Dan and Jorja have been on the road for nine months now, first setting off from Japan with the eventual aim of reaching Canada via Africa and South America. We caught up with them as they spent five days chilling in Shillong (India) before continuing their ride through India independently….
Pannier (P): “Hi Dan and Jorja, it’s been a couple of weeks since we last spoke. Where are you both now? What are you up to?”
Jorja (J): “I am in Cherrapunji, which is in Meghalaya (India) – 70km from the Bangladesh border. It is a grassy plateau 1,484 m atop a range of mountains and is famous for having the most amount of rainfall anywhere in the world. It’s a dramatic Scottish-like landscape, and I have managed to find peace here amongst the heavy rainfall and powerful thunder that comes on a daily basis.”
Dan (D): “I’m in Sikkim, a pocket of India in the north-east bordering Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and West Bengal. I didn’t know it existed six months ago but it’s paradise. Jagged snow topped mountains come out from behind the clouds some mornings that are shockingly close. It’s an amazing place to ride.”
P: “So – ‘jambi jambi’ – what is the thinking behind the name you’ve coined? Tell us a bit about your individual backgrounds and how you met…”
J: “jambi-jambi is a portmanteau of our names, as Dan’s nickname is Bambi. We originally coined the name for our Tumblr blog we established when we rode from London-Rome in 2013, our first bike journey together. Not having a ‘spinning, ‘turning’, ‘peddling’, ‘cycling around the world’ name allows us to bend it to whatever we are doing at the time: couriering; touring; personal projects; interviews; art, but it’s all about cycling really.”
D: “I’m from a small town in Nova Scotia which is a maritime province on the east coast of Canada. I grew up there riding my bmx (Big Thunder), running around the woods, and playing in the snow. Where I grew up is a rural area with dots of suburbia. I spent my teens reading Steinbeck and Orwell dreaming of being in the Spanish Civil War, or being a part of a time and place that had more happening. At 21 I finally left Nova Scotia, jumped on an airplane for my first ever flight and landed in Heathrow thinking I’d go backpacking for a few months. Six years later, still in London, I started working as a bike messenger.”
J: “I am 27, grew up in a bushy, rural area an hour out of Sydney (Australia) with 3 older brothers. I studied Fashion Design in Sydney, cycling to class on my road bike with 3-4 bags worth of fabrics, illustrations and A2 folders hanging around my neck. I moved to London at 23 after graduating thinking I would pursue fashion and found couriering and Dan instead. My life soon completely revolved around cycling, which is exactly what I never knew I wanted. Dan and I met working together on circuit in London and after three weeks of meeting I broke both of my arms and he boldly moved into my Limehouse warehouse loft to help me as winter settled in – without heating, without running water, but with the idea that we should cycle around the world soon…”
P: “And this trip from London to Rome – your first bike journey together – did that go 100% to plan? You obviously caught the cycle travel bug…”
J: “It was the first cycling trip we had done longer than two weeks – one month of slapstick cycling, laughing at each other the whole way to Rome. We started ceremoniously cycling out of Leather Lane (London’s courier haunt) after a long final day of work, cycling 180km through the night towards Harwich where our ferry to Holland set sail at 09.00. We cycled straight up the steep bumpy ramp at 8.50, got my scarf caught in the spokes on the way, and they closed the bow door just behind us to set sail. We had cycled for 27 hours by the time we got on the ferry…
…Europe is an easy place to cycle now that we know better, but at the time we battled against horrible long distance fitness after running around London in the stop, start, sprinting style of messengering. As a result, our route didn’t take into account that we weren’t as fit as we thought we were and cycling over the Brenner Pass still tends to send shivers down our spines. We had such a small amount of money to travel with too; we really skimped on food and mostly we would loiter around the free snacks in grocery stores and eat pasta and rice seasoned with stock cubes each night. One night Dan really treated himself by buying some German sausage. With a big smile on his face he lovingly cut them into slices, enjoying the sizzling and smells. Just as they were browning and ready to eat he bumped the pan and they all rolled out into the dirt and mud…
We haven’t carried too many things from that trip really other than jambi-jambi tag and our blogging obsession that was initiated on this bike journey.”
