The Cycling Silk 2011 expedition team consisted of Kate Harris and Melissa Yule, two wilderness conservationists, inveterate adventurers, and experienced long-distance cyclists. Best childhood pals since the age of 10, as depicted with our award-winning science fair project (the coolest kids in middle school, clearly), we have been co-conspirators in countless misadventures. In 2004 we ran the NYC marathon on a lunatic whim; in 2005 we biked across the USA, and in 2006 we cycled across Tibet and Xinjiang along China’s Silk Road.
After this last trip, we vowed to someday finish cycling the Silk Road left untraveled, namely that rather long and daunting stretch between Europe and China. Meanwhile we undertook further endurance training by enlisting in graduate school. Kate earned a Master’s degree with a thesis on transboundary conservation and conflict resolution (Oxford), and then another Master’s in earth and planetary science (MIT). Mel worked on long-term environmental and community development projects in Ecuador and Nigeria, and earned a Master’s in sustainable development and capacity building (Guelph). Then we wanted to put lessons learned in the classroom, in the field, and on previous adventures to the ultimate test. To echo the words of 19th-century round-the-world cyclists Thomas Gaskell Allen and William Sachtleben:
The idea of a trip had been conceived by us as a practical finish to a theoretical education; and the bicycle was adopted as a means to an end.
So we went back to the Silk Road by bike, only this time the expedition wasn’t for the sake of sheer adventure (though we had plenty along the way). On our previous sojourn down the Silk Road, both of us fell madly in love with the wild mountains, sublime deserts, and diverse cultures we encountered. This time we wanted to do what we could to help protect these places and the modes of life they uniquely make possible. And in the process, we wanted to inspire others to get outside, live adventurously, and above all, think beyond borders.
A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life. Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance. –Mary Oliver