Have you ever been driving down the highway, zoom past some heavily laden bicycles like a couple of pack mules traveling along a lonesome road, and thought to yourself, “I wonder who those people are, where they may be headed, and why they’re on this journey?” Well, that’s exactly what happened to Montpelier resident, Ellen Gearhart, while on her way home from work on Tuesday October 20th, a sunny, warm, and colorful autumn day.
Feeling the call of God tugging at her heart to make contact with the weary travelers, Ellen, who was on her way home from work, made a decision to turn her vehicle around, and attempt to catch up to the cyclists. Even though a Divine calling was working in her, it, actually, took her a minute, or two to “talk herself into it,” but once she made the commitment, the chase was a foot. She just had to hear the story of their incredible journey.
After a short jaunt north on Platt Street in Montpelier, Ellen intercepted the weary wayfarers at the Montpelier Rec Park. They had taken refuge at the shelter house, while contemplating a suitable campsite to hole up for the night. Garnering the courage that the Lord had instilled in her, Ellen exited her vehicle, and proceeded to approach the cyclists, a male and female.
Upon her first bona fide contact, Ellen inquisitively inquired the names of the cyclists. As she was the more fluent in English of the two world travelers, the younger lady velocipedist eagerly replied that her name was Yana. Slav, short for Vyacheslav, Yana’s male counterpart, was introduced later in their conversation as well. Since she could not understand his name during the initial introductions, Ellen would innocently address Slav as “Sluff,” until this was rectified later on in their friendly chat.
When the subject of marriage entered the picture, Yana proceeded to proclaim that the couple, although friends who have spent many months together, non-stop, had an interesting relationship that included many different emotions, yet they were not espoused to one another. These roller coaster-type feelings went full circle clear from like to love to loathe. This would bring about a whimsically response from the Montpelier resident as she stated, “It sounds like you’re married, then.”
Ellen would, also, throw in some lighthearted ribbing of the older European gentleman, “robbing the cradle,” as the young foreign woman proceeded to disclose their fifteen year age gap as Slav is 41 and Yana being the tender age of 26. Being a colloquial term that most likely found its origins and became popular in the United States, Ellen saw the need to clarify the phrase’s definition to the bewildered young lady from a far off land.
Through a more thorough series of questions, Ellen discovered that the couple’s journey had originated in Bulgaria, a small country that’s part of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. Their incredible journey is transpiring in the western hemisphere and will take them on a zigzag trajectory that will send them from the frozen tundra of northern Alaska through practically every country in North, Central, and South America. With a start date of approximately May 27, 2015, the 38,000 mile trek has a projected finish date of sometime in April 2017.
Through more of their conversation, Ellen would discover that the determined cyclists try to cover about 50 miles per day. This day’s leg originated somewhere near a lake in Northeast Indiana and brought them as far as Montpelier. This seemed to be a Godsend as the couple’s original itinerary had them traveling down a major highway in the Canadian province of Ontario, but the route was altered to swoop down through Minnesota, instead, in an attempt to avoid heavy traffic on the busy Canadian thoroughfare. Through a visit to their Facebook page, Cycle 4 Recycle, it was discovered that they, recently, visited the Windy City on their way to this “neck of the woods.”
Revealing more intriguing information to Ellen, the internationals divulged that they live on an extremely tight budget of around 3-to-5 dollars per day. How does any one person live on that? You might ask. Their response was that they live off the land, eating berries, nuts, and the like, basically, whatever the local animals are eating. They do carry bare essentials such as flour, olive oil, and a pan for cooking. Slav carries a fishing pole as well. In fact he found a small brass bell that he engineered into a make shift fishing lure.
On most occasions, nightly deluxe accommodations are not feasible on such fixed resources. Hence, the reason behind the bushed couple searching for a suitable campsite in the Montpelier area. Yana had whipped together some cake batter, but was looking for a way to bake it. Sometimes she just cooks the batter in some hot coals from their campfire they have built, while other times she is able to coax a restaurant owner into allowing her to bake the tasty desert in their facility.
This time Yana had asked permission to travel to Ellen’s house to complete her baking task. Still feeling that she did not know them quite well enough, Ellen suggested camping at the Lazy River Campgrounds. As the daylight hours were coming to an end, and his GPS showing him the traveling directions and distance, Slav had come to the conclusion that these campgrounds were a bit out of reach. In search of a closer campsite, the caring American contacted her dad to get his input into an acceptable location to sit up camp. The Williams County Fairgrounds seemed to be an adequate solution. So, Ellen offered to feed the hungry itinerants burgers, or pizza, which they were quite grateful and willing to accept the offer.
Ellen was content to take Yana’s homemade cake mix back to her house and bake it, while the beat sojourners went to check out their possible campsite. Just a short 45 minutes later, Ellen rendezvoused with the cyclist, where they followed her, closely to the Moose Lodge on the eastern side of Montpelier.
Now, here is where the location and conversation would shift gears, both literally and figuratively.
The Good Samaritan’s mom and sister, along with other Moose Lodge patrons, were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Ellen and her new found friends. Eager for a fresh, hot meal, the famished wayfarers ordered Mooseburgers, steak fries, and beer shortly after entering the establishment. As the fresh meal was delivered, promptly, the foreigners seemed to be impressed with the enormous size of these seemingly American delicacies.