P: “You started your RTW trip in Japan – how did that come about then? Having both met and worked in London? Was Japan a country you’d both known you wanted to travel through by bike?”
J: “After working in London for a long while, Dan and I moved to Sydney, where it was easier to save – I had family that didn’t mind us living with them, so for two years we mooched off my generous parents who supported the idea. So, we originally planned to start our RTW tour from Australia. However we like drama and excitement and cycling in our backyard to begin our ambitious bike trip didn’t seem like the start of an adventure for us. Plus, we’d heard that Japan is just the most perfect place to cycle, especially at the start of a long trip: clean; green; smooth; lots of wifi; lots of snacks; easy camping; challenges where you want them. It was a good choice. We hope to finish in Canada so it makes for a handsome linear route – ‘Japan to Canada’ – and it sounds good too. Oh, via Africa. We both agree that, even though each country has brought us a lot of happiness and adventure, Japan has always been one we frequent most in our daydreams.”
"...getting to know an area well requires the unknown, accidents, and shitty days. Less planning and research makes this more likely; if a day, or place, or experience is truly terrible it almost always makes a good story."
P: “The ‘three things you’ve learned about cycle touring’ piece you published after your first four months travelling by bike really resonated with us. Have you added any more since you published that piece?”
J: “We enjoy travelling fast and slow; both have their merits. Going slowly gives you a deeper connection to areas, but going fast can be more fun and test your fitness. A balance between the two works best for us. I am a bit of a self-harmer with the way I like to push through – enjoy getting hungry and feeling myself struggle, and seeing our strength of character change. The three things we had learnt went something like:
1. Celebrate the difference in your cycling capabilities (when cycle touring with others) rather than allowing it to divide you and try to work with the disparity rather than let it be the source of annoyance, like us. We got a second tent for times when we wanted to go our own pace for a while.
2. Be careful not to chase an invisible line. There is a lot of cycling to be done if you are going RTW and it was so easy for us to set a deadline for everything: lunch at this point on the map; camp at this point on the map; expecting a certain number of kms per day – it can so easily become a race without a finishing line.
3. Having luxury everyday. It takes preparation but it makes your stamina for living rough stretch longer. Things like making sure your iPod has got the music / podcasts you need on it, washing your clothes frequently enough in rivers or in a bucket of water or just laying them in the sun, carrying enough water to wash your face before you get into the tent, leaving enough time to indulge in creativity. These kinds of luxuries for us mean that we look less for grand indulgences when we get to a city.
New things to add to the list? I feel like I learn new things by the hour. India predictably has been a big eye opener. At the moment, travelling solo, the biggest thing I am trying to learn is how to best deal with the harassment on my bike. I do feel vulnerable; it has become more about the cycling and feeling safe, which is a new and interesting way of travelling by bike for me. It is a difficult lesson to define and while it is a problem for all women in India it is also specific to bike touring, because if I was on a bus, or in a hotel, or sight seeing, even if I was alone, I wouldn’t be found by a opportunistic man on a quiet road; they wouldn’t have the ability to slow their cars and mopeds to stare at me without saying a word.
P: “What tends to be an average daily distance in the saddle for you guys? How do you decide when you want to rest for a few days – usually because you get a really good feel for a place, and don’t want to leave, or more because you want some time off from the nomadic cycling lifestyle?”
