Pedaling the Planet: A Story from Kapp to Cape

Reza Pakravan - Header by Christine Fonner | November 6, 2014

Reza Pakravan finished the Kapp to Cape cycling adventure in November 2013. Currently working on a book to tell the adventure, I caught up with Reza to ask him about what it is like to ride the length of the planet. Literally.

With his partner, Steven Pawley, Reza cycled over 11,000 miles in 102 days to raise money for schools in Madagascar and attempt to set a new Guinness World Record. Fighting Malaria, food poisoning and intense road conditions, they made it to the finish line in Cape Town, South Africa.

You finished Kapp to Cape about a year ago. Did you initially encounter culture shock on your return?

My partner, Steven, went back to work straight away. I wanted to make the adventure part of my life and make a living out of adventure. For him, it was very difficult but for me, I took a couple of months off. I had time in California to finalize my book and was also looking for a production company to partner with me to turn Kapp to Cape into a documentary. Since August, I have been in Rome and production on the film will be finished in two weeks. 

Was it difficult managing the filming for a cycling adventure that you were deep into?

We had a cameraman at the beginning, middle, and end of the race. All the rest of the footage was self-shot between Steven and myself. It is not the easiest thing in the world when you are passing through some of the most unforgiving climates and roads in the world.

I realized the most challenging part after the expedition was coming back to normal life.

The terrain could be difficult and the environment desolate during the Kapp to Cape journey.

We struggled with time and food, basic requirements and add filming in was quite a difficult task to do. Steven wasn’t into the idea of filming but I really wanted a documentary. Sometimes you really want to be in that moment and you are in the middle of Africa and you experience something fascinating and you come out of an experience of life and death or see the hospitality of a stranger and you want to live that moment but you have to take the camera out and film.

Being in the moment (and capturing it!) riding through the countryside.
Being in the moment (and capturing it!) riding through the countryside.

What was your biggest mental challenge in Kapp to Cape?

To keep pushing and motivating myself to pedal ahead. There were times that I got really ill and times that I got knocked down by heat stroke, food poisoning, and Malaria but to just wake up and pull yourself together and carry on that was the most difficult challenge.

The physical struggles of the trip are a different story but the personal journey…that is the toughest moment, after the expedition.

Reza in the hospital with heat stroke, food poisining and Malaria.
Reza in the hospital with heat stroke, food poisining and Malaria.

To be honest, the expedition was a journey and it’s finished but the personal journey started when the expedition finished. I realized the most challenging part after the expedition was coming back to normal life. I decided to change my life and do what I love to do. I received calls from headhunters asking me to return to the corporate world with a good salary. I didn’t know when my next paycheck was coming and I was struggling with my finances but I had to tell them no. Turning those calls down and telling them I was not interested is actually something that hits me in my personal journey every day. It is a very tough moment to get through. The physical struggles of the trip are a different story but the personal journey…that is the toughest moment, after the expedition.

Reza and Steven capturing their time in Egypt.
Reza and Steven capturing their time in Egypt.

The Kapp to Cape takes you from the tip of Norway to the tip of South Africa. What was the starkest contrast between the two points?

Temperature! Then, obviously, wealth is the second contrast. And diversity. In Norway and Finland almost everyone is basically the same. The races are limited. In South Africa, it’s a very multi-racial society.

Have you found a commonality among people in your travels?

It’s fascinating because when you travel the world at the speed of bike and you see the world in that level of detail, the needs are so basic – eating, sleeping, water food – you are actually looking for similarities – you do not look for differences. Even if you want to go as fast as you can, you are still going so slow!

My dreams since I was a kid were inspired by explorers and adventurers who went way beyond their boundaries and achieved and made the impossible possible. 

All you see are similarities, not differences. You see the hospitality of people everywhere. You see that most of the people in the world are the same. We may speak different languages, but pretty much we are made from the same wood.

Meeting the locals!
Meeting the locals!

Has it been difficult for you to find the words to tell your story?

It took a while for me to reflect. We had some really extreme experiences. I also asked Steven and he had the same feeling. I look at adventure as my job. When you are making a living out of telling your story, then you have to do it with some sacrifice. You can’t have everything. The whole thing about adventure is that if you want to make a living out of it, you have to be able to share it with other people. I miss that good old fashion adventure. No phone, no nothing…you just go with it.

Riding through 13 countries isn't for the faint of heart.
Riding through 13 countries isn’t for the faint of heart.

You were an international pro basketball player back in Iran in your younger days. Did you get the chance to play ball with any of the kids during your journey?

Not really. We were just cycling non-stop. It was a race!

During the Kapp to Cape, you worked to raise money to build schools in Madagascar. Why did you choose schools in Africa?

In 2009, I went to Africa to do volunteer work with an NGO in Madagascar, which is one of the most impoverished places in the world. I carefully studied the financials of this grassroots NGO and went and worked as a volunteer for a month. This was a real trigger point for me.

If every person takes one step towards their own bit, collectively we could make this a better place.

What I experienced and what I saw people doing out there was fascinating and good. For all the good things I had in my life, I was able to give something back. Since then, I decided to raise money for them. In five years we have raised $120,000 dollars for them.

Reza getting to know the local children!
Reza getting to know the local children!

It was also important to feel the energy of people behind you. If you are doing something at that scale, why not raise money for a good cause? I combined my expedition with fundraising and it was a win-win situation for everyone and inspiring for others to do the same.

Have these adventures and endeavors for fundraising made you think about wealth, poverty, and income differently?

Not so much this trip but my previously travels did make me think a lot. I traveled in Africa a lot so I knew that there is poverty that exists in the world. It wasn’t anything new to me. In fact, I have been to fairly removed places in the world even poorer than the places I traveled this time. It’s fascinating that it’s such a cliché but the poorer the country the more hospitality they have. They invite you into their places and share more experiences with you.

What would you say would help bring the biggest positive change to our world collectively?

We all have and want different changes. The guys living in Gaza Strip need a different change than people like you and me living in democracy or someone living in Africa in poverty. The requirements are different. If every person takes one step towards their own bit, collectively we could make this a better place.

Reza and Steven enjoy local cuisine and a few moments off the bike.
Reza and Steven enjoy local cuisine and a few moments off the bike.

Environment, political, human rights or activists or whatever they do there are lots of people out there campaigning and standing up for other peoples’ rights to make the world a better place.

If you really want to get out of your comfort zone and experience what you want to experience you have to draw the line and do it.

A lot of people just succumb to the daily world and are completely detached. If we all did something we could all move mountains and make it a much better place.

What do you want people to gain from your story?

I have been a financial analyst for 10 years of my life. My dreams since I was a kid were inspired by explorers and adventurers who went way beyond their boundaries and achieved and made the impossible possible. I wanted to have a big adventure of my own. The comforts of my life stifled that dream. Basically, comfort killed ambition.

Get out of your comfort zone and amongst the challenges, you'll have amazing experiences.
Get out of your comfort zone and amongst the challenges, you’ll have amazing experiences.

One day you look back and realize you will never ever get any younger. If you really want to get out of your comfort zone and experience what you want to experience you have to draw the line and do it. I resigned from my job and started training to travel via bicycle.

One of the tougher moments...
One of the tougher moments…

I feel that I can do whatever I put my mind to now. That is what I really wanted to get out of it and I got there. Now, I changed my life completely. My documentary is going to come out shortly and I am already signed for making a new one. I am very happy with my choice.

If you are really passionate about something, sooner or later you will be good at it.

It was quite a big risk to come out of the comfort zone and leave my hefty salary to hit the road. Coming out of my safety net where everything was safe in my life, I left everything to go to the unknown. Fortunately, everything turned to be good!

The finish line in Cape Town, South Africa. There are no words to describe the feat…the smiles do a great job!

Do you think this was a required way to go – to just up and quit corporate?

The reason I did such an extreme thing – working corporate I lost confidence to be able to change my life. I needed to do something so big and way beyond me. I needed to know that I had to work so hard for it with 100% effort. I needed the validation for my ability and to go to that extreme to say, “If I really get to Cape Town I can do anything in my life.”

If I learned one thing in the entire expedition it was that in order to achieve any dream or make any dream come true, the most important thing is to take that first step.

Once I got there I just realized I managed to go from office desk to this level and battle through the most horrible terrain in the world with all sorts of weather conditions, malaria, heat stroke, whatever obstacle came in front of me…I could do anything. I can change my life. I needed validation to my ability and I got that validation. There is always the element of self-doubt but I think that is part of an adult’s life.

Why do people do what makes them safe vs. what they desire?

There is a struggle that every human in modern times faces. I have been in an environment where everyone hates what he or she does but they do it because it gives them a comfortable life. I can talk about my personal experience. When I came out of university I had student debt, I wanted comfort, and to pay back debt and have comfortable life. That is the way that society is structured. If you are really passionate about something, sooner or later you will be good at it.

