UPDATED February 23rd, 2019 — after 154 days on the road, this project “concluded” with my temporary relocation to Lviv, Ukraine. Follow the links to read the chronicles of my experience in Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, back in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad), Poland, Sweden, Norway, back in Sweden, Denmark, one last time through Sweden, back in Poland, then finally home in Ukraine — more to come as i process it — sign up for my weekly newsletter to stay in the loop!
On April 2nd, 2017, i reassembled my cycle touring rig and left behind the lovely city and people of Niš, Serbia. My idea is to eventually reach Nordkapp, Norway via Eastern Europe and Russia.
About 25 days and 916 km later, on April 27th, i find myself in Bucharest, Romania. This has been my longest break on a tour so far, which i’ve taken to apply for a visa to Moldova, do some maintenance on myself and the rig, catch up with my writing, and along the way make some friends before throwing myself back into open water tomorrow.
So far i’m very happy i chose this route. I’m also happy i’ve been pursuing it at such leisurely pace — although this expedition has indeed been loosely guided by this hypothetical destination all the way to the far north, it has in reality been fueled by my encounters along the way.
I expect that to remain the case for the five or six months i have left on the road.
In coming articles, i will further develop on those encounters, and how they have shattered my assumptions and prejudices — about the places i’ve visited in particular, as well as how people behave and the world works in general.
There are also a few other dimensions to this project, such as the Geocaching trackable i’m bringing with me as far north as i can, the trees i’ve been climbing along my way, my efforts to pick up some Romanian and Russian on the road, and how i’ve personally dealt with some of the challenges and practicalities of a long-term cycle tour. These will also be discussed in future articles.
For the remainder of this one, i will just briefly describe the process leading to this route to North Cape via Eastern Europe and Russia.
On November 24th, 2016, i arrived in Istanbul by bicycle, after 62 fantastic days on the road all the way from Copenhagen, Denmark. That had been my greatest adventure so far, in a series of increasingly amazing adventures throughout the year.
It was clear what to do next — up the ante! So, i moved to Niš, Serbia, where i would brave the Winter tying up loose ends from my previous life in academia, setting up this website, and planning the next epic cycle tour.
The Silk Road Hypothesis
I’d wanted to ride to North Cape ever since my very first cycle tour, from Copenhagen to Oslo, back in Summer 2015.
But once i had reached Istanbul, the obvious follow-up was the Silk Road — in almost every regard, it would have made perfect sense to bring my bicycle back to Istanbul, spend a few more days hanging out with my Turkish friends living in the city, then resume my ride further East through Turkey, Iran, the Stans, China, hopefully my wet cycle touring dream of Mongolia, and neatly set myself up for what might eventually develop into a World tour. That prospect had a cost that i was not willing to pay at the moment though — its logistical challenges (basically, visa requirements and weather patterns) would put me on a tight schedule, and possibly cost me more money than i might have had to successfully fund the project.
According to my travel philosophy, i actually did Copenhagen–Istanbul in quite a rush already — i wanted to avoid the snow, and so had to be always on the move, declining several invitations to stay and hang out longer with my hosts along my way.
No. I wanted my next tour to be as unconstrained in that regard as it could possibly be — i wanted the freedom to stop for five nights at the same farm less than one week into the tour, as i did at Dragan and Vera’s while lending a hand to them and their workaway volunteers,
or to stay for ten days in the same city, making friends and being silly, as i did in Bucharest.
In what other direction could i ride starting from Istanbul? — or perhaps even Niš already?
From Cape Agulhas to North Cape
The next most obvious route would have been finding my way to Egypt, possibly on a boat across the Mediterranean, then riding down along the East Coast of Africa to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in the continent — something along the lines of what my friend Zelda did. I wouldn’t have to worry as much about the weather, and the few visas i needed could probably be obtained more easily, would be more flexible than the visas for Central Asia, and also cost me less.
Scared (by my prejudices) to pursue that route solo, i came up with a really neat “excuse” not to do it — even if i eventually do feel ready to cross Africa alone on my bicycle, wouldn’t it be great to do that starting from Nordkapp, the northernmost point in Europe?
How the hell would i get all the way up there though? I would not have enough time to reach North Cape and come back down before my Schengen visa expired, and i just talked about how i really didn’t want to rush on this tour!
Would it be possible to reach North Cape from outside Schengen?
So, Belarus and Brazil have just signed a mutual visa-free travel agreement for tourists!
Habemus cycle tour. Apparently, constraints can sometimes be blessings — privilege is not spanned along a single dimension like much of what we read and hear about it these days seems to imply.
I’m not deluded — of course crossing those borders when i get to them might still be a challenge, or perhaps even wind up not happening at all. But these are all bridges i can worry about crossing when i get to them — my point is, at least i’d be able to plan my tour without much preemptive bureaucracy.
Indeed, with the experience and gear i had from the Copenhagen–Istanbul tour, there was very little left to be done to prepare for this one. I just had to come up with rough estimates of the distances, to make sure i could reach North Cape some time in the middle of Summer without having to rush, do a quick inventory check to figure out what i could remove from my kit to make room for my tree-climbing gear and, finally, the most important part of preparation for any cycle tour — to leave!
