When Ward and Jacky Budweg decided to get married, Jacky put together a prenuptial agreement on a bar napkin and included a unique stipulation–they would ride their bicycles around the world for better or worse. Ward agreed and then the two of them embarked on a three-year bike journey spanning 33,523 miles across six continents. In their new book, The World at 10 MPH, Ward and Jacky tell the fascinating stories behind their adventure, the kind you don’t get on a tour bus.
In today’s episode, you’ll hear them discuss why they sold everything before they left, why they chose not to use GPS and how they use charades to bridge 32 different language barriers. But that’s just scratching the surface. More importantly, they share how their faith in humanity has not only been restored, it’s been upgraded. Enjoy.
Miles Rote: Hey everyone, my name is Miles Rote and I am excited to be here today with Ward and Jacky Budweg, authors of The World at 10 MPH. A masterful prenup leads to a three year, 33,523-mile bicycle adventure. Ward and Jacky, I’m excited you’re here, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Jacky Budweg: Well, thank you.
Ward Budweg: Yeah, going to be fun.
A Unique Prenup
Miles Rote: Yeah, there’s so much to talk about. I’m so impressed, I feel like I’d pat myself on the back when I ride 12 miles to work on my bike. First, share some background on you both and what led to this incredible prenup that basically contracted you both to bike around the world.
Jacky Budweg: Well, to start off, I’m from Wisconsin and Ward’s from Iowa and we actually met on the week-long bike ride across Wisconsin called the GRABAAWR. We both had a love for biking to begin with. And as our relationship progressed and I moved to Iowa and we were going to get married, I had him sign a prenuptial. My fiancé had died when I was 20 years old and so my goal in life was to live with no regrets and to live for two people and so, the prenuptial I had was for Ward to ride around the world with me.
That was a pretty easy one for him to sign, the second one, that was to be a Packer fan because he was a Bears fan, that’s how it all came to start it off.
Ward Budweg: I had more trouble being a Packers fan because I’m a Bears fan. And that, I’m reminded every week when the Green Bay Packers play that I’m a fan of theirs. That’s a hard part for me to swallow during football season.
Miles Rote: That’s understandable, but I must say that riding 33,000 miles plus in a bike is a feat in itself. Tell us about that. How did you guys come to this agreement and what was it like to really solidify it and make that choice because there was a lot that you had to do to prepare for this. Jacky, I believe that you told work that you were going to be leaving in seven years, essentially for this. Tell us just what it was like to make this kind of pact together?
Jacky Budweg: Well since we had that pact, when we got married, everything was geared towards that. We never bought new furniture, we never bought new cars. Everything was knowing that we were going to sell everything in seven years. I had a new boss at work and her first day at work, I just told her, in seven years, I’m going to be quitting and she was like, “Nobody ever told me that on my first day of work before.”
We were dead set on having this happen and it was part of our living end goal from the day we said, “I do.”
Miles Rote: That’s so incredible. You mentioned selling all of your belongings. I would imagine that that’s not entirely necessary but you both felt as though it was important to sell all your belongings, why is that?
Ward Budweg: Well, at the time, I was the owner of Decorah Bicycles and the business was going quite well. But I thought, if we’re really going to learn the world, if I was thinking about my business back in Decorah, I wasn’t really engaging myself in the world and the things that it would present to me. I wanted my mind to be in the moment on the trip and by selling everything you had, you weren’t concerned about your home, your furniture, your business.
Our only concerns were our families, our two sons and my brothers and sisters, and Jacky’s parents and her brothers and her sisters. That was our only concern, so we could actually engage ourselves quite well to learning new cultures and just letting the world be there for us and not thinking, “Oh, what’s going on back home?”
Jacky Budweg: That was so liberating. We had a big yard sale and seeing the couch go out the front door, it was like a weight being lifted. It was something I never experienced before, I loved it. The only bill we had on our whole trip was our health insurance.
