Read about our experiences and encounters with folks and give us your feedback.

Rain in Germany, Wind in France, Cold in both, but tonight, a spontaneous Warm Welcome that’s become rare in Western Europe

October 11th, 2008

Written Oct 6th 

We are cozy and snug inside a new friends’ home on this windy rainy chilly evening in Epinal, France.  Wandering our way off of our Parisian route southwest from my family’s ancestrial home, Climbach, to visit a French friend of Nakia’s (whom we just found out will not be home for 2 weeks) we wound up in Epinal, a mid sized French town.  While Nakia, Jim, and I were on-line this morning getting the bad news about Nakia’s friend not being home, Drew was meeting new friends working at the City Hall, one of whom happens to be married to 2-time kaiyak Olympian, Manuel DelRey, and all three who love bicycling and bicycle touring.  Bicyclist enthusist, Michel Albert, who biked 5,000km in a 33 day France tour alone last June introduced Drew to Zoe, who after hearing about our trip told Drew, ”You are welcome to stay at my house tonight. My boyfriend is dreaming of a world bicycle tour and would love to talk with you. You can eat all of my food!”  (A kind of fantasy world for any Fueled By Ricer’s ears!)  Manuel is, actually, already planning a “north pole” bicycle trip from France up through Scandinavia and back for next year…or 3 months of next year.  Zoe also printed off a sign explaining our trip, giving the city’s permission to play music on the street, and even encouraging passersby to contribute to help us finish our trip.  Too good to be true, when Drew told us about the homestay offer and asked what we thought, no one really answered, minds and bodies numb from the last week’s ride through cold, wet, and windy weather, and night after night of camping in cold damp forests (though also providing wood for fires).  Finally I said, “Are you serious?” 

And here we are, treated as old friends by Zoe and Manuel, now with full bellies from a pasta feed complete with cheese course, showered up (after a week with it too cold to jump into rivers now) and clothes washed.  Just after Drew had talked about wanting a small town French homestay, we get it, even with Nakia’s friend’s stay falling through.  And Drew has been talking up a storm now as our main French speaker with Jim close behind.  Heck, Manuel also speaks Spanish, finally giving Nakia an opportunity to use her language skills!  Again, we have been provided for, just when we needed it, after 1 week of riding from our last homestay with the O’Keefes in Heidelberg, Germany. 

Unfortunately though, this is only the first homestay in Western Europe that was not previously arranged through old friends or the - a fantastic organiztion FYI, I won’t stay in hotels or hostels again!  As we have moved into wealthier parts of the world, some people have become a bit colder, a bit more ultra individiualistic, a bit more distrustful, and a bit more dissapproving of our disheveled… I mean well-traveled appearance.  Its sad to see that often people with more give less-often and people with less gave more freaquently in our experience; people in China, Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Nepal, and Turkey (though Turkey is quite developed).  Insteresting and disappointing also that this trend is also connected to our moving into Christian areas from Muslim (Turkey), Buddist (SE Asia, Nepal, and China to some extent), and Atheist countries (Vietnam and China).  Gandhi also found Christianity rich in ideas but lacking in practice and application of those ideas in daily life.  I have faith we can do better. 

But tonight, all that matters is that Manuel, Zoe, and Michel are showering us in their love and generocity.  THANK YOU!!!

With Manuel, Zoe, their son (far Right), and bicycle enthusist, Michel Albert (center)

Update: When we left, Zoe and Manuel blessed us by wishing us good weather, gentle wind, and a good route. The last two days have been sunny for the first time since Austria. We are now only 120km from Paris and are getting quite excited for our ride in on Weds. Until then, we’re going to relax a bit in the countryside with our time to spare. So grateful to be sitting in the sun now…

Ehresmann roots in Climbach, The Alsace, Germany… I mean France

October 6th, 2008

We crossed the German-French border at Wissembourg Oct 2 2008.  Being right on our route west from Heidelberg, we spent an afternoon and camped in Climbach, a small village in northeast Alsace (a region that has gone back and forth between France and Germany - well, Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire among other names present day Germany has had - over the centuries and is abounding in beauty with fertile rolling green hills mixed with forests and farm fields) just west of the Rhine Valley where my great great great grandfather, Peter Ehresmann, lived before emigrating to the US near 1870 as a 21 year old.  This was my 2nd visit to my ancestral roots, an honor and a blessing; something many Americans would like to do, but is often buried low on their “to do” list. 