Passion for something allows you to eventually become good at it.
Passion for something allows you to eventually become good at it.

If you want certain things in your life, rather than make a five-year plan, you might make a ten-year plan instead but at least you are doing what you want to do. I think the financial thing, absorbing corporate life; they pay you lots of money. It’s easy to get into it and get comfortable so that makes it very difficult to get out of it.

Is it possible to merge comfort with adventure living?

Yes, there are ways that people can combine their passion with a bit of commercial giveaway. What I did was drastic but there is always a possibility. I personally couldn’t do it because I wanted to do something completely different but I know people that have corporate lives but follow their passion at the same time. Obviously, it’s not as good as someone who is living the life they want all the time. It’s always a compromise, isn’t it?

People have different priorities – family vs. a single guy like myself. It really depends on the situation. My life allows me to be an adventurer but I am not sure a guy with three children couldn’t take the same risk so easily. If I learned one thing in the entire expedition it was that in order to achieve any dream or make any dream come true, the most important thing is to take that first step. Sometimes you have to ignore conventional wisdom and just go with it. There are so many different ways to live your life. The easiest thing is to give way to the corporate.

Only 1,045 kilometers to the finish!
Only 1,045 kilometers to the finish!

What’s your next adventure?

Adventures are addictive. I have three adventures planned that I am working on parallel. I want to cycle the Trans-Amazonian Highway. I am working on a documentary of a trip from Mumbai to London via solar panel rickshaw. Another project is focusing on my discovery of Malagasy music. I will be traveling in Madascar with a human powered mobile recording studio to capture the music. I would like to do all three in 2015 but at least two…definitely.

TP Question: Crumple or fold?

I fold. I normally take my toilet paper with me while biking. I usually use wet wipes which are obviously crumpled and I don’t fold it. I don’t use a toilet roll. I use the pocket tissue. I fold and put them away. It really depends on the situation. I never thought of that but yea, I definitely fold!


profile miniReza is an ex-corporate financial analyst that took the big plunge into full-time cyclist and extreme sport junkie. Reza has poured his energy into scheming big dreams into reality. He has conquered the summit of Mount Sabalan (4,811m), cycled the entire Annapurna Circuit in the Nepalese Himalayas and set the world record for fastest crossing of the Sahara Desert by bicycle, clocking an impressive time of 13.5 days. Adding Kapp to Cape to his impressive portfolio, he is already on to the next adventure. Oh, and did we mention he used to be a professional international basketball player??

To learn more about Reza, visit

Can’t get enough of the story? Visit Reza and Steven’s YouTube channel.

Would you like to donate to building schools? Click here to donate now!

Gates Carbon Drive did an awesome interview on the entire Kapp to Cape adventure. Read it here!

Copyright 2015 Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Snow in the Adirondacks

by Brian Wittmer | November 12, 2013


Yesterday morning, while I was stacking wood for my father, I was feeling rather glum. My father just had hernia surgery so it is up to me to get the firewood this year. Add this to working my butt off day in and day out to make some cash to fix up my old Subaru, I was burned out. I looked around and noticed all the snow that had accumulated in my yard. That didn’t help how I was feeling. I spent last winter in Park City, Utah living the dream and skiing every day. Motivation kicked in. “There is way more snow on Whiteface Mountain!” I thought. That last three wheelbarrow loads went quick.  I was going skiing.

I pulled up to the tollbooths on the road that leads to the summit on Whiteface and cars were everywhere.  Normally this bothers me, but today I was excited to see who would be up there. I walked my skis past the assortment of old trucks and Subarus and began to hike. As I climbed up, rocking out to my hand picked ski tunes, I noticed the kindness in the smiles of each fellow adventurer as I yelled, “WOO!”  cheering them on as they descended.  I had done this ski route a couple of times before. It is a 5-mile climb; which, as you can deduce, is also a 5 mile return downhill.

walking shot

Tracks in the snow.
Tracks in the snow.

I had a grin on my face the entire way up. I love exercise and this is exactly what I needed. My attitude did a 180 as soon as the skis were on. As I reached the castle that stands at the end of the road I was bursting with joy!

Out of breath I said “hi” to some fellow skiers snapping photos of the rime ice on the castle. It did look striking and almost foreboding. I mean, it’s a castle near the summit of a mountain. Since the summit is only a quarter mile hike from the castle, I went for it. The wind was strong but I knew to throw a fleece on before the ascent. After a struggle hiking in telemark boots on icy rocks, I made it. There was no view, which I knew there would not be. Even with the wind it was simply peaceful. I was alone at nearly 5,000 feet. I sat there for a while feeling renewed and reflected.

Whiteface Mountain, 4,867 feet.
Whiteface Mountain, 4,867 feet.

The ski back down took only forty minutes compared to the two and a half hours it took to make it up. I felt free. Spent, I was ready for some dinner and a shower. I was so glad to get out yesterday; I decided to do it again. This morning I got up at 5:15 to check for more snow. Sure enough, there was more! So I ate and took off.  It was another bomber day.

Some may say, “I’m too broke to do that or to go somewhere new.”  This is not a valid excuse. You find your own adventures. If you want to enjoy a trip like this, except for gas, it was free. I drank water along the way and ate before I left the house. I have a beat up cross country set-up or you can snowshoe. The skis got me to the top of one of the highest mountains in New York. I have an old car, and some acceptable gloves and layers, which are very important. Anyone can do this. All you have to do is drive to Wilmington, NY and up Memorial Highway to the gate at the tollbooths. The road is closed in the winter so you hike it up and it’s a good ski. You don’t have to go to the top to get a view either! I saw all the way to Vermont yesterday.

It's all downhill from here!
It’s all downhill from here!

Roaming, adventuring, or whatever you call it is addictive. It is letting go and getting away from routine. It lifts your spirits and engages your senses. It can also be challenging. I never regret dropping everything to roam when I am feeling down. It changes you and your attitude. Everyone has different interests. Mine are skiing, hiking, biking and getting lost exploring. Others might prefer, reading, writing, surfing, climbing, or driving to a place they have never been. Whatever it is, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and roam! (Yes I feel you can roam into a good book.) So, go and challenge yourself. It is rewarding and makes you feel great! So go and ROAM LIFE!

Roam Life!
Roam Life!

P.S. I forgot to mention I am trying to fix my car so I can roam to Montana in February. I’m going to a place I’ve never been and living with people I’ve never met. It’s going to be more challenging than anything I have done and I can’t wait!


Keep the dream alive! Help Brian get to Montana!

Unchained Cyclist: Adventures with Geoff Harper

Geoff Harper - Header

by Christine Perigen | October 18, 2013

Geoff Harper is one of those adventurers that feeds off the challenge of the adventure itself. Traveling can be overwhelming for some people. Not for Geoff. In fact, he goes out of his way to find the more difficult ways to experience a new land. Like traversing Iceland’s South Coast the hard way, by beach, using roads only as a last resort. He embarked on his journey in August and toured the gorgeous country by cutting through 500 miles of Icelandic beachfront. After finishing over three weeks of fat bike cycling through severe wind, rain, and conditions that can make you question your own sanity, Geoff sat down and chatted with Roam Life about the experience.

An example of Geoff's contribution to bike porn.
An example of Geoff’s contribution to bike porn. Source: Geoff Harper

One thing I noticed about you is that you are really good at bike porn.

That’s probably an extension of my design background. I used to design plastics packaging, which is basically cell phones – how they look. I have a fairly keen eye for linear design, keeping everything very symmetrical which is the same approach I used for engineering as when I look at or style a bike.

I was also big into motorcycles. Symmetry is something I look for and I think that’s something that actually lends into the way a bike rides. The balance that you perceive when you look at a bike is somehow aesthetically pleasing and somehow translates into the manner in which the bike handles and rides.

We read that you had done some mountaineering in Iceland. 

Actually, my mountaineering experience has been in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I had been to Iceland once before but not to hit the glaciers or to do any mountaineering. I would like to get back to do some mountaineering in Iceland now that I’ve seen it. My experience is climbing the Cascades and on Denali which I summited in 2009.

20,320 feet - Denali Summit, 2009 (Geoff Harper Photography)
20,320 feet – Denali Summit, 2009. Source: Geoff Harper

What made you decide to go to Iceland for a cycling trip?

 Growing up in the UK, my best friend, Olaf, was from Reykjavík, Iceland. His mother lived in London and his father lived in Iceland. Every summer holiday he’d go back and spend time with his father. At the end of the summer holidays, we would regroup and he would talk about what he’d been doing all summer time. He would have gone glacier walking to geysers and in the middle of the summer time it stays light for 24 hours. This stuff that was completely off the wall for me as a kid. I think it went in at a very young age and I’ve always had this interest and fascination but never really had the opportunity to go and check it out. With the fat bike, and trying to come up with an adventure that was suitable it just seemed perfect.

