Two years ago, Pat Patterson had all the usual trappings of middle-class success. He owned a successful real estate company, drove a Porsche and lived in a Ventura beachfront condominium.
And he was bored and burned out.
His solution, like many others who face burnout in their careers, was to get away, go on vacation.
But the 50-year-old Ventura resident did not run away to Club Med for two weeks, visit the Bahamas for a month or even take a Mediterranean cruise.
He sold his successful real estate company, put the Porsche in storage and closed up the condo to go on a two-year, around-the-world bicycle tour.
Almost two years and 13,400 miles later, Patterson is nearly finished with his goal of circumnavigating the world, gearing up for the final leg of his journey, which begins in March in Nagasaki, Japan.
"I wanted to run away from home for awhile," Patterson said. His tanned, fit, well-groomed appearance belies his energetic and restless personality, which manifests itself in expansive hand and arm gestures as he talks about his trip.
Friends and family, he said, were less than enthusiastic. One friend accused him of going through a mid-life crisis, and Patterson's own father worried about the danger involved and was reconciled to the idea that he would never see his son again.
Over objections from relatives and friends, Patterson and his 37-year-old wife, Vicki, began the first leg of their journey in March, 1988, at the front of the county government center in Ventura, with nothing more than two 18-speed touring cycles; a tent; two sleeping bags and a change of clothing.
From March to November, riding about 60 to 70 miles a day, five days a week, the Pattersons traveled from Ventura to Mexico, through the southern United States and up the East Coast to Nova Scotia.
From there, they flew to Iceland and then to Scotland, cycled through the British Isles and Ireland, ferried across the English Channel and rode through Western Europe, finishing in Yugoslavia, before returning to the United States.
After resting in Ventura for about three months, the Pattersons began the second part of their two-year-tour in March, 1989. The couple cycled through Romania, the Soviet Union and separated at the Chinese border, where Vicki Patterson left her husband to lead a bike tour through France and Italy while Pat Patterson finished the second part of the journey.
With only a guide to lead him through part of China, Patterson cycled from the Chinese border down into Pakistan and across India to Nepal. From Nepal, he rode into Tibet and back into China to Shanghai, only a month after the student protests in Beijing. From Shanghai, Patterson flew home to the United States and was reunited with his wife in November, 1989.
Patterson spent a month recuperating and is now preparing for the final leg of his trip, which will begin in March. He plans to cycle from Nagasaki to northern Japan and then fly to Anchorage, Alaska, where he will ride through Canada to San Francisco. In San Francisco, at the end of July, Patterson will join about a dozen cyclists that he met while traveling on the first two parts of his tour. The group plans to ride from San Francisco to Ventura, concluding his two-year "sabbatical."
Besides financial costs--so far they have spent almost $60,000 and have budgeted for about another $13,000--the tour has also had emotional costs for the couple.
Patterson admitted that he "wouldn't do it again. A two-year-tour is too long; it's very difficult on the body and on the mind and on relationships."
"It was very stressful on our marriage," Vicki Patterson said. She is still undecided about riding the last leg of the tour with her husband, but said she is tempted by the idea of cycling in Japan.
The United States, she added, is the "worst place in the world to cycle." The amount of traffic here is a nightmare for any rider, especially compared to Western Europe, where people "idolize cyclists," she said.
The Pattersons started cycling as a hobby in 1984. After a 280-mile bike tour in China in 1985, Pat Patterson began thinking about seeing the world via bicycle.
Although the couple would not recommend cycling to most people as a way to travel, Pat Patterson said cycling "brings you into other people's culture on a different level. When you arrive on a bus with Western clothes and with a group of Western people, you tend to see the usual tourist things."
During their travels, the Pattersons have found themselves arguing with a Bulgarian border guard and riding on camels through central Asia. Usually, however, the couple rode during the day, taking stops to explore towns and enjoy scenery. At night they camped or stayed at motels.
"Travel is not for everyone," Pat Patterson said. "The greatest problem of travel is the language barrier."
The Pattersons recorded their journey with a video camera, a camera and a personal journal. Because they limited themselves to carrying about 40 pounds on their bikes, they bought few souvenirs. An Indian carved camel bone and a seashell from Tibet now grace their living room shelves as a reminder of their travels.
Learning geography, geology, culture and customs are some of the benefits of traveling, Patterson said. Most people are very friendly and "you see more similarities than differences in people," he added.
After his tour, Patterson does not plan to return to the real estate business. He is looking for a line of work that would allow him "to travel a lot," he said.