Reading this story about the random death of two young bike riders at the hands of ISIS militants saddens me. Daughter Sara, a world traveler who’s been to Tajikistan, would remind me that an untoward event can happen anywhere. The perpetrators don’t have to be ISIS terrorists. The site doesn’t have to be a back road in a far-off country. Travelers, or even people walking around their own neighborhood or going for a bite to eat in the urban center of their own community, can be set upon by angry young men wishing to do harm.
But we want to believe in the goodness of people, the impulse of extending kindness to the stranger. Indeed, Jay Austin and Lauren Geogheghan, both of whom quit their jobs in 2017 to bike around the world, experienced much of that kindness.
Then they crossed paths with the angry young men swearing allegiance to ISIS.
“A grainy cellphone clip recorded by a driver shows what happened next: The men’s Daewoo sedan passes the cyclists and then makes a sharp U-turn. It doubles back, and aims directly for the bikers, ramming into them and lurching over their fallen forms. In all, four people were killed: Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan and cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Two days later, the Islamic State released a video showing five men it identified as the attackers, sitting before the ISIS flag. They face the camera and make a vow: to kill “disbelievers.”
When my late husband Jerry died he was training for a coast to coast bike trip to celebrate his 60th birthday. In doing research about long distance biking, he’d come upon a three month trip from Capetown to Cairo. He asked me if I’d consider doing it with him, assuming the cross-U.S. ride went well. I wasn’t keen. I thought traversing Africa sounded grueling, buggy, and hot. But I loved Jerry, and I wanted to be with him. I said, sure, let’s see how the U.S. trip goes, and then we’ll look at what’s required for Africa.
Jerry died suddenly two months before his departure, so I never had to make good on my pledge to take the Africa trip seriously. But I can imagine an experience not unlike these two young people: an extraordinary adventure, lots of hard things to get through like flat tires and broken spokes and pelting rain and sore throats and hard grueling days of riding, lots of warmly affirming human moments. And then…