Geyser (from the Icelandic geysa, ‘to gush’). Geysir eruption, 2000. Source: D. Schweitzer
Geyser (from the Icelandic geysa, ‘to gush’). Geysir eruption, 2000. Source: D. Schweitzer

Where did the idea to use a fat bike come from?

Iceland has always been somewhere I wanted to go and it came about that way. I was doing these big long rides in the Rockies throughout the winter. I would go out for a day on these solo rides through the passes and this is where I started to think, “Alright this is cool. I am getting strong on the bike. I can see what it can do. Where can I take it? Where can I go? What kind of adventure can I come up with?” And then somewhere along the line I connected the dots: Iceland, fat bike, and started to look at the beaches.

9:zero:7 fat bike with J Pak set up. (Geoff Harper Photography)
9:zero:7 fat bike with J Pak set up. Source: Geoff Harper

How much preparation did it take on your part to prepare for a trip like this in terms of logistics?

One of the first things I did was buy some books by different authors. One that stands out is Arctic Cycle by Andy Shackleton. It’s a really good read. He actually did the ring road going all the way around the outside of the country. He’s a British guy too. I contacted him and asked him what he thought of my idea and he said it would be tough but doable. Once I heard the word “doable” I decided this is what I am doing and it all started to solidify.

It’s a very strange dynamic of human experience to go from extremes within such a short period of time and to be dealing with that. It’s incredible.

I started research by contacting the Icelandic Search and Rescue to find out what maps they use because maps are very hard to get a hold of for Iceland. I guess population density doesn’t lend itself too much to the demand for maps, especially not for what I was doing. I talked to those guys and they told me of a cartographer based in Iceland called Ferdakört. They have incredible maps of everywhere I needed to go. Then I really started to go through what gear I would need.


A lot of the gear was borrowed from my mountaineering. I improvised. I was going to go with panniers at first but then I got to chatting with my good friend, Joe, at J Paks. I met him through the same bike shop I bought the bike at and he schooled me on this new style of bike packing. It was phenomenal. The packs were actually a huge part of the trip and made it easy to manage my gear and keep important parts of the gear dry.

I just messed around with setups. It took a couple of months of honing the gear and checking out ideas and looking at other peoples’ set ups and talking to different people.

bike on coast

I didn’t really allow myself to have that self-pity. If I did, I think it would have crumbled me. I would have just packed up shop and gotten on a bus and gone home.

I ran Vee Rubbers tires.  They weigh 4.5 pounds each, which is horrific, but they were the best tires for the trip. If I had run my standard winter tires I think they would have just been trashed within the first week because the lava sand and rock can be extremely coarse and the gravel goes through rubber in no time. I shredded these Vee Rubbers and they are extremely tough. They lasted the whole trip but they look like slicks now and have all kinds of scarring on the tire wall, which would have trashed a regular snow tire. The guys at 9:zero:7 suggested to “just go with the safe option because if you are in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have spares the safe option is always going to be better even if they weigh a ton.” They were exactly right.

What things did you leave up in the air? You know, “Oh, I’ll figure it out…”

The main one was actually the route because I couldn’t plan the route due to the ever changing glacial run offs, the tides, and the weather. I couldn’t plan an exact route because I didn’t know what I would come across. That would keep me up at night because I would say to myself, “Well, I know this area and I know roughly how I am going to do this.” But on any given day, depending on the time of day I was riding or if I got delayed because the tides would change, the glaciers would melt and the run offs would be higher or lower, I didn’t know whether I could ride through them or couldn’t ride through them. There were quite a few things I couldn’t really predict, including camping locations, because of this.

A nomadic life. Source: Geoff Harper
A nomadic life. Source: Geoff Harper

How do you plan for meals on a trip like this?

I laid out spots on the map where I could get food and I memorized them and I would plan according to these. I would say, “Ok. There are two days I’ll be on the sand.” and I always tried to pack an extra day of food just in case. A couple of times this was the right thing to do because usually, in Iceland, a gas station means food but sometimes the information is wrong. Somebody who lived locally would own the gas station and they would have a café attached and they would have some basic supplies there for people that are traveling and one of these was actually shut down. It was a crucial one. I got there and there was no food. I had an extra day’s food but it took another day to get to another town and stock up. As much as I planned, it didn’t necessarily fall 100% the way I wanted it to.

This was not an easy travel plan. Did you have a “shit your pants” moment?

I had a lot actually. In the beginning of the trip, I had this feeling more. The first time I got on the beach, I was hit with this moment that this was it. I was good. Then it started to get a bit weird where I thought, “Hang on a minute. Where is this going? What is this?” The third day is when the big storms and the rough stuff hit me. That was really when I started to doubt what I was doing. I had to stop myself from having those thoughts. I had this whole moment of “No. Not going to go there. It’s going to be okay.” In the cliché sense, staying positive was really what I was doing in that moment. It paid off.

I had marched into the elements with groups or friends but I had never really done it on my own before.

Did you have a "shit your pants" moment?
Did you have a “shit your pants” moment?

Traveling solo can be isolating. Did you wish for a teddy bear or a friend along the way?

I got into this process of thinking about the difference between aloneness and loneliness. I felt quite alone but I didn’t necessarily feel very lonely. It’s hard to quantify the difference between those two but loneliness is a little bit of self-pity and aloneness is more of an acceptance of being alone. In the process of thinking about those two ideas, I was okay. I’m alone. But this is temporary. I am going to be here for 3 or 4 days. I just have to push through. This is what I signed up for. I am going to be okay. I didn’t really allow myself to have that self-pity. If I did, I think it would have crumbled me. I would have just packed up shop and gotten on a bus and gone home.

There was a point when you hit the most difficult part of your trip – the Sandur. Before you got there you had “daunting knowledge that I would be traversing the legendary Sandur often described as ‘soul destroying’.” Tell us how you had mentally prepared for this and whether or not that plan really worked out once you got there.

That was one of those moments that I couldn’t necessarily plan for mentally. I knew it was going to be rough. I used my mountaineering experience.  I had some rough times mountaineering. I would tell myself it’s not that bad because I’m not at altitude or it’s not that bad because it’s not -40 degrees and it’s not that bad because worse case scenario there is a road 10 miles away. I used perspective mirrors to keep dimension on where I was and what I was going through. It was a tough process and it was testing. One of the big things was having the roads so close by. If that road had not been there and I would have been way, way out in the middle of nowhere, just the knowledge that I could get to that road, even if I had to dump my gear and walk there, I had that. It was nice to know, for sure.

I spent hours riding and I would look at the GPS and I had done a zigzag route and I hadn’t really gone anywhere. 

Is riding solo lonely or just simply being alone?
Is riding solo lonely or just simply being alone?

You ended with “I battled the Sandur for 3 days in total, an experience I will never forget.” So, it was a piece of cake?

It was definitely up there with the experiences I’ve had on big mountains for sure. It was rough. There were definitely times on the Sandur that it would have been nice just to chat about the plan with someone. To say, “Well, what do you think? Maybe we can do this or maybe we can do that.” But of course, I didn’t have that option so it just forced me into that mindset, “Well, okay. You are going to just have to call it.”

Challenging terrain and weather made it difficult to continue in certain sections of the journey.
Challenging terrain and weather made it difficult to continue in certain sections of the journey.

I read about 60 mile per hour winds and torrential rain but I thought I would just put my raincoat on and ride my bike. 

The weather and visibility were the most difficult. The riding on the sand was rough. I couldn’t always tell I was headed in the right direction and I was getting battered by the rain and wind. I couldn’t see farther than ten feet in front of me. I would run across a glacial run off I couldn’t ride through and then I would have to go inland. This meant backtracking away from the westerly direction I was headed. I would have to go northeasterly to get to the road and then I would have to climb back. It was frustrating to feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I spent hours riding and I would look at the GPS and I had done a zigzag route and I hadn’t really gone anywhere. I was soaking wet and cold and it seemed like a lot of pain for not a lot of gain. Mentally, after a few hours of that, it ganged up on me a few times. You get those thoughts, “Maybe I will just hang out for a little while and regroup.” And that’s what I did. I tried to control that sense of frustration.

Icelandic Serenity. Source: Geoff Harper
Icelandic Serenity. Source: Geoff Harper

You said that you had “Moments of glassy-eyed elation followed by moments of gut-wrenching hardship” – to a person who has never done a trip like this…bring us there with you.

