This article originally appeared as a part of a series by famous bikepackers on Mightygoods.com. Below Mads interviews Scott about his packing list for his trip around the world on a bicycle.
“If I could do anything, what would I do?”. That was the question Scott Stoll asked himself and which lead him on a quest for happiness that ended up taking him around the world on a bicycle!
After 4 years on the road, 59 countries and a total of 31,495 miles, Scott shares his deep perspective on bikepacking, details about his book, his passion to inspire people, and things he learned during the ride.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Scott Stoll. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Planet Earth, Sol System, Milky Way Galaxy, the Known Universe, and have called various places home. Now I consider myself a citizen of the world because we are all in this together. The world is a small place — small enough to ride a bicycle around — and small things affect us all!
I am currently working with local schools as an artist-in-residence. I just finished a book about monarch butterflies and finishing a book that teaches kids how to turn their passion into dreams and dreams into reality.
I still love to ride my bike, but now my garden also fulfills the purpose of communing with the world.
How did you get into bikepacking? Why bikepacking?
Simply because I love riding a bicycle. I feel as if I am flying through the world and truly a part of all the sights, sounds, smells. However, I had never heard of anyone traveling the world by bike. In fact, for several years I thought I was the only one to attempt such a thing. Keep in mind this was back in the early ’90s. The internet was still in its infancy, social media and blogs didn’t exist and searches never showed any results for something like “How to ride a bike around the world.”
Also, I lived in the United States, where riding a bike isn’t a normal activity, and traveling by bicycle was unheard of to the average person. So, I began because I wanted to do something never done before, and I wanted to contribute something lasting to humanity. It turns out that it has been done, but I estimate that I was in the first 150 people to have accomplished riding around the world. To put that in perspective, it is much more rare than climbing Mt. Everest and even less than the number of humans that have been to outer space.
I admire many people for many things. I especially love people that live life with a sense of passion and confidence. I don’t like to idolize anyone though, and it makes me uncomfortable when people place me on a pedestal as one of the world’s great cyclists, which sounds silly but it does happen. After all, idols are meant to be broken and I think we can all have our moment on the pedestal in the sun. However, I do think I have an important story to tell because we are all on a journey through life. I hope that people learn from my experience (and mistakes) and use that to jumpstart their own life.
How did you decide to cycle around the world?
Essentially, I decided to find the meaning of life or die trying, because my life seemed meaningless, and I figured if there was rhyme or reason to the universe, I would find it.
So I started with what I call a warm-up tour across the United States from border to border and coast to coast. After that my journey was essentially day to day, mile by mile, one pedal stroke at a time, one heartbeat at a time.
Primarily, I followed the weather and the wind. Crossing the equator at times; the seasons are in opposition, for example from fall in Argentina to spring in England. And I left my schedule rather open-ended to account for fate and chance. I also simply asked the locals for advice.
What’s the biggest bikepacking experience you have had?
This is by far one of the most common questions. However, it is usually phrased as what is the best/worst thing that happened to you.
The worst: Some teenagers were trying to frighten me and lost control of their scooter and ran into me head-on and injured me severely and destroyed a lot of my gear. A close second was spending a day in Zimbabwe prison.
The best: I often site climbing Mt Everest and earning, not just the physical achievement, but learning how it was really the emotional sense of pride that was my prize.
What have been the most difficult part of your adventure?
For most people, I think finding their dream is the most difficult, followed by committing to doing it.
My greatest difficulty on the road was my personal battle with depression being amplified during the moments of bad weather and extreme loneliness. I also struggled in the cold weather much more than the hot. And the headwinds, those damn headwinds! And the aches and pains of overexerting myself and malnutrition.
I can say without exaggeration that every experience is worthwhile; the challenge is learning how to see the best in everything. That sounded cliché, but the truth is that most of the time riding a bicycle can be a painful, lonely and boring experience, and you will certainly see some of the worst things that humanity has to offer, so one must train themselves to see the positive, even if that positive is just a learning experience.
At the risk of sounding judgmental, the biggest mistake I frequently saw travelers make is being judgmental or defensive. I especially disliked seeing other Americans saying they were from Canada. I realize we live in a politically-charged climate, but that won’t change unless we are honest about who we are and how we can improve. So I recommend rather than defending yourself or country, and rather trying to prove your point, just listen and ask questions about why people think what they think. Try to understand who they are first before ever explaining who you are. In fact, to encourage people to speak I avoided mentioning my trip or under-exaggerated it so that the entire conversation didn’t result in how and why to ride a bicycle around the world.
