Since reading of the adventures of Marco Polo as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the Silk Road, the ancient overland trade route between China and Europe. And my wife and I even had a chance to visit some of the cities along the Silk Road in Central Asia when I was based in Moscow in the early 1970s: Tashkent, Samarkand and Bukhara in what is now Uzbekistan.
Harris and Yule began their journey in January in Istanbul and so far have ridden through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the first three of a total of 10 countries on an itinerary that will take them to India by way of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China and Nepal.
They hope to complete the trip in Leh, India, in December 2011 — “or until even our most frugal penny, euro, ruble and rupee pinching habits fail us, and empty bank accounts force a retreat home.”
Leh, in the mountainous state of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India, was a major waypoint on trade routes along the Indus Valley between Tibet to the east, Kashmir to the west and also between India and China.
Harris and Yule have posted on the Internet a four-minute video of their trip so far. “Eventually,” Harris wrote, “this will turn into a full-length documentary about how borders make and break the world, a film marrying adventure with environmental advocacy to encourage people to think beyond borders.”
The two women have been pals since age 10 and have been, as their website says, “co-conspirators in countless misadventures.”
In 2004, they ran the New City York Marathon “on a whim”; in 2005, they biked across the United States; and 2006, they cycled across Tibet and the Xinjiang region of China, along a part of the Silk Road.
Harris has a master’s degree with a thesis on transboundary conservation and conflict resolution from Oxford University and a second master’s in earth and planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Yule worked on long-term environmental and community development projects in Ecuador and Nigeria and earned a master’s in sustainable development at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
“Now we plan to put lessons learned in the classroom, in the field, and on previous adventures to the ultimate test,” they wrote. “On our last sojourn down the Silk Road, both of us fell madly in love with the wild mountains, sublime deserts, and diverse cultures we encountered. Now we want to do what we can to help protect these places and the modes of life they uniquely make possible.
“In the process, we also hope to inspire others to get outside and explore; to live adventurously and with conscience; and above all, to think beyond borders.”
Ah, to be young again!