot was unique. There was the river and the medieval part of the town alongside it. As I admired the scenery, a rough looking man approached and asked for money. Instead, I shared some Mars Bars I had with him and his friend. His friend had a long pony tail, and he said, "Merci" in a deep, gutteral voice with a smile. We ate our Mars Bars together in silence.

"Très bon," the guy with the pony tail croaked, after eating his Mars Bar. We nodded at each other and smiled.

When Lien came out we moved to the grass by the river, but the whole city walks its dogs to this strip of grass, it seemed, so we had to move up the river a hundred meters before we found a spot the dogs had missed. We settled down and ate and enjoyed the sun and the river and the old town along its opposite banks and the hills beyond that.

"Too bad we can't stay for a while, stop for the day," said Lien.

But we didn't have a place to stay there or tents to camp wild so we headed back before long. We wanted to get back to Frederique and Karl before it got too late anyway, because we'd promised to make them dinner. By the river we decided we'd make them a Chinese stir fry.

A few hours later we took a break. We were back in the industrial area, and the road was busy, and the only patch of grass we could find was a small one with lorries parked nearby. Nevertheless, Lien lay down on the grass and closed her eyes and this is the sign of a real traveler-- the ability to take a break anywhere, anytime, even when far from a pastoral setting.

As we approached Liege we were back on the bike path and there were lots of signs pointing the way and giving the distance.

"Liege, 5.2 kilometers," I shouted.

Then later, "Liege, 4.7 kilometers."

Then, "Liege, 4.3 kilometers."

"Are you tired yet?" she asked.

"Yeah, tired," I said.

"Don't you get more tired when you read those signs?" she asked.

I stopped calling out the distance.

In Liege we stopped at a supermarket where Lien went in for the ingredients for our stir fry while I watched the bikes. Afterwards, we climbed a big hill in the city, and I wondered once again why it is that the day always seems to end with a climb.

When we arrived Lien went straight to the kitchen to start the stir fry as it was getting late.

"I'll join you in a minute," I said, but I flopped onto my bed for fifteen minutes before climbing the narrow steps of the old house to get to the kitchen. I admired Lien for being able to go straight to the cooking without taking even a little rest after an 80 kilometer day. I admired her for being able to take a minor commitment seriously. I'd seen that day that she was tough, and good natured, and reliable-- a team player. I could see her making it to Syria.

After I figured out how to cook rice in a bag, which took some time-- how much water do you need when the rice is in a bag? maybe I should take the rice out of the bag? maybe it doesn't matter how much water if it's in a bag!-- after this crisis Lien and I prepared the stir fry and we sat down with Frederique and Karl and enjoyed a nice meal with our new friends, talking about our day and everything else we could talk about in our short time together.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cycling to Belgium: The Dutch Alps

It hasn't taken long for me to forget one of the cardinal rules of being on the road: don't waste the battery in your GPS/camera/phone. I had blithely taken photos and posted them on Facebook with my Samsung, and now, as I approach Aachen, I see the battery is already low. I disconnect internet and I will take fewer photos. Most important of all is the GPS, as I am not carrying a map.

In Aachen I pass through familiar territory in the city center, and I have to dismount when I find myself among a crowd outside the Elisenbrunnen. I check my GPS, note where I have to go, take a drink from my plastic bottle and cycle among traffic for twenty minutes before arriving at the Elisenbrunnen again. The crowd is different now-- younger-- teenagers are thronging after school. I stop and check my GPS again. Ah, yes, I see now. I should have made that left turn. Though I am cursing under my breath, I am relieved that I am not cycling with Lien yet, leading her in circles. That would be a bad start.

Once in Holland, in Vaals, I check my GPS again, and the map displays only the major towns and highways. Though I can still pinpoint my location, it is in a blank green field. I'll be able to head in the right general direction, but the route I take to Liege will be guesswork.

An hour later I'm in the hilly countryside at the extreme southern tip of Holland-- in the 'Dutch Alps'. I'm on a little winding road which leads, I hope, to Belgium. I take a break, marvelling at all the tourists walking around this far out in the countryside. They've come from other parts of Holland to stay at a nearby campground. In a distant field I see a bunker left from World War 2. These bunkers serve as unofficial monuments here and in Belgium, but in Germany they were long ago destroyed. In Germany they just want to forget.


