Around the world with a smile
by BRYAN ZOLLMAN
Joff Summerfield must have one thing on his person at all times while traveling around the world on his high-wheel bike: a smile.
“It costs nothing, it weighs nothing and it’s accepted in every country,” said the 46-year-old from London.
Summerfield was traveling on the Lake Wobegon Trail Tuesday when he stopped off at the Ding Dong Café for a cup of coffee. This is his second trip around the world, having completed the feat about a decade ago.
This time around he is traveling through the northern states and plans to head south through San Diego and into Mexico before heading into South America. He will end at the bottom tip of South America in about 18 months.
While most people who travel the world do so to raise money for a cause, Summerfield’s cause is simple: to see the world.
“I just enjoy meeting people,” he said. “I like stopping and chatting, and people see my crazy bike and hopefully it inspires them to take on their challenges or things in their life they have been putting off.”
Summerfield started cycling in the late 90s when gas in England reached $6 a gallon. After completing a bike trip to Amsterdam he had an epiphany.
“I always knew I was going to see the world, and it hit me right there that the way I was going to see it was on a bicycle,” he said.
He built a penny-farthing bike equipped with one large tire, a small seat, and a small tire. There is no air in the tires, just rubber on road as he ventured out to see countries all across the land. The bike has an unusually high seat, no gears, and pedals slowly, allowing Summerfield plenty of time to see the landscape. He has made about 60 of the bikes and sold them to help pay for his trip. But it isn’t exactly the ideal bike for most avid riders.
“It’s uncomfortable on a good day,” he said. “It’s like sitting on razor blades.”
So why pedal the penny-farthing style?
“This kind of bike has opened a lot of doors for me,” he said. “And you get a better view.”
He has ridden his bike along the great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, across India, Australia and America. His favorite place to ride was Tibet.
“It was tough to get into so I had to sneak across the border in the middle of the night,” he said. “But it is stunning. It’s like you step back in time.”
He saved up enough cash to fund his trip, which doesn’t cost much except for a few meals here and there and a few cups of morning coffee like the one he enjoyed at the Ding Dong Tuesday morning.
“I enjoy stopping in places like this and chatting with people,” he said. “I like the mom and pop places where you can meet the locals.”
Summerfield set out to travel past Alexandria Tuesday, and usually puts on 40 miles a day. He is finished by 5 p.m. and then will find a place to hunker down for the night, usually along the trail or in a clump of trees.
“I live by a couple simple rules,” he said. “Never cross a fence and always leave it the way I found it.”
His way of life harkens back to the pioneer travelers. So far he hasn’t run into too much trouble. While traveling through Turkey, the Turkish Army chased him to a nearby home because they were worried he’d get killed if he stayed outside. While traveling through Prague, a group of crooks made their way through the campground he was staying at and made off with a lot of campers’ goods, including Summerfield’s cash.
“But 99 percent of the people I come across are lovely people and would do anything for you,” he said.
He said he was enjoying the current stretch of trail that runs through Sauk Centre. He doesn’t set much of an itinerary.
“I’m traveling north and south, but will do some zig-zagging along the way,” he said. “It is such a long trip with so many unknowns that it’s hard to plan too far ahead.”
It took Summerfield five years to save enough money for his current trip, which will take two-and-a-half years to complete. Everything he owns he travels with.
“I don’t own a house or a car and don’t have any bills,” he said. “It’s very refreshing.”
He encourages others to follow their dreams in life, and to take time to stop and see the world.
“It doesn’t have to be on a bike,” he said. “You can be on a Harley, a boat or just carrying a back pack,” he said. “It’s actually pretty easy. The hardest part is making the decision to do it.”
And to always remember to travel with a smile.