It’s a very strange dynamic of human experience to go from extremes within such a short period of time and to be dealing with that. It’s incredible. It is life changing. For me, that’s what defines these trips. That juxtaposed experience that highlights both ends of the adventure. I was riding through the Sandur and I felt like it was Groundhog Day. It was never going to end. I was going to be riding this thing for the rest of my life. And then all of a sudden, the terrain started to change, the sand started to even out, the wind started to calm down and I started to see the shoreline that was running along toward Vik. Right there, I snapped back into being normal and not being in this heightened state. It was very uplifting and almost instantly I forgot about the hardship. The three days that I spent suffering just completely dissipated. I don’t know whether that’s a human defense mechanism that we just shut that stuff out and maybe we shut it out temporarily and deal with it later which plays into the idea of how hard it is to write about the trip afterwards. You don’t process that stuff for a while.

Experiencing something on your own is great but if you take it to the grave with you then what use is it to anybody else?

So, there I am in this completely changed position and I was so thankful for it and was immersed and I had forgotten about the Sandur, it felt like, instantly. It’s a huge sense of relief. There were times when I also went from riding on a beautiful beach into a mess and that was a whole fearful conversation. I was scared. It was completely counterintuitive, too. I was riding from these ideal conditions to hell. I would tell myself, “This is what I came here for. Let’s do this.” Those are the moments that once you get through them you feel good about them because you overcame those fears. Being alone and doing that is something I had never done before. I had marched into the elements with groups or friends but I had never really done it on my own before.

One of our big beliefs at Roam Life is the power of people connections. How did your interactions with locals and travelers influence your adventure?

There were different levels of interactions. If I met somebody at a campsite or a store people would look at the bike and would want to know what the hell I was doing. So I had interactions with people that weren’t bike riders and weren’t riding out there. They were in a car or a coach (bus) so those interactions were limited in a sense because I couldn’t really share what I was doing with those guys but then I would meet some guys who were riding the road and who were cyclists and I could share a lot of what I was doing with those guys in a much closer way.

I didn’t meet anyone who was riding the beaches so my experience was very much my own experience and it was interesting. It was nice to talk about it with the other bike riders; especially the ones that knew about fat biking, they “got it.” They understood what I was trying to do.

Reykjavík. Source: Geoff Harper
Reykjavík. Source: Geoff Harper

When I pulled into a campsite toward the end of the trip, I bumped into an adventure scout group. At that moment I was kind of disillusioned because the trip was coming to an end and I didn’t want it to. I was ten miles from Reykjavík. I gave a little impromptu presentation. Luckily, there was a big map on the wall and I was able to point out where I started and where I would finish. They were all taken by the bike. That was one of the most powerful moments because in that moment I was sharing the trip and I was handing over elements of the trip. I could see in their faces, not just the younger scouts but the group leaders as well, I could see they were very much interested in what I was talking about that gave me value and perspective.

Experiencing something on your own is great but if you take it to the grave with you then what use is it to anybody else?

Had you considered doing this ride with a partner or group or was it always intended to be a solo trip?

With mountaineering, I had always wanted to do a solo trip but it’s such a high-risk game. I don’t think I have the skills for putting up a new route as a mountaineer. I don’t think I have the willingness to risk that much just to put up a new route. So this trip was the “putting up a new route.” It just happened to be on a bike. No, I didn’t want to do this with anybody. In fact, I had a couple of people say they wanted to do it with me but that wasn’t what the trip was about. I wanted to go and do this on my own.

Give us a gear list.

Gates Carbon Drive set up. Sweet. Source: Gates Carbon Drive
Gates Carbon Drive set up. Sweet. Source: Gates Carbon Drive

907 Tusken Aluminum Fat Bike

4” Tires – Vee Rubber

Gates carbon drive

Nuvinci N360 Internal gear rear hub

45 NRTH platform pedals

Ergon MTB saddle

Ergon grips


Bicycle Weight: 34 lbs.

Fully loaded: 60 lbs.

Bike Geeks:  Click here for a full list

Looking back, did you have any silly misperceptions or naïve understandings of what you were about to experience?

I had read about the weather but I hadn’t fully absorbed what it was. I read about 60 mile per hour winds and torrential rain but I thought I would just put my raincoat on and ride my bike. That doesn’t do it justice. When you actually get into that stuff it is pretty hard going.

I don’t know why but I thought I would see more people. Even when I went to the towns, they were very quiet; the weather pushes people inside. It’s a little eerie. I don’t think I fully appreciated that.

I tried not to go in with too many ideas of what to expect. It is what it is. I actually read some fairly conflicting stories and got conflicting opinions along the way so I decided to just go and see.

Camping at sunset. Source: Geoff Harper
Camping at sunset. Source: Geoff Harper

Are you dealing with post-adventure, reality bites depression?

I wouldn’t call it depression but there is a void since I got back. Dealing with the intensity of the experience and being alone while seeing amazing and different things on an every day and every minute basis then getting back to your normal life takes a little bit of work. It’s difficult to try and do the trip report while dealing with that. I train a bunch of bike guys as a strength conditioning coach. They want to talk about the trip, which is nice, and they are enthusiastic about the trip and that’s been helpful. It’s been a month long process of coming back down to Earth.

What’s your next adventure? 

I came up with this idea of “The Unchained Cyclist.” I am hoping to get another belt driven bike and go off on another adventure. I have got my eyes loosely on the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. I used to live there in a place called Andora. It is one of my favorite regions in Europe. I would like to ride from the town of San Sebastian all the way through the mountains through Girona down to Barcelona. Extremely ambitious! I might have to make it a little more doable. [Planning a new adventure] gets you enthusiastic and pumped. I am a big map geek. I love maps. In my place I’ve got a big map up and I look at it for hours on end just thinking about what the next adventure will be.

The next adventure?
The next adventure?

When I was packing up and getting read to go home from Iceland, I wanted to lighten my load. There was no way I was going to get rid of the maps. They are my most favorite mementos of the trip because they were my guide the whole way. In the absence of having someone to talk to the maps were as much of a conversation as I could have. Between me, the maps, and the bike it was a team effort.

Did adventure for you start from the get go or was it developed over time? What was Geoff the 7 year old like?

My mom has a story that she likes to tell. When I was 5 or 6 years old, she says that if she left the gate open or let me out, I would just take off on my bike. I would just go. She would find me in random places and I would just be sat there staring at something. I didn’t know anything about road safety, I would get on my little tricycle and ride it a half a mile down the road in any direction and sometimes a bit further and she would come and find me. I wasn’t in danger and I wasn’t doing anything, I would have just stopped at a freeway or a field. She likes to tell that story. It’s possibly indicative.

Geoff in Moab, 2011. His appetite for exploring out an open gate is still apparent.
Geoff in Moab, 2011. His appetite for exploring out an open gate is still apparent.

Geoff today is a strength and conditioning coach. What kinds of advice/support do you give your clients?

Ever since I have been in the US I have been a trainer of some sort. I gravitate towards performance based training which is to oversee the strength and conditioning type stuff. I am a big proponent of developing strength. Even in endurance athletes because I think it’s what keeps us strong throughout big adventures. I have never had an injury. As endurance athletes, we tend to wear ourselves into the ground and don’t take care of the mechanics of the body in the manner that we should. I follow the primal blueprint methodology and did the trip in a fat oxidizing mode and stayed away from red lining. I trained specifically to become very strong and efficient at using my fat supplies for energy. Hopefully I am pushing out decent wattage for minimal expenditure. I maintained this oxidization mode throughout where I wasn’t pushing too hard and I wasn’t dealing with any of the fall out that happens when you burn a lot of carbs and sugars. This way I finished strong and finished healthy.

Finish this sentence: “When the going gets tough…”

…don’t think. Just do.

Stop thinking, in that moment when you start thinking, you have diverted your mind. If you are thinking, “Oh my God, this hurts,” just stop thinking. Your instincts will take over once you stop thinking.

A little Roam Life psychoanalysis question: When doing business in the bathroom, do you crumple or fold?

[laughing] I’d have to be a crumpler. Definitely a crumpler.

profile thumbnailGeoff Harper is an adventure seeker and strength/conditioning coach living in Colorado. An avid mountaineer, Geoff summited Denali in 2009. Geoff will continue his adventures throughout the winter on his fat bike as the “Unchained Cyclist.”

 For more information about Geoff Harper and his adventures visit

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For more information on Roam Life and adventure opportunities, e-mail [email protected] or visit

National Geographic Weekend, Episode 1346 | Air Date: November 17, 2013:

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Copyright 2013. Roam Life, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Isabel Suppe: Climbing Past the Impossible

Amazing Women - Isabel Suppe

by Christine Perigen | March 20, 2013

Isabel Suppé is no dweller. She doesn’t dwell on the negative. She doesn’t dwell on the past. And she sure doesn’t dwell in one place too long. Optimistic, reflective, and full of hilarious stories, it’s no wonder Isabel has picked up motivational speaking. She can turn the most terrifying, difficult, and impossible situations into a comical and refreshing opportunity. If you don’t feel like getting off your ass and doing something amazing after hearing even one of Isabel’s “Oh, this is my average day” stories, I don’t know what else will.

