Around the world on two wheels
By JUSTIN BURNETT
South Whidbey Record Island County
June 29, 2012 · Updated 3:09 PM
Three years ago, two brothers from South Whidbey set out to cycle across the world. Thirty countries, a collective 52,000 miles and about 110 flat tires later, the two adventurers are now home.
Andrew Leese, 32, and Randall Leese, 24, officially finished their remarkable journey Wednesday when they pulled into Langley and were received by waiting family and friends at the Useless Bay Coffee Company.
Sitting down for an interview with the Record, the brothers recounted tales of excitement, danger and personal fulfillment in places so far off that many couldn’t point them out on a map.
But even if they hadn’t said a word, their appearance and gear told a story all their own.
Their bikes were particularly telling: handgrips of rubber and leather were worn smooth, clear plastic packing tape held strange wires and cables to frames and weathered blue tarp-like bags stuffed with contents unknown still clung to their racks.
A water bottle, covered by countless scrapes and scuff marks, looked as if it had weathered a nuclear explosion. As for the two men — well, they looked like two guys who had pedaled around the world.
Truly, these boys have been on a journey that few will ever get to know or experience.
“It’s eye-opening,” Randall said. “It feels like the world is a smaller place physically but larger conceptually.”
They learned a few things about people, too.
“There is a cultural veneer but underneath, people are the same; human,” Andrew said.
The boys lit out of Langley on their adventure of a lifetime in April 2009. The plan was to spend two years biking across the world while fundraising for the Servi Domini Orphanage, a Catholic nonprofit organization in Palayamkottai India.
Dubbed Orphan Ride, the brothers set a lofty goal to raise $200,000. Though they fell short of the mark, raising $33,000, all of it went to the orphanage. They funded the entire trip from their own pockets — about $16,000 each.
The brothers spent about half a year volunteering at the orphanage. Out of all their experiences, that time provided some of their most cherished memories.
“Doing what they do for five months was incredible,” Randall said.
They had a few other unforgettable moments as well, such as the time they ran out of food near the Syrian border and had to eat crickets. With a little butter, they aren’t too bad, they recalled.
“Don’t forget to take the back legs off,” Randall laughed. “They get stuck in your teeth.”
As Catholics, touring the Holy Land and seeing in person locations such as Jerusalem and Nazareth was also especially meaningful.
“Seeing places where Christ spent his life and was crucified... ” said Andrew, in quiet reflection. “History there.”
There were moments of terror as well. While cycling through a little town in the Republic of Kazakhstan, youths piled in a car and played a dangerous game of “chicken” with the brothers. Speeding toward them, they would turn at the last moment.
“It was very intimidating,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Men attempted to rob them in the Republic of Uzbekistan and dealing with corrupt police officials in many countries became a tiring exercise.
After their time at the orphanage, the Leeses flew to Thailand where they decided to split up. Randall headed south and spent about two months touring to Singapore in Malaysia before coming back to Washington.
Andrew turned north, traveling through Laos and into China. Fluent in Mandarin, he spent another year traveling the country and experienced many of his own adventures.
Perhaps the most exciting was the time he ran into a military checkpoint that guarded a nuclear testing area and “reeducation through labor” camp for political dissidents.
He was told to turn back, but as it would have meant a detour of about 150 miles, he decided to risk it. While his first attempt to sneak through ended in a mosquito infested swamp, eventually he made it through the area undetected by authorities.
The brothers met back up in Vancouver this month to finish the ride. Although it had been a year since they had traveled together, the brothers quickly “clicked” back into their old routine.
Their last ride, about 100 miles, started in Bellingham and wound down across Deception Pass and on into Langley.
For both men, it was the close of one of the great chapters of their lives, a journey in which they learned not only about themselves but about the things that truly matter — family, God and personal relationships.
“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this trip is knowing what is really important,” Randall said.
Andrew, who only just finished, said he’s also excited about a little down time and settling in.
“I’ve been looking forward to some stability and paying off my credit cards,” he laughed.
Contact South Whidbey Record Island County Justin Burnett at email@example.com.