D: “The range of distance each day is enormous and that’s part of what changed after London-Rome. On a longer trip doing big days is very much a diminishing returns game; the satisfaction someone might get from doing a long few days on a week long tour disappears as the days add up, at least for us. It becomes a daily experience thing, judging what’s important and nowadays that’s hardly ever distance. Typically we stop for a while when we’ve gotten too drained from sickness and worn down physically. We’ll take a week or so off, eat well, write, make maps, and rest our bodies and then move on when we start feeling like losers for not cycling. Some people like Anselm Panke who you interviewed (and who I met in Laos) went half a year or so camping each night, I don’t have that endurance; too soft I guess!”
P: “Quite a different riding & lifestyle from a city Bike Messenger then?!”
D: “Yeah it’s almost opposite, other than still cycling most of the day. Couriering is about an intense knowledge of the city (one place), efficiency and speed compared to the never-repeated roads of bike touring and deliberately going slowly to get to know a place. I slip into messenger mode in cities / dense traffic sometimes and feel like I’m home, doing what I’m good at. My instincts since I was a kid have been to run-ski-cycle fast and get to the front of whomever I’m with. My Dad was always like that too, the image of him power walking ahead through a shopping mall or even on a casual walk through the woods with my mom always puts a smile on my face. I really miss that end of day buzz from busy Fridays when the whole day blurred by and there was a rhythm to addresses. I want to spend a few weeks trying different cities when we’re in Europe and North America and wherever else the job exists.
J: “It is easier for sure; we rest when we want to, eat when we want to. I always felt a lot of pressure to ride as hard and as fast as I could as a bike messenger, wanting to prove myself as a cyclist and messenger amongst the men. Bike touring is so chilled comparatively. There are times when the intensity of messengering comes into play. If there is something really trying, something exhausting, or something scary I engage those courier muscles that got me through a long wet week in a London winter. Also if something is a bit boring I can always zone out and enter into a courier day dream , where my blood will be pumping and music thumping.”
P: “So, what would you say your split between camping and accommodation has been so far? Has that changed between the various countries you have travelled through? Best overnight stops so far?”
J: “It would be about a 70/30 split camping to not camping. It is so situational and for a good nights sleep and a successful camp you need to feel comfortable. It is really difficult to sum up 8 months worth of nights, every night is vastly different; no two days are the same and there is a huge disparity between countries and camping abilities. Japan, Korea, China and Thailand were easy for us, whether we were solo or together. Myanmar was difficult: a) camping is illegal and b) we were tailed by the police about 70% of the time – forced to ride into the night with mopeds following us into the nearest town where the police were waiting to lead us to an overpriced hotel. Having said that, we camped at a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar – it was a simple process of the monk elder nodding his head and we could set up camp. It was peaceful, full of great camping vibes, and the contagious Buddhist faith made for a very spiritual night in what is a really foreign and surprising country, and probably one of the most memorable. India is frustrating for me, there are gorgeous campsites everywhere (especially in the north east and north west) but I have never felt more watched and vulnerable which has made camping a really uneasy event.
My best overnight stop, without a doubt, was when we were invited to stay with a Japanese family – the Nishinos – back in December 2015. The son of two beautiful alternative Japanese parents has dedicated his life to helping people and doing so while he cycles around the world. It was by complete chance that we bumped into his mum on the street but the effect it had on us was life changing. We questioned our lives for days afterwards.
P: “These chance meetings are what travelling by bike is often about. Your route(s), how are you planning them? Are you taking popular touring routes or are they spontaneous, decided around the campfire each evening?”
D: “I’ve been using maps.me on my phone which is a lazy solution. The GPS dot avoids thinking but it also doesn’t show all the minor roads which has meant we’ve regularly taken busier roads than we’ve had to. I’ve half-heartedly tried and failed to find paper maps as we go but after India I’m going to buy paper maps of the next few countries; I don’t want another reason to take my smartphone out in poor areas where some people inevitably see us as rich foreigners. For planning routes it’s usually a general direction each week with some strategic purpose: crossing a river, or getting a permit, or a border, or it’ll just be ‘that area seems cool’ and get there on whatever back roads we can find. It takes up hardly any time or effort choosing a way and as time has gone on we’ve realised how little attention is required. There are tourers who research recommended routes and highlights along the way (and no doubt) benefit from doing that, but I prefer going in dumb. Sometimes that means a horrible road or industrial patch of desolate landscape but I prefer to have those times and places – getting to know an area well requires the unknown, accidents, and shitty days. Less planning and research makes this more likely; if a day, or place, or experience is truly terrible it almost always makes a good story.”
