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December 18, 2012

Are they to be feared? Who are they anyway?

Pakistani kids

Why are we all so afraid of those we don't know?

“I was driving down the road the other day and saw some cyclists ahead.  I braked and waited until I could get by safely, but I’m concerned about them – the other motorists who won’t do that.”

“I saw a cyclist riding through my town last week, so I invited him over to my house for the night.  I took care of him, but they won’t.”

“I stopped and gave some cyclists Gatorade on a hot day, but they wouldn’t even consider doing something like that.”

I hear stuff like this all the time – isn’t it dangerous to bike around the world with all those bad people out there?  All those people who would never help a cyclist or go out of their way to avoid hitting them – they’re everywhere.

What I want to know is this:  who are they?  Who are those people?  They certainly aren’t the people we’ve met.

In our 45 months of full-time bicycle touring as a family, we never encountered them.  Instead, we met countless people who invited us to their homes, shared a meal with us, filled our panniers with oranges, and hauled stuff halfway around the world for us.  The people we met were of the kind, generous variety of human rather than the ones we see on the nightly news.

Traveling on bicycle made us vulnerable – to both the good and the bad.  People could have taken advantage of our vulnerability to rob us or run us off the road – there wasn’t a gosh darn thing we could do if someone wanted to do that.  But our experience showed that our vulnerability on the bikes made people want to help us, to take care of us, to reach out and make our journey just a little bit better.

The people we encountered stopped on the side of the road to hand over Coke and chocolate in the middle of a long stretch of nothing.  They pulled out a bag of fresh pineapple after we had gone too many days without fresh fruit. They leaned out their car window and shouted, “Would you like to spend the night in my house tonight?”

People handed us the keys to their houses, spent hours helping us solve one problem or another, and sent us emails to cheer us up when we were down. They sent packages of goodies through the mail and brought other packages to us when they went on vacation.  They hid Gatorade alongside the road, and rescued us from pouring rain.

In short, the people we met were just ordinary people who were willing to lend a helping hand when they saw the need.  The people we met were just like you and me.  And still – after 45 months and 27,000 miles – we haven’t met them.

Why are we all so afraid of them anyway?

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a modern day vagabond and explorer who isn’t afraid to reach the farthest corners of the world. Together with her family, she rode her bike from Alaska to Argentina, a journey that took nearly three years. A teacher by trade, she spent 21 years in classrooms in Honduras, Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Navajo Nation. Now she lives in Idaho with her husband and children. You can follow her adventures at www.familyonbikes.org

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