Around the World on a Bicycle!

June 28, 2002

A full house (again!) of Obsidians and guests was treated to an engrossing account of Neal Van Steenbergen’s extraordinary circling of the world on a bicycle. The group effort was appropriately entitled ODYSSEY 2000. The dictionary defines Odyssey: long series of wanderings, especially with notable experiences, hardships, etc.

A group of 247, ages 19-79 (at a cost of $36,000 each) left Pasadena, CA on January 1, 2000, arriving back on December 31. Forty-six countries were visited, with a planned bike route of 27,000 miles; riding five days a week, averaging about 80 miles per day. About two-thirds of the group made most of the way around, 60 to the finish line. Only five rode all 17,000 miles; Neal biked 12,000 miles to the finish line (after 27 punctures and five sets of tires!).

Very detailed daily itineraries were supplied which made going solo possible. Neal preferred to go solo which lent itself to more intimate contact with the friendly population (to be found in every country — language was no barrier) and to contemplation (a spirituality charged day at a monastery in mountainous Greece, for example).

With such large groups, camp sites were limited; hotel quality varied over the entire spectrum. Daily routine emphasized simplicity and discipline (up at 5:30 a.m.). Although the trips was obviously a physical challenge, Neal felt that it also called for inner strength. A group of that size, involved in such a challenging life style for a whole year, gave it the nature of a microcosmic community — relationships were made and broken, dear new friends were made, some personalities clashed, some serious accidents occurred. One may wonder if Neal made it through unscathed by virtue of the incentive of rendezvous on four occasions with his sweetheart, our Birgitte, in Japan, Denmark, Italy (on his 73rd birthday) and Washington, D.C. Neal said he will now be seeking adventure via biking forever. He has just returned from biking 3200 miles across the U.S.!

Obviously justice can’t begin to be done on such a trip in this brief accounting. A couple of books written by members of the group are in process. The Odyssey tour was arranged by Kneeland Associates of Seattle; and Odyssey 2003, 2005 and 2007 are being planned, with the option of doing only parts of the route.

Bep Fontana


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