Decade of discovery: Edmonton couple pens book about epic roadtrip

Seventy-seven countries on six continents behind the handlebars of two bikes. That’s how Peter and Shahla Nygaard travelled the world during a decade-long road trip.

'We were driven by curiosity and the urge to have an adventure'

Peter and Shahla Nygaard as they embarked on their decade-long adventure. (Culture Quest)

Seventy-seven countries on six continents behind the handlebars of two bikes.

That's how Peter and Shahla Nygaard travelled the world during a decade-long road trip.

"We were driven by curiosity and the urge to have an adventure," Peter Nygaard said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

The Edmonton couple self-published a new book based on their travels. Titled Decade of Discovery, the epic charts their travels through Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. 

The pair left Edmonton on Sept. 16, 2004, and did not return until Sept. 16, 2014, exactly 10 years later. 

The majority of the time was spent on bicycles, covering a staggering 60,000 kilometres during the impressive adventure.

'It was liberating. It was daunting'

For months leading up to the trip, they scraped and saved, liquidating their possessions. 

Peter, then 27, quit his job as a plumber, while Shahla, then 23, put her career prospects on hold after graduating from university.

"Neither of us can really remember the moment when we said, 'Let's do it,' " Shahla Nygaard said. "The idea just germinated and grew into this full-fledged plan and it just kind of happened.

"It was liberating. It was daunting. But as we began relinquishing our possessions, we realized that we were becoming freer."

The trip started in Europe on foot. The couple first intended to "walk the Earth," but after four months of aching muscles, calloused toes and growing frustration, they abandoned those plans and assembled two bicycles. 

"Our first bikes were put together from scrap, bits of bike, so our bikes were not in very good shape," Shahla Nygard said. "They kept breaking down and I hadn't had a lot of experience at all so the first few weeks were pretty scary for me."

'Fraught with many perils'

The couple would bike from sunrise to sunset everyday, stopping where they liked to explore and camping where they could at night, all the while faithfully documenting their trip in their online blog, Culture Quest.

They visited some of the most stunning places in the world including the staggering heights of the Andes, the ornate temples of India and the narrow passageways of Petra.

The pair occasionally ran into trouble. They fled violent rioters in Congo and hid from bandits in New Guinea. Sometimes they ran out of food or failed to find shelter. 

"It was definitely a trial-and-error process. We did run out of food a few times and we did spend some sleepless nights," Peter Nygaard said.

"It was fraught with many perils and many uncomfortable circumstances ... but we just helped each other out." 

By the time they reached West Africa, they were exhausted, and the weather was suffocating. Their skin began to blister from the hot sun and they were ready to call it quits.

They decided to spend a portion of their remaining cash on an air-conditioned hotel room and were instantly rejuvenated. 

"Everything seemed to be piling up us on mentally, physically. We had no energy left to continue," Peter Nygaard recalled.

"But instantly our appetites came back, so we stuffed as much food into ourselves as we possibly could and thought, 'Well maybe we have enough energy to get to the next village.' 

'Let's do this' 

"And we did that three or four times until we ended up on the coast in Ghana, enjoying the sea breeze. After a couple weeks there, we got over the hump and realized we can do this thing, let's do this."

The 10-year road trip is remembered fondly by the Nygaards, who are now touring their book around the country.

"The most obvious height for cyclist tourists is reaching the top of a very steep and very long ascent," said Peter Nygaard. 

"We called it top air. Top air was so sweet it was sweeter than any air you could possibly taste or smell."