P: “You’ve both been on the road for just over 8 months now, and yet this first very much the start of your RTW journey as you aim to head via the middle-east, south through Africa and then through the Americas. From what we know, the physical cycling is the easy part, it’s more the nomadic life on the road that is tough; you’ve even ended up riding certain sections solo for a bit of space?”
D: “I think we’ve just gotten through (what seemed for ages) like the ‘beginning’ of our journey and our trip is changing in ways we never expected. The cycling is definitely the easy part, even when it’s gruelling it’s simple. Riding together has been the hardest thing. I think the majority of long distance tourers are couples and I wish I knew how they make it seem so easy. We bump into couples that look like they’re just off to the shops for milk after 10 months on the road. Neither one of us is particularly stable and our relationship definitely isn’t, but that’s the way I like it. Being apathetic and bored is the lowest of places for me. We’re hoping that this 3 months apart will give us perspective and we can find our own identities again so that when we reunite in Delhi we’ll be in a better spot psychologically to ride together. It’s embarrassing that we can’t keep riding together and not drive each other mad but I’d rather admit a problem than pretend it’s not there.”
P: “And the bikes – your Surly LHTs – are they riding strong? What luggage setups have you found work best for you? Looks like you have quite a cool front basket each, which by all accounts seems to be filled with food all the time. What has been your typical daily diet so far? Best meals so far?”
D: “The Surlys have been really strong; faultless actually. I think of mine as a machine with a function but no personality; I respect how strong it is and how much crap I’ve given it but it still feels like somebody else’s bike. It’s such a goofy looking thing with a tall frame and 26inch wheels. We run on the heavy side with laptops and cameras so we can make films and other stuff for jambi-jambi. Our set-ups haven’t changed since we found Jorja’s basket on the side of the road in Japan. I usually leave my bags on my bike each night and just grab my tent and sleeping bag off. I’m surprised more people don’t use baskets on touring bikes, they’re so easy to put on, and so practical. Then again, other people have practical things we don’t – neither of us have kick stands or saddle covers or bells or mirrors. We dream of having giant flags whipping behind us.”
J: “I adore my surly, I haven’t had one single thing go wrong with mine and I put it down to Cheeky Transports build. We bought them specifically for this trip but I couriered on mine for a few months when my knees were sore from riding fixed gear in hilly Sydney. The Surly LHTs ride better with weight on them, and amazingly there isn’t as much a difference as you would expect between having the 40kgs of bags and without which is a commendation to the intelligent frame making. Everyone knows they are well up for the job and even though we were looking for something different at the beginning I really wouldn’t have chosen a different bike now. We use the Swift Panniers on the front and Ortliebs at the rear; there isn’t anything special about our set-ups but we have had a lot of problems finding the best place for all our technology equipment. We have had two broken laptops and I have previously broken cameras, I assume from all the rattling on bad roads. I really feel there is a place for some intelligent design if anyone wants to do that for us?…
…Our food is simple, but we try to keep it varied. We make our own bread each day, mostly a flat bread but if we get the time we will let a dough rise overnight for a more fluffier breakfast bread which we put scrambled eggs and roasted tomatoes. For lunch we would often stop for a cheap meal in a restaurant or if there is nothing about we will just chomp on something sugary. Finally, for dinner we will cook more bread to stuff with rice and vegetables. We love meeting people on the road who are able to teach us new tricks with our cooking. Andy and Clare Evans (currently riding from Hokkaido, Japan to England) taught us rice pudding, and Thorsten Sonnet told us to salt our eggplant before we cook it so it absorbs the flavours of the dish.”
