Cycling to Family Weekend

By Sebastian Graves, Guest Contributor This family weekend, a few international visitors were spotted roaming the campus. After getting busted for couchsurfing in Toll’s living room, the French cyclists offered to share their story of how they came to visit Scripps, and why they were setting up camp in a Scripps dorm. 

I glance over my shoulder and change lanes for the last straight line of today’s ride. It’s getting late, and my legs need a proper rest after yet another 60-mile stage. My cousin had told me that her college was “just outside of Los Angeles,” but after a few hours of cycling, I’m starting to wonder whether our little detour to visit her at Scripps will be worth it. The anti-chafing balm I coated my backside with this morning is wearing off, and the saddle is starting to hurt a little. My two French mates, Quentin (who we call Spag) and Guillaume, have been cycling with me for five months now as we make our way around the world, so I don’t need to ask them to know that they’re looking forward to a rest as well.

We’ve been on all kinds of skiing adventures, trips and cycling tours before. Always just us three, old mates who never got enough excitement out of school. We cycled across Scotland on mountain bikes five years ago, then around Europe for two months more recently. Since we came back from that last adventure, we felt like we had to take a year off after our studies and go the whole way around the world.

Our five-month stretch of cycling started when we took a flight from Europe to Brazil for the first chapter of our world tour. The autumn saw us make our way from Rio de Janeiro through to the north of Argentina. We cycled across the Paraguayan desert and up the Andes in Bolivia, heaving our heavy loaded bikes up snowy mountain passes over 4500 meters tall. We then had an easier stretch on the Chilean and Peruvian coasts, cycling up the South Pacific to Lima.

Cycling is a great way of traveling; moving just at the right speed, you can’t leave a place too quickly to go to the next destination like most tourists do, and you’re forced to have a look at places tourists usually don’t visit. Cycling, we’ve discovered lively little towns in Serbia and beautiful villages in Italy, places we probably wouldn’t have seen if we’d been flying in and out of international airports or sticking to main roads.

For our trip around the world, it took us just over a year to plan everything. First we had to draw a route, which took us at least three months because we had to take into account climates as well as geopolitics. Cycling through Siberia in the wintertime was out of the question, and so was cycling from India to Turkey, with the Middle East being rather unsafe at the moment. Next we planned things with our old school.

Like many kids growing up in France, my mates and I were very bored at school, hating the typical “sit down and shut up” atmosphere they like giving in schools. We thought pupils might like to follow an adventure, an informative yet fun opportunity which could give them a break from the theoretical mass of information they are usually fed. Something where they could interact by sending us e-mails and comments through our website. It’s working really well, with quite a few teachers branching out from the way they’ve been teaching for years and taking part in a more humanistic approach to learning. The kids have had Brazilian food at the canteen when we were in Brazil, learnt songs in Spanish when we traveled across South America and have been learning to write summaries by writing about some of our articles.

We took months to meet each class and all the teachers. Then we had to make sure we got the media’s attention before we started contacting businesses scattered around our region of Normandy to secure funding.

Basically, we decided to sell our kilometres to whoever wanted them, each kilometre for two Euros. Our sponsors include businesses, non-profit organisations, a school and many people who just wanted to take part in the adventure. Depending on how much the companies were willing to give, we offered them “packs,” including shooting pictures with their advertisement flags around the world, and putting their logos on our website. The main reason people helped us financially is because we made the promise of sharing our adventure daily on our blog. We write on our blog every day, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, as we have people from different countries following us. We love telling stories, taking pictures and making short films. We’re never out of ideas, and anyway, when you’re traveling by bicycle there’s always a lot to talk about. On average we have 130 readers each day, and it’s amazing to see how different these people are. We have 80-year-old pensioners, 40-year-old business-women and young students who read the blog every day.

It was pure coincidence that we were near Claremont just in time for Family Weekend; we got lucky because our ride up Mexico went a bit quicker than expected. I was glad to be able to spend a few days with my cousin, and she was gracious enough to offer us a place to crash in her dorm. Spag was quite nervous at the prospect of finding himself at a women’s college, but I assured him that we’d be welcomed.

When my cousin turned up on Columbia Avenue, I was hoping she had a cold and couldn’t smell my sweaty T-shirt as she welcomed me with a hug. My mates and I parked our bicycles and unloaded our bags, and my cousin gave us a quick tour of the dorm. She gave us a run-down of the rules for guests (which, admittedly, we stretched a bit), and politely pointed us toward the showers. While my mates buried themselves down their sleeping bags, my cousin made tea and we spent the night catching up on what’s been going on this side of the world. Her tea was just right, and she even had a paper for me to read—The Scripps Voice, of course—which were familiar comforts which for a moment made me feel like I was back in the land of our shared ancestors, in a sunny version of Britain.

Making ourselves at home with my cousin wasn’t completely without incident, however. After we unloaded our packs in her room, we found that there was hardly enough floor space for myself, let alone all three of us. Tired and without a back-up plan for somewhere to stay during our last-minute visit to Claremont, we set up camp in the common room. Our host told us that prospective students had been known to set up their sleeping bags there when they visited the campus, so our camping in Toll wouldn’t be completely unprecedented. We were soon told off sleeping on the couches, however, and we retreated, chagrined, to occupy the entire floor space of my cousin’s dorm room. It was cramped and a bit smelly from the body heat of several young Frenchmen, but still a significant improvement from the drafty, bug-invaded tent we often pitched on roadsides.

I hadn’t been used to this level of comfort these last few months. Although camping in a little tent in the middle of the mountains is good fun, this short pause in lovely Claremont came at a perfect time. Claremont landed right in the middle of our trip, a welcome respite before we move on to Canada’s wet climate, China’s busy cities, Mongolia’s high plateaus and Russia’s mosquito-infested plains.

The next morning, we were shown around campus: the Motley, the library and the field house. The lawns are impeccably groomed, and I enjoyed the soft feeling as I walked over them, my shoes sinking into an inch of quality grass with every footstep. We were introduced to a weird game called “Ultimate Frisbee,” and learned some Frisbee-throwing techniques. Spag eventually overcame his trepidation about being at a women’s college, and even seemed to be enjoying himself. We were all settling in pretty well, and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay in Claremont beyond Family Weekend. Maybe they should consider having a whole “Family Week” next time...

To read more about the cyclists’ world tour (blog updated in French and in English), visit: www.latresgrandeboucle.com or become a fan on Facebook.