American couple documenting young people's lives around the world

Geography of Youth project expected to take 3.5 years

An American couple are preparing for a 30,000 mile cycle journey to document the lives of 20-somethings in more than 50 different countries across the world.

Photographers Alan Winslow, 26, and Morrigan McCarthy, 27, will leave Fairbanks, Alaska in July this year and expect to spend as much as three-and-a-half years on the road. The two, who live in Maine and work together under the title of The Restless Collective, have dubbed their new project Geography of Youth and will share images and stories with followers via digital postcards, posted on the project's website, www.geographyofyouth.org.

"The bike is a great icebreaker," Winslow told BikeRadar. "In the past when we travelled around America for work in planes and cars to do a story we'd have to park and find our [own] way around. But for some reason when we rolled into towns on our bikes people would just open their doors and chat with us."

The scope of the Geography of Youth project will be significantly larger than a previous journey, around the United States, in 2008. Titled Project Tandem, it saw them ride 11,000 miles around the US to document the views of everyday Americans on environmental issues. The two have subsequently continued to tour their home country, sharing what they learned through a lecture series and photographic exhibition.

Both Project Tandem and the Geography of Youth share common genesis in the duo's desire to discover whether the reported opinion around major issues by mass media matched people's actual experience.

"We were reading a lot of newspaper articles about environmental issues here in the States and we were reading a lot of polls about what Americans thought about the environment, global warming and pollution. But we didn't think there was enough information or direct quotes from people around the States," said Winslow of the motivation for their original trip.

"It's sort of the same thing with our new project," added McCarthy. "We started reading a bunch of stuff in the newspapers about twenty-somethings and frankly, when we were on our last trip we ran into a lot of twenty-somethings. It struck us in the past couple of years that people in their twenties can lead such disparate lives. Some have children, houses and have settled down, while others are dedicated to their careers, or doing their own thing, or still living with their parents.

"The question we're asking is why are we so spread out across all these walks of life and we also realised that we are so connected through things like the internet. We want to explore that and find out what life is really like for people all over the world in this age range."

The two will ride directly south from Alaska along the east coast of Canada, through Central America and across the South American continent. From there they will travel to South Africa, their starting point for a south-to-north traverse of Africa. They will then fly from Egypt to New Zealand. A subsequent leg along the east coast of Australia will be followed by journey through South-East Asia. They will cross the bulk of the Asian landmass by train before looping around Europe. They expect to conclude the trip in Turkey sometime in late 2014.

The sheer magnitude of the trip has made plotting a precise route difficult, with political and environmental factors expected to alter their final path. "If all goes according to plan, which it most certainly won't, we expect it to take three-and-a-half years," said McCarthy.

The admitted that they had ridden little before their 2008 trip, essentially using the first three weeks of that journey to build fitness for the months that followed. However, the two have since become dedicated cyclists. Their preferred mode of transport has also made finding subjects for their work as photographers easier - something that is almost certain to continue on their journey around the world.

"There's something so gentle about a bicycle. It's not a terribly intimidating mode of transportation and you're obviously pretty vulnerable," said McCarthy. "People want to talk to you and ask you questions. They want to chat to you and find out what you're doing and why you're on touring bikes. That they allows you to ask them questions, find out about them, and that interaction is invaluable to us."

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Video: The Geography of Youth

With their departure still five months away, the two are working 12 hours a day in an effort to secure sponsors and financial backing for the project. British saddle company Brooks and pannier manufacturer Ortlieb have already agreed to provide material support for the pair. They have also set-up a Kickstarter account, which they hope will provide funding for the North and South American legs of the trip.

McCarthy and Winslow are also working hard to reply to a spate of emails of support that have flooded in since they launched the project last month.

"People have just been writing to us saying, 'this is great, I thought of doing something like this but I never did, so congratulations and good luck.' We're trying to write all these people back because it seems to have touched some sort of nerve, which is great and more than we could have hoped for. So we're trying to give back a little something to anybody who has reached out to say hey to us."

People will be able to follow the pair's progress via the project website and Facebook.

Given the relatively specific focus of their project, Winslow and McCarthy agree that the lines between art, anthropology and journalism are blurred. But vagaries of definition aside, their goal is simple: share what they learn.

"We are speaking to some well known professors - sociologists and anthropologists in the university system here who do research twenty-somethings, so we're trying to bring an academic side to it as well," said McCarthy.

"We've been asked to define the trip a lot lately. I think we're really more exploring. We're trying to gather information out in the world and share it with anybody who will listen. We'll be using writing, photos and maybe some video to send back, through the internet, all these things that we're seeing."

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