Carol Sachs — Travelling around the world with a camera and a tandem
Brazilian Photographer Carol Sachs and her partner saved up money for over three years in order to go on a 15-month round-the-world trip by tandem. Carrying little else apart from her cameras, Carol gradually sent film back to the UK as she travelled. On her return, she was greeted by hundreds of photographs of their life-changing trip. These definitely are not the kind of run-of-the-mill travel snaps you’ll see someone posting on Facebook during their gap year. Here Carol tells us how you go about planning a 15-month-long bike ride, and what to expect along the way.
Give us your route, in a nutshell.
Can you talk me through the reason why you wanted to do this trip? Particularly why you wanted to cycle, and why it was two years long?My mother and I had our 60th and 30th birthdays the same year and celebrated together with a 10-country, two and half month trip. At some point I noticed we’d been travelling long enough for the worries I had before, in the life I’d temporarily left, to no longer hold much power over me. They felt blurred, almost abstract. All the while returning was still too far away for future worries to occupy much of my mind. It was a powerful feeling of both presence and suspension from regular life.
I came home and told my partner we had to do a big one, but he’d just had a spark of his own. He’d just read Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt, the story of her solo bike trip from Ireland to India in the ‘60s. I was open but not immediately convinced because I was not a cyclist at all. I had only learnt to ride a bike properly at the advanced age of 28 and though I loved it, I would still get off and push at certain major roundabouts.
Then we were introduced to the wonderful world of tandem bikes and suddenly it seemed more feasible. I could ride without having to navigate traffic! We did a quick test tour through France that summer to see if we would actually like being on a bike all day every day and camping most nights, and we loved it! From then it still took three years for our work and schedules to align and we left without an end date. That was the most liberating of all. We wanted to ride as long as our money and love of the road lasted.
“My only photographic agenda was not to have one, which was a bigger challenge than it sounds.”
Were you nervous? If so, what were you scared of?
How does one actually go about planning a trip like this? From the minutiae to the larger stuff.
It was first and foremost a life project. We wanted to experience the world ourselves, and ourselves in the world. Though we did consider a bunch of different ways in which to have a predetermined outlet for our experiences, ultimately what felt right for us was to first live it and give ourselves the time and space to process it all and then, if we felt the urge to, see how we could coherently put it all together.
My only photographic agenda was not to have one, which was a bigger challenge than it sounds. I had spent the previous nine years working hard and was very fortunate to have had a lot of jobs and worked with brilliant people, which was wonderful. But I was feeling a bit of burnout, so I wanted to allow myself the freedom to only shoot what took my fancy, to not be “on” all the time.
At first it was hard to shake a specific “assignment” mindset, but eventually I relaxed, which was great.
A good lesson we learned early was to make and accept our own trip. We went in with a certain preconceived idea of how a trip like that is done: you rough it, you camp, you spend only when absolutely necessary, you ride a minimum per day, you suck it up. When we didn’t manage to live up to this, succumbing to a hotel room with air conditioning in Japan even though it was double our daily budget; when we had a short day because we were tired, or took a train to avoid a particularly ugly and industrial stretch of road and just wanted to get to a big city already, it felt like a failure. Like we were letting ourselves and the trip down, like we were not doing it right. A load of rubbish, of course. We did a better service to ourselves finally accepting that perhaps our journey wasn’t going to score that many rad points in the hardcore adventure circles, but we were the ones living it, and we had to enjoy it.
Did you get into any scrapes?
The biggest hurdle were three herniated discs on my lower back which were not a consequence of the cycling, which all decided to give around the end of the second month in a random, small town in China.
“It was a powerful feeling of both presence and suspension from regular life.”
Who was the best person you met?
Which camera were you using and what kind of film? Were you processing film en route?
Physically and mentally, how did you prepare for this journey?
I'd love to know more about the actual biking part, how far were you biking per day and for how many hours?
How much could you carry with you, and was that a problem?