From Maine Cyclist, Summer 1998. Text reproduced with the permission of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.
BikeAbout: A Mediterranean Bicycle Adventure
A remarkable journey headed up by a Mainer is nearing its conclusion. Bicyclists from an organization called BikeAbout are making the first "wired," pedal-powered circumnavigation of the Mediterranean Rim. Their mission? "To increase awareness and access to world regions and their people by traveling by bicycle, meeting the people, and using the unique capabilities of the Internet to share information with students, teachers and other on-lookers around the world." With generous support from sponsoring partners such as the Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (FPH), BikeAbout is on the road to fulfill that mission. Ethan Gelber of Morrill is the Executive Director of BikeAbout and will be returning to Maine to share the group's experiences. In the meantime, the group's website can be browsed at http://www.bikeabout.org. It is full of reports, pictures, and info about this unique adventure.
5 riders, 9 months, 10,000 miles, 23 countries and territories
BikeAbout began its journey on September 25, 1997 in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. At that time the team consisted of five bicyclists: Americans Ethan Gelber, Corinne Whitney, Padraic Kennedy, and Anthony Ziehmke, and Austrian andrEa Siegl. (Budget constraints forced them to send andrEa home when they reached Istanbul.) By the middle of May, the BikeAbout team had already pedaled over 4,000 miles (and covered many more by train, plane, and ferry) in a 7½-month journey from Morocco to Italy.
In February and March, the team split into smaller groups to cover more territory and work around border crossing restrictions in the Middle East. By the time the trip concludes at the end of June, BikeAbout will have visited Ceuta, Melilla, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Malta, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Italy, France, Monaco, Spain and Gibraltar -- PHEW!
150 reports, 2,100 photos, 150 audio clips
The members of the BikeAbout team take turns writing reports for the BikeAbout Web site. By the time their trip is over, they will have written over 150 reports or "dispatches," chronicling their journey. The dispatches cover topics ranging from the kinds of food they eat to bicycle safety in urban centers to the signs of geopolitical conflict they have encountered. These day-to-day experiences and impressions are interspersed with background information about the history and culture of the places they visited and the people they met. No report of an experience like this would be complete without pictures -- lots of them. The BikeAbout Web site includes an image gallery with over 2,200 photos and audio clips. Visitors to the Web site can see the Step Pyramid of Saqqara, Egypt, "street roses" (shell marks) in Bosnia, and views of the Mediterranean Sea from its shores. They can also hear the voices of local people as they teach the riders how to say basic phrases in their native languages.
5 bikes, 2 trailers, 4 panniers, 25 flat tires, 32 broken spokes
The BikeAbout team is pedaling touring bicycles that were donated by Wheeler Worldwide, with ergonomically-designed saddles contributed by sponsor Selle Royal. They are pulling two B.O.B. trailers and are outfitted with Lone Peak and Ortlieb panniers, all of which are used to tote bike repair tools and supplies, Compaq laptops and accessories, Magellan GPS units, video equipment, Casio QV-300 digital cameras, an Adventure Medical first aid kit, bike clothes, street clothes, personal items, water bottles and purifiers, and the guidebooks, maps and promotional materials they have been using during the trip. Much of the equipment used during the Mediterranean journey was donated or loaned to BikeAbout by the manufacturers.
Bicycles take a beating on a journey like this. The terrain is often mountainous. Roads are frequently full of potholes. The equipment the riders are hauling is heavy. A problem with the back wheel on one of the bicycles, combined with the weight it was hauling, yielded seven broken spokes in just the first three weeks of the trip. But it isn't just the bikes that are punished on a trip like this. Team member Corinne Whitney was badly bruised after being run off the road in Cyprus, and at one time or another all of the bicyclists suffered scrapes, windburn, fatigue, muscle aches, flu, and other ailments.
So why do it? All of the bicyclists agree that the experiences they have had have been worth the difficult road they have travelled. They have met wonderful people who have greeted them warmly and made them feel welcome. They have seen some of the most spectacular natural and man-made sights the region has to offer. They have had a chance to talk with students in towns and cities along the route, to hear what their lives are like, to listen to their concerns and aspirations for the future, and to introduce them to their neighbors around the Mediterranean and in the Internet community.
Thousands of Students
Each month during the Mediterranean trip, the BikeAbout Web site has logged thousands of "hits" (visits). Visitors include schoolchildren from around the United States. Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC), developed interactive curriculum that uses the BikeAbout resources to help young people learn about the Mediterranean and other topics. CCC's "Mediterranean Fieldtrip" curriculum (http://www.edscape.com) challenges students to read BikeAbout reports and explore Internet and traditional library resources to learn about the countries of the Mediterranean and complete activities that relate the things they've learned to their daily lives. In addition, each week during the trip students could spend time chatting online with the BikeAbout team, guests from the countries the team visited, and other students around the country.
This communication with students around the world, combined with the team's school visits during the trip, create a network of young people who will continue BikeAbout's work by continuing to learn about each other and to discuss their life experiences and views.
BikeAbout has also received widespread press attention in Maine. The World Affairs Council of Maine, the Falmouth Forecaster, and the Maine Software Developer's Association have all featured BikeAbout in their publications.
In September, Ethan will return to Maine to speak to school groups and civic organizations around the state about his experiences with BikeAbout in the Mediterranean. On September 24th 7 pm, he will give a presentation at a special Bicycle Coalition of Maine meeting in Augusta at the Pine Tree State Arboretum. On September 25th he will speak to students at the World Affairs Council of Maine's conference at USM. Additional dates are being finalized and will be posted on the BikeAbout Web site later this summer. If you are interested in having Ethan speak to your school or organization, please contact Elizabeth Guffey at Daedalus Design Group, PO Box 799, Yarmouth, ME 04096, Tel 207-846-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Guffey of Yarmouth is BikeAbout's webmaster and is the founder of the Web design company, Daedalus Design Group.