With the Adventure Awards happening in Italy this weekend, I’ve been asked to do a couple interviews as an (absentee) special guest.
This is the first interview that I’ve begun to discuss dealing with depression, trying to find a meaningful route in life with my photography work, and even begin sharing the story of a wedding engagement in the middle of my tour and later a 7 year relationship would dissolve somewhere in the Taklamakan Desert…and much more!
This particular interview is in Italian and can be read here: http://www.thepillmagazine.com/2015/07/30/the-pill-presents-eleanor-moseman-interview/
As I have promised, I’ve written the original English interview below. I’m not sure how this will be received with the public, but I’ll see…
1) Hello Eleanor. We could not start talking about you without mentioning the Asian journey on two wheels.
During the first week of May 2010, I rode my bicycle out of Shanghai with the determination to head West. Plans were pretty open; there were areas I wanted to see and cultures to experience, but I generally planned my route as I traveled. Since I can speak a bit of Mandarin, I would discuss with locals about areas, routes, and road conditions to get an idea of where to go. The funny thing about this method is that I learned that when locals say, “Don’t go there, there’s nothing there,” it seemed that’s when I found the richest and untouched culture, beautiful landscapes, empty roads, and myself. There were areas I traveled that weren’t on maps, or very vague information, so I would have to ask someone at each town if I was on the correct path, usually using a city as a general destination. If I had listened to every “you can’t go that way,” my trip would have been a lot less interesting. Similar to people telling me, “you can’t ride your bike alone around Asia,” that would of led to a much boring life.
My trip lasted approximately 2 years and I traveled primarily solo, besides the few cyclists I met along the way. I’m really fortunate to have a valid residence permit for China so I was able to travel very slowly without worries of visa issue renewals. From some research among myself and friends, it seems I’m second with the most mileage traveled in China alone. My trip totaled about 26,000km by bicycle, with about 24,000km being in China.
I never consider myself a cyclist, although I use the moniker “Wander Cyclist.” I’m a photographer who wanted to see Asia without the constraints of bus and train schedules and pre-determined stops. The bicycle gives you full freedom and people of Asia have a very special relationship with the bicycle, so it’s not such a strange way to travel. My main goal was to document and experience communities and the people of the western borderlands of China. With globalization and government issues, things are rapidly changing everywhere in China, specifically out on the western frontier.
The borderlands is what really struck my interest. China has 56 (reported) minorities and I was able to experience Tibetan, Mongolian, Uyghur, Russian, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz culture first hand without ever leaving the country.
The trip took me through China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Because of my American passport, Iran is very difficult so I turned around in Uzbekistan and headed for my home in China.
The trip really allowed me to grow as an individual and find a path in life that I deem authentic, while finding stories in Asia that I have continued to work on. I just returned from Xinjiang this week, after nearly 3 years, and this opportunity was because of contacts and publicity from my original bicycle tour.
It’s, at times, very difficult for me to imagine the young lady I was before embarking on this trip. It changed my life, soul, heart, and enlightened me to continue on a compassionate and empathetic lifestyle to help those with my photography and inspire others to take the risk to find themselves. I really never thought I would be here, 5 years later, asked to be a part of BAM! or even being interviewed by you. It’s always a very humbling experience for a woman who started from a very modest and simple upbringing in a rural small town of the United States. The bicycle ride was just for me, I really had no intentions or hopes of it becoming publicized or my blog even being read outside of family and friends. I guess that’s the benefit of doing something without expectations or rigid rules…I was just being myself, with no one to perform for or represent.
I, probably like most of the readers, have really no idea what I’m doing with my life. This route, the way I’m traversing through these days and years, it just feels right. I love what I do, the people I meet, and even then there are stresses of finances, obligations, lengths of time without family and friends. I’m just very curious about the world, with an insatiable desire to learn more about myself and my capabilities. I can’t just stop because of the absolute innocent, child-like, bliss it brings me.
People always tell me I’m brave. I don’t think what I’ve physically accomplished as “brave,” but rather how I speak about my experiences. In my opinion, true bravery is speaking from your heart and allowing yourself to love, yourself and everyone you meet. Opening your heart and mind can be very scary and overwhelming, and can bring a lot of hurt. More pain than bicycle accidents or frostbite. Bravery is something that can’t be seen or visualized, it’s something within us that can be expressed by love and compassion, opening ourselves up to the universe.
So I went a little further than the initial question but I really want to express these deep seated convictions.
2) Out of the 7 countries you visited (Kazakhstan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Kyrgyzstan) which had the biggest impact on you?
