Soul searching on two wheels | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Soul searching on two wheels

Linda J. Bottjer
Lake Tahoe Action
Marija Kozin of Slovenia braces for more dust as a Chinese Red Army Truck passes in Western Tibet.
ALL | info@rickgunnphotography.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Riding a bike brings transformation.

Muscles develop, confidence grows and for South Lake Tahoe’s Rick Gunn a new path into his life’s purpose was gained.

His discoveries and observations learned along three cycling journeys during which he captured stunning photographs will be shared at the Olympic Valley Lodge on Thursday, May 12 for the Squaw Valley Institute.

A professional photographer, the East Bay native’s interest in capturing images was first encouraged by his father, an art teacher. In his early teens he was developing his own black and white film. His father also removed Gunn’s training wheels from his first bike and introduced him to a world of outdoor activities.

Gunn eventually branched out to encompass his creative and professional life, except for what he laughingly called his “gap period”.

“From ages 17-25 I was more interested in girls,” he said.

As an newspaper photographer, first with the Tahoe Daily Tribune and later with the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, he earned praise, awards and a paycheck, which afforded him travel. This continued for more than a decade.

Yet, this life failed to give him a sense of completeness.

He wanted to bike 26,000 miles around the world.

“All the events of my life, the photography, travel and outdoor appreciation, were leading up to doing this,” he said.

Part of his desire came from his mother dying young with unexplored dreams. The other came from knowing the physical rigors required for such an endeavor by someone over 40 needed to be done soon.

Following years out of a bike saddle he remembers the day he began pedaling up a mountain back in Truckee.

“After just two blocks I was wheezing so badly I did not think I’d ever get back,” he said.

Others might have quit and pursued less-strenuous activities. Gunn continued in his training physically, mentally and financially.

Lessons learned in therapy taught him to search for truthful aspects of himself. One was not to threaten his quest by engaging with anything negative.

Being without money qualified as a major negative so to secure funds he rented out his house, and made a bold move.

“I told my bosses I was quitting to ride my bike around the world, and I wanted them to partially pay for it,” he said.

The journey began July 1, 2005 on the Golden Gate Bridge under an auspicious No U Turn sign.

When people ask the hardest part of the journey, his response is always “the first 25 yards.”

The initial three days were lost to a blur of emotions and transitions with the comprehension of his dream’s start coupled with the realization he had no deadlines while heading east. America, he recalled, was like a foreign country. He had never traveled, via land, beyond Colorado.

A personal directive to be open to all experiences overcame his vegetarian lifestyle when copious amounts of tomatoey vinegar based Kentucky barbeque were offered, some without charge, by proud cooks.

“The smallest acts of kindness are magnified when one is alone as are small acts of anger and malice,” he said.

Although his itinerary took him to CIA classified places of concern, it was in Baltimore, known as the “Charm City”, where a man threatened his life. Pushing past any fears he arrived in Europe where during a bitter cold winter he pedaled and camped across the continent.

His springtime destination was Turkey, the crossroads between Europe and Asia.

“Everything in the USA and Europe had been a runway to the real lift off,” he said. “Turkey was the launch pad.”

It was also where he transferred his belongings from a bike trailer to four biking bags and began riding a mountain bike geared to take on the often primitive roads throughout Central Asia enroute to China and beyond.

Gunn traveled the historic Silk Road with a German cycling enthusiast.

Tales of armed robbers swirled in the air. Instead he found the famed hospitality from mostly Muslim residents outstanding.

“We were treated so well often we had to turn away gifts and offers of tea and conversations so we could continue on,” he said.

Across the hundreds of miles as washboard roads turned treacherous and demanding with weather and high altitudes Gunn tackled Tibet – alone.

His senses went into overload. Beyond physical and spiritual aspects he digested his personal facets of importance. Upon arrival in Nepal his intense self-reflection had found its reason as a seismic shift in his life occurred.

Faced with extreme poverty as he visited an orphanage the selflessness offered by a European volunteer to attention-starved children struck him.

“I saw pure love move from creature to creature,” he said

The volunteer explained although she possessed little money and came from a place that worshipped it, she was still able to give heartfelt help to those in need.

Gunn’s mission changed immediately. He knew wherever his bike pedaled a volunteer stint awaited.

At a Thai hospice his efforts to feed soup to a dying tubercular woman almost drowned her.

“I had made a complete mess,” he said, “and could not tell her, in Thai, I was sorry. Yet, her eyes urged me on.”

Whether restoring orangutan habitat, planting a tree with an Iranian cyclist after a two-week peace ride through Malaysia or extracting Laotian landmines four decades after the Vietnam War’s end, one thought turned in his mind.

“A community should be judged by its ability to care for its weakest link,” he said.

That missive fueled Gunn’s final leg of the three-year odyssey in addition to two following trips to Europe and India.

His enlightened moniker of “SoulCycler” is applied to his presentations and entitles the book he is in the midst of finishing.

He encourages without a heavy hand of moralism, perhaps because peddling for a better world understanding requires pedaling forward without a weighty load.


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