In April 2009, Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen set off from Scotland (via Minnesota) to spend two years pedaling their way around a sizable chunk of the Earth on a bike tour they named Going Slowly. In December 2010, after the duo had ridden through Europe, into north Africa, back up through eastern Europe, and driven across Russia, I interviewed them for The Bicycle Story. Since then, Tara and Tyler finished their tour in Southeast Asia and made their way back to the United States. I spoke to them again now that they’ve started to settle back in to see how the rest of the tour went, what it’s like to transition back into the “normal” world after two years of travel, and what their plans are for life off the road. They responded with both words and an amazing array of photographs that do a wonderful job of complementing the stories they tell.
When we last spoke (or emailed as it were), you two had fairly recently arrived in Southeast Asia. How did the remainder of the tour go? I realize it’s impossible to condense four months of touring into one response, but are there any highlights that you would like to share?
Arriving in Thailand:
We arrived in lush, wet, tropical Bangkok, after an intense month of blazing dry deserts and bitterly cold nights in rugged Mongolia. We went from eating greasy mutton, potatoes, and the very occasional wilty cabbage or goat ice-cream as a treat, to reveling in cheap noodles stir-fried to order, plentiful tropical fruits, fresh vegetable salads, and honest-to-goodness ice cream sold on every street corner. It was heaven!
Cambodia was one of our favorite countries. The people were radiant and kind, the children were exuberant and adorable, and there were loads of interesting things to learn about Khmer culture. We enjoyed the awe-inspiring Temples of Angkor (of Tomb Raider fame), the inspiring work of landmine remover, Aki Ra, the gorgeous Apsara dancers, the delectable, cheap, fresh seafood… Cambodia was awesome.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of our trip was riding a rickety generator-motor-powered bamboo platform along a train track through the middle of nowhere with twenty other people and tons of cargo. We also crossed the muddy Mekong on a 6-hour journey in a leaky boat through traditional floating villages.
We ended our cycling adventure in idyllic Laos, easily the most laid-back, relaxing country we’ve ever visited. On arrival, we met up with some friends of ours, Pete and Natasha, for a two-week motorcycle tour on the twisty mountain roads of the remote north. Together, we had a wealth of memorable adventures: exploring tiny villages, hunting for caves, buying woven scarves from women who had looms right in front of their huts, and camping together on a frigid, starry night in a woven grass shelter, lighting a fire to warm ourselves by.
After two years of life as nomads, how has it been transitioning back to stationary life and how does that compare to what you thought it would be like when you were starting the journey home? What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to get used to or relearn?
Transitioning to not moving around all the time is actually pretty great. In fact, we’ve been a bit stressed out lately because we haven’t really stopped traveling. We’ve been on two road trips this summer, one from California (where we flew in) back home to Illinois, and one from Minnesota out to Maine to do some house-sitting for friends. As well, every two weeks or so, we make the twelve hour drive between Minnesota and Illinois to visit family. It’s been a fun few months, but we are really looking forward to settling down and getting our next project (see next question below) underway.
The culture shock of returning to the US has been pretty extreme, having been away for two years. The extent to which American culture is completely insane has been a little staggering—the way we live our lives in this country is simply not sustainable. This realization has gone from a vague, political sort of opinion to something much more concrete. Looking around us, we can’t shake the feeling that everyone has gone completely insane. The problems in our society feel very, very tangible right now. We’re headed straight for our own demise and most people don’t seem to care.
I read that you’ve got a deal in the works for some property in Vermont, so clearly you’ve got some plans for next steps already.
Yep! We’ve made an offer on beautifully wooded, 10-acre piece of land in Vermont. Our dream is to camp in our woods in a canvas tent while we build our own cob, straw-bale, or stone home. Once our home is built, we’ll get our gardens and greenhouses set up. Eventually, we want to be completely self-sufficient, growing our own food, keeping chickens, making cheese, brewing beer, baking bread, etc. We can’t wait!
How long until you hit the road for another two-wheeled adventure?
Since you didn’t specify what kind of two-wheeled adventure, I (Tara) have to say that I recently took a motorcycle-safety-training course and passed the test! Tyler and I have been riding motorcycles quite a bit lately.
As far as human-powered machines go, we recently built up a pair of road bikes that we’ve been riding every morning. We love the ease and speed they provide compared to our touring rigs. It will be hard to go back to those hulking beasts when it’s time to go adventuring again!
We’ll surely do another bicycle tour at some point, but right now we’re pretty content to stay put and explore the zillions of other interests we have which were neglected during our trip.