Around the world on two wheels: A profile of Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen
Published: Monday, November 28, 2011 - 4:53pm
WHEN TARA ALAN set off to tour the world on a bike with her husband, Tyler Kellen, she "couldn't even really imagine what it was going to be like."
Though both Alan, a Uni graduate of the Class of 2001, and Kellen had been carefully planning the trip for over a year before finally boarding a plane from their Minnesota residence to Glasgow, Scotland on April 1, 2009, they still could not have predicted the adventures that would meet them on the other side of the Atlantic. However, having already sold many of their possessions, rented out their house, and armed themselves with cross-country biking gear, there was no turning back when their plane touched down on the other side of the globe.
"We assembled our bicycles in the airport and pedaled off into Scotland," says Alan.
And so began a journey that would keep the duo abroad for much of the next two years. From Scotland, they steered their two-wheelers across Europe, Asia, and even parts of North Africa through countries like England, Switzerland, Tunisia, Macedonia, Romania, Cambodia, and many more.
At first, the transition to life on the road was tough, but the two said they were able to get adjusted.
"That first couple of months, we were in England and Scotland and it was really cold, and really rainy, and very, very hilly," recalls Alan. "And we’re both from the Midwest, so it was quite the challenge. But, we survived."
"It was a real shock for us and also a really great experience," adds Kellen, "but it was definitely not something that was normal or came super easily to us."
Throughout their travels, the couple kept up a blog called Going Slowly that they had started before leaving the States to document the whole process they went through. On it they posted countless photographs of their journeys, as well as firsthand stories about everything from a surprise encounter with a Romanian woman tending her cattle up in the mountains to watching curious monkeys inspect their bicycles in the middle of a Thai city—and those are just two examples of many.
"We were in Tunisia for this festival called the Festival of the Sahara," says Alan, recalling yet another memorable experience. "And on this particular day, desert tribes from all over Africa come to this one town and there's horse racing, and dancing, and [...] it was incredible..."
She trails off, but Kellen is able to finish the thought for her.
"To see so many different cultures that were so vastly different from our own," he says.
And for Alan and Kellen, seeing cultures different from their own was one of the most worthwhile parts of the trip.
"I think witnessing so many ways of life and so many different cultures, so many different societies really strongly changed how I view American life," says Kellen. "[...] I have found it's more difficult to have a lot of perspective about it until you’ve experienced or seen something else, and we saw so many different ways of living."
With this new perspective in mind, Kellen now believes that Americans often "work too hard" and "don't appreciate the value of things that are really important in life." Alan agrees.
"Through the trip, we've really gotten a chance to learn what our basic necessities are in life," she says, "and that's pretty much food, water, [and] shelter."
However, that was not all Alan learned from her travels. She also notes how many skills she picked up along the way—be they in writing, photography, or just basic survival—and attributes them all to "putting [her]self out there and learning in ways that aren't necessarily conventional," something she recommends for everyone.
"I think young people are driven and I think they can achieve tremendous things," she says. "And so I think [...] exposing people to different ideas of how to live is really the most important thing."
Later she continues: "There is such a drive, especially at Uni, to get good grades, so you can get into college, so you can do well in college, so you can get some very good degree. [...] I can respect that if that's your passion, but I think more than anything it's important to do what you love."
For Alan and Kellen, this once meant touring the world on bicycles, and now it has led them to their next pursuit. The couple recently purchased ten acres of land in Vermont and is beginning the process of building their own homestead from the ground up.
"The plan is to move to Vermont sometime during the spring, live in a canvas tent for a year, and then start building our own house," Alan explains. "So, we're going to be building our house with our own two hands—four hands—and I'm really, really excited about that new adventure."
However, the couple says that the adventure that is right for them may not be right for everyone and encourages other people not to be wary of taking on a big or unconventional project if it is something they really want to do.
"Extracting ourselves just from day-to-day life was [...] really, really difficult [and] took a long time," Tyler recalls. "And there were times when we thought that maybe we were crazy. [...] I definitely had friends who thought what I was doing was imprudent, and also lots of people who were really supportive of us. So, I think the hardest part was actually deciding to go, and then once we'd made our minds up, it was just a matter of going through it step by step."
"[There] was not really a thought in our mind, at least in those first several months, of stopping or quitting," Alan adds. "We were really dedicated to making it happen."
"It's sort of one of those things that you just have to leap into and trust that you'll figure out how to make it work," she says later. "There's so many unknowns that you can't possibly figure it all out before you leave, you can't possibly be 100 percent prepared, so you just really have to..."
Alan struggles to find the right phrase again, but luckily Kellen picks up her train of thought.
"Let go," he offers.
"Yeah," Alan says. "Just let go, and take a leap of faith, and trust that you'll figure it out."