D.C. Couple Killed In Tajikistan Attack Were Biking Around The World Together
Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET Wednesday
The two American bicyclists killed in an attack in Tajikistan on Sunday were a couple from Washington, D.C., who quit their jobs to bike around the globe.
The couple, Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, both 29, had been on the road for just over a year.
On their blog, they described the kindness and generosity of strangers around the world as they biked through Africa, Europe and central Asia.
There were hard days, setbacks and acts of cruelty, too — strangers who tried to run them off the road, or push them off their bikes.
But Austin wrote in April: "Badness exists, sure, but even that's quite rare. By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind. No greater revelation has come from our journey than this."
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the brutal attack that ended their lives, as well as the lives of two other foreign bicyclists. A car swerved to hit a group of seven bicyclists; assailants then jumped from the car and stabbed the bikers with knives. Three of the bicyclists survived the attack, which the State Department condemned as "senseless."
On social media, friends, family and fellow bike travelers have mourned the deaths of Austin and Geoghegan — and celebrated their lives.
"We will forever be inspired by their kindness and open mindedness and their happiness," wrote "a_bicyclette_," a couple who have been biking around the world since December 2016 and met up with Austin and Geoghegan shortly before the attack that took their lives.
Austin, originally from New York, went to the University of Delaware before earning a master's degree from Georgetown University, according to his friend Tiffany Del Rio. He used to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and was also a tiny house owner and an advocate for sustainable, simple living.
Geoghegan, who grew up in California, studied government, Spanish and Arabic at Georgetown University and later worked in the university's admissions office, her parents said. During college, she interned with Rep. Adam Schiff and studied abroad twice, in Madrid and Beirut.
Del Rio tells NPR the two were great friends before they fell in love, and that she didn't often worry about their safety as they traveled. "I knew together they could face life's challenges," she says.
Austin and Geoghegan were bike commuters and had taken one long bike trip together, through Iceland, before deciding to quit their jobs and see the world from two wheels, according to their website. Living off their savings, they kept a frugal budget, and expected to travel until that money ran out.
Why? The short answer, Austin wrote, is that "life is short and the world is big and we want to make the most out of our youth and good health before they're gone.
The longer answer noted, in part, "we like travel — and each other — a whole lot, and we want to do a lot more of it together. ... A bike ride around the world sounds like a hell of an adventure."
They knew of the risks, discomforts and inconveniences before they started, and knew them even better after a year on the road. In fact, the idea of vulnerability was one of the reasons they decided to go on their trip, Austin wrote:
"Intimacy and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. When traveling by bike, you're vulnerable to everything: to the drivers speeding by you, to the locals milling about ahead of you, to the potholes in the road and the clouds in the sky and the sun and the wind and the heat and the cold and the fog, and vulnerable to your tendons and joints and the tendons and joints of your bike, too: a chain waiting to snap, a spoke waiting to break, a tube waiting to split, a frame waiting to crack in half. ...
"Cars create the expectation that disaster can be averted: just trust the car. Bikes create the expectation that disaster is pretty much inevitable and should be embraced: just trust the universe and the people that inhabit it. And with that vulnerability comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognize your helplessness and recognize that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades."
Austin and Geoghegan detailed their adventures through photographs on Instagram, more or less in real time, as well as long narratives, written and uploaded days or weeks after the fact.
They were honest about the fact that the trip wasn't all beautiful moments of goodwill. Austin described one freezing cold night in Italy, waiting for a train at 2 a.m. while an "obnoxious adolescent" hounded them.
Life on the road, he said, is "a life I want to be living right now. It's a life that makes me happy. But sometimes, it's a life of sleeping on a cold dirty train station floor while a shifty guy with a hackeysack tries to bully you into giving up one of your last few apples."
Their trip included illnesses and hospital visits, broken bicycle parts, vicious weather and impassive, unhelpful strangers. At one point, Austin wrote, he'd been hit by two cars in five hours, rejected by everyone as they tried to find a place where they could pay to camp, stressed out and arguing in the dark with nowhere to sleep, just three days before Christmas.
But then a stranger asked if they needed help and invited them home for the holidays.
Austin would frequently finish a post in the middle of a story — as a man tries to run him over, or as as the polar vortex descends upon them. Then he'd pick their tale up without a pause in the next post, uploaded days or weeks later — taking readers back to the moment when they escape from the threatening car, or seek shelter from the cold.
Their final post ends with just that kind of cliffhanger. They're in Kyrgyzstan, biking through frigid rain and hail, with a damaged sleeping mat, which is a serious problem in weather as cold as they were facing. They have a steep pass to make it over before nightfall. A gold sedan parks ahead of the couple and two men get out, blocking the road. They wanted a photo and were furious that the couple said no.
"Lauren's in front and she threads her way in between the two men. She keeps going. I make to follow. I gnash on my pedals, lean to the left, and get in between them.
"And then the man on the right pushes me off my bike."
That was the end of the post, but it was never supposed to be the end of the story.
Their photos on Instagram show what comes next: They made it past the aggressive men, through the fresh annoyances that followed (altitude sickness, mean dogs, a bee sting), got a new sleeping mat through serendipity and the help of new friends, witnessed awesome sunrises and spectacular mountains in Tajikistan, and were welcomed by still more generous strangers, their fundamental faith in humanity never flagging.
But the next post never came.
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