-Frances E. Willard, How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle
Hi, I’m Tara, so why “Margo Polo”? You have probably heard of Marco Polo – one of the most famous silk route explorers of the 13th century. I created this blog in 2015 to document my solo, unsupported cycling adventure roughly following some of the silk routes stretching across the Asian continent. On that trip I crossed Mongolia, China’s Xinjiang province, a northern portion of Pakistan’s surreal Karakoram Highway, the Indian Himalaya and the Pamirs of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. I made an unexpected return home for a month due to sickness and then returned to Asia to cycle Myanmar, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. After finishing that trip of almost two years, I decided to keep “Margo Polo” going to document future cycling trips. I have been touring on and off since 2011 in 19 countries, covering about 30,000km in total.
The cycling bug bit me before the travel one did. My dad, a lifelong cyclist, got me into the sport when I was a teenager. Growing up in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, I cherished the days when we could escape the urban buzz to go for long rides on the quiet backroads of southern Ontario. Cycling became my vice, my release.
I started attending university at 19, studying journalism, because I didn’t have any better ideas and assumed that this was the next logical step in life. Looking to make money in the summers, I was told about a seasonal tree planting job in British Columbia, where one could make upwards of $300 per day. To do this, I would have to plant about 2000-3000 trees in a single day in nasty clearcuts. I decided to take the chance.
That first summer changed me forever. Not only is treeplanting still the hardest thing I have ever done to date, but it changed the way I look at life. A handful of planters would come from all over the country to work hard all summer, make a killing and then spend their winters travelling the world. It made me realize that there was more to life than simply going to school, finding a good job, buying a house and retiring. I reluctantly finished that degree (that I never used), spending my classroom hours dreaming about returning to the bush in British Columbia. I was hooked on being outside, while pushing my body to its limit. I planted for 8 seasons in total, finding that limit during a brutal summer plant in Australia.
At 24 years old I started travelling solo, backpacking for four months around South America. A few months previous to this trip I read Neil Peart’s “The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa” about a cycling tour he did through Cameroon. This set the wheels in motion for my cycle touring “career.” The thought of combining two of my favourite things in the world seemed too perfect. I liked the way that Peart described bicycle travel as moving at “people speed.” The bicycle allowed him to reach remote areas where buses seldom stopped, travelling at a pace slow enough to really experience the local life. At 25, I left on my first solo cycling trip around China and Southeast Asia.
To fund my trips around the world I continued my seasonal work lifestyle in Western Canada, which included planting trees in the spring/summer and some winters in remote oil and gas camps. Now, I work part of the year doing pre-harvest forestry field work. For me, a life well-lived is one spent outdoors. Of course, I totally understand that living in a wall tent in -30 and snowshoeing through thigh deep snow all day isn’t for everyone.
I don’t have a great story of transformation here – of how I sold a house, possessions or quit a high profile job to go and live as a bicycle nomad. My ever-changing mix of work, a life at home in Northern B.C. and a life on the road is my norm, the only one that I am familiar with. And while my trips may get shorter, the desire to explore the dirt roads and trails of this spectacular planet hasn’t left me yet.
It may take a lifetime before that happens.
Cheers from the road,
Tara, “Margo Polo”