Miles Rote: Wow, that’s incredible to think about. Yeah, less possessions is less possessed by things. In addition to selling everything, there is so much planning that went into this. What was that like? Because thinking about biking around the world you have to plan for everything with the seasons, the monsoon seasons, flooding, every country has its own climate and own seasons too. What was it like planning this adventure?
Ward Budweg: Well, we did it rather easily because we set out some rules. First of all, it had to be safe. And safety comes in many forms. We wouldn’t go to countries that were warring with each other or warring against us and also, where there are terrorists or anything like that. Safety was number one, the second thing was that it wasn’t going to be cold and we started out if it was below 55 degrees that we were going to go to warmer climate. Well, that rule changed, we took it down to about 45 degrees because we ended up in Europe in fall and it got rather chilly with highs for the day in the 40s.
We lowered that and then the third element, it shouldn’t be wet. Again, the planning as you asked with monsoons, floods, we just didn’t want to be in the rainy season and we didn’t want to be in the cold. We didn’t want to be where there was warring or just unsafe in any regard. Following those three rules made it pretty simple for us, we adjusted our route accordingly, sometimes on the fly, because we’d be heading to a city and there would be riots in the city or unrest and we’d go, “Well, we’re not heading that direction.” And one of the rules we had also was not what we would see, but more of how we would see the world.
We set out parameters that we are going to enjoy hospitality and more of how we were going to do our adventure than what we would see.
Rules of the Road
Jacky Budweg: Yup, we didn’t do a lot of museums or going to the big cities like Prague where everybody raves about because on a bike, it is not that safe.
Ward Budweg: With all the traffic, the safety was less. We would avoid some of those kinds of things and yes, we missed some of the landmarks of the world, but I think we also saw some of the true culture of the world. Nothing that was, I shouldn’t say tainted, but discolored by tourism.
Jacky Budweg: Right, we were more on the side streets, we were in the villages, the small communities, and we feel like we really got a sense of the people in those areas.
Miles Rote: Yeah, the streets and the flavor of the culture. Even riding my bike in Austin, Texas, I feel like I get a totally different, palpable taste of the city as opposed to being in the steel frame of my car. I can imagine throughout the world just really being able to experience it in such a different way. You had the rule for safety, but I imagine, as you’re going around the world with biking that there are some safety concerns. And a lot of people have such negative stigmas when it comes to certain countries or traveling in general.
What were your experiences traveling to these different places? Is it really dangerous? Did you feel as though you were constantly surrounded by danger or more or less was it pretty safe?
Ward Budweg: In a general sense, the world is very safe. Some countries, it’s important to listen to the locals. One example, we’re in Armenia, Columbia and we had spent the day. The city was alive and we saw a fair number of police on the corners. But the city was very alive, and all the markets were open, and so late afternoon, we stop and grab a beer or two. My Spanish was good enough that I could speak with the locals and pretty soon, they said, we had to go and we asked why.
In Spanish, they say, “Peligroso, peligroso, it’s dangerous.” We walked to our nearby hotel and within 15 minutes, the streets went empty and when the Columbians weren’t on the streets, then we shouldn’t be on the streets. There are areas where you listen to the locals and if they say, “Don’t go there,” you don’t go there. But in general, the world is relatively safe, some places you just need to be more guarded and again, listen.
Jacky Budweg: But I would say that our belief in humanity grew tremendously throughout this trip. We would knock on people’s doors and we’d ask if we could camp on their lawn. And we were never turned away, until we came to North America and that’s because we had a guard up. We found that if they got to know us first then they were very hospitable to having us stay. But if you came to them and asked them, it was a no, automatically.
We really feel like the world is a great place. Sometimes our media does not wish to show it that way though.
Miles Rote: Yeah, and you’re saying, in North America, you were turned away, the one place you were from, that is strange. What a contradiction or counter-intuitive way to think about things, being where you’re from, and asking to stay there, being turned away and every other place in the world being welcomed.
Did it also increase your ability to ‘make asks’ from people in general? I feel like so many of us are afraid to ask people for favors, at least it’s an American cultural thing, where we don’t want to step on people’s toes in that sense. But you had to do some things and make some asks that were pretty hard sometimes?