While climbing in July 2010, Isabel fell 1,100 feet off Ala Izquierda del Condoriri´s southeast face in the Bolivian Andes. After spending the next two days crawling over the ice with a severely exposed fracture at 16,000 feet above sea level, Isabel was finally rescued. Soon after, she was told that she would never climb again. Three weeks later, she was climbing up a rock wall in a cast.

Isabel's fall is highlighted in red. 1,100 feet
Isabel’s fall is highlighted in red. 1,100 feet

Isabel, when I first read your story, I thought, “Holy shit.” I was blown away by how resilient you are.

The fall while climbing was actually the easy part. Everyone hears the story and thinks, “Wow, so brave.” And, of course, I was really lucky because I could have just broken my neck and been done. I have to say, if you take such a fall and are lying on a glacier and you only have two options: either die or fight for your life, of course you do what you can to fight for your life. It starts getting hard when you are lying in a comfortable hospital bed. If you lay back and say, “Well, I’m not going to go to the gym because it’s hard to get there and I have to hold crutches and everyone stares at me;” that’s when it starts getting harder.

Isabel in the hospital and practicing her climbing hold

Why go back to climbing so quickly and against doctor’s orders? 

In a way it was my anchor to life and to sanity. It was also a way of making the universe more graspable and understandable. I took such a fall and then was rescued and everything had suddenly changed. I was always used to having a tremendously healthy and well-trained body. To not be able to walk all of a sudden is a very severe change. If you can at least keep on doing things that are really important to you, for instance climbing, it helps you not to lose your mind.

Isabel climbing a rock wall with a leg cast.
Isabel climbing a rock wall with a leg cast.

How did you motivate yourself to begin again?

It wasn’t a choice. I have always felt that climbing is my identity. If I stopped climbing then I wouldn’t be myself anymore. If you lose your identity, then it’s almost as if you have died.

The summit of Illampu, Bolivia
The summit of Illampu, Bolivia

Your climbing partner’s injuries resulted in death. Just saying that is difficult.

There has always been a sense that the best tribute to a friend who didn’t make it off the mountain is to keep on climbing.  I don’t want to dwell on his death. In the past, I lost a friend who took a 2,000-foot fall. That was very horrible and it was the first time I had any contact with anything serious happening on a mountain. I was very devastated. I started to get better when I went back to the mountain. I knew that I needed to do that this time, too. I had to spend several days and nights fighting for my life and I also had to deal with serious physical injury myself. Having to fight so much for your life, somehow you also start dealing with the other person’s death. Even today, it still does not seem real.

Isabel climbing in Brazil
Isabel climbing in Brazil

Back on rock, did you feel that you were risking it all to climb?

There is a story my first grade teacher told us. Two little worms were living under the earth and they knew that if they went outside to enjoy the sunshine it would be dangerous. One went and enjoyed the sun and got eaten by a bird and the other stayed underground. I always thought it would be better to go out and enjoy the sunshine than die underground.

Where does this spunk come from?

Spunk? What is spunk? I do not know this word. [insert short explanation]. Oh, I was just born that way. My grandfather taught me to climb but he was a different type of adventurer. My grandfather had two passionate loves. One was mountains and the other was my grandmother. When Germany was defeated, he was stationed near the Black Sea, near the front lines. He got the note that the German army was defeated. He thought, “Great! I can finally go home.” He left immediately and walked all the way from the Black Sea back to Germany [approximately 1,500 kilometres]. That was in 1945. No Gortex, no high end gear. He had to be careful so he was not caught. He had no food and had to hide in the woods so he would not become a Prisoner of War. I asked him, “How did you survive?” His response was, “Well, I wanted to see my rocks again!”

Isabel and her grandfather in 1980.
Isabel and her grandfather in 1980.

Over the years, he kept on climbing and was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease. They gave him one year of life. He kept on climbing and stayed alive for more than 25 years. The day he couldn’t put on his harness anymore is when he shut down and just died.

I say the germ for climbing I got from him and grandmother but really my life changed after I moved to Argentina. I had never even conceived it would be possible to go to the mountains without my grandparents. Living in Buenos Aires, I had extra vacation time and I had been saving money to buy a fridge. I didn’t have one in my apartment. Fall was coming so I decided I could just put my food on my balcony and use my money to go on a trip. So I bought a flight to Patagonia. I didn’t even have proper gear.

I went trekking around El Chaltén. It was fall so I was the only person around. It was snowing and really cold. I had on corduroy pants and had nothing that would be used for mountaineering but I thought, “Hey, this is what I want to do.” And I just kept doing it. And this is how it all started.

Your grandfather, Walter Lenk, was famous in East Germany’s climbing world.

He was a locally famous climber. He definitely was not world-renowned. I was six years old when my grandparents took me rock climbing for the first time. I was going on easy treks ever since I was born. My parents and grandparents took me on picnics before I could walk. They took me to rocks in Southern Germany and then after the Berlin wall fell they took me to Eastern Germany. My grandparents are from Eastern Germany but they fled when the Russians built the Berlin Wall. When I was 11, they took me back there.

Isabel's grandfather leading a climb in 1947.
1947: Isabel’s grandfather leading a climb

When I was 19, I graduated from high school in Germany and moved to New Jersey on a scholarship for my undergraduate studies and finished in two and a half years. When I was about to finish, Bush was elected president and I said, “Okay, that’s it! I am leaving this country!” I wanted to see more of the world. I had taught myself Spanish so I thought, “Where shall I go for graduate studies?” I had been to Spain so I wanted to see something else. I saw the name Argentina and all I knew was that the capital was named Buenos Aires, it was in South America and there were some writers I liked from there. That’s how I got to Buenos Aires. I started to do longer expeditions after I moved to Argentina.

Living in Buenos Aires, you are surrounded by millions of people and are not close to mountains. Are you a city person at heart?

Living in Mahwah, New Jersey, I was going into the city every Saturday and to the art museums all the time but the problem was there were no mountains. Mountains are perfect if you are only into outdoors stuff.  The city is perfect if you are only into culture and having a cultural life. But if you need to have some of both worlds then your life is complicated. I was about to sign up to do a PhD in Argentina and in the end I wrote the research project and everything. To be honest, my life is not supposed to be trapped in the library. I need to learn and have contact to cultured people but I need the mountains. I knew I wouldn’t dedicate myself to research the way I would need to. I moved to Mendoza and survived by translating menus for restaurants and doing mountain guiding. Living in Mendoza, I always missed something. It was contact to culture and to people who can talk about artists like Van Gogh. I still haven’t found the perfect place but I do miss Argentina a lot.

Where do you consider home?

Nowadays, since I have had to be away from Argentina because of medical conditions, I have been traveling and living in my tent. Right now, I am visiting my dad in Munich (he doesn’t make me stay in a tent here!) but my permanent address is my tent.

A makeshift "tent" during a sand storm in the desert (USA)
A makeshift “tent” during a sand storm in the desert (USA)

 When doctors told you that you would never climb again, did you think, “Heck yes, I will!”

I actually did not believe it for one second. I just couldn’t. When I was on the glacier, it took me more than 12 hours to realize I was losing a lot of blood. I kept thinking it looked like a lot but it couldn’t be that bad because I would be dead by now. I had to be careful and wanted to avoid frostbite so I didn’t take my shoe off. I accepted the loss of blood. I needed my foot. I didn’t get frostbite at all. Nowadays, I know even if I had lost my foot, I would still go climbing. I don’t know how the surgeries are going to turn out but I know that if I can’t climb the way I want, then amputating might be an option because it is true that sometimes you can be better off amputating a limb and using a prosthetic than keeping a limb. I have a friend who had to make this decision. He said, “Well, better to be an amputee than a cripple,” and chopped off his foot. He goes rock climbing and ice climbing. I am not saying that’s an easy decision. I’d much rather not have to make that decision but I know should I have to, I will take it.

East face of Vallecitos. Photo Máximo Kausch (2009)
East face of Vallecitos. Photo Máximo Kausch (2009)

How many surgeries have you had since your fall in 2010?

 After the accident, I spent six months unable to walk. Then I learned how to walk. Then they had to operate again. That was a one-month recovery. Then I walked again. After that, I had three more surgeries in Spain. January 25th was surgery fourteen. This surgery will have a three month recovery and then I have to learn how to walk again. That also takes time.

Isabel making the best out of a hospital stay. Photo by Ian Grant
Isabel making the best out of a hospital stay. Photo by Ian Grant

As the first woman to solo climb Nevado the Cachi, you became one of the “firsts.” Is this important to you as a woman?

