“The hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.”

Rick Gunn spent nearly three years traveling around the world by bicycle. He pedaled 25,000 miles in 33 countries on four continents, wearing out three bikes along the way. Now he shares that experience with others via a multimedia show that he calls “Soulcycler.”

We caught up with the Lake Tahoe resident, adventurer, photographer, and writer for a few moments in between trips.

American Sahara:
So one day you decided to get on your bicycle and ride around the world. After you made the decision, how long before you actually hit the road?

Rick Gunn:
Most people don’t really give much thought to the preparation phase of my journey. Often they think I just randomly jumped on a bicycle and set out to ride 25,811 miles around the planet. It took me two years to prepare for, as I tended to list after list. This included financing, bikes, equipment and supplies, camera gear, medical vaccinations, insurance, house and dog sitters, and on and on and on. The truth was, as I say during my show, the hardest part of the whole journey was the first 25 yards out of the driveway.

And that still remains the truth. Imagine working at the same job for 10 years, then suddenly deciding you’re going to venture out on a brand new life–one in which you will see a different horizon night after night for three years straight. There is no real planning for a trip of this magnitude. There were only the things I tended to before I left, and the things I failed to tend to after I’d launched. The true decision to go was really 90 percent of the planning.

American Sahara:
Would you do it again?

Rick Gunn:
This is something I swore I wouldn’t do when I ended my journey. I simply felt like I’d done it–realized my dream that was (and then some.) But I would never say never. I am spontaneous if nothing else. And I like that part of me. Realistically, I have my sights set on a series of smaller projects, and just today I was talking with a friend from Iran about doing a ride for peace with him across his country. Very exciting just thinking of it.

American Sahara:
What would you do differently now, with your round-the-world trip experience?

Rick Gunn:
This is a tough one. I think I would spend the first part of the journey differently. That is, my journey across the US and across Europe. I was in such a state when I departed. Just the transition alone, going from 10 years of routine schedule, to riding eight hours a day through a set of changing landscapes, politics, and climate. I guess I would somehow plan on more volunteer work. That or some other project that would better connect me with the local people, and elicit a deeper feeling of connection to the journey. It was like the first six months, I was just shell-shocked, and needed an outlet.

American Sahara:
Favorite place visited?

Rick Gunn:
Kyrgyzstan. Without a doubt. Mountainous country, a bold, electric culture of nomadic herders living in yurts, combined with eye-popping landscapes. Yes, Kyrgyzstan had me at hello.

American Sahara:
Most memorable person you met on the journey?

Rick Gunn:
So many to choose from. So many saints disguised as normal people. I could choose an Amish man who took me in in the Appalachians, or a Zen practitioner in Virginia. But the prize goes to an Iranian man by the name of Mohammad Tajeran who resides in Mashad, Iran. The two of us had befriended each other as I did a search for cyclists in Iran.

Mohammad was also riding around the world, planting trees everywhere he went. We decided to ride together in Malaysia. And we spent a couple of weeks just riding and comparing notes. What I came away with was a profound respect for his faith, his culture, and his spirit. The man was truly unafraid of anything. He knew in his heart that his journey was for the greater good, and more than once assured me that if it was it his time to go, it was in God’s hand anyway. There was something extremely comforting I learned from him, that I carry with me to this day. That is, as the Massai of Africa always pronounce, “Any day is a good day to die if you’ve lived your life right.” Mohammad is one of those people.

Cycling in Kyrgyzstan, by Rick Gunn

Cycling in Kyrgyzstan, by Rick Gunn

American Sahara:
How did the trip affect you? Would you say you are a different person now than before you left?

Rick Gunn:
Night and day. I am fundamentally a changed man. I recognized how little I knew, and how much I thought I had. I saw clearly that I am not, nor is anyone, what they do. (I was a news photographer.) Once that mask of 9-5 work is taken off, one has to look deeply into oneself to define what they really are. And what they are is much, much greater than anything they imagine.

I also discovered that there are people out there who are truly suffering. Riding my bike, I saw firsthand the effects of war, poverty, and disease, then decided to do something about it. I began volunteering in AIDS hospices and schools, as well as doing work with mine extraction units in Laos, and environmental groups on Borneo. I learned that instead of spinning my wheels talking about what I’m “against,” my energies are best used towards active solutions. This meant volunteering, service to others, and reporting about those who are making a difference in the world. This led me eventually to a new purpose and intent in life: to be of service to others.

American Sahara:
What do you think is the most valuable skill a person should have for a trip like yours?

Rick Gunn:
Adaptability and a knowing of one’s own mind. These I feel are interrelated. If you know yourself well enough, then you are able to adapt to situations that may get tough. In turn, you recognize that things always change. And that adaptability is like grease on the wheels of the mind.

American Sahara:
Was there one piece of gear that was most useful while on the road?

Rick Gunn:
Physically, this was perhaps my knife. I used it every day. But by far, my attitude became my best tool.

American Sahara:
What prevents other folks from undertaking their own epic adventures? Could anyone do something like this?

Rick Gunn:
Easy answer: fear. People ask me what the most dangerous place in the world was. When I tell them Baltimore, they always laugh or look at me strangely. We always fear those things we don’t know about. And yet, as we move towards those fears, and the unknown, we usually find that behind them is a reward. A new friend, a new experience, a new outlook on life.

To me, we have two simple choices to almost every situation: fear, or love. I think you know which one I prefer. As for whether anyone could do this. I would give a resounding yes. If that person had the will, and the drive, and the right attitude, they could do it. Perhaps even better than I did.

American Sahara:
You share your stories and your photographs in community presentations. What would you like your audience to learn from that experience?

Rick Gunn:
I would like to bring a message of unity. One of my heroes, Dr. Wayne Dyer, puts it this way, “We are all here now. In the eyes of the loving presence, there are no favorites.” This simply means that what we want for ourselves and our children we should want for all people of all nations. The truth is, 35,000 children under the age of five die every day of starvation or malnutrition. 35,000! This while 70 percent of all disease in the west is due to obesity (or overconsumption.)

I want people to come away from my Soulcycler presentations realizing that each of us has a responsibility to our neighbor. Another one of my heroes, Kahlil Gibran put it nicely. “You owe naught to any man, you owe all to all men.” That is the message I want to convey.

American Sahara:
What is the most common question you are asked at a Soulcycler show?

Rick Gunn:
“What did you eat?” They love to hear the parts about eating worms, intestines, kangaroo roadkill, and honey ants in the outback.

American Sahara:
You’ve just returned from a 2,373-mile bike ride the length of India. Was it what you expected it to be? Any big surprises?

Rick Gunn:
Yes, in a way. After travelling around the world on a bicycle and thinking I’d seen it all, I am still brought to tears by a young beggar girl who was malformed by a birth defect. This means that I still have a heart, and I’m still very much alive. And that my life’s work is still to be done.

American Sahara:
How was the India trip different from the round-the-world ride?

Rick Gunn:
With India, I knew what I was getting into immediately. With the world trip, it virtually was sprung upon me. Naivety, if you will.

American Sahara:
What’s next?

Rick Gunn:
Anything that involves purpose, dreams and heart.

For more information about seeing Rick Gunn and his Soulcycler show in your community, visit: www.soulcycler.com