Ward Budweg: Well, actually, not. We really never had to ask a lot for help. Help was normally volunteered. I think of times that we needed help and we were willing to ask but we very rarely ever had to ask. People could see that we needed help and they just came forward. Whether it be in China where I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese and they couldn’t speak English but they would just come forward and help.
Just throughout the world, it seemed like we never–do you recall ever having to really ask for anything?
Help was Volunteered
Jacky Budweg: Only directions.
Ward Budweg: Yeah. In directions, the comic thing is, in France, we’d ask directions and you show your map and you say, “What’s should be the best way to get to Paris,” and one gentleman might show you one way and then another Frenchman will come up and he will show you another way and then the two Frenchman will start arguing about the directions. And then you have to leave because they got into their own conversation about the directions. That happened more than once–that’s the French but I love France. We’d ask somebody down the street and we’d get the third opinion. And we’d usually go with that collective consensus of, “This is the right way to go.”
Jacky Budweg: We were dealing with 32 different languages so a lot of times, we had to use charades in how we communicated.
Miles Rote: How did that work out? Yeah, using essentially a form of just sign language to communicate with people?
Jacky Budweg: Well, there was one time when Ward wanted to call it a day and we were in Latvia. He wanted to camp in the forest and I didn’t mind camping in the forest but I would hear every animal, everything going on and he would not. I never slept well. I said, “Well, just give me a little time, let me see if I can find a spot.”
We’re going down this country road and I hear these people talking behind these trees and there’s a driveway. I’m like, let’s ask these people. We pull in and it was a couple, they were picking apples in their yard, and so I went up and I showed them my wedding ring to show we were married. I did charades of a triangle for a tent, put my hand by my head like sleep and pointed to the ground and they were like, “Yeah.”
They show us where we can put our tent up, and we put it up and then they bring us over to this other building that’s adjacent to their house and it has a shower in there, so they say, “Do you want to shower?” We say, “Sure.” And then they show us a sauna if we wanted that. We were like, “Oh yeah, great!”
As we were walking back to the tent, Ward sees a woodpile and wood that needs to be cut. And he loves to cut wood and do work when he sees it. We bring the woman over and we take the ax and we show how an ax and a big piece of wood make little pieces of wood and puts a smile on Ward’s face. He would love to cut your wood. I said to Ward, see how easy that is? You just have to use a little charade.
We get back to our tent and she comes running out with the phone. On the phone, the woman on the other end of the phone speaks English and she says, “So what seems to be the problem?” I say, “No, no problem. They’re just being so nice to us and helping us, we just wanted to do some work for them, my husband wanted to cut their wood,” and he says,
“And mow the lawn.” Then I add, “And he’d like to mow the lawn.” I gave the phone back to the woman and they were talking. I get the phone back and the woman says, “She wants to know, how long do you plan on staying?” I’m like, “No, no! We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”
The next morning though, she came out, she’s yelling, “Coffee, coffee!” And she must have looked up where we were from that we’re from America because we had never told her and she had a Michigan t-shirt on, she had to point that out.
Miles Rote: That’s amazing, you must have so many stories like that and have so many gems in your mind. What are some of your favorite stories throughout this epic adventure?
Ward Budweg: December 16th, 2007, we’re entering a town in Portugal. And Portugal’s the same latitude as us. So, it’s chilly. We weren’t going to be camping in our tent, so we’re looking for inexpensive accommodations. We go to the hostel and it’s under construction and we ask them if there’s any other accommodations in the area. They direct us to one, but it seemed rather seedy. There were drug deals going on and it just didn’t seem really safe. You have to use your intuition about safety and things like that.
So, we just decided not to check into that place, and we went to the center of the town and there’s a town center square. Jacky’s standing by the bicycle as I walked around the square, looking for some inexpensive accommodations, and when I come back, there’s this lady talking to Jacky in Portuguese. Her whole conversation was in Portuguese. We gathered from her that we should follow her and she could help us find a room.