The western regions of China surely had the biggest impact on me. I was in the Tibetan regions for a few months and then into Xinjiang for a few months as well.
Within a matter of days, the landscape can change from barren desert that makes you think you are on the planet Mars to mountains of the Himalayas where if you stand on your tip toes you almost think you can pluck clouds from the skies while viewing snow capped mountains. In southern Xinjiang, you can be in the southern part of the Taklamakan desert and see a mountain range that separates the region from Tibet. You can find everything between these two regions.
Obviously the open high plateaus, mountain ranges, and deserts of both regions are beyond breathtaking but the people are exceptional. Both Tibetans and Uyghurs are persecuted minorities of China. They still practice traditional religious rites and life hasn’t changed too drastically, yet now with the government interference, this is changing.
These regions, you can spend weeks and weeks alone cycling. This is where I think a lot of my ideas, thoughts, mantras, and viewpoints about life began to form. There is this one moment when I was in Tibet looking out into the plateau when it all just seemed to start make sense. My existence, life, the universe. I remember realizing how insignificant I am in this world. Some people could take this and say, “what’s the point, I’m nobody.” Rather it made me realize we are all here together, as equals, united on a path through life to discover and find basically the same things of life.
I did spend 3 weeks in the Tibet Autonomous Region and I did begin to go a little mad. Also my health really began to deteriorate. The road conditions are really awful and I spent a lot of time dragging my feet and pushing my bicycle.
The Southern Silk Road in Xinjiang was another time I had weeks alone and went a little crazy as well. Both of these times were surely the most fun, liberating, and exciting. They are times of the trip that really stand out.
Between those two regions, I think is where I learned the most about myself, people, culture, religion, love, and life. I could spend the rest of my life in those two provinces, very happily.
3) What inspired you to leave normality to live this adventure on a bicycle?
“Normality.” I don’t know if I’ve ever had a “normal” life. It’s only been recent that I have begun to open up to the complete truths of why I went on a bicycle ride. I was going to save it for the book I plan on writing but, like I said previously about bravery, I’ve begun to speak from the heart.
I had moved to China with a boyfriend in 2008 and fell into the worst depression I had ever experienced in my life. This has been a battle since an early teen. It’s not a “woe is me” or pity me depression. It was a sense that days were passing and had been granted this life to live and wasn’t making an impact in the world. A feeling of being lost and alone in a world where you just don’t feel like you fit in. I needed to find a fulfilling path and answers about the world and me. My curious and inquisitive nature wasn’t being fed. I’d always felt estranged from friends and my peers in the United States, and now even more so in a new country where I couldn’t even express myself with language.
Without going too much into details about this, I decided to travel and leave this “normality.” I needed to get away and a project to focus on. It seemed like simple alternative to wasting my life away with mental and emotional issues or even worse.
It was the best decision I ever made in my life. Of course the moods creep in every now and again and I ride it out with daily reminders I’m stronger than to be a victim of my own mind. Of course, I can’t recommend this for everyone, but it was perfect for me.
Obviously, I wanted to also see and explore Asia and make photographs. But there was an underlying instigator in the trip. My career was at a lull and I felt a bit trapped in Shanghai. I needed more in my life.
People have always told me I am too sensitive. At this point in my life it’s not really going to change and feel this is the attribute that makes my work compelling and intimate with my subjects. Being sensitive doesn’t mean I cry easily, which sometimes I do, but also I can feel extreme happiness. A sensitive person, in my opinion, has a wider range of emotions and can feel at depths that maybe not the typical or average person can. This intense sensitivity to people and my surroundings has probably what has also kept me out of dangerous situations, listening to my well-tuned guts and intuition.
I’ve kept a lot of this close to my heart because I’m not sure how it would be accepted. I’m sure there are many who can relate to these issues and cycling and travel really helps.
Also, I mentioned this boyfriend I moved to Asia with. There is little about this in the blog and written anywhere publicly but we got engaged after cycling Taiwan together around the middle of my trip. After cycling through the Tibetan regions and having an intense soul discovery, I ended the engagement in Xinjiang and the 7 year relationship ended officially, dissolved somewhere in Kyrgyzstan. This trip taught me so many lessons, especially of love, following through on your goals and living for your destiny. There was no arguments or begging to stay together. He loved me enough to let me go and do what made me happy, as he really doesn’t have a say in how I was going to live my life. Ironically, he’s the one who really pushed me into cycling and planted the seed of long distance touring.
