“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.”
-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. I have cycled about 37,000km in 20 countries.
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”
Hi Tara …. miss Margo Polo.
Very nice blog looking forward to follow you.
All the best from DK
A follow dane here if you use facebook join this group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/607172039412674/
“3000+ trees a day”… with an emphasis on the +!!
Bon Voyage friend- I’m so proud of you!
Thanks Josie! you are so sweet – Now I think maybe I am just boasting too much haha
Hi Tera, If you need some info along the way check our blog as we have just left Ulaanbaatar coming from the west. Enjoy the journey! http://www.twistingspokes.com
Thank you – I will do that! must have been a cold ride for you guys! I will be heading West beginning of May.. into the wind :S
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Yes we had some cold days since Bishkek it has been real winter and it started in the Pamir 🙂 But don’t really mind as winter is just a part of our life. We are though looking forward to the warm China. Enjoy 🙂
will be really neat following along on your adventures 😊
Safe travels. You may recall we met in Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepal in 2011….I’m David’s uncle John. I traveled the Rift Valley in Kenya in 1963 1nd 1964. The 1st trip was when the Mau Mau were operating in Kenya, the 2nd when Kenya became an independent nation. The Rift Valley roads are pretty good. Make sure you stop at Lakes Nukuru and Naivasha to see the pink flamingos. Watch your back in Sudan. Hope to keep tabs on your journey as you progress.
I envy your spirit. Good luck.
I may recall..how could I forget? 🙂 I am glad you made it safely out of Kathmandu. Wow, that must have been quite the trip at the time, Kenya in the 60s. I will keep those places in mind! And yes, I will be mindful in Sudan – I have heard that the local people are great, very friendly. I won’t be going to South Sudan. Thanks for following me! are you back in Canada for a while now?
Hi Tara. When r u expected to cross China into Pakistan? You will meet a 2.5 yr old snow leopardess named Lolly languishing in 20*20 cage from last 2 yrs after descending couple of miles from the border. Make her part of your travel story. She is 1 of the 200 to 400 left in Pakistani himalaya and all the snow leopard charities and local government failed to rehabilitate her so far. You can’t miss her because she is caged next to KKH/SILK ROUTE. Mountain ghost is caged in open. So against your spirit. Have a safe journey.
Hi Tara ! It’s been a while since you gave us half of your Mongolian map on the road to Terkhiin nuur, cutted in two piece on the side of the road. You just began your impressive tour and had a terrible head wind – and we were having a nice downhill tailwind, after dirt road 🙂 We preciously keep the half-mongolian-map at home here in Nantes in France, we will be really happy to see you once !
See you, safe travels, and we wish you a maximum tailwind 😉
Estelle and Thomas
Hey guys! Sorry it took me so long to respond. Great to hear from you! How is it to be home? Your tour looked absolutely amazing and the photos are of professional quality 🙂 I have such great memories of Mongolia. There really aren’t many places in the world like it (that I have been to). Australia is similar in the way that there is a lot of wilderness and not a lot of people. That seemed so long ago now that we bumped into each other on that road. Any cycling plans for the future or will you stay at home?
My name is Paul Kim and nice to meet you. I did a small portion of silk road in Pamir last year and had a blast.
Thanks for the inspiration and if you ever pass by North easten part of Italy (100k NE of Venice) pls look me up and you are more than welcome to stay at our small home in a village called Budoia. Meet my family and let’s have some Italian food, coffee, gelato, vino and share laughters.
Wish you all the best and happy pedaling!
Hugs and Peace!
Paul Kim from Corea living in Italy
PS: If you have whatsapp here’s mine and pls stay in touch. +39 3392520248
I trust that this short note finds you ‘safe’ in this new reality. As I mentioned in other correspondence, I am waiting for the borders to open so I can start my Great Divide Ride.
So, in the meantime I am doing research on the journey. My question for you, if you don’t mind. Is how did you feel about Grizzlies and Black Bears?
Did you have any ‘close encounters’ of the Bear kind? What precautions did you take to stay safe?
I was in Banff last summer on a trail research trip and I came across 3 bears, in one day! That kind of freaked me out, a little.
When you have time, I would appreciate any feedback.
I have a lot of experience being around Grizzly and Black bears from working in the forestry industry on and off for the last 15 years. I am not always 100% comfortable camping in Grizzly country, but I always take precautions, such as not leaving food in my tent and hanging it in a tree. When I am cycling I try to make noise – sing out loud, yell out the odd time when I am in bear country. Bears can become very dangerous if they are startled and will likely react defensively. Obviously the same if they have cubs. Most of the time I find that bears will stay away from people if they know that we are around. Grizzlies are more territorial than blacks and may be more hesitant to leave.
I had an encounter on the GDMBR in Canada. I came across a Grizzly with two cubs on a power line trail. Pretty freaky! I wasn’t making that much noise like I usually do. I was coming up a climb and I saw her and the two cubs at the top. Luckily I didn’t scare them, but I got off my bike and started to walk backwards slowly with the bike. Once I was a good distance away I slowly started to descend again and found another trail around the bears. In this situation I wanted to appear non threatening because it was a mother and cubs. With grizzlies it is very wise to just leave the area and find another way around. If it was a lone black bear following me I would try to stand tall, back away, yell at it etc. This is the action to take in a predatory situation vs. a defensive situation like the Grizzly and cubs.
So, as they say, never turn your back right away and try to sprint away. Preventing encounters is very important by making noise and having the bears aware of your presence.
Also, I always carry bear spray.
Going through the Flathead Valley on the Great Divide I opted to stay in the free cabins over camping in Grizzly country. I think this is a smarter option.
Thanks for getting back to me on that one. I appreciate the feed back.