While a 15,000-mile bicycle trip through 15 different foreign countries can teach a man a lot about himself, it can also provide insight into how people of other cultures live and treat others.
After spending the past year-and-a-half atop his bicycle touring Asia, Liberty Township native Luke Miller said the first half of his journey to see the world has taught him the people of Asia are full of generosity.
“The one takeaway I have from this trip is that in every single country I’ve been to, I’ve had people just completely go out of their way to show me hospitality and kindness,” Miller told the audience that turned out recently at the Willis Education Center in Delaware to hear his presentation titled “It Sort of Just Works Out: Stories From a 15,000 Mile Bicycle Trip.”
Co-organized by the City of Delaware Sister City Advisory Board and Delaware City Schools, the presentation gave Miller the opportunity to share with his fellow Delaware County residents some of the highlights from the first leg of his bicycling touring adventure that included stops in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.
Before sharing his stories, Miller said while in Asia, he only encountered one American who was on a similar bicycle touring trip. With that in mind, he felt it was important to share what bicycle touring is all about.
The four simple steps to bicycle touring, Miller said, are cycling all day, stopping to cook and eat as much food as possible, finding a place to camp for the night, and repeating the first three steps throughout the entire journey.
While cycling through Asia with his father, Scott, who joined him for seven of the 18 months he was out exploring unknown lands, Miller said his favorite food was enjoyed in India. While there, he happened upon a village enjoying its “harvest celebration,” which he called the equivalent to Thanksgiving in America.
While Americans aren’t accustomed to inviting complete strangers into their home on Thanksgiving, that wasn’t the case in India, Miller said, noting he and his father were invited into an Indian family’s home where they shared in a “giant feast.”
“They were just so excited to have us there,” he added.
In fact, Miller recalled, the entire 18-month trip consisted of similar encounters in which natives were eager to ask him questions about America and the “rights and economic opportunities” enjoyed by U.S. citizens.
“I thought people had a very positive image of the U.S.,” he said.
Whether he was American or not, Miller added his nationality didn’t seem to matter much as people simply saw him as a tourist and human being out bicycling through the elements.
He said whether it was the nomads he encountered living in yurts throughout Mongolia or the people of Tajikistan — a country just north of Afghanistan that’s still recovering from a civil war that took place 20 years ago — the common characteristic shared by all was unbridled generosity.
“They (nomads) really don’t have that much, but when I was cycling there…we found that despite people not having that much, they were always going out of their way to invite us into their homes or give us food that they had,” Miller said. “(In Tajikistan) they would just give us the apples they had or the walnuts they had, and they didn’t want any money in return.”
Another custom Miller quickly learned is that many Asian countries enjoy a particular beverage more than others — tea.
He said villagers would invite him into their homes for tea. The tea would turn into dinner and the dinner into an overnight stay.
As for staying safe in an area of the world far from the comforts of Liberty Township, Miller said the scariest moments didn’t involve people, but Mother Nature.
“I wanted to cry,” he said in reference to the thunderstorms he encountered in China and Mongolia. “The weather was the worst. It wasn’t the people.”
In addition to the unpredictable storms, Miller also had to deal with extreme temperatures that ranged from sub-zero nights in the Tibetan Plateau to 100-degree days in Thailand.
Reasoning behind trip, future plans
A 2010 graduate of Olentangy Liberty High School and 2014 graduate of DePauw University (Indiana), Miller was teaching English to elementary and middle school students in a small fishing village in southern Japan prior to deciding to begin his quest to see the world atop a bicycle.
Miller said he was inspired to embark on the journey, in part, by his parents, Scott and Laura Miller.
“My parents have a picture from when they went bicycle touring in Ireland when they were in their 20s hanging up in the house,” he said. “I grew up looking at it every day and thinking it looked like the coolest thing.”
With 15,000 miles in Asia now under his belt, Miller said the plan is to cycle around the world for another year-and-a-half with the second leg of the journey to begin shortly in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he plans to meet up with Janneke Verhagen, a resident of the Netherlands whom he met also bicycle touring in China in April 2017.
The plan, he said, is for the tandem to head west.
“I’d like to try and cycle through Europe, Africa, and possibly North America,” Miller said. “I’m not really sure what I’ll end up doing though. The itinerary is pretty open.”
For those thinking about giving bicycle touring a try, Miller highly recommends it.
“It’s a great way to spend a few years traveling around meeting people from different countries, experiencing other cultures, and seeing famous places you’ve read about,” he said.
Follow Miller’s adventures on his blog www.spokesandcoldoats.wordpress.com.
Contact Joshua Keeran at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @KeeranGazette.