Almost as soon as we entered Climbach, we met Mr and Mrs Wurtz and their daughter out for a walk, who happen to be greatly interested in Climbachian history.  Stopping to ask them about a post office I mentioned my Ehresmann ties to the village of 500, and they immediately sprang to life.  They excitedly talked with me (Mr Wurtz translating his wife’s local dialect, a mix of German and French) as I told them of my parents’ and grandparents visit in 1985 and my own previous visit in 2002 while studying abroad in Germany.  Mrs Wurtz, a native of Climbach, eagerly went to speak to Mr Lorentz on my behalf, the expert village historian who lives across from the Catholic church who oversees the village’s historical records, to learn about the Ehresmann ties.  Interestingly Mrs Wurtz’s maiden name is Urlacher, which is the name of the wife of an Ehresmann man (likely Peter’s father) living in Climbach in 1886 whose family donated money to build a stone crusifix monument “For the honor of God” (written in German) with both Urlacher and Ehresmann names written on it which I had found before in 2002 - a familial connection!  Amazing.  It was the kind of thing one dreams of happening when going back to your roots.  The Wurtzs accompanied me to the stone monument after a stop into the Catholic church where they were married.


 We wound up camping near the famous ruins of the 12th century Chapel of the Virgin Mary overlooking the village. 

Although beautiful, that evening our fireside time was cut short when the German rain that fell on us every single biking day in Deutschland found us even across the border.

view from our campsite before the rain

Jim Durfey’s article on Bulgaria for the Enterprise

September 29th, 2008

Published in the Livingston Enterprise the week of September 22nd, 2008.

Bulgaria Spans Spectrum of Benevolence

With Netzy in tow, my bike group raced across Bulgaria.  Our style is
usually more relaxed.  We like to take our time to absorb the sights
and sounds of places through which we bike.  However, our visa
situation permitted no lolly-gagging.

Americans don’t need a visa for Bulgaria.  Nakia, our lead vocalist
and only female when Netzy isn’t there, is from the Bahamas.  As we
quickly learned, carrying a passport from a small country isn’t
helpful while traveling through Europe.  Nakia’s disturbing odyssey
began at the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  She spent days
in front of the consulate with other frustrated Bulgarian visa
seekers, but couldn’t even gain entrance to apply for a visa.
Finally, she got in line at 1:00 AM, nine hours before it opened and
spent the night on the pavement.  Even then, she only entered after
threatening to request a refund of money she’d already submitted to
the consulate.

All the time in Istanbul proved in vain, however; her visa application
was rejected.  In Edirne, a Turkish town on the Bulgarian border,
Netzy and I tried to do some groundwork at the Bulgarian consulate
there to assist Nakia in her second effort at getting a visa.  With
her gift for nagging pursuasiveness, Netzy talked her way past the
surly guard and all the way in to the consul himself.  She grilled him
on Nakia’s situation in between friendly inquiries about his family.
She left with a guarantee of Nakia’s speedy visa delivery.

However, when Nakia arrived later that week, the consul proved much
worse than his word.  Only after repeated visits, phone calls, and
paying another exhorbitant fee, did he agree to process her visa.  She
got it back to find he had given her a ten day transit visa.

We had never crossed a country in less than two weeks.  When we biked
into Bulgaria, we were resolved to travel as far as possible together
and then send Nakia ahead on a bus.  Given our experience with the
Bulgarian consular system and our impending deadline, you must fogive
us if our attitude towards Bulgaria were less than positive.

