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15,000 K on a bike with a baby

15,000 Kilometers on a Bike with a Baby
By Céline Pasche (text) and Xavier Pasche (photographs)

We traveled 50,000 km (31,000 miles) by bike, including 15,000 km (9,300 miles) with a baby. This may seem insane, but step by step, we brought our daughter Nayla into this nomadic life. Diving into the unknown when she was five months old, we crossed altitude passes in China and the Nullarbor Desert in Australia. From the Swiss Alps to the Southern Alps, the three of us reached our destination five years after two of us began

“You are crazy!” said our Chinese neighbor in Penang. “How are you going to cycle with a five-month-old baby?”

We really don’t know, we answered, feeling the tension in our stomachs.

For three years, we had been living a very simple life, a nomadic life by bike. This long journey took us to some of the most remote areas of the world in Mongolia during winter, in Tajikistan, and to Syria, just before the civil war. From an adventure to discover diverse cultures, it became a way of living, being nomads on bikes. We breathed at the pace of life, having a powerful feeling of freedom. This is when we decided that we could start a family. A month later, our daughter whispered her presence; I was pregnant. Even if it was a conscious choice, we didn’t expect it to be a reality so soon.

“When are you coming back?” asked our parents.

Despite all the doubts, we knew we wanted to live this nomadic lifestyle as a family – at least try. But we had no idea how.

2.6 kg of Love

As we arrived in Malaysia, I was seven months pregnant and still cycle touring.

“How could you risk it? Isn’t it too much to lose?” asked a woman on the side of the road.

We had no fear about the pregnancy. We fully trusted the ability of my body to nurture our baby. Every time we cycled, the baby would be in a position where I looked hardly pregnant. But on our resting days, my belly doubled. Cycling wasn’t that difficult; what was difficult was the intensity of the country we crossed. The population in Bangladesh illustrates an unmatched human density, alike an anthill. All day long, we were escorted, accosted, surrounded, stared at. Our living space was fully dismissed. Cycling in eastern India was also a challenge for us. The contrast between the love and tenderness we wanted to offer to our child and the outside world was tremendous.

Looking for a place where we could have a natural and water birth, everything converged on Penang in Malaysia. And this is where our daughter Nayla was born.

“We were really worried!” said grandmother.

Our family was worried but they never told us until we arrived safely in Penang. They came to welcome our child and realized the chance we had to be the three of us together all the time. Still, they had doubts about the future, as we did. But we asked them to trust us and our life choices.

On the Road Again

What have we done? Nayla is 40°C. It is 2 am. We are sleeping in a tent in the middle of Eastern Thailand. Is it Dengue? Malaria?

That night, we didn’t sleep. We were too worried. In the morning, the fever went down to 38°C. Relieved, we cycled to a Buddhist temple, and discovered her first teeth.

Nayla turned five months old. Once again we entered a nomadic life. We were diving in the unknown. We needed more than courage. First we had to untie the link to our little nest. Then we had to trust life, to surrender to the path, and to let go on the “how?” We had no idea how we would manage to live this nomadic life by bike, pulling our baby in a trailer.

Giving birth and becoming parents is a path in itself. We had to learn to dance with our strengths and fears: the fears that emerged with a child, the ones we carried with us, and sometimes the ones that were assigned to us, like fear of dogs or strangers. But Thailand gave us the opportunity to live as nomads again, and to fill our desire for discoveries and magic. We still had to learn to travel at a different pace with a baby, to find a balance between her naps, breastfeeding, her need to move, her willingness to learn, and the necessity that the road imposes, the meteorological changes and the need to find a place for the night.

We learned one thing throughout this journey and it is to trust life. So we just tried to live as nomads with Nayla, and we did it. Step by step, we found a balance; step by step life pushed us to camp on the side of the road, in full autonomy. Slowly, we learned to be in harmony. Fifteen thousand kilometers and two years later, we finally reached New Zealand, the ultimate destination of this journey.

“How will you keep her safe? Keep her safe from exotic diseases? Keep her safe from food poisoning?” inquired some families.

The reality is that the only time we had to see a doctor was when she was two months old for a check-up, measuring and weighing her, telling us she was in perfect health. Breastfeeding ensured her a strong immune system. I would breastfeed her on the side of the road, sitting at a foot of a giant cypress tree or watching the powerful night sky. Sometimes I didn’t feel so comfortable around people, so I would choose a place where I could be alone, honoring this precious moment with my daughter. Being in wild nature, I had an amazing feeling of inner joy.