We didn’t know if we were going to get set up or robbed or anything like that but, we said well, we’re together, if we get robbed, whatever, if we’re getting set up, at least we’re together, we’re not being separated. We had some hesitation and it’s sunset time in December, it’s 4:30, 5:00 in the afternoon, and it’s getting dark. We were going down the alleys and I said, “Okay, stay together. Let’s simply follow this lady in there, in her 70s.” And earlier that day, Jacky had asked me if I ever prayed to my mother. My mother died in ‘94 and so, during this trip I prayed to both my parents who had passed away and just asking them to look over us. So, we are following this elderly lady and we get to a corner hotel, and we go in. Jacky stays outside with the bicycles.
This elderly lady asked the young lady at the counter, “Do you have any rooms?” “No, no rooms.” Well, the lady is so persistent. She made this young lady call four or five different hotels, “No room.” And she says, “Call another one.” — “No room.” — “Call another one.” And as I was watching this lady act in the mannerisms I said, “That’s my mother, through this lady.” It was just the way my mother would have done it. Finally, the young lady at the counter finds a hotel for us and then this Portuguese woman says, “Well, get a map, what’s the price? Get directions. Make sure to reserve the room for them.”
So, it was just one of those things where I thought, “Whoa that person acts just like my mom.” As I was going up and getting the map, this elderly lady leaves and walks by Jacky and she says, “Merry Christmas,” the only two words she said in English.
Miles Rote: Wow.
Some Favorite Stories
Jacky Budweg: It was more when Ward walked out the door after her, he just went, “That was my mother,” and it just gave me the chills.
Ward Budweg: When the lady said, “Merry Christmas” it was like, “What?” You know she should have said, “Feliz Navidad,” or whatever. But it was just that whole story just resonates with me a lot. It is that kindness. We were worried going into the alleys, but it worked out well. We had a very nice place to stay, moderate costs, and exceptional evening buffet and then a wonderful breakfast.
Miles Rote: That’s incredible. There is something to be said about trusting people. I know that is not always the case, but I think erring in the side of trust, is always better than distrusting people. I always play a game, even when I am traveling internationally–I am not recommending this to anyone–but leaving my laptop out while I go to the bathroom or something at a coffee shop and just exercising that trust and not living from a state of worry.
As you were going down through those halls following the elderly woman, and then having it turn out like this restoration in humanity that’s beautiful. Jacky, what about you? What is one of your favorite stories that you could pick out from this adventure?
Jacky Budweg: I would say when we were in Argentina and it was a very long day. It was 100 plus miles we did because we needed to do that many miles to get to the next town and we went to the store, got our food, went to the campground. It was actually Good Friday and I had a headache. I was tired. I just wanted to eat and lay down and go to sleep. As we were getting set up, these young kids came over, Nico and his sister and a younger sister and younger cousin.
So, they were watching us, and they were talking to Ward in Spanish as he was getting the grill going and stuff. This is in our book but their asados, grills, are different than ours. They have a fire going in the corner and then they bring the coals over underneath the grill, so you are never over an open fire. It is always just hot coals. When he asked Ward if he needed a stick and Ward said “No,” Nico who is 12 or 13 years old knew there was a problem.
So, he went to his campground or campsite and he asked his grandmother if he could have us over for dinner. Because obviously, we did not know what we are doing. She came over and she said they actually were having a dinner party, and he invited the grandparents and the sister and cousin and now we were the other two guests. So, we packed up our food and went over, even though it was one of those times where all I wanted to do is go to sleep. It is like, if somebody offers something to you, you have to–this is part of our trip, we want to learn the culture.
So, we went there, and Nico did all the grilling and they brought out different drinks that were customary to Argentina. We had a really good time and the grandfather and the grandson, they like to go and take their motorbikes and go around the beaches. Well, the grandmother during that time, she looks for arrowheads.