Actually, no. It was important to me not because I was the first woman. Not because it was solo. That climb wasn’t technically difficult. It was just high and isolated. Climbing Nevado the Cachi was important to me because I was standing up there on my two feet and on my crutches after the doctor told me I wasn’t going to be able to go back to the mountain, especially at high altitude. That was the important thing. If you look at the important climbs, this was a very easy mountain. It’s true that it is very isolated so if anything happens, forget about it. No one will find you for a long time after you are dead. It takes several days of walking to return to civilization. The wind is very, very extreme and temperatures are extreme but it is not a vertical climb. I guess no woman has ever done it on her own because of fear or the loneliness. It requires a lot of exposure.

One of your best known climbs is the new route you created on your birthday, after the accident.

I felt that it was much more important to open the new route in Bolivia with Robert on the anniversary of the accident. It was included in the American Alpine Journal as one of the world’s greatest climbs. That was one of my greatest accomplishments. After a year of hospital and rehab, I hadn’t meant to do anything that difficult. I wanted to do something but not the classic climbs because I had done almost all of them and they are too crowded. He said, “Oh yea! I know what we can do. I have not been to this climb. Let’s go there!” He is a really crazy guy. He knew what I was getting into. He had climbed on crutches before, too. I am sure he thought, “She climbs on crutches. I like that, so I will take her.” What I liked about him is that he is the only one mad enough to trust a climbing partner on crutches.

Isabel and Robert called their line "The Birthday of The Broken Leg" (TD+/ED), which climbs 500 meters up the southwest face of Serkhe Khollu in Bolivia. Photo by Isabel Suppe´
Isabel and Robert at the summit of Serkhe Khollu, Bolivia on their line “The Birthday of The Broken Leg.” Photo by Isabel Suppe´

 Do you see yourself as a “female climber” or a climber?

Just as a climber. I don’t think it’s necessary to separate that out. If you really want to change something or feel that more women should be represented, it’s better to set an example than it is to blame. In most athletic disciplines, women compete among women because, of course, there are biological differences. We have different bodies and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that but for everything else – there are parts of the world where it is still important for women to fight for their rights but in the United States or Europe it is less the case. I’m, of course, against patriarchy, but I don’t want a matriarchy either.

When I was about to get into my PhD program, my director wanted me to get into gender studies and I said no way. It’s not my cup of tea. Cycling across the US, I thought about this a lot. It’s really true that it’s all linked – human rights. It’s not women’s rights. It’s human rights. Mental issues, gay rights, environmental issues – those things are linked because whenever there are rights that are abused, everyone suffers.

Isabel and Rocinante on the George Washington Bridge, NYC
Isabel and Rocinante on the George Washington Bridge, NYC

What do you have to say to those people who are just dreamin’ to quit it all and go?

Dream. Ask yourself what do you want and how do you go about making that dream come true? What is really important? Sometimes, if you take a close look, it’s not really all that important to worry about a broken dishwasher. Sometimes, if you look at it closely, you can live pretty well without a dishwasher. You can say, “Screw the dishwasher! I can hand wash my plate for a while or buy a new one but this weekend I want to have a good time.” You can go anywhere.

 Tell us about Rocinante.

Rocinante, the bicycle
Rocinante, the bicycle

Rocinante is the name I gave my bicycle. [Rocinante was Don Quijote’s horse] It is actually my German grandmother´s old bicycle. I was at the German-Swiss border to Spain. I needed to get to Spain and thought the air flight was expensive. The doctor said I should cycle a lot to help in rehabilitating so I thought I could just cycle there. It is just tremendously depressing after you have been through so many surgeries to be told that you have a non-reversible condition and it can only get worse. So, you need to do something positive. I thought, “Hey, I am going to cycle there and try a new method of treatment.”

After Spain, I needed to get to an airport with a really cheap flight back to Germany. On my way, I found a sign that said ferry to Africa. I thought that was really cool and thought it would be great to cycle there. I called my brother and they had cheap flights to the southern tip of Spain. I asked my brother if he would like cycling through Morocco together. We started in Morocco and then cycled from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert. After I finished that, we returned to Germany and I went to Spain to present my book and then left for the US and finally cycled across the US. On September 29, 2012, I finished.

What was it like riding across the US and coming across other cyclists?

Isabel with Rocinante in Colorado
Isabel with Rocinante in Colorado

I really didn’t meet any cyclists. I met this one guy who had no weight on his bike and his wife was driving behind him handing him soft drinks and booking his hotels for him. I thought that was funny. I cycled across Nevada on a really lonely road. I went through Tonopah and took the Extraterrestrial (ET) Highway and ended up in St. George, Utah. Then, I did a presentation in Boulder, Colorado and went through Nebraska and traveled as far north as Niagara Falls and then headed towards New York City.

US Cycling Tour - Photo by Chris Anthony
US Cycling Tour – Photo by Chris Anthony

I was traveling and doing these presentations. In Nebraska, I found myself speaking to local farmers in a barn. I had to give the speech in my cycling outfit because my clothes had been shipped ahead and I was just passing through. I spent two hours answering questions. Along the way, I spent some nights camping in a ditch or a bathroom and other nights in a millionaire’s mansion. Everything is relative.

In Boulder, I had met a climbing partner and he said he would climb in Devil’s Lake but I would have to skip some of the Midwest because of climbing. I said, “Okay! Let’s go for climbing!” I crossed all of Michigan and Ontario and re-entered the US at Niagara Falls and then dropped into New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. I finished the ride in front of Van Gogh’s, Starry Night at the MoMa. [Starry Night is the name of Isabel’s book about her climbing accident and recovery]

Isabel in front of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh at NYC MoMA
Isabel in front of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh at NYC MoMA

Why travel around the world? Why visit all of those places?

 I haven’t traveled around the world. I’ve just traveled a lot. To me, it is about living the way you want to live. It’s sometimes good that more people are not like me because no one would work in the office or …well you wouldn’t be able to visit your friends anymore. They would all be traveling and you would have nowhere to stay! I love that I’m a nomad and I always know where to find my friends. It’s so hard to get left behind.

Isabel on ice
Isabel on ice

TP: Crumple or Fold?

I have never stopped to think about it. It seems too trivial! I bet I am not an orderly person. I bet I would crumple it.

isabel suppe profile pictureIsabel Suppé is a high-altitude climber, writer, and motivational speaker. Her book, Starry Night, is being released in English in April 2013. She is a true survivor and nomad who follows her love of climbing all over the world.


For more information on Isabel and her adventurous life, visit her website.

Isabel will begin her US TOUR in June, 2013. Stay tuned for notifications on events in your area. 

To read the full story, order a copy of Isabel’s book, Starry Night. Click the Buy Now below.

$16.50 + shippingBook Cover - Starry Night“A daring reimagination of the typical disaster narrative, Starry Night portrays a world in which pain and unsettling beauty become inextricably intertwined.” – Katie Ives, Editor of Alpinist Magazine

Shipping Date: May 8, 2013

ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline

by Christine Perigen

The Roam Life Team recently went on a cycling adventure in Taiwan. While searching for rental bicycles, the ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline came in really handy.

ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline (Photo: ChicoBag)
ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline (Photo: ChicoBag)

I am a very light packer. I never carry a purse or wallet or bag or…well anything but my passport and credit card while traveling. I threw this little satchel into my backpack last minute thinking it might come in handy. Boy, was I RIGHT!  The ChicoBag Sling rePETe Tourmaline is perfect for adventure traveling. We threw two sets of pedals, two helmets, two cell phones, and a water bottle in the bag and it sat comfortably against my side as we hiked the streets of Taichung.

The bag is light. Given the materials it is made out of, it is also surprisingly durable. The bag is 99% recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate, aka, plastic bottles) and the carabiner is 97% recycled aluminum. This bag became an extension of me for the rest of the trip. When it wasn’t in use, I scrunched it back up into it’s travel bag and when I needed to go out on the town, I whipped it out and had it over my shoulder in no time.

The sling - bundled up in it's built in pocket
The sling – bundled up in it’s built in pocket

For a self-proclaimed “Bagless Chick,” the Sling rePETe was just too practical to say no to.

Brand: ChicoBag

Price: $14.99

And color coordinated to boot!
And color coordinated to boot!


Emma Frisch: In the Kitchen and on the Peaks

by Christine Perigen | January 16, 2013

Emma Frisch’s joy is contagious. Her big smile jumps through the phone and makes you think about her delicious cupcakes and the good work she’s doing through her organization, PEAKS. Just married and having just attended her twin sister’s wedding in the same year, Emma’s had a lot of reasons to smile, laugh, and celebrate.

Your wedding photos looked like they were straight out of Wedding Magazine – you couldn’t have had a more fun and gorgeous time. Tell us about the event.

