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  • Mark Smith

DIY Adventure, or How a Total Stranger Lit a Fire Under My Lazy Ass

To find a suitable cycling partner is no cakewalk. One might think the promise of exotic adventure irresistible to any number of working drones. But that’s just the problem: My usual bike buddies either can’t take time from their jobs, can’t afford the expense, or simple don’t like bike touring. In such circumstances, what is a poor would-be wanderer to do?

I was asking myself the question no less than a month ago when a friend suggested I expand my search to the Internet. I soon landed on a site where cyclists seek partners for long-distance tours. Since the site is American, most of the proposals issue from American men and involve routes within North America. I scanned the list with growing consternation. It was a testosterone litany wherein mutant seniors dared all comers to the very gates of Hell. Obviously bent on outsmarting the Grim Reaper, several of these alpha-geezers proposed coast-to-coast ventures at a pace of 100 miles or more a day—in mid summer.

My index slid to open a new tab when an intriguing word suddenly caught my eye: Kyrgyzstan. I sat up and read on. Curiously, the petitioner in this case was a Danish woman who lives in Switzerland and who was in search of a partner for a 1000-kilometer camping tour of Kyrgyzstan. Could I make a pair with this unexpected wayfarer? And was this faraway republic, apparently the planet’s furthest country from any ocean, a destination to dispel the humdrum of my usual routine?

Mountains, big ones, are part of the deal in Kyrgyzstan. More than 70% of the country lies above 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), and the highest peak, Jengish Chokusu, rises 7,439 meters (24,406 ft).

To get to the bottom of things, I penned a brief note querying the Dane for a few details about her intended journey. Thus began a correspondence that soon grew into a daily email chain of mutual discovery.

Ann Henriksen was born and raised in Denmark, the daughter of a boat builder who taught her to sail and handle watercraft, but who couldn’t have known that she would grow up to prefer mountains to the briny expanse of her youth. At age 19 she moved to Switzerland to take a job as a shipping clerk in a transport company and never looked back.

Thirty-seven years have since passed, during which Ann developed a taste for touring the world on two wheels, and tour she has. In 2014, for example, she pedaled her prized titanium touring machine from Anchorage, Alaska to Seattle, Washington, covering more than 6,000 kilometers, some with partners she picked up via Internet, and the rest on her own. On the same steed Ann has crisscrossed the American west, circled Iceland and rolled the soaking green length of Norway from 700km inside the Arctic Circle to the family home outside Copenhagen.

Ann doesn't do straight lines when riding a bike. For example, she might've hugged the coast from Anchorage to Seattle. Instead she zigzagged all over the Yukon and British Columbia, thereby adding hundreds of kilometers to her trip and tempting the grizzlies.

It is one thing to describe such trips with words, and another to undertake them, particularly alone. Such is not the stuff of ordinary folk, and ordinary folk will never be equipped to understand less the physical than the mental mettle required to shrug through days of constant rain and snow, for example. Few have that mettle, and Ann is one of them.

I met her last week, when she arrived in Paris for a two-day stay with us at my invitation, and nothing in Ann’s person or comportment would relinquish the slightest clue to her steel determination on a bike, nor to her apparent desire to quietly experience our world in its every nook and extremity.

The purpose of Ann’s visit was mutual verification that we could stomach one another for three weeks of unknown hardship. The Kyrgyz route she has planned involves more than 10,000 meters of climbing, most of it over gravel roads and barren wilderness with limited water. Would we make a viable team? I don’t know about her, but I’d made up my mind before she showed at the gare de Lyon, striding easily under a 20-kilo backpack.

There won’t be showers and there will be plenty of sweat, but I found myself a cycling partner. Let the adventure begin.


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