Along for the ride?
If you find value in what i share in reaction to my experience on the road and would like to support me in this endeavor, there are a variety of ways you can do it.
The first and most obvious way to help me is to share some of my writing with your network, wherever you hang out with them. This will help me organically expand my reach.
You are personally invited to sign up for my weekly newsletter, where you’ll get manageable bits of long-term travel inspiration and advice. Since i’m not on social media, this is the best way to stay in touch and get updates on what’s new in the Not Mad Yet Universe. You may always reach me by simply replying to any of my emails — i read and respond to all of them!
If you find yourself in a position to contribute financially, you’re also invited to visit my membership tab. There you’ll learn more about how i fund this project and the perks of becoming an active member.
Thank you very much in advance for your support and interest, and see you on the road!!
UPDATED March 6th, 2019 — the journey alluded to at the end of this piece concluded a few months later in Fall ’17 — check out the North Cape Hypothesis to find out more about how it went — if you want to follow me in real time, sign up for my weekly newsletter!
Yet another friend of mine has just landed a sweet programming job.
I’ve been flirting with the idea of pursuing a career in programming myself for the past several years. For some reason i could never quite put my finger on, this has never panned out, at least not as smoothly as it seems to have been the case for dozens of my friends and acquaintances from graduate school or the effective altruism movement.
I believe i may have finally understood what’s going on — despite having taken several courses, used a fair amount of programming in my mathematical research, and occasionally enjoyed playing with an Arduino, i simply don’t think of myself as a programmer.
I’m not talking fixed mindset here — on the contrary. To me a programmer is more like the person who spends a whole month of their lives figuring out how to put this together — indeed, when i look close enough at anybody i know who’s eventually become a full-time programmer, i see a clear story arch under which programming is not merely instrumental to their interests, but rather the key interest itself.
What’s my narrative then?
Well, if coding won’t keep me up all night, planning a hiking trip in Iceland, researching visa requirements and weather patterns along the Silk Road, or checking out how to become an Uber driver and deciding whether that’s a plausible source of travel money will! Anything related to world travel and exploration will not only keep me up late, but also wake me up obscenely early — i’m an explorer!
I have a public confession to make: when i left Brazil in 2008 to attend graduate school in the US, what i was mainly looking for was an opportunity to live abroad.
Unlike many of my friends’ families, mine didn’t have the means to send me on an exchange program while i was in high school. I continued to pursue my path to financial independence by going to college study math, which i had become quite passionate about and understood to be a scalable degree which could eventually place me anywhere between a teaching or actuary job. As soon as i realized that many of my professors in college had gotten their PhD degrees abroad — and with a scholarship from their host institution! — i knew that that was going to be my way out 😀
This is not hindsight bias — anybody who has interacted with me during graduate school can probably attest to this — i was pretty openly not there primarily for the degree — in fact, i couldn’t even relate to how seriously most of my peers seemed to take what they were doing!
As much as i have enjoyed doing Mathematics, what interested me the most about attending Rutgers University, in New Jersey, was the priceless opportunity it awarded me with to meet people from all over the world, and have experiences i could have only dreamed about up until then.
Towards the end of 2013, i was about to graduate and, just like most of my peers also about to graduate, applying for academic jobs for the following year. A close friend of mine noted at the time, and i paraphrase, “dude, i really like how chilled you are about this whole process, everybody else is so stressed out.”
I felt pretty relaxed indeed — not because i was overly confident about getting a job, but rather because i had a pretty neat plan B — if i didn’t get a job, i’d sell all my stuff, spend a year or so riding my ’96 Honda Rebel all the way back from New Jersey to Brazil, and take it from there.
Plan B it was
I ended up getting a job, selling the motorcycle, keeping much of my other stuff, and moving to Denmark for a two-year postdoc instead.
When the next job application cycle came about towards the end of 2015, i started thinking very seriously about whether a proverbial motorcycle ride across the Americas shouldn’t actually be plan A that time around.
After my contract ended, i packed my belongings into a few boxes in my landlady’s attic, hopped on the cycle touring rig i’d been slowly putting together for the past year or so, and set off from Copenhagen to Istanbul!
Along the way, i turned down an otherwise tempting offer for another two-year postdoc and kept going. I arrived in Istanbul on November 24th, 2016, after two energizing and rejuvenating months on the road. I had not felt as alive and present since i was preparing to leave Brazil almost ten years before!!
Yes, i could see myself back in academia at some point in the future. Most likely not as a researcher though — i feel like i belong much more in a liberal arts setting, as an educator, particularly somewhere with a large international student population. I’d love to apply my training as a mathematician and teacher, as well as the deeper understanding of people’s needs i’ve developed through my travels, to promote and facilitate the self-actualization of others.
My global learning has barely begun and, for the moment, we go with plan A though: first, i’ll go spend some quality time with my grandmother, family and friends back in Brazil — i haven’t been there for more than just a couple of weeks ever since leaving in 2008, and we all need that — i’m then getting back on the road in the end of March, and we’ll just take it from there!