At first, Bulgarians did seem stand-offish.  They gave directions
helpfuly enough, but I thought I detected a dirth of happy faces.
Just as we began to suspect Bulgarian consular officials represented
the whole of Bulgaria, we met Dmitri in the small mountain town of
Gabrovica.  Dmitri works on he railroad.  When we paused near the
station to buy groceries, he offered to let us sleep in the break
house for railroad employees.  Delighted to have shelter, we readily

We unpacked and started to prepare a vegetable soup for dinner, when
Dmitri communicated that he would bring some beer.  Even better, we
thought.  Soon a young man lugged in an entire case of Bulgarian beer.
 Dmitri pointed to his junior collegue.  “Room service,” he explained.

We sat down at the table and offered our soup, the simple fare of
travelers on a budget, to Dmitri.  He turned up his nose, yelled out
the door, and smiled, saying “Room service,” again.  Soon the young
man was back, with a prodigious amount of sausage, cheese, and a raw
leg of lamb.  Dmitri gestured to himself, “meat, cheese, beer, no
vegetables,” he explained.

Before we had begun to drink the beer, another bulky Bulgarian man
showed up with a plastic bottle full of a clear substance.  Dmitri
took it and held it up with a proudly.  “Grappa!” he announced.  The
grappa was, as I had feared, homemade distilled liquor.  It’s as
strong as rubbing alcohol but doesn’t taste as good.  We all did a
shot in between soup and sausage.  Dmitri even convinced Netzy,
usually a staunch prohibitionist, to have a sip.

A woman arrived with a bowl of honey.  A man who looked seventy, but
claimed to be forty, joined us.  He had apparently enjoyed a bit of
grappa before his arrival, and demonstrated a much greater fondness
for Nakia than had the Bulgarian consular officials.  I delicately
placed myself between them.

Another woman carried a puppy into the dining room.  My mother cooed
over it.  Dmitri rolled his eyes.  “Puppy, soupa,” he said, suggesting
we spice up the soup by the addition of puppy meat.  Netzy and the
puppy owner joined forces to chide Dmitri.

We stayed up late, feasting on honey, mutton, sausage, soup and beer
and suffering through shot after shot of grappa.  Occassionally,
Dmitri would stumble outside, signals in hand, at the sound of an
approaching train.  We finally escaped to an unoccupied room of the
break house.  Long after we retired, we could hear our hosts carousing
into the night.

We woke up the next morning, a bit groggier than usual, perhaps, but
with our opinion of Bulgarians changed irreversibly for the better.
I’ve met many people a long the way who were angry at the U.S. for one
reason or another.  However, none of them ever held my nationality
against me.  Thanks to Dmitri, I won’t make the mistake of judging the
people of an entire country based on the actions of their goverment or
their consular officials.

I hate playing music on the street

September 20th, 2008

We have a relaxing late lunch cooked by Dobrinka as the sun sets. Just when we want to do nothing other than stretch out and a take a nap, we have to go to work. We have to unwedge the bikes, drag out the guitars, snap together the trailer. We lug it all downstairs, pack it, and bike into Belgrade with full stomachs.

Once we arrive at a suitable location (no cars, lots of foot traffic), uncertainty teases our nerves. Will there be enough people? Will we annoy anyone? Will the cops harass us? In Bratislava they stormed through our crowd in the middle of a song, clapping authoritatively. “Do you have a permit for this spectacle?” spat one of the officers. For the fourth time that day, we repacked the trailer.

In Budapest a woman yelled at us for making to much noise. When we tried to set up in the square, we incurred the wrath of a violinist eager to guard her turf. The cops kicked us out of our spot next to Burger King. In Belgrade we arranged a disadvantageous sharing agreement with break dancers after they set up next to us. Street musicianship is the closest I’ve ever come to gang warfare.

