Lawrence artist tours Africa on bicycle

Local artist Jason Becker has quite a tale for his what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation essay: He crossed Africa on a bicycle.

An avid cyclist, Becker has ridden not for exercise but to cut down on his carbon footprint. He also appreciates the places a bicycle can take him and the things it allows him to see that other forms of transportation can’t. “Since I was a kid, I always wanted to see how far from the house I could get and still come home safely. It used to be the end of the block, and now it’s across a continent.”

Becker had always had a desire to see Africa and, after teaching high school art for 10 years, he was ready for a big change. He’s always had a bit of wanderlust and wanted to do Africa in the most epic way possible. Becker figured the four-month trip, organized by Tour d’Afrique, would really allow him to really get to know the place. A bicycle tour also made the trip a natural choice.

“There are so many Land Rovers hauling people around, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s not the way to experience a place. You don’t see, smell or hear anything. I used all of my senses in Africa. Plus, if I saw something interesting, I could take off with ease.”

Becker quit his job and sold his house to pay for the trip. He joined 60 other cyclists in Cairo. Of those, he was one of 12 to bicycle every inch of the trip that ended in Cape Town.

“I told myself if I could accomplish that — meet that mental and physical challenge — I could do anything. It was great to look back and realize how far I’d come from those first grueling 100-mile days,” he says.

Besides the airplane flight and the truck that carried his gear, the vacation was green, another goal of Becker’s.

The trip also convinced him that indigenous cultures could teach us all a lesson about minimizing our impact.

“As American consumers, we live on a linear path, while the rest of the world lives in a loop. The people I encountered have to reuse things over and over,” he says. “They have to be resourceful. Where many people see indigenous people as primitive, I see them as just living simply. And they are extremely happy doing so from what I could see.”

Becker and his fellow participants were asked to raise money for a cause when they signed up for the trip. Once Becker learned about the inefficient wooden bikes ridden by Rwandan coffee growers, he signed up to contribute to Project, an organization that donates mountain bikes to send as replacements. His goal is to raise $3,000, enough to purchase 15 bikes.

To help reach his goal, Becker will sell jewelry made from clay, ironwood and umbrella acacia that he gathered on his trip as well as paintings and photography. He will show his work at Global Café on Sept. 24, as part of the Final Fridays gallery walk in downtown Lawrence.


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