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Around the world in 14 months -- on bicycle

Sophie Binder bicycles in Laos. (300 pixels)
Provided by Ms. Binder

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - There’s something thrilling about a solitary adventurer, roaming the lonely places of the world with a light pack and the ability to drift in and out of cultures and borders on a whim. While millions of us sit in cubicles, staring longingly at the vibrant Italy! calendar or battered postcard from Thailand pinned to the wall, it is satisfying to know that Someone is out there exploring.

In April 2001, Sophie Binder left St. Louis to begin a journey that would take her through 15 countries and over 14,000 miles -- by bicycle. Originally from France, the designer and illustrator had moved to St. Louis a decade earlier, bringing with her a dream to travel the world at a “sketching pace.”

After a 14-month solo journey that followed a decade of development, the result is “The World, Two Wheels & A Sketchbook" – a full color, 283 page hulk of a book featuring journal entries and every single sketch and water color Binder made while traveling through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the United States and New Zealand.

For this long, challenging, solitary ride, she had no sponsors (except the kind strangers who bought her meals or offered encouragement along the way) and was not trying to break or set a record; only a desire to deeply experience the world around her and appreciate the wonder in even the most mundane and familiar things.

Sketching was a non-invasive way for Binder to observe and document, her work often acting as a bridge over massive cultural and linguistic divides. The fact that she was a lone woman on a bicycle had a soothing impact on the skeptics – she was intriguing without presenting a threat and her journal entries reflect the local’s eagerness to engage with her.

Though most of the book is pictorial, the beautiful images are supplemented by anecdotes and musings on everything from celebrating Tihar, the festival of lights in Nepal, to the idea of female “happiness” in Damascus and the immediate reaction of the Syrian people after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

The finished product has a timeless quality, reminiscent of an old-fashioned travel journal (and, to an extent a graphic adventure novel) filled with handwriting, doodles, colorful paintings, travel tickets, the occasional photo. It’s a pleasant reminder of the time before iPhones, social media or relentless need for selfies, check-ins or status updates.

From “The World, Two Wheels & A SketchbookCredit With approval of the author

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Upon her arrival back in the States (and subsequent punishing summer ride from California to St. Louis), Binder says that in addition to acute anxiety about leaving her nomadic life, she experienced the most jarring culture shock she has ever known. But even as she eased back into a settled life, Binder knew the journey wasn’t over and began compiling her book. After years of work and relentless rejection for an admittedly risky project, Binder decided that if she could pedal thousands of miles through deserts and mountains alone, she could apply the same determination and focus to her book and decided to self-publish.

“No one would go with me on my first adventure so I went alone,” she said. “And no one would go with me on this one – so I thought I would do this (book) the same way.”

In a move to offset costs and pique interest, Binder put together a crowd-funding plan in which people could view a short online video about her travels and the book. Instead of simply donating toward the project, they could pre-order a copy. The plan was an overwhelming success; and since the copies arrived in St. Louis, Binder has been diligently signing and shipping books all over the world. Earlier this month Meshuggah Café hosted a book launch for “The World, Two Wheels & A Sketchbook” and the place was packed. More signings are scheduled through February in various locations from Subterranean Books to Climb So iLL.

Visit www.sbinderdesigns.com/SBD-Travels-BookOrder.html for more information.