Best places in the world to bikepack?
Again, it is a matter of perspective. Some of my favorites are: The Pacific West Coast, USA. It has over 1000 miles of ocean-front road. Plus, spectacular rides there the ancient Giant Redwood Forests. And some of the best cities, food and culture the States has to offer. You can also extend your ride along the ocean from Canada to Mexico.
New Zealand. Mountains, oceans, glaciers, rainbows, unique flora and fauna, friendly people and fairly easy terrain with lots of great campgrounds and amenities.
Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. Bicycle safari riding past wild elephants, zebras, impala, gnu and more. Amazing and scary! You need to be in good shape to cover this distance and get out before nightfall.
I want to fill in some of the gaps on my map with Alaska, Mongolia and Antarctica.
I plan my route but it is always changing, sometimes dozens of times a day, but I am generally heading in the same direction.
What’s the cost of your adventure?
I averaged about $25 USD per day, including airfare, equipment and enough money to visit the local attractions and have some fun. I have written a popular post about how much it costs to ride a bicycle around the world here.
It was possible to tour for as little as 3 dollars per day if I bush camped, cooked my own food (or restaurants in undeveloped countries), filtered my own drinking water, and washed my laundry by hand. Unless I was near a city, which was seldom, this is what I had to do. However, I actually recommend people spend more money and get the most out of everything you can!
How do you finance your adventure?
I worked in advertising and had a financial advisor, who helped me plan my savings. My goal was to earn enough money so that I didn’t have to work along the way. I continue to support my adventures as a Senior Freelance Graphic Designer and book sales and motivational talks. (Actually, producing my book, marketing and volunteering have cost more than my trip especially if I include living expenses.) And, luckily, some generous donations have helped sponsor my work with kids.
What is your favorite bikepacking gear?
My leather Brook’s All-Terrain saddle with springs. It literally saved my ass. A leather saddle will conform to your anatomy and get better over time, as opposed to synthetic materials that may start well but only get worse.
Please tell us a bit about your book.
My book Falling Uphill (available on Amazon) is the true story about my quest for happiness around the world on a bicycle. It is written in the first person, present tense so that you can feel like you are riding alongside me and re-live and re-imagine the journey. I think it is unique because it is one of the few travel books that deals with the culture shock of coming home and fitting back into society. I was honored that my book was in the Amazon’s Top 100 Travel Memoirs for over a year.
Every night in my tent, I wrote about the day’s events, sometimes until I fell asleep face down in my journal. So, the book is authentic to the moment. There is a brand new Anniversary edition that adds a few new chapters and postscripts with wisdom that only time can tell.
Some chapters flowed out and got published in magazines as if it were magic. But those were rare. It was difficult being honest about all my flaws and embarrassing moments, but those are the parts people love the most now. And it was challenging to spend thousands of hours writing a book and wondering if anyone would read it. But the most difficult aspect of writing the book was having to integrate all the lessons I learned. In other words, I had to walk the walk, bike the bike of the concepts of what I was writing. And it was my number one goal to provide the reader with an entertaining, educational and enlightening book. I wanted the reader to be a better person for it. I wanted them to feel they could dream and hope for a better future. But first, I had to do it.
I had several offers, including the coveted offer from a New York agent, but in the end, I self-published (except the Korean edition). As a graphic designer, I knew how to do that, and the publishing companies weren’t adding a good marketing plan.
It really took me years and years to become wise enough to convey everything I learned in a very simple and fun language to help teach kids how to harness their own passion and turn it into a dream.
What will the future bring?
Hopefully, a new surprising adventure. If my body cooperates, I would like to go on another bike tour. But in a way, I’d prefer the surprise of something I never imagined. And, I definitely look forward to a point in time that my creative career as an author and artist generates a sustainable income.
I have also been surprised at how my adventure keeps growing. As an example: I was honored to make a Spanish edition of my children’s book in Argentina as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Cultural Outreach Program. I was their Cultural Ambassador, so I had a great opportunity to inspire a lot of people. Even years later, kids (now young adults) write to tell me of how I inspired them to dream and now they are taking the steps to make those dreams reality. This is what I love most. I feel I have fulfilled the purpose of my life and have helped others to do the same. I hope that I get to live vicariously through the dreams and adventures of many more people.