We went swimming in tropical waters in Thailand, admired the fabulous Angkor Temples in Cambodia, met the hill tribes in Laos, followed the Ancient Tea Horse Road in China, cycled to the sacred Yushan Mountains in Taiwan, crossed the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, and finally reached the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

Riding one day after the other, we cycled around sixty km (thirty-seven miles) a day, about the same than before Nayla’s birth but with a lot more breaks. We usually rode for one to two hours at a time. Nayla would be sleeping in the hammock or looking at a book. Because of the heat, we also used a small fan that was activated by a solar panel and later by our SunUp dynamo. And then we would stop for at least two hours in order for her to play, test her strength and agility, coordinate her movements, discover the world, and scream with laughter. Of course, it was a moving balance that changed along the way. The most important thing for us was to follow Nayla’s rhythm.

A Typhoon will Hit Taiwan Tonight

“You have to find a shelter!” shouted a local.

We were just reaching the top of a pass, tired, and full of sweat. We had to hurry. Arriving in the first village, we were welcomed by the population who offered us to stay in the school. The hospitality of the people was always fantastic. We slept in Buddhist temples, in schools, in police stations. If we needed help, we always found someone. We have been impressed by the generosity of the population in every country we have been.

Living outside everyday also meant living under all weather conditions. When the sun disappeared behind the dark clouds and the first drops announced rain to come, we needed to find alternatives. But Nayla was a ray of sunshine in the icy mist. She played and laughed cheerfully in the puddles. She shone with life under the same rain that wet us. She lived the moment for what it was, master of a perfect innocence that knows how to create games in each condition.

Cycling in these countries also gave us the opportunity to meet people and their culture, and to exchange ways of raising a child. In Thailand, children take baths at the hottest time of the day. So we were invited to bathe Nayla in a bucket in the middle of the market. In Laos, children always walk with a hand full of sticky rice. And our daughter also walked in the middle of rice fields with sticky rice in her hand. In rural China, children are diaper-free and wear pants with a hole.

“How do you deal with hygiene and diapers?” wondered our friends back home.

We washed every day with a home-made shower from our ten-liter water bags. We used coconut oil for our skin and hair. We chose washable diapers that dried on the back of the trailer as we rode. We also focused on elimination communication, when she was playing outside. And we usually carried a lot of water with us, so we could stop anywhere at any time.

Spending our time in amazing landscapes, we mostly slept in a tent, listening to the sound of Nature. Nayla loved to go swimming in crystal clear lakes or emerald rivers, or watch kangaroos jumping in front of our camp. She lived intensely all the changes of our nomadic life. Every day, she opened her eyes in front of contrasting landscapes, at times in scents of exotic forests, at times in the middle of a city of more than four million inhabitants. She heard so many languages. She watched carefully the insects and after was surrounded by a crowed staring at her. She played with children of all social levels. She tasted all the different savors of traditional food. She danced to the world’s music.

“Wait until she is walking! Wait until she is two years old!” said people along the way.

But it only got better as we moved through life as a nomadic family. Nayla simply taught us to live here and now and reminded us of the power of mindfulness.

Life Learning on the Road

We were back in Penang, in Malaysia, for a few months. Settled, we realized we were sometimes better at following Nayla’s rhythm when we were nomads, because we had to focus all our attention on her needs. Nayla is sparking with life and joy. She is waving to all the people on the street, a big smile on her face. At ten months, she was walking. At two years old, she was out of diapers and could already swim. She speaks French and English, as well as a few word of Chinese.

Nayla dove cheerfully into a world that was always changing, while one by one she went through her rites of passage with a powerful life force. As a small cocoon, our family bubble moves through the world, following our inspirations, in the wonder of discoveries and sharing. And despite the difficult times, we know we are teaching Nayla something very powerful. It is to trust the magic of life and the kindness of the people. It is to listen to her intuition and be fully immersed in Nature.

“Where will you settle down for the school years?” asked our friends.

Now we are planning a new cycling route. We want to continue to live this nomadic life on bikes, at least as long as we feel in balance, as long as it nurtures our soul. At the moment, we are thinking about unschooling her on the road. But our desire to cycle the world might change.

For now, we are happy in this life choice. It gives us the amazing opportunity to be together all the time and this is the most precious gift for us. 

Celine Pasche (born 1982) is an anthropologist, a mountain leader, and a writer. Xavier Pasche (born 1980) is a photographer and an architect. Since 2010, this Swiss couple has been cycling the world. In 2013, Nayla, their daughter, was born in Malaysia. Now they are living a nomadic life on bikes as a family. You can learn more about their journey, and view many more photographs, on their website.

 

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