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By Karen Kefauver
March 26, 2015
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NORTHERN IRELAND: Peaceful good times in Belfast's Shankil road

NORTHERN IRELAND: Peaceful good times in Belfast’s Shankil road

Jamie Bianchini never imagined that his business going bankrupt and his girlfriend leaving him would lead to his bicycling around the world — to 81 countries in eight years.

“I was 23 years old and planned to go conquer the business world,” he recalled. “I had graduated from a prestigious entrepreneurship program at USC and won an award for best business plan. I was full of ego.”

But, along the way, he got mired in greed and his lust for money was ruinous.

“My business collapsed, my relationship failed and my friends abandoned me,” Bianchini said. “That five-year chapter of my life ended in the fall of 1999. I had hit rock bottom. … I called my best college buddy and told him I had a dream to bicycle around the world.”

CAMBODIA: Putting smiles on the faces of orphans near Siem Riep

CAMBODIA: Putting smiles on the faces of orphans near Siem Riep

After saving money for a few years, Bianchini and his friend Garryck Hampton set off from Tokyo in April 2002 on their global adventure, dubbed, “Peace Pedalers.” (www.peacepedalers.com). The plan was for each of them to ride tandem mountain bikes and invite local “guest riders” to pedal on the back of their bikes. Some of their hundreds of guest riders lasted a few minutes, others a few weeks.

The Santa Cruz resident has packed the stories of his world tour into a new book, coming out in April, “A Bicycle Built for Two Billion — One Man’s Adventure Around the World in Search of Love, Compassion and Connection.”

Now married with two kids, Bianchini, 43, is about to undertake another major bike tour, one that’s vastly different from his global expedition.

To promote his new book, Bianchini, his wife Cristina, a Barcelona native whom he met and cycled with in Argentina, and their two kids, son Luca, 4, and daughter Candela, 2, are going on a road tour of the United States. They’ll take along their bicycles and a 33-foot RV and stay at KOA campgrounds.

The “Bicycle Built for Two Billion” tour kicks off in Santa Cruz, with an April 18 event at Spokesman Bicycles downtown.

The plan is for the family to cover approximately 12,000 miles through 30 states during five months. On the road, they will present multimedia talks and book signings at clubs, libraries, bookstores, bike shops, schools, campgrounds and churches.

Bianchini’s message is that the world, overall, is a more welcoming place than he had imagined, especially when you ride a bicycle and invite locals along.

“The world is very afraid. The vast majority of people hold a conscious or unconscious fear,” he said. “The media plays and replays bad images of what’s happening in the world around us. Bad news travels so fast and it sticks in people’s heads.

“With my stories, I want to share the truth of my experience. I was vulnerable going out in the world in a child-like way on a bicycle. You have no bumpers, windshield or roof. Whether it’s a tandem or single bike, it’s a prime way for connecting with people.”

He recalls one occasion when he ran out of food in Africa.

“I was climbing a big pass and realized I had miscalculated. Sometimes looking at a map you can inanely misjudge how steep things are and you don’t make the distance you think you are going to make. I ran out of food reserves. I was in Mali. It was getting dark and late and knew I wasn’t going to make it to my destination. A family took us in and killed a chicken for us. They built a fire and sat us down for a massive meal of chicken and vegetables from their farm.”

Bianchini was so inspired by the generosity he experienced that he became a “charity junkie.”

“It started in the Himalayas. We were saved so many times by strangers coming out of nowhere to care for us. We started to visit orphanages, bring gifts, deliver bikes to Africa and raise money for malaria and AIDS medications. That was all because I was so touched and inspired.”

That doesn’t mean the trip was easy. After his friend Garryck suffered a near-fatal bike accident in Malaysia in 2003 and had to leave the world tour, Bianchini took a time-out and moved to Santa Cruz for nearly a year of soul searching.

“I took a year off the tour between Africa and Asia. It was an emotional time,” recalled Bianchini, who grew up in San Mateo County. “I came here to figure things out.”

Bianchini carried on solo after Garryck’s crash, and from 2003 to 2010 he inched his way around the world.

There were only two bike thefts, one in Beijing and one in Tanzania.

“Both times, the communities recovered the bikes for us. That’s the coolest part,” Bianchini said.

He met his wife Cristina in Argentina during the tour and she later moved to Santa Cruz. He finished the expedition in November 2010 and now co-owns an RV business.

What’s in the future for Bianchini? Perhaps making a movie. He has 17,000 photos, 950 hours of video footage and 150 hours of acoustic music recorded from his 8-year adventure.

If you go

‘Bicycle Built for Two Billion’ book tour launch party

When: April 18, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Spokesman Bicycles, 231 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz

Details: Includes multimedia presentation, snacks, drinks and story telling. Visit peacepedalers.com for information

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