Catching Up with Geography of Youth: Global Bike Tour Documenting Lives of Millenials

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What is it about long bike rides that bring clarity to so many of life’s questions? Alan Winslow and Morrigan McCarthy were bike touring around the U.S., when they began to ponder the concept of growing up. In their mid-twenties at the time (now they are 28 and 29, respectively), they observed that their friends and peers were approaching the responsibilities and joys of adulthood at wildly different paces.

Morrigan (Mo) and Alan are artists who just happen to love riding bikes. Together under the name Restless Collective, they document the perspectives of the people they encounter on their journeys. It was on that cycling tour around the Western U.S when they decided to dig deeper into the hopes, dreams and daily existences of twenty-somethings from around the world. With full-loaded bikes and 30,000-miles in front of them, Mo and Alan launched Geography of Youth in July 2011.

Cycling, art and travel? Sign us up! Ibex has been a proud sponsor of Restless Collective, supplying them with our finest Merino wool cycling gear for sometime now. We are sad to report that Mo has sustained an injury, which has sidelined the duo for the time being. If there is a silver lining, it gave us a chance to catch up while they’re recuperating stateside.

Read on to hear the joys and the challenges of mixing art, documentary and cycling on a round-the-world tour. Check back soon for the second part of the interview, with logistical suggestions and creative solutions to packing for such a journey.

Ibex Question (IQ): You’re currently in Portland, Maine, with Mo recovering from a torn meniscus. How is your recovery going? 

Restless Collective (RC), Mo: It’s going. It turns out to have been a far larger problem than we had originally thought. It looks like there was some damage to my hamstring and calf too, and we’re waiting on my latest MRI to give us a little more information about where we’re at now…The short answer is: we don’t know what’s going on. All we know is that we’re determined to finish the project, which for us means getting to Asia and Africa to document the lives of twenty-somethings there. We’re not sure how that leg of the trip will look, but we’ll make it happen somehow!

IQ: Sorry to hear that the prognosis is still murky, but we’re glad to know that you’re optimistic. That’s good news. Before the injury, how long had you been out on the Geography of Youth tour?

RC: We’ve been on the road for just over one year and reckon we’ve covered about 15,000 miles. The exact number never mattered to us as much as the general distance traveled.

IQ: You had done quite a bit of cycle touring prior to Geography of Youth. What has been the biggest surprise – good or bad – on this tour?

RC: We had previously only toured in the U.S., and found Americans to be super friendly and helpful. We were surprised to find that all over the world, even in countries where we don’t speak the language, people have been just as friendly! International touring generally gives you a lovely warm and fuzzy feeling about the overall goodness of humanity.

IQ: That’s a powerful takeaway. Was there a specific impetus in your own life that planted the seed for this adventure and to focus in on Millenials? 

RC: In 2009, we were headed back across the country in our final leg of our first bicycle tour. In that year that we’d been on the road, so much was changing in the lives of our friends. Some were having kids; some were changing career-paths – going back to school; some were waiting tables. We were watching all of this from a distance and we began to wonder if it was the time of life, or if it was just our friends who seemed scattered to be all over the map. Looking into it further, we stumbled upon the concept of emerging adulthood and the idea was intriguing. We looked into it and so it began like all our projects begin: satisfying our own curiosity, and growing from there.

IQ: Okay, so in the profile updates at www.geographyofyouth.org, you ask your twenty-something subjects what makes them feel like adults…or if they even consider themselves adults. You’re each in your late 20’s; do you consider yourselves adults? 

Mo: I do consider myself an adult, but it’s only happened recently. I think having some sort of basic understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses has something to do with it- and bike touring definitely gives you some clarity there. I’ve also always liked to have my hands in everything, and as I’ve gotten older, I find myself more focused, more driven, and less worried about what other people will think of my choices.

Alan: I believe that I’m in a transition stage. For the most part I feel like an adult making my own living, financial, and career choices. But there’s a part of me that still feels young and naive. I feel like life is moving fast and I don’t always have a grasp on what is going on or what lay ahead.

IQ: Photography is obviously a huge element of the project (both Mo and Alan are photographers). Do the written responses to your questions influence how you choose to shoot their portrait? 

RC: We don’t read the responses until after we’ve made the portrait. But we do prefer to have the subject fill out the questionnaire first. The questions make them reflect a bit on their lives and we find that is often reflected in their faces when we photograph them.

IQ: Have you had anyone refuse to participate? 

RC: Sure! We definitely have people refuse. Who knows why? We never push, we just move on to the next person.

IQ: Among the many you’ve met and many miles you’ve covered, has there been an individual or perhaps a regional perspective that has heavily influenced your own worldview?

RC: I think the idea that travel can fundamentally change a person is a bit strange in this age of the Internet where it’s easy to see and understand how diverse the world is. I suppose that what was most surprising was that everyone would tell us about the amazing next place we’d visit, or warn us about this or that area. Of course, places are culturally different, but because we were always out of our comfort zone, constantly shifting places and meeting new people, we probably learned the most about ourselves. It turns out that wherever you are, no matter how different customs or food or language may be, the world is globalized, and we all relate to many of the same things now.

IQ: You’ve traveled all over the U.S., Canada, the western half of both South America and Europe, and the United Kingdom. Are there any notable consistencies/trends among the people you’ve interviewed?

RC: It’s hard to say, because we haven’t spent too much time analyzing the data yet. I suppose it’s been surprising that there are no countries or regions we’ve been to where everyone has similar answers. I think that goes back to the digital-age. People are relying less on their local community for their worldview and more on the global Internet community. We find ourselves wondering how different it would have been just fifteen or twenty years ago before the web reached into the remote corners of the globe.

IQ: Which begs the question: do you plan to revisit the same interview subjects as they grow older?

RC: That would be really wonderful. If we could just get everyone we’ve met so far together in one big room and ask follow-up questions in ten years, that’d be ideal. But the project itself is really a documentary at heart – a glimpse into of what life was like for twenty-somethings in various places around the globe at one moment in time.

IQ: Where would you most like to share the photos, bios and observations from Geography of Youth? For example, do you envision a traveling college tour, an exhibit at the Smithsonian, a spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

RC: Haha! Yes. The Daily Show, for sure. Only, we wouldn’t be able to stop laughing long enough to answer any questions! We’re looking for the best way to share what we’ve seen and discovered with as broad an audience as possible. For us that probably means a combination of: a photography show that can easily be installed in both private and public spaces, a book of some sort, and an interactive web project.

IQ: What are you hoping your readers/viewers come away with?

RC: In all our work, we’re hoping that viewers will be able to satiate a bit of their curiosity about the world. As humans we’re always wondering what other people are thinking and doing and this type of exploration is how we answer those questions for ourselves. We are fortunate to be able to learn things about the world first-hand, and we take seriously the responsibility to share what we’ve seen and learned. If we can do that effectively, then we’re happy.

Huge thanks to Alan and Morrigan for taking the time to chat with us. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Mo. In the meantime, check out the Geography of Youth website (http://geographyofyouth.org) to hear from the Restless Collective and the first person accounts of the people they encounter. You can also “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @hellorestless.

Also, check back to the Buzz soon for the second part of our interview, when we chat about the logistics, joys and challenges of bike touring.