I’m lucky to have married my partner of eight years, Bobby Frisch. We met while we were both at University of Pennsylvania. He is my fellow business partner and project dreamer. We’ve travelled all over the world together and created all sorts of cool things. He started a hotel that I helped him work on and that’s where I opened my first and only restaurant, to date. He’s now getting an MBA at Cornell, which is how we came to Ithaca. It’s a place we both love.

Did you know you’d be planning such a large wedding?

Absolutely not. I thought it would be small with an intimate group of people. It just didn’t turn out that way. We both come from enormous families that we love. We had 125 people attend and the majority were family members. We still managed to stay true to our values. We had the wedding at Millstone Farm, a place I worked at for several years and I’m really close with the owners and farmers. All the food was prepared by our friend who is a chef that partners with the farm and uses food grown from Millstone. All the guests were given a tour of the farm. The wedding tent was made out of used sail cloths. We were married in the horse field amongst horse jumps with a blue grass band playing. We celebrated until the morning with all the people we loved the most.

Your identical twin sister just got married in the same year?!?

Emma and identical twin, Dimity

Yes! This was a totally unexpected coincidence. Her husband, Nolan, was planning to propose the same day Bobby proposed to me but Bobby got to it first. So, Nolan pocketed the ring for another four months. Neither of us were expecting it so it was really special to share that process. She had the opposite wedding: a city wedding, half the size of mine, at the Brooklyn Winery. We enjoyed great food and drinks with a multi-cultural and eclectic, amazing group of people.

Twins: is it true that they are telepathic with one another?

It’s true that we are definitely connected. We think and feel the same way. When we share things, we are sharing the joy, burden or sadness. Our lives are uncannily in sync. An example of that was getting engaged and married at the same time. Similar things are always going on like that in our lives. We’re connected beyond being best friends. She is part of me. I feel that people don’t fully know me until they have met her.


You started an organization called PEAKS. How did it all start?

PEAKS started, quite literally, with the idea of reaching new heights and overcoming major obstacles. My colleagues and fellow mountain hikers, Steve and Chris, and myself saw a unique opportunity to raise money for EkoRural, a small non-profit in Ecuador working on climate change issues with indigenous mountain farmers. Thousands of adventure tourists were pouring into the Andes, with little awareness that the trails they hiked on were farmers’ footpaths. We found a way to bridge these two worlds by launching our first climb-a-thon.

At the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi, Ecuador 

In September of 2010, PEAKS was officially launched. I climbed to the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi, which is nearly 20,000 ft. Steve and two friends ran the “seven hills run” in the Netherlands. Another group of climbers in Colorado climbed a series of peaks. We shared our stories and pictures with family and friends through the PEAKS website, and collectively raised over $10,000 for EkoRural. For me, PEAKS was a way to combine two of my greatest passions: climbing and agriculture. After our launch, I took on the lead role for PEAKS development.

What have you learned from starting your own company?

The biggest lesson for me is this: you need to have a really committed and solid team working together to achieve success. I felt like I was flailing on my own alongside a full time job for quite some time; our volunteers and board members were incredible, but having salaried team members that you can depend on is critical for growth. The past six months of growth have proven this for me. But I am really appreciative of the people who have helped build PEAKS since the start. PEAK has been a team effort through and through.

What are the most successful campaigns on Peaks?

 Sustainable Neighborhoods Nicaragua, a student group that is part of Cornell University’s Sustainable Design Program, recently raised $25,000 to build an ecological housing community in Nicaragua. Eight days into their PEAKS Campaign they raised over $5,000, and hit their $25,000 goal in less than 45 days. We didn’t have a single customer support question from over 60 Champions and nearly 300 donors!

You have a side project that I love reading about: Cayuga St. Kitchen.

Food is my biggest passion. More so than rock climbing or anything outdoors.

Emma climbing

It’s my creative outlet where I can share food adventures I have with family and friends. I love cooking and I love eating even more. I’ve been involved in farming systems since I was 18 and in college. Cayuga St. Kitchen is a fun way to bring all that experience together and give myself an excuse to keep learning…and cook more food.

What has been the most fun dish you have created?

Gluten Free & Vegan Almond and Candied Orange Cupcakes

This past weekend we made vegan and gluten free cupcakes for a friend’s birthday. It was like learning how to cook for the first time. I had to use totally new ingredients. Gluten free cooking is a totally different pantry. I found myself cooking with potato starch and xanthan gum. I had to clear the whole food bank and start from scratch and use my own flavors. I was determined to not stick to the recipe. The frosting was supposed to be a vanilla frosting but I turned the frosting into almond cream. It was fun to light all of them with candles and eat them together and celebrate.

Where do you find your ingredients?

 Food is so much about the story and where it comes from. It’s important to cook with quality ingredients; it makes a difference. The food I use always has story or is connected to people I know. I love going to The Piggery and I know Heather, the owner. She tells me about the meats and they raise these incredible pigs in environmentally and animal friendly way. I’m always asking where the best Brie is or where the best food comes from. I try to buy food from anywhere and everywhere: Asian market, Ithaca Farmer’s Market, I’m always looking to try something new. It’s an adventure every time.

What change do you want to bring to the world?

It’s hard to know if you are actually creating change. The change I want to create is helping people feel empowered to make change happen themselves. Giving people tools and space to feel confident in making their dream and mission come alive.

Reaching New Heights: Emma climbing in New Paltz

Through Peaks, it is those little encounters that happen now and then that make you realize you are making change happen. Sometimes there are weeks or months where I feel that this is a dream in my head and it’s not actually creating any change but then someone will write us a letter and let us know that they think it’s amazing and they met their goal and they’ll thank us. There are lots of moments that show it is the little things that matter and if you keep plugging forward with your dream then you can create change.

What is your travel essential when you are on the road?
My advice is to pack as light as possible and be open to any new experience. One thing I have to bring with me…[long pause]…I know!! My fanny pack. Dead serious. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I have the coolest one. Everyone should have a classy little fanny pack to store all your valuables and what you need on hand. None of that stuff under your waistband.

When in Ecuador…do you Crumple or Fold?
I’m a crumpler. I wish I was a folder. I’d probably use less. I guess I could be an in between but I’m more of a crumpler.

Emma Frisch is the Director and Co-Founder of PEAKS, an organization that provides the platform and audience for your fundraising campaigns. She also manages her food blog, Cayuga St. Kitchen and continually is experimenting with ingredients to make new dishes. She lives in Ithaca with her husband, Bobby.

For more information on Emma, PEAKS, or Cayuga St. Kitchen, click on the links!

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La Vida La Cava: The Hardest Hour

Paul LaCava | December 14, 2012

Here you go! I thought I would do a story about the latest ‘cross race season and ramblings about what it means to race ‘cross and the sense of community and culture behind it. Next weekend I’ll head down to San Diego, Santa Cruz and SF for a two week coastal tour road trip!

La Vida LaCava: The Hardest Hour

Each fall, somewhere close to when the leaves begin to turn color, the itch grows. Thoughts of sweet summertime fun and sunny days part ways for the re-emergence of what has become a painful tradition. When the skies open up and winter temperament slowly develops, the act of racing road bikes around in the dirt and mud becomes a solitary focus. Another year of cyclocross racing is upon us! This is a story of this annual addiction…

Cyclocross is described as the hardest hour in cycling, but I would be inclined to call it the hardest hour in life that I can ever recall.

One to three times a week, between September and December in the Pacific Northwest, there is nothing better to do than join over a thousand of your closest friends by putting on a skinsuit and racing between the tape. The sport of cyclocross began as a sport meant to bridge the gap between the end and beginning of road racing season in northern Europe, a way to stay fit during the shadow of winter, and it’s now evolved to become a genre of cycling with a bittersweet identity. It’s known for loads of fun, and full of great anguish. ‘Cross, as they call it, is extremely popular in Oregon where I live, and we are blessed with a fantastic community of enthusiasts. A typical setting for a ‘cross race is seeing how much a person can endure for an hour in a rolling park with a mix of grass and dirt, off camber corners, and barriers that force one to jump off their bike and run up and over a stretch, looping around a 1-2 mile course many times over, with weather patterns that range from sunny to the worst rain, sleet, and snow.

…the intense clamor of hundreds of fans yelling the worst insults and odd words of encouragement imaginable to get one to just try that little bit harder.

Cyclocross is described as the hardest hour in cycling, but I would be inclined to call it the hardest hour in life that I can ever recall. Why we do it, I cannot fully say. Somewhere between turning your lungs inside out, plowing through inches of slow mud on the ground, elbow to elbow with your best friends and worst enemies, with rain likely falling from the sky, is where life lessons are learned out here.

…when you were slogging over a calf deep puddle of water and mud nearly freezing your digits off, you snap back into it. You pull it together and you do what it takes to stay in the race. This is all part of the fun. This is ‘cross.