Playing music has become more complicated as of late.  In Wienna I spent several hours being sent from one bureaucratic office to the next, only to be told in the end that permits for playing music on the street didn’t come available until October.

Once at a spot, we sit on the ground. Drew folds his legs Indian style for hours at a time. I switch the position of my legs between songs, but they still go to sleep. The physical and psychological pressure shortens tempers. We snappily disagree about the set list. Large gaps punctuate our performance. Passersby lose interest and walk off.

Give me a day job!

I love playing on the street

September 20th, 2008

The music itself solves the problems it creates. The butterflies in my stomach settle as our four part harmony drifts mellifluously across the square. The synergy of performing our own music lifts everyone’s spirits. Mid-melody I don’t care how much money we make or if anyone stops. I open my eyes, and we’re suddenly surrounded by a crowd. Some stop out of curiosity, but many stop because they like the music. Sometimes they settle down on the pavement and stay for the whole performance. Parents press coins into the hands of toddlers who waddle unsteadily up to the erhu case and slowly dispatch their parent’s appreciation.

The act of playing music justifies itself, with a crowd or no crowd. However, the most important part of street performance for FBR is meeting people. Now we’re in Europe. People no longer approach us of their own accord. With our bikes and white and black skin, we fit in, though a bit raggedly. Playing on the street demolishes communication barriers. We present ourselves for conversation and interaction in a way otherwise impossible.

playing on the streets of belgrade

We interact with the crowds we gather. Pete tells them about the trip, about how we’re trying to encourage biking. People we would never otherwise talk to smile and nod. It spreads our message, but also builds relationships. When the cops kicked us out in Bratislava, members of our audience argued with them for a long time. That night the cops got their way, but we certainly won the popularity contest.

Perhaps the best part of street performance is the individual folks we meet. Take Katerina and Theresa, Croation and Argentinian, respectively, whom we met on the streets of Belgrade. We inquired into what they did. Research, they said. Theatrical research. As they explained while we sat in a Belgrade park late at night, they’re part of an avant garde group of performers. They specifically sing African songs and try to determine what it is that makes these ancient songs powerful during ceremonies. They hope this will lead to a better understanding of how to achieve inner peace.

Here we are with a different Katerina we met in Belgrade.  She had us over to her apartment for a snack and a hookah, but wound up having us stay for the whole night.

Robert is perhaps our biggest fan. We met him in Budapest on our first day, and he and a Turkish girl, Ajam, accompanied us all the way back to where we were staying for the night. A chess champion, Robert brought his board over to our place when we ate dinner. He thrashed us and apologized for not giving us the fine wooden board as it was a gift from his grandmother. He met us later when we played in the streets again. He sat right next to us. It was a slow night and we played only for him. As we sang, his eyes glazed over, he entered a trance-like state as though our music was for him a sort of opiate. After each song his loud clapping echoed up the empty street.

fbr with Robert

We’ve met three or four people in Regensburg, and two of them are named Markus and all of them have been really great. The second Markus is an engineer who did his thesis on the acoustics of the didjeridu. An accomplished, uh…didjeriduer? himself, he invited us to his home after we finished playing on the street. We sampled some of his homemade honey mead, and then we jammed for a couple of hours. He brought out several didjeridus, most of which he had made himself. We accompanied his disco beat and he improvised to a couple of our songs. The didjeridu really made a great addition.

fbr with Markus

Playing on the streets is getting harder. We have to get permits or face fines, and often the best permits are only available months in advance. We’ve been playing in smaller cities lately, and that seems to help. Hopefully this great method of connecting with people (not to mention paying for our food) will remain a viable way of interacting with people through Paris and maybe even back in the U.S.

