I finally thought of something to write about.
I could write a lot more, if I didn’t mind being more repetitive than I already am, and if having to make a living and stay in shape didn’t keep me from more hateposting. Any way, this story about Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan caught my eye.
Asked why they had quit their office jobs and set off on a biking journey around the world, the young American couple offered a simple explanation: they had grown tired of the meetings and teleconferences, of the time sheets and password changes.
“There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” wrote Jay Austin who, along with his partner, Lauren Geoghegan, gave his two weeks’ notice last year before shipping his bicycle to Africa.
They were often proved right.
On Day 319 of their journey, a Kazakh man stopped his truck, said hello and handed them ice cream bars. In a meadow where they had pitched their tent on Day 342, a family showed up with stringed instruments and treated them to an open air concert. And on Day 359, two pigtailed girls met them at the top of a pass in Kyrgyzstan with a bouquet of flowers.
That picture is misleading, since most of the time the couple were grimy, battling infections, alternatively too hot or too cold, and often wet. Still, there is no doubt they were having a grand adventure. It ended of course. All things end.
Then, at the end of last month, came Day 369, when the couple was biking in formation with a group of other tourists on a panoramic stretch of road in southwestern Tajikistan. It was there, on 29 July, that a carload of men who are believed to have recorded a video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group spotted them.
A grainy mobile phone clip recorded by a driver shows what happened next: the men’s Daewoo sedan passes the cyclists and then makes a sharp U-turn. It doubles back and aims directly for the bikers, ramming into them and lurching over their fallen forms. In all, four people were killed: Austin, Geoghegan and cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands.
A tragic punctuation mark to end a trip where the pair believed they had discovered the milk of human kindness.
Still, by the time they reached that bend in the road in Tajikistan almost three weeks ago, they had embraced the notion that the world was overwhelmingly good, the dozens of annotated photographs and the thousands of words they left behind show.
“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” Austin wrote. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.
“I don’t buy it. Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own … By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”
“No greater revelation has come from our journey than this,” he wrote.
For the most part, this young man was right. Most people just want to get on in their lives and raise their families. Most people are kind to others, particularly to young adults with little more than their backpacks who pose absolutely zero threat. But looking at pictures of Taijikistan, I wonder at the culture that such a landscape would generate.
The cities look pretty non-descript, sprawling horizontally like you’d expect of any city built on a flat part of tundra.
The capital, Dushanbe:
Tajiki offspring of the cognitive elite:
Again, most people are non-violent and just want to get along and raise their families. Tajikis, like most everybody else, are enjoying mankind’s present and historically unprecedented level of affluence. They can take their children to outdoor markets or enter them in math competitions, and no longer have to rely on a bread-and-bean diet or raiding their neighbors.
Tajikistan is a traditional nation-state in a world where nation-states are breaking down under the New World Order. I wonder what the people of this historically harsh region really think about young, affluent Anglos and Europeans who use their surplus wealth to live in tents where past peoples starved or froze to death as a matter of course.
Here’s something fairly typical from an intrepid young man who does this all the time.
As we kept going along that narrow road, which followed the course of the Panj river, I could not stop looking at all the villages across the river,the reason being those timeless looking mud brick houses sit nowhere else, but in the country of Afghanistan.
We were eight people, all squeezed in a Lada from Soviet Union times and, as my head and half my body were hanging out of the window, I could not avoid continually calling, yelling and waving at the many Afghans who were on their donkeys and motorcycles on the other side of the river.
Eeeeeeh! Afghanistaaaan! Eeeeeeeh
Occasionally, with a little bit of surprise from their side, they waved back at me; some of them with a tremendous euphoria, while others, just with half arm raised, as they didn’t really understand what was going on.
That sounds like people in most places, going on with their lives, reacting with bemused friendliness to young foreigners temporarily enjoying the same bare-bones lifestyle as they are, except the tourists don’t have to answer to a boss or customer for the food on their plates. And for all their basic good intentions and Golden Retriever-levels of amiability, these tourists are children without children in a grown-up world. Occasionally, they wander in over their heads into tough places with tough people. And yes, I’ve written about this before.
One of Lauren’s friends had some concern about their coping skills.
The day Geoghegan and Kerrigan said goodbye, the two friends hugged outside Geoghegan’s apartment.
“The minute your instinct tells you something is wrong – leave,” Kerrigan told her. She was concerned for her friend, in part because of how big-hearted she was and in part because she feared that Austin had a higher tolerance for danger than Geoghegan did.
In a post about why he chose to cycle – as opposed to, say, drive around the world – Austin spoke about the vulnerability of being on a bike. “With that vulnerability comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognise your helplessness and recognise that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades,” he wrote.
And what, the World responded, do you vulnerable, helpless, childless, rootless bicyclists offer us?