The Cycling Silk 2011 expedition team consisted of Kate Harris and Melissa Yule, perhaps best known for their award-winning elementary school science fair projects (we were clearly the coolest kids in school). Since the age of 10, we’ve 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 enrolling in graduate school. Kate earned a Master’s degree with a thesis on transboundary conservation and conflict resolution (Oxford), then another Master’s in earth and planetary science (MIT), and Mel earned a Master’s in sustainable development and capacity building (Guelph). Then we decided to put the lessons we’d 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 this fabled trade route, we fell in love with the mountains, deserts, and rugged cultures we encountered, whether on the Tibetan Plateau or in the Taklamakan desert. This time we wanted to do what we could to help protect these places, as well as the modes of life they uniquely make possible. And in the process, we hoped to inspire others to get outside, live adventurously, trespass when necessary, and think beyond borders. And so Cycling Silk 2011 began.
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