New Photos up…finally! Hungary, Austria, Germany, and some old India shots

September 19th, 2008

I had difficultly uploading photos lately, but I finally got them up, from Hungary to our current location in Regensburg, Germany.  I’ve also been shuffling photos around into a new themed album of portraits of people we’ve met along the way that you might want to check out, as well as adding a last bunch of photos from India, mostly in Jaipur city, that I had forgotten about on a different card.  Some of these also trickle into the “Best of” album.   And you know about our new music up too.

I hope you enjoy checking out the new stuff!


September 18th, 2008

We managed to get some more crummy recordings up. Check them out on the music page. If you like it, stay tuned for the album we will hopefully record when we get back.


September 18th, 2008

Our original route fled winter and chased spring. There should have been no need for warm clothes, so we all economised. Indeed, I’ve spent much of the trip wishing for cooler weather. However, just as we crossed the border between Germany and Austria, fall has caught us (even though it hasn’t officially begun).

We suddenly found ourselves wearing everything we had. Clouds suffocated the sun. The temperature dropped to about fifty or sixty degrees farenheit. Doesn’t sound too cold, but try spending a week outside in that weather and a good portion of it with a steady 18 km/h or so wind to give the air an added bite.

We paused at supermarkets and gas stations, clustering in the heated foyers to warm up. I once came into a bathroom to find Pete hopping about on one foot while trying to warm the other beneath the hand dryer.

Cold isn’t so bad, but cold with rain is a different story. Water provides evaporation: the same principle by which your freezer cools itself to ten degrees farenheit.

Nakia tries to dry out and stay smoke free.

In Straubing we escaped the rain by camping under a bridge with piles of guana and road noise to lull us to sleep. We luxuriated in our dry fortunes and the fire Drew ingeniously provoked despite the dampness of the wood.

I finally broke down and bought pants. Cheap articles of other clothing also presented themselves after surprisingly little searching. As we stay in Regensburg we are slowly massing our resources to do battle with old man winter or his early scouts. We missed the last winter, so I am personally excited for the one on it’s way. Perhaps, though, it will be courteous to hold off just until we can pull safely into Minneapolis.

Vegetable soup for the not getting hypothermia.

Join us from Chicago to Minneapolis: Added American leg starting Oct 21st 2008

September 9th, 2008

Today on Jims birthday in Vienna Austria, we have taken the biggest step since starting our long journey nearly one year ago on Sept 16 2007, and have bought our plane tickets ‘home’ from Paris, arriving in Chicago on Tuesday October 21st. This has wrapped up numerous loose ends for us, not only solidifying our end date but also Nakia deciding to for sure join us for our newly added 2-week American leg of our bicycle journey. In the spirit of our mission to help build bridges of understanding and peace across the world, and to promote all people to bicycle more and drive cars less because of the inherent goodness of bicycling environmentally, physically, and socially, we have decided that the only proper way for us to arrive ‘home’ in Minnesota is by bicycle.

We hope that you will consider joining us for all or part of the way. This is your one and only chance to experience life on the small roads with Fueled By Rice.

Our roughly planned route (to be updated) will take us through Chicago, Aurora, DePaul, Madison, LaCrosse, Rochester, and Minneapolis, arriving in Mpls roughly around Nov 7th +-3 days. If you live along this route, we warmly welcome invitations to camp in your yard or sleep on floors! Please e-mail me at if you are interested in hosting us.

Whether you can or can’t join us on bicycle, we would like to celebrate the end of the trip with you at a late afternoon picnic at Lake Calhoun in Minnapolis upon our arrival around Nov 7th 2008, exact date and details to be determined and posted later.

Other ideas for activities after we arrive are:

-A presentation at St. Johns University-College of St. Benedict open to friends and family to share a bit of our year of bicycle travel

-A fundraising concert to help Nakia buy a plane ticket home from Minneapolis to Nassau, Bahamas in time for Christmas. This is the cost of having the privledge of her joining us to bring FBR in complete to the US to share our perspectives, stories, and music in America.

