Doctor, Cyclist, Tajikistan
We are driving through the Wakhan Valley (Tajikistan), winding road, with the cliffs to the side. Afghanistan is to our left, just across a speedy river...We were racing the sun to get to the next village for food/shelter. Suddenly we see two dots, miles out, approaching slowly. Locals? Animals? No, they were cyclers coming opposite way. We stopped and chatted enough for me to run and grab my camera. Isa had me at "we are biking from Denmark". What? But we are in Tajikistan, a stone throw away from Afghanistan. I needed to know more. And I'm glad I did. We had the pleasure of catching this pair on the return trip, right before Kyrgyzstan border. They were such troopers and were keep-on-keeping on. So so inspired! I personally love the fear Isa is hoping to overcome. It hits home, that one.
My name is Isa Amalie Olofsson
2. Where is your hometown?
I grew up in a small rural town in the middle of Zealand in Denmark, but I have been living in Norrebro area of Copenhagen for more than 8 years and it has more than any other place become my hood.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a medical doctor, but for the last 4 months I have been bicycle touring with my boyfriend, cycling from our home in Copenhagen towards Singapore.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
Medical school for me was the obvious choice. I have always loved science and decided to become a doctor sometime in high school.
I have always dreamed of traveling for a year or two but the time never seemed right through college and university. I met my boyfriend Kristian a year before graduating Medical school and early on we started talking about going travelling together. And like so many others, I suddenly realized that there would never be a ”good” or ”right” moment to take a year out of my career to travel, so instead of talking about travelling we began to plan. I grew up hiking, cycling and horseback riding but had never heard of bicycle touring before meeting Kristian. He had done a trip from Copenhagen to Egypt, and we started out by spending 8 weeks cycling from Poland to the North Cape in Norway. It was a great trip, and after this succes we began planning a cross continental trip on our bikes. It is three years ago today and a lot has happened since. I quit my job in child- and youth psychiatry and in late April 2016 we set out on our journey.
We started in Denmark then Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and are currently in Kyrgyzstan.
5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
It is definitely cycling the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan including the Wakhan Valley. With the highest pass being Ak Baital at 4655 meters, the fast changing weather, cold nights, bad food and extremely poor living standards of the locals, it was a tough ride that I will never forget. I took us around 14 days from Khoroug in Tajikistan to Sary Tosh in Kyrgyzstan and I broke down crying three times in the middle of the road because it was just too much. One time was on the way to the Khargush pass at 4300 meters. We had made it up a really steep slope the day before and had cycled for 10 hours without making more than 57 km. As we put up our tent it started storming and raining and it was a cold night in the sleeping bags. The next morning it was still raining, everything was cold and all our stuff was covered in mud. We got back on the bikes and started cycling, but I kept on getting stuck in the wet sand on the road. The fourth time I almost fell of my bike when the front wheel got stuck, and was standing there, cold and wet on a road in the middle of nowhere knowing that we had a pass of more then 4300 meters ahead of us the whole situation just became to much and I started crying. But after letting my frustration out for a few minutes, I got back on the bike and decided to turn my mood around. We rode on and made it over the pass, and had an amazing trip with beautiful mountain views and genuine encounters with local hospitality.
The reason I am telling this story is because the most rewarding experiences for me, is always when I push myself a bit beyond my limits, and learn that I have so much more strength and willpower than I think.
6. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Right now we are struggling with obtaining our Chinese visa and I would be so disappointed if we don't get it. But if it turns out to be impossible we will either cycle across Russia and Mongolia to Japan or maybe fly to Vietnam and continue from there.
7. Advice for other women?
I really try not to give advice to people (I do enough of it at work). But I try to live by a mentality of not taking the easy way out.
8. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?
It is not so much a place as a state of mind. When I am focused on a task that is challenging but still within my abilities to overcome, that is when I feel tallest.
9. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I have always admired people who found time to do voluntary work, and finally, after finishing medical school I decided to take the time and started to volunteer for the danish NGO "Børnetelefonen" which is a free and anonymous helpline for children. I really hope to return to it when we are done travelling for now.
10. What is the future goal/challenge (career and/or life goals in 5-10 years)?
For now it is trying to obtain a Chinese visa and see if we can cycle all the way to Singapore. But in the long run it is my medical carrier. Even though it is amazing to travel the way we do, I love my work and miss my colleagues and working with children.
11. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I am most afraid of going too far beyond my abilities. When testing yourself like we are doing now on this trip, but also professionally as a doctor it is extremely important to know when to stop and ask for help and I am always afraid of having missed crossing that line. I don't know if it is a fear that will ever go away, but maybe it is also a good thing to be afraid now and then, as long as you can still think clearly.
12. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?
13. What inspires you?
I really enjoy reading outdoor blogs by other women, but I think I get inspired by a lot of things and people. Mostly people doing what they want to do.
14. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I read a lot and different genres, but I always return to science fiction and fantasy for entertainment. Right now I am reading Margaret Atwoods science fiction classic "the handmaid's tale". Some of my favorite writers are Haruki Murakami, Frank Herbert and Karen Blixen. I try always to have my e-reader close and update with new books, especially on a trip like this it is great to have so many books to read in the tent without carrying five kilos of paper.
15. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
Well, as everybody else I have to say my mother. She is a great mother and has a badass career from a PhD in microbiology to a position as a Senior Director. Still she and my father managed to always prioritize me and my siblings.
16. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
Our travel blog is sailingthesolidsea.com
and on facebook as Isa Amalie Olofsson