She had a beautiful arrowhead necklace on, and she went inside and she showed another one that she had found. I mean, these are dating like 3,500 years ago. It was just very cool. The next day we are packing up getting ready to leave. They all came over to say goodbye and the grandmother took her necklace off and put it around my neck and gave it to me. Her husband said, “She has never given one away or sold them before.” It is just those times like that.
Ward Budweg: My blunder of being a dumb gringo and not knowing how to do the barbecue caused us to go to an evening picnic and to create that.
Jacky Budweg: Those occurrences happen all the time though. That is why we want to say and get the word out. I mean, the world is really a great place and North America is a great place.
One time we were in one of the parking stalls of a Wendy’s because Ward wanted to get a hot sandwich. It was the last open spot and our bikes were up against the dumpster and a truck came out and I thought they were going to yell at us for taking up the spot.
Instead, the couple said, “Where are you guys from? And do you need a shower?” I think I looked that bad and then they said, “Do you want to come and stay at our house tonight?” So, the people in North America are just as friendly. We just need some of them coming up towards us, that was the only difference.
Miles Rote: That’s amazing. You know, as I was reading through your book, I was imagining just trying to navigate what it would be like on a bike and navigating the streets and how difficult it could be. I was seeing myself looking down at my cellphone and using the map and the GPS. Even feeling like that would be tricky. You guys didn’t have a GPS as you traveled, and you did that consciously.
You chose not to take it so you could rely more on the experience, the streets, and maps. What was that like navigating the world without GPS? It is something that I feel like humans have done for all of history and now it seems like something that is obscure.
Ward Budweg: It was the most wonderful thing we have ever done, and people would ask, “Have you ever gotten lost? Did you ever get lost?” And I said, “We never got lost. We just saw parts of the world no one ever sees.” If you have to think about it in that respect, we did have some agendas and some timelines of flying out of the country or a continent. But we really only had to beat the weather, or again, a timeline for a flight. That was our only real true agenda.
With the GPS, you would still have to charge that battery and there would be four or five days between towns, and the next town might not having electricity.
Jacky Budweg: Or it didn’t exist.
Ward Budweg: Right, we rolled by one place where we were going to buy food and restock and there were power lines there. And there was a road, but the road was all grass and the town was gone. So, we made a rule, if you saw food, you would buy food, and always have enough food for three or four days.
The first chapter of the book is Jacky kind of giving me a hard time about the quality of the map that I purchased in Argentina. And she said, “Well, get a better map, there aren’t any towns or any roads on it.” and I said, “Welcome to Southern Argentina, there are no towns, there are no roads.” She said, “Oh!” In her mind, she was saying, “What did I get into?”
Jacky Budweg: Coming from Europe, I was obviously culture shocked.
Ward Budweg: But in Europe, with so many roads and so many towns, you kind of need to use your map and not just rely on GPS, because we asked a lot of questions which engaged us. We found in the travels that we have done since, where we do have applications on the phone for maps and GPS, we are not talking to anybody. We are not stopping that farmer and asking him the directions. We are not getting invited in for coffee. By not having the GPS, we had to make contact with more humans. And that, to me, was very purposeful and that’s what we wanted.
Miles Rote: Yes, it was like you were designing serendipity into your experience.
Ward Budweg: Yes.
Jacky Budweg: When we went from Vietnam to China, in China we went for three weeks without having a map because we couldn’t find one in English. So, we just went north, east, north, east, north, east.
Ward Budweg: When we did find a map, the only thing that was in English was that it said, “Atlas of China.” The rest of it was in Chinese and we’d pick out the direction of the town we wanted to go to. We changed the characters of Shanghai into Chinese, and then we’d look on the map. We knew where it should be and then we’d write that character down and it was more painstaking to travel there but they have a fairly good road system.
We did find that even using our map, that a number of people weren’t able to read maps. Literacy, I am not sure what level it was at, but they couldn’t read the map. So, if we could say the name of the town, they would actually point us in a good direction.
Jacky Budweg: We have to tell one real fun story.