-Recording our music professionally

For now, in celebration of Jim and Drew’s birthdays this week, I am taking the gang out to a Chinese lunch buffet to again be truely Fueled By Rice instead of by bread, our first restaurant experience since a celebatory Pizza Hut buffet run in Istanbul after we earned more in street performing than we expected.

This afternoon, we will continue westwards along the Danube River through the Apls towards southern Germany: Regensburg, Heidelberg, and into France via The Alsace and on to Paris.

Thank you for all of your continued support!!! Get out there and bike!

The Revolutionary

August 30th, 2008

The hunched old man waved me down from the yard of the museum and haltingly stumbled towards me.  We had just gotten on the road after a short break, but how could I ignore such a genuine effort to interact with us?  Pete and I turned back.  We met the man at his gate.  Though his blue eyes sparkled with the intensity of a clear mind, we assumed someone so ancient wouldn’t be able to speak English.  Pete communicated with him in German.  He eagerly pressed Pete with questions about our trip.  We noticed he seemed to fill in German words he didn’t know with English ones.  Before we could ask if he spoke English as well, he ordered us to wait “funf minute”.

He retreated slowly but hurriedly into his house, which was next to a building la bled “56 os Muzeum”.  Tanks and artillery pieces crowded the lawn. I realised that this must be a museum commemorating the 1956 uprising in Hungary against the occupying Russians.  When our friend hobbled back and gave us a bag of sweets, I thanked him and couldn’t help asking, “Were you in the revolution?”  His eyes glimmered and he motioned us inside the compound.  “Give me ten minutes,” he said.  We had apparently convinced him that we were actually English speakers.  Nakia and Drew had already biked off.  Pete and I exchanged glances.  This opportunity seemed too goo to pass up.

Gergely (or Edmond) Pongratz not only participated in the revolution, but helped lead it.  He first showed us a huge artillery piece.  He retreated behind a bush, ordering “Now watch!”  He pulled a rope behind the bush that was attached to the firing lever of the weapon. The Hungarian rebels used this method to fire captured canon back at the Russians from a safe distance.  The Hungarians, while superior in numbers, were completely outgunned by the Russians.  Almost all of their weapons were captured from the enemy.

He took us inside the small museum.  A huge map of Europe covered on entire wall.   A gun case displaying period weapons, photographs and various artifacts from the revolution completed the collection.  Gergely demonstrated with youthful enthusiasm how Hungarians had used Molotov cocktails to disable tanks as they tried to suppress the rebellion.

Like all of the Eastern Bloc, Hungary found itself occupied by Russian troops after they had pushed out the Germans at the end of World War II.  Hungary went straight from Nazi domination to Soviet control when the Russian soldiers failed to withdraw and installed a puppet regime.  Hungary had to pay a huge war debt to Russia and fulfill strict quotas for goods demanded by the Soviet. History says it was frustration from this situation boiled over into a revolt in October of 1956.

I asked Edmund why he decided to fight the Russians and pro-Soviet forces.  “They wanted to make everything Russian,” explained Edmund, “our agriculture, our economy, our culture. We wanted to be free.”  Hungary was free, for a while.  The October rebellion effectively neutralized Russian power in Hungary.  “In their archives,” gloated Edmund, “they say we beat the shit out of them.”

Unfortunately, Russia had reinforcements.  After a short period of freedom, Hungarian defenders were crushed by more than a doyen Russian armored divisions,  and the USSR managed to maintain control over the country until union itself dissolved from the inside.

The Museum doesn’t cover the aftermath of the failed rebellion. Instead, it focuses on the spirit of independence and heroism demonstrated by rebels.  That is perhaps the most important part of the story.  Edmund proved that he can focus on the most important things in other areas, too.  “Some people might look at you and say ‘Who are those monks with big beards?’  But I look at you and know you’re good guys.”  We left with a bag full of sweets and confidence that not everyone will judge us based on our beards.  We also gained a better understanding of Hungarian History and the human capacity for valor.  Thanks, Edmund!