Meanwhile, inquiring minds of customers entering the establishment were curious as to the ownership of the brown, plain looking bicycles with Alaska plates. Slav does not like to advertise. Therefore, he painstakingly painted the two-wheelers a plain brown to cover any company names that may be emblazoned on the frames.
This is where the gallivanting (for a cause), pedal pushing crusaders meet up with Keith Zolman. Another Good Samaritan in action, it didn’t take long for Keith to offer the use of his house to Yana and Slav. All the amenities of a nice hotel, a place to freshen up, complete with soap and shampoo, clean pillow cases, pillows and a nice warm bed were offered by this kind soul. Although they didn’t use actual shampoo, it was suggested that maybe they didn’t want to “smell good” in order to keep biting insects at bay, the dingy couple did not hesitate in “hitting the showers” to at least get a few layers of grime removed. Before the couple exited the lodge to make the trip to Keith’s inviting abode, Ellen’s mother and a Moose Lodge member passed the basket around the establishment and collected $100.00 to assist the travelers on their incredibly long, but meaningful journey. At around 8 pm, Keith, piloting a two wheel motor scooter, convinced his new friends to follow him home. Meanwhile, Ellen brought up the rear of the makeshift convoy to add more protection for the cyclists.
Mr. Zolman had quite the interesting, and more in-depth conversation with Yana and Slav as well. Through their lengthy chat, Slav enlightened Keith with more interesting tidbits of information. The Bulgarian couple were friends, before Yana knew anything of this long, but purposeful sojourn. While at a party one night, Slav disclosed his aspirations to travel the Americas for the purpose of recycling awareness. His young female friend mad the decision to ride on down the highway, or many highways for that matter on his proposed jaunt.
Their ambitious and genuine itinerary would begin by flying with their bikes and other necessary equipment to northern Alaska. Once their wheels hit the ground rolling, in June, instead of May, the couple would cross Alaska, five Canadian provinces, and then head south and east through parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, and points east with a stop at Niagara Falls and a trip to New York City to visit Yana’s dad.
With a planned, reasonable jaunt of approximately 50 miles per day, the couple are hoping to reach the Big Apple by Nov. 1. Although their travel plans show a crisscross route passing back-and-forth the entire length of the Americas, they were hoping to visit Cuba, due to resumed relations with the island nation, and completing the entire journey with a finish line at the southern tip of Argentina, sometime in April 2017.
Some of the trio’s conversation stemmed from pure observation. Always on the lookout for grub, Yana seemed to notice the vast amount of squirrels in the area. She, then, relayed the info to Keith that they could probably, catch, cook, and consumed one of the village’s bushy tailed inhabitants. The gracious host showed Slav his Harley, which had 18,000 miles racked up on it just this past summer, but Keith did go on to assure the international bicyclist that his bike was a motorized vehicle. The one thing Keith noticed about his appreciative house guests was the amount of respect they showed to Keith and his belongings.
Slav and Yana’s love for history and even brought more to their conversation with Keith as the admired nature themed picture hanging on a wall. They, also, became aware of a decorated star that adorned a side of the house and pondered upon its significance. They went on to say that in Bulgaria a similar star on a home represented Communism and the owner would be forced to remove it. However, there was still a chance to make out the imprint of the star as it had faded into the facade.
Other similarities and differences, between our country and the small Balkan nation include, the introduction to technology, where Yana claims that its making Bulgarians “lazy” and “not smart.” One difference that Slav pointed out is that he believes we are a much more industrialized here in America, than the Bulgarians as we get up early to go to work while they do not awaken, until 9 am and report to work, until 11 am. Peanut butter is relatively expensive in Bulgaria as compared to the US. In fact, they believe everything is cheaper than it is in their country. According to these seasoned travelers, small towns win hands down, over big cities. Bulgarians have no more trust for their politicians, then we do here in America.
The next morning, Keith took the refreshed couple to Rowe’s Recreation for a hearty breakfast. Admiring the architecture in town, Slav noticed how young our 150 year old buildings are compared to the 400 year old buildings in Bulgaria. Once at the restaurant, the cyclists had a light meal, which included coffee and chocolate milk. Saying that he’d have it burnt of in no time, Slav loaded up on plenty of sugar packets.
Slav has become quite the excursionist, racking up over 50,000 in the past seven years. His unique bicycling adventure have taken him from North Africa to Europe and the Ukraine. He realizes that worldly possessions don’t make memories, but rather living out your dreams will ensure the memories one desires. Even as a child, this Bulgarian idealist has possessed the passion to travel the world over on a two wheeled, non-motorized velocipede, and he looks like he’s well on his way to achieving that dream.
Both Slav and Yana belong to a network of 400,000 – 500,000 cyclists. This sounds like quite an extensive group, but honestly, in a world of 7 billion people, these numbers seem quite miniscule. Their missions that they chose to accept, is to make the world a better place through the issue of recycling. Along their massive journey, the re-cycling couple give presentations, both scheduled and impromptu, on the benefits our planet reaps where recycling is widespread.
To keep up-to-date on the cycling exploits of Slav and Yana, go to Cycle 4 Recycle on Facebook, or www.cycle4recycle.com
Alan may be reached at