Ward Budweg: We’re leaving whatever town in China and we got on this four-lane highway–brand new, built from nowhere to nowhere. In a two-hour period, we saw four cars. I actually laid down in the middle of the four lanes and Jacky took a picture of me with no cars in sight. We got off this four-lane and went into a village to get some food and we saw, “A road in.” Normally that’s just a bypass road or whatever. We should be able to go back onto this four-lane highway with no traffic.
Well, that didn’t work, many times when they put a freeway in, there’s a bypass road or whatever, and the freeway bypasses a town. Well, we left the town and we are still looking for the freeway. We ended up going from a paved road to a gravel road and kept asking directions, and then it became a tractor pass and then it was grass and then we were at the top of the mountain. There is a house there and we go inside the house and they are playing mahjong.
They invited us in to have some tea and then we just say, “Shanghai,” and they could understand Shanghai, and they pointed us to the east, which we needed to go and they said, “Just follow the footpath to the tractor path to the gravel road and when you get to the hard road,” and they hit the ground to show hard road or concrete, and then they pointed to the right, do a right. Well, we did that, and it ended up in a village. In China most of them are big. Their small villages are 15 to 20,000.
We ended up in this village and a young man comes up to us and he says, “Can I help you?” This was in English and we pulled out our maps and said, “Where on the map are we?” And he opens up the map and he finds it and he circles it. We had found out what town we were in the night before and we circled that. We rode for eight-and-a-half hours, we did 85 miles that day and, on the map, we went 18.
Miles Rote: Whoa, oh my god.
Jacky Budweg: Well, it was all we could do.
Ward Budweg: We said, “We didn’t go very far today but we saw a lot of China no one ever sees.” And we had tea at the top of the mountain.
Miles Rote: There you go.
Ward Budweg: You can’t buy that. That is the whole thing. It was comical. We sit and laugh and we said, “Oh that was just…” and we were never worried. We were never afraid.
Jacky Budweg: We had a tent. So, we knew that if we had to set up camp, we could do it but.
Miles Rote: Right. You both are so inspiring and thank you for writing this book to translate your experiences into words that people can read, understand, and really experience for themselves and perhaps even change the way they look at the world, traveling, and what is possible. I am not sure which is harder, writing the book or riding across the world on a bicycle.
Jacky Budweg: Writing a book is way harder.
Miles Rote: Well, if readers could take away one or two things from your book, what would it be?
Jacky Budweg: I would say don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. I think we are afraid of so many things that are unknown out there and those are just the gems to find. So, I guess that would be my thing, to not be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
Ward Budweg: For me, it doesn’t hurt to be a little naïve because it does offer you many opportunities for different things. Don’t be afraid to ask that question of, “What are you doing?” or, “Why are you doing this?” Don’t be arrogant in your own knowledge is a way to say it as well. Because there are so many things out there in the world that are done so differently and yet the people in that region or that area are as happy as we are. Why should our values and our systems be the only ones?
As I have traveled more since then, I just believe that this is the way we do it. I can’t say it is good, bad, or ugly. That is the thing I want people to take away from it–whether they go to Austin, Texas or come to Iowa or New York, this is the way they do it there. Embrace it and say, “Maybe that is not the way I want to live,” but don’t criticize it.
Miles Rote: Yes, I love it and there is so much to learn from everyone and every place has something to teach us. Thank you for this book, Ward and Jacky, this has been such a pleasure. Everyone, the book is called, The World at 10 Miles per Hour: A Masterful Prenup Leads to a 3-Year 33,523-Mile Bicycle Adventure. You can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, Ward and Jacky, where can people find you?
Jacky Budweg: We do have a Facebook page. It’s Ward & Jacky Budweg’s Adventures and we have additional photos on there that are not in the book.
Miles Rote: Perfect, thank you. This has been such a pleasure, you guys are so inspiring. Thank you for doing this for the rest of us even to show it is possible and reminding everyone that our faith in humanity can be restored. In these hard times, it is even more of a reason to have that perspective.
Jacky Budweg: Well thank you, and the world is our playground.
Miles Rote: Amen, thanks, everyone.
Jacky Budweg: Thank you.