When I saw him for the first time after 3 years, when I returned home from tour, I visited the doctor with him and his final prognosis on Multiple Sclerosis was given. The disease has effected him that he has difficulty cycling now. As someone who remains healthy, I continue to do what I do because these abilities and physical freedoms can deteriorate at any moment. Sometimes I see my exploring and roaming as a way to appreciate what I have and to honor those who don’t have these opportunities.
Yeah, so you may be seeing there were a lot of things happening during this “adventure,” inside and out. I hope someday I might experience “normality,” or perhaps this is what normal is for me.
4) We all hear “it’s about the journey and not the destination,” but you truly embodies this mantra of exploration.
At this point in the interview you’ve probably caught on to my passions, convictions, and philosophies about life, love, and the world.
I’m honored to hear you think I truly embody this mantra. I try to live by this in everything I do, at every moment in daily life. Sometimes I spurt out in public and around friends, “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life!” Even during my adventures, I really don’t know what I’m doing but have enough faith in myself, and want to test my capabilities, that I will figure it out and something will come out of it. There’s no failure, just an unexpected result which is usually phenomenal.
I never planned on going to Central Asia when I began my trip, not even Tibet, but I ended up there and I am so glad I did. I let my soul lead the way, or where the wind blows me. Even last October I went to Kham, Tibet with intentions of riding a motorbike. That didn’t work out after I began to evaluate the risk factors and gave back the bike after 3 days. I had a backup plan and ended up walking, with some hitching, for the remaining 5 weeks.
One reason I travel solo is because I sometimes find myself sitting on the ground staring into infinite horizons, to just think, or even to NOT think. There are times I’m invited into homes and decide I’ll stay for a few days to photograph and learn from them. I try not to work on a schedule or route so I’m allowed to find these little surprises and experiences and truly enjoy them.
Even with my photography, it’s about the experience sometimes and not the end result of imagery. There was a week I spent picking cotton in the fields of Xinjiang with a Uyghur family. I put the camera down and just lived and experienced life with them. Without the camera separating us, I really united with this family and began to understand so much more than if I had just been there with the determination to get images. If an experience leads to photographs, great, but there are other times I just go with the moment and don’t interfere with visual documentation.
The interesting part about this is that some of the most vivid memories have no photo documentation. It’s almost as if I’m recording mentally and emotionally rather then relying on a camera to do the job.
If I find myself in an amazing situation or environment, I’ll stay for awhile. There are no deadlines and I’m always willing and able to change plans. Every morning is a fresh start to make my life more fulfilling, rewarding, and exciting.
5) It is immersing yourself in the culture of a people that comes out of your humanitarian side?
I think immersion is very important for any traveller, specifically someone who really wants to understand the world, people, and culture. We are so bombarded with visual stimulation on a daily basis but we rarely dig deeper. For instance, look at the simple fact that many may have thought I was just an American riding her bike around Asia to sightsee. Digging a little deeper you learn about a battle with depression, love and loss of, and spiritual growth. We live in a world of hashtags and daily updates, a world where some of us just don’t belong. Curiosity, an overwhelming desire for knowledge and deeper understanding, is what keeps us moving towards something greater in life.
Travel didn’t begin for me until I was about 27 years old, even though since a child I had always wanted to see the world. Most photographers talk about flipping through National Geographic and wanting to create those photographs. I would stare at the images and wish I could live with them. I wanted to share their experience; know their thoughts and feelings that were not portrayed through a still photograph.
My upbringing is fairly simple and somewhat common for Americans, but not for those who can afford to travel or even live overseas. As a child, we grew up in trailer parks and it was furnished by my parents salvaging tables, chairs, and couches from garbage. I come from a very blue-collar family and watched my family struggle with finances since I can remember. Having popcorn for dinner, my brother and I thought it was a party but it was because my parents were struggling to feed the family.
As an early teen I began to work for my father during summers, installing carpet and flooring and put myself through college university usually working 20-30 hours a week. After university I had a pretty good paying job in manufacturing designing windows in CAD and saved every dollar to move to New York City to pursue my dream of being an artist.
Perhaps this background has what set me on a path of sharing the stories of those struggling. But I’m not here to shove photographs of starving babies with flies around their faces. I want to show you the simple beauty from every person’s strength and perseverance through daily life. There’s a lot of love in this world that isn’t often showed through mainstream media. Again, bombarded with war, death, sickness but there’s so much more underneath it all.
So, yeah, back to immersion. When I began traveling in 2007, and then by bicycle in 2010, my eyes widened and soul ached. I have immense gratitude and respect for those who remain faceless and nameless, who work day in and day out to feed their families. In Bangladesh, I asked a boss of a brick factory if I could work in the factory for a few weeks. He laughed, “no foreigner would want to do that!” He was wrong. This foreigner wants too!