When I go on I make a surprisingly long climb and I chuckle at the idea that I am struggling to pedal my bike up hills in Holland. The view is pretty, pastoral, idyllic. Homes and farms are old and beautiful-- Middle German style. I imagine I am the only person on Earth to enjoy this scenery when two middle-aged women clad in lycra cycle past me on their road bikes.

"Is this the way to Belgium?" I shout, gasping.

The woman trailing the other nods without looking back and points ahead with a vigorous motion of her hand. Old school navigation.

I pass a lazy herd of black and white dairy cows. In the valley below there is a monastery, and its bells are ringing, it seems, just for me. There is a trampoline in front of the monastery and I imagine frocked monks silently bouncing on it in their free time. I burst out laughing at the idea. A cow turns to have a look at the source of the laughter.

"What's up? You don't think that's funny?" I shout to the cow. The cow chews and looks away.

Fifteen minutes later, after a brief but thrilling downhill and another long uphill in low gear the road has wound around in the shape of a U and I am again looking down at the monastery but from the other side. The view isn't so pretty now, and I've forgotten the humor behind the idea of bouncing monks. I am making little progress in getting to Liege. I'm not sure where I am or whether I'm headed in the right direction. But then I remember what I've learned from the road, and I know the pressure I'm feeling to get to my destination is the pressure our civilization has taught us all to feel every day. To hell with it, I think, I'll get there when I get there, and having brought myself back to where I am I again see the beauty of my surroundings.

When I pass through a little village I notice the cars have the letter 'B' on their license plates. I see a street sign in French. I'm in Belgium.

After the long winding uphill country lane, the bigger road leading down towards Liege is both a relief for its ease of cycling and a chore because of increased car traffic. As I get closer to Liege the countryside becomes metropolitan muck. When I see the Golden Arches of McDonalds, I stop for a break-- not to eat, but to take advantage of the free wifi. Once my GPS is working again, I see that I'm closer to Liege than I had thought. I'll arrive within an hour, and I'll finally meet Lien, who is working with me to organize Syricipede-- our cycling fundraiser to help victims of the war in Syria.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014


Two more cyclists have joined us on our quest to raise money for victims of the war in Syria-- Queen, from Thailand, an experienced trekking cyclist who will most likely be cycling from Brussels to Zagreb; and Gharam, from Syria, who wants to cycle from Istanbul to the finish line.

Meanwhile, we've raised over 200 bucks so far for Syria relief and development through crowdrise


...and we've got a fourth Crowdrise team member, Markus Mayer, who has also been generously donating.

We're still looking for intrepid, compassionate cyclists who want to cycle a 200-300 kilometer leg (or more) this summer or autumn, somewhere along this route:!join-the-syricipede/cmyd

And we're looking for those who'd like to join our fundraising team.
Just post a comment and we'll get in touch!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cycling to Syria-- Syricipede Update

'Cycling to Syria' participants Lien and Jasmine have been onboard for quite some time now, helping to organize the fund raising event to be held next summer and autumn. Not only will they be cycling some or all of the route, they have built a website which, though still under construction, lays out the basic necessary information for 'Syricipede'-- as the event is now called. The website can be found on this link:

         Brussels - Cologne : 1-5 Aug
         Cologne - Frankfurt: 6-10 Aug
         Frankfurt- Nuremberg: 11-15 Aug
         Nuremberg- Passau: 16-20 aug
         Passau- Linz: 21-22 Aug
         Linz- Graz: 23-27 Aug
         Graz - Maribor: 23 - 25 Aug
         Maribor - Zagreb: 28- 31 Aug
         Zagreb- Banja Luka: 1-4 Sep
         Banja Luka- Sarajevo: 5-9 Sep
         Sarajevo- Kraljevo: 10-15 sep
         Kraljevo- Sofia: 16-22 Sep
         Sofia- Plovdiv: 23-26 Sep
         Plovdiv- Edirne: 27-30 Sep
         Edirne- Istanbul: 1-6 Oct
         Istanbul- Izmit: 7-9 Oct
         Izmit- Eskisehir: 10-14 Oct
         Eskisehir- Ankara: 15-20 Oct
         Ankara- Aksaray: 21-25 Oct
         Aksaray- Adana: 26-31 Oct
         Adana- Reyhanli: 1-5 Nov
         Reyhanli- Antakya: 6 Nov

The dates are based on 50 kilometers a day, with an extra day on each leg for bad weather or other unexpected delays. 

Join us for a leg of the journey, or go the distance!

Or help victims of the war in Syria now by donating to Syria Relief and Development