SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — For Jamie Bianchini, the desire to spread goodwill all over the world led to an epic journey by tandem bicycle, sharing rides with strangers while visiting 81 countries.
"I guess that makes me an official gypsy," Bianchini said.
The 38-year-old former resident of the San Francisco Bay Area is settling in Santa Cruz. He recounted his eight-year odyssey undertaken in the interest of world harmony, titled "Peace Peddlers."
"I felt maybe I could dispel fear and prejudice among people and lower barriers by providing random acts of kindness to strangers," he said. Formerly the manager of a communications-related business, Bianchini said he had always wanted to go around the world. People laughed at him, said he was crazy, that he would be assaulted by thieves or terrorists, or catch a foreign disease. But he had saved money for the trip and acquired sponsors. The ride started in April 2002 in San Francisco.
Along the route, more than 1,000 strangers he had invited to ride with him took him into their homes, fed him and kept him warm from freezing temperatures, for example in the frigid mountain passes of the Himalayas.
"We ate what our hosts ate, and I only got major sick once," he said.
Bianchini rode his bicycle-built-for-two on every continent except Antarctica, from countries commonly visited like France, to more exotic locales including Brunei and Mozambique.
Bianchini said he had more trouble gaining trust in Western countries.
"In Europe people are in a hurry like they are here," he said. "They have more access to negative media, and more to lose, so they thought at first I might be a looney tune. In Africa, people have less, and there is more poverty, but also more laughter." He said his favorite countries included Malawi in Southern Africa, Nepal and the Fiji Islands.
In China, the bicycle was stolen. Bianchini said the resulting public uproar and flood of calls to police led officers to take him out for a "five-star" dinner and promise to find the bike. It was located in a black market shop and returned.
He also gave a ride to a woman named Cristina in Argentina and they struck up a friendship that continued through the Andes Mountains. The couple had a child born to them by the time they reached Spain, named Luca.
The ride finally came to an end on Oct. 24 in San Francisco.
Bianchini is working with Les Stroud, famed as Discovery Channel's "Survivorman," on a film and TV series about the adventure, using a Santa Cruz studio, Digital Media Factory. He also plans a ride from San Francisco to San Diego beginning this month to again promote world peace.
He said people all over the world are basically the same. "We all want love, respect, safety and security," he said. "Most people are good people."
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.