And here I found myself in February of 2008 setting out on a 110km day and telling myself that no matter what – I needed to get through to the end of the day without collapsing. What I didn’t realize was that the Southern Cambodia cycling adventure was about more than just the athletic aspect of cycling close to 400km, the changes that I experienced weren’t just physical (one fall off of my bike, one scraped coral infection and one questionable body full of odd tan lines), I experienced a deeply moving emotional and mental change. Cambodia not only entered my bloodstream through its persistent mosquito bites, its heavy noon time heat and its blazing sun and relieving rain drops – it entered my soul through its hordes of children running from the roadside to scream out HELLO; its smiling old villagers, bastions of hope and spectators of past inhumanities; its persistence at change, at improving, at moving forward and creating meaning where so much was previously lost. The old me landed in Phnom Penh, wide eyed and eager to spend Riels, practice the few Khmer phrases I had, happy to be on vacation – and the new me left Phnom Penh, the me that I believe I was always supposed to be, the socially aware me, the me that remembers what it feels like to extend my hand while coasting down a hill and slap high fives to the beaming caramel faces of little children never to be seen again, the me that cares what people think of Cambodia, that cares what people choose to do with their money, their fortunes, their opportunities. The me that now finds purpose in saving money, in donating to bigger causes, in boarding planes to vacation with a purpose.
Perhaps the best part of the entire trip was that it all felt so natural, it became easy to pump my legs on my bike, it became easy to propel myself forward, knowing that around the corner was a sugarcane juice stop, a fresh coconut with waiting straw, a smiling face of a stranger happy to share their bathroom, a moment of memory ready to be created, a snippet of the Cambodia I will always carry with me. The more time we spent on the road the less it felt like a tour, the more it felt like a purpose filled trip with close friends I somehow had never met before but would always know. If I could only share how it feels to bike through the hottest part of the day, to feel your legs tense and relax with each pedal forward, to look around you and see vast expanses of rice paddies, lily ponds, red dirt roads, lakes, birds sitting atop water buffalo; to hear the rhythmic sounds of exotic insects you will never see at home, to look down at your handlebars and to see your hands, your knees, your feet and to know that you are capable of crossing an entire country on your own – to know that you have the heart to stop and give back to that country, to look at yourself and be proud of who you are and what you are able to do.
PEPY changed my life – it has enabled me to be the person I always secretly wanted to be – the giver that I knew I had in me. PEPY tours is more than an adventure, a vacation – it’s a lifestyle change, it has returned me to the U.S. refreshed but also driven and determined to change my world, to give back to those who so desperately need it, to educate those who are unaware of the magnificence of Cambodia, to spread the message that hope is ever present, that we truly are capable of being the change we wish to see in the world, that all we need to do is look past ourselves and give – just give!