Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company
Lifestyles : Tuesday, May 30, 2000

View from the saddle differs on world bike ride
by Sherry Stripling
Seattle Times staff reporter

Five months into Odyssey 2000, the Seattle-organized bicycle trip around the world, comments range from this:

"Am I having a wonderful time? Incredible!"

To this, posted on a Web site warning people not to sign up for the 2003 version of the trip, which also will be run by Seattle's Tim Kneeland and Associates:

"Tim, I want my $36,000 back!"


Sample comments from people bicycling around the world with Odyssey 2000, taken from e-mails and Web sites:

"Life on the road in groups is hard to stay balanced, at times. I truly enjoy most of the people on Odyssey and stay away from the negative complainers. I know I love biking, camping, nature, good food and nice people."
A Tacoma rider's Web site entry

"All in all we are having a good time but it is regrettable what we are forced to spend in order to make the trip what we had hoped for. Some people still claim they are having the time of their life and feel they are getting value for their money. They are a select few."
Tandem riders' Web site entry from Florence, Italy, April 10
"To anyone considering doing 2003 with Tim Kneeland & Associates (TK&A), I would ask you to consider again. I have gone on numerous bicycle trips and never in my life have I experienced one so disorganized, completely unsupportive of the riders and the needs. I had to ask myself if I would rather put up with the support they don't offer, mechanical, emotional or basic needs, or go home before going broke. I decided to go home."
"It's all about balance. Hopefully each rider can find the right mix to make this trip the most positive experience of their lives. We applaud TK&A and their staff for putting this extraordinary event together and managing the wants and needs of 250 personalities."
A threesome called World Riders, Day 28, Panama City
"To the tune of 'Are you lonesome tonight?'

Are you camping tonight?
Is your locker too tight,
Would you rather just sit there and bawl . . .
Are the food lines insane,
Do the showers not drain,
Are the grass sites incredibly small."

How can there be such extremes, wonders rider Len Beil, 55, who's been home temporarily on Bainbridge Island. He wishes someone were doing a psychological study.

There were 250 riders when the trip began Jan. 1 in Pasadena, which is where it ends next Jan. 1. Now the group is pared to about 225 after exotic but sometimes grueling rides in Costa Rica, Chile, Panama, South Africa, Greece, Italy, France and Spain.

Anyone who's traveled in a group knows the difficulty of being together day after day. But this group is sharing what organizer Kneeland calls the "Mount Everest of bicycle trips."

They're cycling 20,000 miles through 44 countries with an estimated million feet of elevation gain - half the time, so far, in rain. To some, the glorious adventure outweighs any hardship. Others have expressed hope the organizers will go broke from what they see as "mismanagement" so they can go home.

It's enough to make the good-natured Beil wonder whether a Myers-Briggs type personality test would have predicted "which of us would stay with it, which would drop out and which ones would always be complaining."

Beil loves the trip, as could have been predicted from pre-trip articles written in The Seattle Times about his expectations.

Except for his silver hair, he looks how he must have looked as a Seattle University basketball player in the 1960s, strong and lean. He talks with wonder about exchanging blessings with a Zulu cyclist, riding next to monkeys in Capetown, and "the gift" of having a rainy day break into blue along the French Riviera.

There have been problems. Cyclists have fallen or been hit by cars and have broken bones. They've had to eat rubber chicken on paper plates while standing in pouring rain at campgrounds. There have been food shortages, long shower lines, airplanes unable to handle all the bikes and cycling that has been too rugged for many.

Some of the cyclists go off route for days or weeks at a time, paying their own way on top of the $36,000 fee they paid for the ride. Seven have ridden all 7,500 miles so far. Some, like Beil, ride almost all.

"It's been everything I hoped it would be and more," said Beil, who quit his job as executive assistant to the president at Seattle University to make the trip, but continues to raise money for minority and single-parent scholarships at SU.

Beil planned to come home in mid-May during a group layover in Washington, D.C., and extended his stay because his wife's father was ill.

He's found it hard to leave so much responsibility on his wife, Stella Ley, and will never make such a trip without her again, he said.

That's his only qualm about resuming the final seven months of travel in Canada, Europe, the Sydney Olympics and the Far East.

That and staying out of group politics.

"There's not a day goes by that I don't say 'I'm glad I'm not Tim and organizing this ride,' " said Beil. "All the strong personalities that would sign up for this ride and their expectations . . . how do you fulfill them?"

Complaints began to fly in Costa Rica during a very tough two-day journey over the 11,400-foot pass called "The Mountain of Death." The road conditions were bad. It was dangerously foggy and cyclists hired farm trucks to carry their bikes.

"People were just getting overwhelmed," said Beil. "They just said, 'We did not sign up for this and this is not what we expected. It's just too demanding.' "

The cyclists were warned before the trip that they would average 80 miles a day, which is nothing for riders such as Olympic hopeful Trueheart Brown, but a lot for average riders. Seattle's Elbert Pence, 79, is said to be riding hard every day, if not always the whole distance.

Kneeland, who also was home briefly in May, said the 2003 version of Odyssey will bypass the most difficult routes and limit average miles to 60 a day.

"This is a rough trip," Kneeland said. "It has been a challenge. But you have to go through it to know what you're doing."

When chartered planes in Central America weren't big enough, some riders and bikes were stranded temporarily. That threw off the schedule. To make up for it, cyclists had to ride without days off, sometimes for 100 miles or more, even on days with headwinds or big elevation gains.

Some people have complained on Web sites that they were badgered into cycling more than they wanted.

Kneeland said he was surprised by how many riders wanted to ride only part time. In trips his company led across the U.S., cyclists had the goal of going every mile. Odyssey riders want more time to see the sights.

Consequently, the lack of sag or support vehicles has been an issue, which Kneeland says he's trying to address. His company also switched charter plane companies and now uses 747s.

Food has been another complaint, especially for vegetarians. Riders find it difficult to get the 6,500 daily calories they need to stay fueled.

TK&A already is getting $1,000 deposits for the 2003 Odyssey. There are rumors in the current group that Kneeland is going broke. He says that's not true. Other people say he's getting rich. Kneeland says that's not true, either.

"We've had to watch our budget very carefully," said Kneeland, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars for chartered flights as the biggest expense.

The price in 2003 will be $49,000, rising from $100 a day to $150.

Beil thinks some people underestimated the difficulty. It's not a three-week tour staying in European hotels, he said. It's a huge group of people together for 366 days, "a major expedition with adversarial conditions and, at times, adversarial people."

He said he understood that going in and made it a goal to see how well he could deal with living in a situation he couldn't control.

"I wanted to do self-reflection. Am I growing in my ability to deal with these conditions and accept them? As a result, I think that's one reason why I've been healthy and why I've enjoyed virtually every day."

His approach toward life in general may also help. Here's a sample of that, taken from an e-mail sent Feb. 21 when he was in South Africa.

"Rode last Wednesday 106 miles; Thursday, 67; Friday 112 miles. Lots of strong headwinds, heat, humidity, washed out roads from the flooding. Lots of potholes. Feeling great and doing fine."

A couple dozen people didn't make the trip home to the U.S. but stayed in Europe to see more sights. There was speculation others might not continue on to Canada and London after the U.S. stop, which ends today.

Despite the complaints, Beil doesn't know how they can stand to quit.

"To have these adventures every day, it's just unbelievable to me." (not the official site)

To reach Tim Kneeland & Associates, call 206-322-4102 or 800-433-0528. On the Web: .