Breathtaking: How One Family Cycled Around the World for Clean Air and Asthma
As a young girl, trapped in bed with a life-threatening disease, Paula Eber dreamed of adventuring across the globe, visiting exotic places far beyond the suffocating walls of her bedroom. Thirty years later, now an anthropology professor, cyclist and mother of two young girls, Paula runs into a quirky ad that sets in motion a very unconventional idea. Why not bicycle around the world with her family? Traveling slowly on a bicycle and camping along the way, the family could meet the local people, intimately experiencing the culture, history and geography of the world. Plus, the journey could support an important cause. Each kilometer they pedaled would raise money for asthma, the disease that had almost killed Paula as a child. And by cycling, they would choose a sustainable form of travel, making the world a better place to breathe.
Two years later, supported by six major outdoor sponsors and World Bike for Breath, www.worldbikeforbreath.org, Paula, her husband, Lorenz, and their two daughters—eleven year old Yvonne and thirteen year old Anya—set off with two tandems, two tents, six panniers and one stuffed elephant. Their audacious plan: to pedal 15,000 kilometers across Europe, through Asia, Australia and the South Pacific and across North America in an unbroken, continuous circle around the globe. As they cycle, the Ebers do indeed plunge deeply into the local culture. They become guests of honor of an Italian cycling team; cook dinner with a Mongolian family over a dung fire in their yurt; participate in an ancient tea ceremony at a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan and are treated as honored guests at the Dayton rodeo in the U.S.
However, as the family struggles with increasing hardships and danger, both parents and children are forced to grow and change both individually and together. Facing a 100 degree heat wave in Italy, a snowstorm at the Great Wall in China, an earthquake in Taiwan, and a tornado in North Dakota, the family is forced to work together—each dependent on the skills of the other, no matter how young. Dealing with drug smugglers and corrupt border guards in Russia, a bite by a poisonous molokau in Tonga and a broken foot in New Zealand, Paula and Lorenz learn hard leadership and decision-making lessons as parents. Yvonne and Anya come face to face with poverty and global inequities as they camp on the lawn of a Lithuanian man whose home has no heat or insulation. And weaving throughout the story is Paula’s own personal challenge: overcoming her asthma as she struggles to breathe while cycling over high altitude mountains in the Alps and Rockies and battling pollution filled air in Asia.
On August 28, 2004, the Ebers finished their 14,931 kilometer journey in Washington D.C. They raised $65,000 to combat a disease that kills more than 250,000 children and adults around the world every year. The family spoke about clean air and asthma to over 150 newspapers, magazines and TV stations across the globe, including features in Time for Kids and NPR, and PBS’s Road Trip Nation. They are the only family on record to complete a full circumnavigation of the world by bicycle.
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