About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
But for me, still reeling from a firsthand experience of human madness, there was no other way to contend with such a festering wound of personal doubt and deepening emptiness. I needed to find out what was really out there and hopefully confirm a suspicion that humanity was not inherently evil.
Yet in a post–9/11 climate of fear, Western societies were growing increasingly alarmed with news of more terrorist plots. Jerked from a slumbering state of denial, on September 11, 2001, the United States of America had been savagely attacked with its own technology and more was promised. From bombings to kidnappings, evidence of constant threats in a volatile world was blasting across our TV screens. Terrorists wanted citizens to feel helpless and cringe in fear. When we hide at home, they win. In a frightening overreaction, would America ultimately strangle under its own self–imposed security? Unable to defeat the U.S. militarily, could Osama bin Laden and others like him win the most strategic battle, unwittingly aided by our own political masters?
As a nervous U.S. Congress inched toward smothering the Constitution, would an Orwellian prophecy become a reality? With a proliferation of street corner surveillance cameras and an abuse of wiretapping regulations, lawmakers, worried about appearing unpatriotic, were looking the other way. And Americans were beginning to accept the concept of Big Brother protecting us. After all, who would vote against bills cleverly labeled “The Patriot Act” and “Homeland Security”? Yet while struggling from paycheck to paycheck, Americans were either confronted with tales of terror or droned into complacency with celebrity gossip and reality TV. The lack of truthful, relevant information was numbing.
For me the decision was simple and final: I had to clear my head with a journey into the real world, the developing world, and examine that world through the eyes of those who lived there. For Westerners abroad during the most uncertain political climate in recent history, traveling the earth alone was more than an adventurous challenge; it was a direct message to terrorists wherever they lurked: We are not afraid. But more important, we refuse to hate.
On a 52,000–mile odyssey exclusively through developing nations across five continents, I stumbled upon a startling realization. We, the American people, have been deceived. Nearly every preconceived notion about the world fed to us by our national media was proved false. Meeting the people of planet earth face to face as a lone traveler becomes an opportunity to discover firsthand that we are all the same — and sometimes even related. Eventually, a truth surfaces: while governments may not get along, people do.
From lopsided Middle East horror stories to rumors of ruthless Russians, one by one, foolish myths were dispelled as poverty–stricken strangers invited this wandering motorcyclist into their wooden shacks, offering their last crumbs of bread. But riding the earth alone wasn’t easy and plenty went wrong, contending with daily challenges of harsh weather, difficult terrain and explosive geopolitical events. Despite a year of planning, at times, given the steady changes in circumstance and necessity to take chances, I was nearly sucked over the edge. Enduring hypothermia while riding mud roads through Siberian tornadoes led to the blissful solitude of the Mongolian Plains, with an electrifying jolt into adventure and humanity. In a Munich hospital, my congested kidneys nearing failure, I wondered if there wasn’t a safer way for a man to restore himself? Later, a reckless mid–winter crossing of eastern Turkey’s frozen Anatolian Plateau nearly stalled the journey until spring.
Sitting cross–legged in a Syrian Bedouin’s tent silently sipping tea while American fighter jets patrolled the skies over nearby Iraq, I pondered — Who would have thought my odyssey would lead to this? While traveling Egypt, eluding mandatory military escorts, my journey through the ancient Nile Valley was peaceful, with throngs of young Arabs gathering to shake my hand. A sunrise climb of Mount Sinai took my breath away, the same as it must have for Moses when he accepted the Ten Commandments. And later that night, with distant gazes into the dancing campfire, a nomadic Bedouin chieftain described life while previously under Israeli occupation as “Paradise.”
After being granted a special–entry permit from the commander of Israeli Defense Forces, on election day in Gaza, I was cornered by Palestinian thugs from Hamas and the question arose — were my feet too close to the flames? Stranded in the Sadar District of Karachi while terrorists blew up mosques and hunted Westerners, fate was tempted once more when I flipped a coin to decide my next destination — India or Afghanistan?
On the Nepali border, coughing up black soot in a dollar–a–night flophouse, I was anxious to ride into the sporadic violence of civil disorder to escape the madness of Indian roadways. Brought to my knees while visiting the Killing Fields of Cambodia, it took the innocent smiles of bashful natives to eventually revive a wobbling faith in humanity. Weary from a year of tumultuous travel, the steamy massage parlors of Bangkok provided sensuous mid–journey relief before heading south to Indonesia, where the wilds of Borneo set my imagination ablaze while I established a world’s record as the first person to circle the island on two wheels. But once in Sumatra I found that nothing could prepare me for the horrors of tsunami–ravaged Banda Aceh. Saving the best for last, it was the soft humility and alien ferocity of Africa that finally fulfilled a dream that began during my turbulent youth.