When it’s all said and done, what happens on the course stays out there. If all goes right, you’ve left it all out there, on the ground, with nothing left! Some may celebrate with a beer or bacon hand-up during the race, if they can stomach it. You always celebrate with friends and a beer at the finish.  There is mad cheering, the ringing of cowbells, the intense clamor of hundreds of fans yelling the worst insults and odd words of encouragement imaginable to get one to just try that little bit harder. Sometimes you can’t even hear the words of anguish in your head over the white noise outside the course. When it’s over, you forget how bad it hurts, and instead remember that feeling of great accomplishment from a hard day’s work, the smile of competition, and the camaraderie you share with others suffering the same fate.

If you lose this focus, which happens often- what with the myriad of factors that can force one to come unraveled- then it’s back to survival.

So the next week you line up at the start line, same time, different day, different place, but same goal. You race like there is no tomorrow. You forget the worries of life, the laundry you forgot to do at home (don’t worry, there will be more to do after this mud bath), and you forget the trivial hurdles of one’s career or the daily commute. There is no time for any of this. It’s just pure focus; a brutal simplicity that rarely seems to happen outside of nature. If you lose this focus, which happens often- what with the myriad of factors that can force one to come unraveled- then it’s back to survival. The mud got you. Your legs didn’t feel good. You rolled a tire off your wheel. You slid head first into the course tape that is now coming apart at the seams even faster than your mind is falling to pieces…Somewhere between this and when you were slogging over a calf deep puddle of water and mud nearly freezing your digits off, you snap back into it. You pull it together and you do what it takes to stay in the race. This is all part of the fun. This is ‘cross.

The middle of the week is spent doing brutal sets of intervals, fall rides in the transition period with leaves on the ground, gluing on new tires, checking pressure, cleaning and washing until the drain in front of the garage gets clogged with the remnants of what happened on Sunday. You kind of dread what is ahead, but also look forward to the next race with a sudden urgency, to get back out there and try to put together the perfect day. The day when everything goes right, you make no mistakes, you feel good, and it all comes together.

This season all came together for me on the second day on the seventh lap of a nine lap race.

Last weekend we wrapped up the Oregon ‘cross season with a fantastic day at the US Grand Prix of ‘Cross in Bend, Oregon. Two days of back to back racing with the nation’s top racers, some of whom are among the world’s best athletes. Bend is a beer drinking town with a major bike problem, and they have an even bigger ‘cross problem! The crowds were awesome, the heckling daunting. And the pace was fast. This season all came together for me on the second day on the seventh lap of a nine lap race. Go too slow and the fastest racers will catch you and you are pulled from the course. On my third day of racing in the Elite class with all of the heavy hitters, I found an extra gear and rode like it was my last day to ride a bike in my life. Lap seven came and went and I was still racing. Lap eight was even worse. And then we passed onto lap nine and at that point I found myself on the lead lap, finishing with all of the top racers, admittedly a few minutes back, but still up there! A great feeling!

It’s December and time to hang up another set of race #s. They are tattered and a bit worse for wear. The damage is done. Only the warmth of the holidays and a long winter can heal the mind and soul from the effort over the last few months, but I’m already looking forward to next year. The sense of excitement and passion that cyclocross brings to me and the rest of the scene leaves a tear in my eye every time the year is done. But there is always next year.

Paul LaCava is an avid cyclist who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He will ride virtually any type of bicycle, preferably on dirt, and often. Paul enjoys most forms of substance abuse: air, water, dirt, ocean, mountains, rock. He believes the best experience is the one you haven’t done yet. Each day on this planet, get out there and find a way to get younger and have more fun!


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La Vida LaCava

Paul LaCava | November 16, 2012

La Vida LaCava: Beginnings

 Hello! My name is Paul LaCava. This entry starts, like so many things, somewhere in the middle. It seems like life is full of beginnings and endings, all connected by an odd assortment of ways to get there. And it’s rarely at the start or the finish. The main point is to just leave, start the journey, and then figure out how to get where you are going at some point along the way. This is a perfect introduction to my next journey in life.

A year ago I embarked on a rather large undertaking. I am a cyclist and a general fool for getting into trouble of many sorts. I have a short attention span, so am always looking for new ways to find adventure. I’d like to be able to say I’ve gotten the true feel of many things in life when I die, but definitely a master of none. Within the world of cycling there are many distractions. Between huge mountain bike rides deep in the forest and across mountain ranges, in the middle of the air somewhere between the lip and landing of a jump, or between the tape of a race course travelling at high speed, there are many ways I feel alive on two wheels. But last November I decided to try an entirely different thing…

There is a bicycle race, -er, more of an event, held on an endless supply of rural gravel roads in the vast farmlands of southern Iowa that has happened for eight consecutive years each April. It is called Trans-Iowa. I stumbled upon this race somewhere over a beer and the rumblings from a friend who is from the area nearly two years ago. I quickly dismissed this idea as a horseshit idea worthy of nothing, dumb as anything I’d heard of. And boring, too! Gravel roads? Iowa? You’ve got to be kidding me! My home is the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Oregon and we are surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes, and an expansive coastline.

The Midwest hadn’t exactly been a target destination before. But then somewhere last fall I crossed paths with this idea again and the curiosity started to form. There were so many things foreign to me about the idea that it lured me in fast. The excitement of the unknown was immense, and the legends about how hard this event is kept popping up. I was committed.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’d sent in my entry to gain acceptance into this “free” event. This required sending in a postcard in the mail, yes, US Postal mail, with nothing much aside from one’s name and such. About six months later I’d done more riding and work than I’d care to admit in preparation over a long winter, gone on my first trip to the Midwest, started the race and failed miserably. There were lessons learned, admissions of fault, excuses, and pain. Lots of pain. I won’t go into the details of the past. That was then and this is now. Even with how hard the event was, I knew right afterwards that I’d attempt this again, and soon.

So recently I just sent in a new postcard. It’s always amazing how a simple little act can turn into something of epic proportions.

I don’t care much to think about what has happened so much as what will happen. And like many of us, I have a vision on what I want to try and accomplish, seek out, and make happen. And in April 2013 I plan to find a way to finish this race in the cold wind-struck hills of Iowa in the tail end of winter when the gravel is painfully soft and slow, the corn fields bleak, the skies gray, and the mind clear. Oh, and the race? It’s a 325 mile brutal self-navigated slog across the  endless rolling farmlands near Grinnell, Iowa, with nothing to aid oneself but the power in one’s legs, the spirit, and what goods you can carry with you or find in a convenience store from the many small towns in the middle of this journey. A person has 34 hours to finish this event and of the very few that find their way from start to end each year, it’s rare that it takes much less time than this.

It’s going to be a long road ahead.

Tune in later for the stories that lead up to this day…stories of the adventure into the unknown. Because if I knew what it took to accomplish this feat, I’d have done this and moved onto the next idea already…


From PITT to DC – Press Release



October 5, 2012

Contact: Christine Perigen                       

Tel: 914.584.8760

Alt. Tel: 707.815.2178

Email: [email protected]



A Non-Stop, 325 Mile Off-Road Ride

Josh Fonner and Rich O’Neill take on the entirety of the Great Allegheny Passage and will continue on to the C&O Canal Trail to ride 325 off-road miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, D.C. in a non-stop attempt to reach Arlington National Cemetery. Rich’s father, a war veteran and best friend to Rich, passed away and rests at Arlington National Cemetery. Rich’s dad always taught him to live his life to the fullest. Rich is going to do just that and end this challenge with a personal thank you straight to his dad at his gravesite.


In trying to decide on a trip to pay homage to the amazing and adventurous spirit of Rich’s dad while working within the time constraints of having full time jobs, Josh and Rich decided on a route that Josh has never put tire down on: the Allegheny trail system. As an avid cyclist, he felt this was an absolute travesty to never have ridden these historical trails which are some of the most ridden in the country. This sealed the deal on the how and when of the trip.


The founders of Roam Life are continuing to develop a community of adventurers around the world, starting with people they meet along their adventurous paths. Highlighting the stories of strangers and encouraging action, they work to support individuals in meeting life goals…through adventure. Roam Life is an exciting and inspiring bunch of every day people looking to roam while helping you to do the same.


Set to pedal off on Saturday, October 13th and arrive at Arlington National Cemetery late Sunday, October 14th, Rich and Josh are sure to encounter absolute adventure. Filming of the expedition will be done in partnership with GeoCore Films who will also be experiencing the adventure as these two travel through wilderness, small American towns, and the unknown.


Sponsors: Stan’s NoTubes, Giant Bicycles, POC

For more on the adventure or to learn how you can support the launch, contact Christine at Roam Life: tele.914.584.8760 / email. [email protected]