I want to know the feelings, thoughts, and emotions that these people feel. Not only because I’m a storyteller and this gives me insight, but also it helps me question and answer things about my own life, culture, and country. My meager and simple upbringings are nothing in comparison to majority of the world. Where people don’t have access to clean water or more than one pair of shoes. Where a day of labor could end their life or cause diseases or physical disabilities.
There’s not a day that passes that I don’t feel grateful for the luck of being born where and access to simple amenities that many will never have. Being in a woman where I have access to decent education, and it’s encouraged. Someone who is able to travel around the world and share the stories with those who may not.
When I talk with people about my personal story and travels, I always encourage them to learn another language. As Europeans, most of you can speak at least two, but many Americans only speak English and lack a drive to learn more. It’s very unfortunate. It’s the language ability that’s really allowed me to get as far as I have. When I travel, I’m always open to talking with anyone and everyone. Speaking with locals gives me insight into their life and often opens situations for photography and storytelling.
A part from people, even immersion into an environment: wild camping on silent plateaus overlooking the Himalayas, wind swept grasslands, or barren deserts with no other life forms around. You completely let go of time and place; you have the access to deep within yourself.
Immersion. I feel it’s an act to truly explore and discover the world and yourself.
6) You have a degree in Fine Arts photography and since 2009 you established mainly in Shanghai as a freelancer. What is the role (and importance) of photography in your life?
Yes, like I said, I put myself through university and had formal training in fine arts, specifically photography and film. Unfortunately, after graduation we are sent out into the world to make an income from creating art. That doesn’t happen. So this is where I began photo assisting in the commercial photography world and then onto China to begin making an income from my skills. Photography isn’t the greatest paying job and I also do web design, other digital and media gigs, and even painted a few houses a couple summers ago.
Photography is my life’s blood. It’s what keeps my heart beating and soul on fire. I can feel an absence in my life if I’m not photographing, editing images, or reading about photography. Sometimes when work is slow and money is bad, I question giving it up. I think it’s a common thought among all creatives. Unfortunately, I can’t because this is what I do and there’s nothing else in the world that would keep me so alive. I live, sleep, eat, and drink photography. It’s only been recent that I’ve begun to consider myself a storyteller. Again, this comes from the fact I try to immerse myself as much as possible into my projects.
Because of travels and being an expat here in Shanghai, my personal possessions are minimal. It’s my photographs that are life’s souvenirs. There are some evenings I can sit in front of my computer and just flip through them, reliving moments and feelings.
In China, I primarily photograph interiors and architecture for designers. I enjoy this work, as I don’t have to work with a variety of personalities and opinions. I love architectural savvy spaces and smart design, coming from my art background and training, so this is really enjoyable paid work. With media and photography paying lesser and lesser, more photographers are finding extra income in this field and the competition is becoming a little fiercer. This is one reason I have begun to lead workshops and classes, specifically dealing with travel and foreign cultures.
In October, I’ve teamed up with a yoga instructor and we are leading a workshop in Thailand titled “Exploration of Self and Our World: Mindful Practices in Yoga and Photography Retreat.” We have created a unique program that combines the practice of yoga and photography with the cohesion of mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and compassion.
Apart from this, I’m want to start leading tours in Western China for those who are up for a little off the beaten path photography.
As for making art, I’ve actually found time and inspiration again after stopping over 10 years ago. It’s the travel and unique experiences that have reignited the creativity.
7) Now we have just to come to Livigno to meet you in person. Have you ever been in Italy first? What do you expect?
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to attend in person this year. I have a horse awaiting my arrival in Kham, Tibet, where I will begin a solo trek on the plateau during that weekend. The trip should last at least two months as I hope to document nomadic life and culture on the plateau.
It’s been in recent news how the government has been herding these people into sedentary lifestyles and it’s creating dissent, poverty, and their culture to disappear. I had planned on this trek for almost a year and think it’s even more important now with the recent public media.
I really hope I’ll be invited back next year and have already planned on keeping my schedule free. I’m planning on a bicycle adventure sometime around mid-summer of 2016 and look forward to attending in person next year after the trip.
Even with my absence, I expect it to be great times to be shared among like minded folks who have an understanding for each other’s lifestyle and personal goals. I wish good times for all!
Again, I thank all of those involved with BAM! for the invite and opportunity. They’ve put in a lot of hard work and have selected some outstanding people to be attending the event. I’ll be submitting a little video introduction of myself and adventures that will be shown. Of course, without overseeing you, many thanks to The Pill Magazine for this opportunity to reveal a little more about myself, life, and travels.