Real Travel: Losing a Friend On 9/11 Inspired This Man to Bike Around the World

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Who: I was inspired to get out and connect with people after my friend Kevin died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I have since biked across Asia and Africa, and I’ve crossed North America three times by bike. I plan to bike across Australia this fall.

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Kevin Bowser taking the subway to work. (Photo: David Sylvester)

Why: After Kevin was killed in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, I felt the need to find a human connection. I needed a hug. I decided to jump on my bike to seek out other people who were feeling the same way.

My first long bike trip was from Washington State to Philadelphia. Almost everyone I encountered was hungry for that same connection. They wanted hugs and high fives.

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A map of Sylvester’s route through Africa (Photo: David Sylvester)

When that trip was complete, I heard about this bike trip from Cairo to Cape Town in 2004 and thought, “I bet I can hug a lot of people there, too.”

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Taking a break by the Nile in Sudan (Photo: David Sylvester)

I returned home from that trip with the belief that I could and should do more.

I scraped together enough money to bike through South America — Colombia and Argentina — but a drunk driver hit me days before I was scheduled to leave.

Related: Top Trips for Cyclists

I was depressed because the doctors told me I might never walk or bike again. Then, all of a sudden, all of the people that I had met on my journey began reaching out to me. I worked hard as hell throughout my rehab, and a year after the car accident, I was able to start my journey biking across Asia from Istanbul to Beijing.

Next up, I biked from San Diego to New York City, making weekly stops to volunteer at local charities. This solo cycling and service trip had me connecting with homeless people, abused women, abused animals, blind kids, the elderly, wounded veterans, and more. When I finished, I wrote a book about all of it, “Traveling at the Speed of Life.” Once the book was complete, I biked/volunteered my way across the United States one more time in 2011.

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Biking across snowy mountains in central China (Photo: David Sylvester)

My Biggest Challenges: The biggest challenge for any journey is to wrap your head around the fact that everything could go wrong and you still need to move forward to reach your goal. Once, a snow/ice storm hit me in the mountains of China. I wasn’t prepared at all in terms of proper gear.

Related: Bike Your Way Around the World — These 7 Cycling Tours Will Blow Your Mind

With the rear cassette of my bike frozen and legs freezing into an icy armor, all I could think about was getting warm. The last thing I wanted to do was bike, but I knew that I had summit the mountain and get down to the other side to less harsh conditions.

I focused on my front wheel and I just pedaled. There was nothing else to do.

What I Have Learned Along the Way: I think a poor onion farmer that I met in the middle of Turkey said it best, “We all want the same thing; another day, another dollar, another piece of love.”

He was so right, and this bit of wisdom came from a guy living in a roadside hut that reeked of sweat, work, and onions.

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Sylvester on the road. (Photo: David Sylvester)

How I Have Changed: Back in 2002, I looked at this as a mostly physical endeavor, but now I don’t even talk about the physical aspects of it all anymore. Now I talk about how, with each trip, I’ve looked deeper within myself in order to grow and move forward.

My Advice to Anyone Who Wants to Take a Similar Journey: Follow your heart and you can never go wrong. On the practical side, I would say that it is important to contact and connect with people who have already done what you want to attempt.

Related: Take a Bike Ride Through Indiana’s Amish Country

My Next Location: I am riding from Adelaide to Brisbane in Australia, making volunteer stops at local charities. Thus far, I am slated to give service at Adelaide’s Beyond Blue, a depression center for young adults, and then pedal on to Melbourne to help the safe-cycling advocates of the Amy Gillette Foundation.

From there, I will progress on to Stepping Out, a Sydney domestic violence shelter, and thenthe Royal Flying Doctor Service, a charity that airlifts medical personnel into aboriginal and remote areas.

Along the way, I will deliver motivational talks about my world travels at Avantiplusbike shops!

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