Spokes woman

Cyclist Carissa Chappellet's around-the-world journal captures life behind handlebars.

On Jan. 1, Carissa Chappellet joined nearly 250 riders in a year long, world bike tour called Odyssey 2000. Their starting point was Pasadena, Calif., at the Tournament of Roses Parade. For Ms. Chappellet, who is on leave from a job as marketing director for her family's Napa Valley winery, the trip is more than a personal challenge.

One of her goals is to teach awareness of other cultures to children in her rural hometown, Big Sur, through the nonprofit Big Sur Arts Initiative (BSAI). To this end, she has been filing journal entries from each stop on her 20,000-mile journey.

The following are some edited excerpts from her journal, which can be read in full on the BSAI Web site:


Swaziland, Feb. 24

When last I wrote, I was in the safety and comfort of our rental van. We drove along the bike route for 40 km (25 miles). Today's ride is 148 km (92 miles). The road improved and the sun began to shine, so ... I asked to be let out to ride. The riding was good.

This is Africa - the vast unspoiled spaces, rolling hills, mountains in the backdrop, lush green grasses. From time to time there were locals walking along, the women in brilliant red dresses often carrying enormous bundles on their heads. Even the children carry their books or groceries on their heads. Groups of children would come out from the grasses, or nearby houses, to cheer us on and get high-fives.

Later, in camp, I showered, set up tent, and got in the dinner line. The locals have created a veritable feast. In huge cast-iron pots are stews of chicken, beef, lamb, and pork; rice; and pasta. Side dishes include potato salad, green salad, bean salad, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, olives, and rolls. You should see people's plates! Everyone is eating about 5,000 calories this meal.

That's where I am right now, under an old army tent, eating on wooden planks. Our hostesses clearing our plates are draped in lovely sarongs and partially bare breasted. We're in Africa. It's humid, muggy, ants are biting our feet, and there's a baby lion in camp! Wild! This is really living.

Now it's pouring again! The locals are about to do a performance. Wet, weary, well-fed, happy, I'll sign off here.


Fell asleep to the patter of rain. Awoke to the patter of rain. By 6:30 a.m., the rain begins to pour, and the locals come by to tell us this storm is part of a cyclone that will likely last five days and be squally all day.

Everywhere I hear riders making plans to catch rides ahead. Many are talking about the safety issues of riding today. I consult with my fellow van-renters and secure my spot on the van, at least until checkpoint, where I can reevaluate the day.

As my friends Val, Denis and Katy all get together for our van day, I see a group of 72 riders organizing a private bus to take them on into Durban!

Now as we're about to leave, we see Bobbi being brought in. Apparently she was sideswiped by a "bucky," a small truck; she's holding ice to her head. Somberly, we pile in our van and drive the route. We are quiet, each in his or her own reflection, we're riders, signed on for the ride of our lives, biking around the world ... and yet the feeling now is we're seven weeks into the year, we're exhausted, our bodies overstressed, we've lost all confidence in the leadership of the trip ... and yet we're strong of spirit, independent, still determined, our trip is different than anyone expected, but the friendships bind us and we take on this Odyssey, we're living it.

Swaziland is beautiful. There's a joyfulness in the people here.

Mtunzini, South Africa, Feb. 26

Breakfast made to order, omelets, juice, fruit, yogurt. Ready to ride.

Barb left us a DRG (daily route guide) under a sign post, can't believe we found it. Now a local pulls [my friend] Sue and I over to ask what the heck we're doing out here on this road? He told us of numerous robberies and rapes along this stretch and told us please get off this road as quickly as possible, and definitely don't be out after dark.

Mtunzini is our campground tonight. On our way into camp Diane and Patty yell to me to come join them and go to the beach. WOW! What a thrill, incredible bodysurfing! The waves were crashing a bit, but the water was warm and it felt like heaven to be moving so freely after weeks of being clipped onto our bikes.

We swam for an hour, moods throughout the camp were lively. It's a good day!

Mtunzini to Durban

Our biker instincts are honed just like an animal's. When set loose in the wild, an animal has to develop natural instincts for survival or die.

My biking instincts told me to take a full load of water, and strip down my bike for a fast ride and to have less things to keep track of and possibly be ripped off. I leave with only my rear rackpack and one spare tube.

Umtatwa, South Africa, March 1

Went up to Hogsback: A misty rainy day in [Tolkien's] Middle Earth. Quickly ducking for shelter beneath the wild white lilies, did I imagine it, or did I actually see the sparking trail of fairy dust? I ventured farther into the lush green forest. High above are giant pines, all around are ferns, ivy, wild berries, a jungle of green dotted with purple and white flowers.

Careful not to step on the delicious bolitus mushrooms, I picked my way down a slippery windy path. The sound of running water propelled my journey, and at last I find myself in a clearing at the base of a roaring waterfall. I was wet already, so what the heck, I striped down to my birthday suit and slipped into the purest pool of water I'd ever known.

I swam gleefully in the little pool, diving under the waterfall and splashing the make-believe fairies. I got out and put back on my damp clothes, looking around to see what other interest might be there. I noticed a thin trail of smoke, so ventured forth.

The smoke led me to a hidden pub, the Hog and Hare. Inside it was warm and cozy. The thatch roof glowed with the firelight, and savory smells came from the kitchen. The sign said "Pumpkin soup," and that's just what I had. My belly and body now warm and dry, I spied a chessboard at the corner table. A short, dwarf-like man at the bar noticed me eyeing the chess set and asked if I'd like a game. I don't play very well, I responded, but I'd love to learn more. And so began a most interesting afternoon.

[The man] Theo looked across with a gleam in his eye and asked gently, "shall we have a wager?"

"I'd like safe passage back to [camp in] East London if I win," I replied.

"And if you lose?"

"I'll bake you the finest apple pie you ever tasted and not pass by this way again without your specific invitation."

Theo laughed a great roar and agreed to the wager. Play went on.

Maybe there truly was magic in Hogsback. In any case, I won the match, and got safe passage to East London.

The land of Hobbits is far more real for me after having visited Hogsback.

On to Albertinia, March 10

Got my latest start ever, 9:30. Missed the gear truck, had to bribe Gordon (driver of the big sag wagon) to take my extra pack. Headed off with Matt, Freddie, and Gerry.

I struggled, but was determined to keep up. If I lost [the pace] I'd never make it to camp. Thirty km (18 miles) into the day and I was miserable. The guys caught a glimpse of my grimace in their rear-view mirrors and slowed the pace. As I sped along the highway I thought about the tremendous risks we riders take every day. At one point a logging truck came within a centimeter. Lots of climbing, also some great downhills.

The downhills bring us to life. The thrill of speed, the relief from peddling. And yet the fear of hitting the smallest rock, a pothole or shard of glass turns the sheer joy of the ride into a mix of terror and ecstasy.

We do this daily. We choose to do this. We live to do this. This is our life. We live and breathe our bikes.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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