by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH
"I have to do it," Jennifer Tebo said in 1999. She was looking at a brochure for a bicycle trip around the world in 2000, and that was her first and definitive reaction: "I have to do it."
Tebo, a hygienist in Washington Courthouse, Pa., has always been a fitness fan, competing in triathlons (running, swimming, and bicycling) and adventure races (mountain biking, kayaking, and trail running), and working out regularly. A friend gave her the brochure, which advertised an escorted one-year trip around the globe by bicycle for $100 a day. The price included bicycles and flights between continents.
"I sold my townhouse and my stuff, gave my car to my fiancé, and took off. My parents were really supportive. They love to travel, too. They said, 'Do it now, while you can. Who knows when you'll have another chance?' There were 225 people when we started, and it's the first time anything like this had been done."
A couple from Seattle came up with the idea. They had sold escorted bicycle trips around the United States for about 10 years, Tebo said, and wanted to try something bigger. There were two vans accompanying the group to hold extra bikes, spare parts, and tired or injured bicyclists. A rental truck also stayed with the group, hauling lockers in which each person kept luggage and camping gear.
"It was mostly camping. A friend who worked at an outdoor store gave me good advice. We just did away with cotton, used a lot of Lycra bike clothes that we hand washed and dried overnight. I had a trunk bag and panniers, carried a pump. Changed a million tires. I learned to travel light, and realized I don't really need a lot."
Though she was in good shape, Tebo calls the beginning of the trip "a rude awakening. It was a lot of work. We were supposed to go about 70 miles a day, and it ended up being 80 to 100, for weeks at a time.
"We started in California, riding in the Rose Bowl Parade. Then it was Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Chile and Argentina."
After a quick trip home to see her fiancé while the group went on to South Africa, Tebo rejoined the trek. "Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, then home again. France, England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, home. Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Belgium.
"We saw the Sydney Olympics while we were in Australia, then Japan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. There were 45 countries all together. The trip organizer ran out of money in China, so we skipped New Zealand and Hawaii. He wanted an extra $3,000 from each person, but we voted him down and came home."
Tebo and her friends went "off-route" a lot, leaving the group for a few days to stay on their own and see more of different areas. "I spent a lot of money on my own. In Sydney, eight of us stayed 25 minutes from town, scalped tickets, and took a train in to see the Olympic events. In Paris, we got a hotel room and stayed a few days, exploring. It was an incredible opportunity to see the world."
Though she was a little disappointed with the organizers, Tebo was grateful for the group structure. "I would never have had the nerve to do the trip by myself. Of course, I would now. Some of us spent a week in Thailand after the trip ended, just relaxing. And since 2000, I've just kept traveling. I went to Africa with a friend in January. We did a seven-day hiking safari, then climbed Kilimanjaro. Right now, I'm planning to go to Cuba for a two-week bicycle ride in 2003."
When she got back home, Tebo parted company with the fiancé and simplified her life. "I had accumulated stuff. I thought, 'I don't want this stuff anymore.' It's not about stuff. I sold it and never looked back. I gave away my TV/VCR. What's it all for? I'm okay. I saw people who had nothing. I live with a friend now, and I'm using her extra bed and dresser."
Just before the trip, Tebo was spending several hours a day running, bicycling or weight training. Since the trip, "My exercise routine has disappeared. My body took awhile to recover, and I didn't have a normal appetite or sleep pattern for awhile."
Tebo works six days a week now as a hygienist, combining part-time jobs with temp work. She's saving money for her next trip, the one after that, and the one after that. "I would love to just keep going. My immediate goals are to finish school, then travel again."
She earned her associate's degree from Wilmington Technical and Community College 10 years ago, and is currently finishing a bachelor's degree in allied health at Widener University in Chester, Pa.
"Having my bachelor's degree will allow me to look at other avenues in hygiene. I've thought about being a rep for a dental company, going to dental school, or working overseas. I get e-mails from a company that offers overseas hygiene jobs, and they're so tempting. But I'm trying to remain focused right now on school. I only have three classes left."
Wherever she works, and wherever she travels, Tebo will have one lifetime goal in mind: to see and do and experience everything she possibly can.
Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio. She can be contacted at cseckman @raex.com.Verbal snapshots of the worldLike colorful snapshots, Tebo has quick stories of her most memorable experiences."I loved Italy, it was one of my favorites. We were there in March and April, and had beautiful long rides, century days (100-mile days), though they didn't seem that long. Little towns, stone homes, gelato — that's like ice cream with a different texture. I ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We saw Pompeii, Florence — I bought a leather jacket there. Rome was amazing, the piazzas and the Coliseum. I bicycled right past it.""Cycling was cool; it gave us an opportunity to see things not as a tourist. I was in Greece, going down a back road, and saw a woman skinning a rabbit. I'd never seen that. I took her picture.""Asia was so different from our culture. I looked at absolutely everything. We saw a sumo wrestling tournament in Japan, and a geisha show.""I loved Thailand, it was just beautiful. We ate stir-fried rice in a pineapple. On one excursion we rode elephants for about a mile, and had our pictures taken on their heads. It was touristy, but cool. We went kayaking in and out of caves with guides.""China was unbelievable. We were in towns where people didn't have refrigerators or running water. We'd go to the markets. I love markets, they're creepy. You see all kinds of stuff for sale: dried rats, wild dogs, ducks hanging up, draining. When you see that they have nothing, you understand why they sell this stuff. In one town, near the market, I saw a man with a bag, and I thought I heard an oink. I poked the bag — oink — it was a pig! Then the man thought I wanted the pig. I felt bad. Two guys in our group bought a duck and let it go.""One of my friends had a toothache in China in a town with no running water. How funny is that? We didn't have our passports, because we'd just turned them in to get Vietnamese visas. We were stranded, and I said, 'We have to get you to a city.' I called my boss back home, and he said to try to get hold of an endodontist. I was crying on the phone, I was so scared. I said, 'We're totally in China in the middle of nowhere.'"We had to leave the group, get on a bus, get on another bus, and meet a guy at a train to get our passports. But we got off at the wrong station and needed a taxi. None of the taxi drivers spoke English, so I started going up to people on the street."I finally found a cop who could understand me. He wrote out the address I needed, and I gave it to a taxi driver."By the time we got to a dentist in Hong Kong, my friend's toothache was gone. But once she was back home, she developed an abscess."