"We love meeting people on the road who are able to teach us new tricks with our cooking ... Thorsten Sonnet told us to salt our eggplant before we cook it so it absorbs the flavours of the dish."
P: “For those travelling cyclists with time constraints, can you recommend your favourite couple of 2-4 week sections of your journey so far?”
D: “I’d say Japan. Start in Nagano prefecture and take route 251 down the Southern Alps. This route was bike travel perfection: big climbs; great roads; little villages lost in time. It was a 200km blip almost 8 months ago but we talk about it all the time. I remember making coffee below a village one morning and synth music just like from an old video game came on as a sort of alarm clock and thinking there’s no place cooler I’d ever been. After the Southern Alps, cycle to Osaka via Nara on the minor 308 and tell us how you go! It was probably some of the steepest terrain we were on but it was misty and rainy and we had to walk our bikes down the hill into Osaka because it was too steep to ride in the wet. For something a little easier South Korea has the most amazing cycling infrastructure we have ever seen. We were on the same cycle path from Busan to Seoul following the rivers. It was piss-easy but you can go off in any direction. The cycle paths go everywhere but aren’t advertised greatly because the present government criticised the previous for over-spending.”
P: “Excluding your bikes and luggage, what items could you not have been without so far?”
D: “Choosing to bring our laptops has made a huge difference. They’ve enabled us to work on our site and edit videos which helps keep us sane with projects to work on. And, although we’re riding separately for a bit now and I’m back to my little 1 man tent, our Big Agnes 4 man tent was a palace. Despite being anal about weight, having room to be comfortable each night or when the weather is crap makes for a much better trip.”
J: “Listening to podcasts connects me to the world and makes me feel like I am listening to something that will expand my mind and getting the most out of my days. I listen to all sorts, but Woman’s Hour on the BBC, Conversations with Richard Fidler, This American Life, 99% Invisible are my favourites.”
P: “Tell us more about those embroidered maps and bags you make. Are they skills you’ve seen and developed on the road, in your ‘time off’?”
J: “Well, we are both into textiles and art and being a little (a lot) creative, and we were trying to capture the essence of old time travel when maps were tactile and precious. We embroider our routes through a country but we keep it vague and try and make the maps apply to anyone that has had a connection with a country. For example a buyer bought the Vietnam map because the Vietnam War was something of real prominence for him, and some travelling cyclists bought our South Korea map because they had just ridden through themselves. Neither of us knew how to embroider specifically but we taught ourselves a few stitches and just went with it. When we first put them up to sell they sold so quickly and we had back orders of maps that we were churning out, it was pretty funny considering we were wondering what you would use them for. Most people frame them, some people use them as little tablecloths. I really dig it. We haven’t had much time to embroider lately; not from a lack of trying, but we are coming up to a break in our journey so we will catch up on the countries then.”
P: “So, you mention a break soon, what is the next port of call for you both?”
J: “We have about one month left in India and then we’re flying to Europe for ECMC + CMWC – the Cycle Messenger World Championships. It may seem a funny way to cycle RTW but we had an opportunity to work in Italy this year for a few months to save some money and we couldn’t pass up connecting it with the Courier Championships. The next leg is therefore set to be Italy to Central Asia, before turning south towards Africa from the Middle East somehow. And of course while we are in Italy and Europe we will try to do as much riding as possible. Specifically really getting to know Abruzzo in Italy.”
P: “And, finally, any last words of wisdom for people thinking of heading off on a long bike adventure?”
D: “Momentum is a weird motivator. The biggest thing is to start: starting saving or starting moving. If you are anything like us, expect your trip to change, try to embrace it even if it looks like failure or you have to change things that seem to big to allow you to continue. And always carry an extra roll of toilet paper.”
P: “Cheers guys! Safe travels in Italy and beyond…”