Globe-pedaling Ebers catching their breath

The Bainbridge Island family is circling the globe by bike for asthma research.

Lorenz Eber never had to tell his daughters to clean their plates. Biking 30-40 miles a day can work up a young appetite.

“I’m usually the cleanup crew for meals, but there was never anything left over!” said Eber, whose family is circumnavigating the globe on bicycle to raise $5 million for asthma research through World Bike for Breath.

On a pair of tandem bicycles, the Bainbridge family set off on May 7, 2003, World Asthma Day and cycled through Europe, Asia abd Australia. They returned to the U.S. this month to begin their last leg, from the island to Washington D.C.

World Bike for Breath is a nonprofit founded by Eber’s wife Paula Holmes-Eber, who was diagnosed with asthma at age 2. While modern medicines treat the symptoms, a cure has not yet been found.

Why cycle around the world?

“There’s a stereotype that people with asthma are sickly, weak and nerdy,” Holmes-Eber said. “I thought to provide a real, live model and confront the stereotype.”

She believes asthma is not taken as seriously as other, more high-profile diseases, so reasearch is not well funded.

Both passionate cyclists, the Ebers have taken their daughters Anya, 14, and Yvonne, 12, on bike trips since they were born and biked regularly as a family. The family’s longest biking trip previously was a 600-mile Alaskan ride.

At the idea of peddling around the world, Anya said, “We thought they were crazy, but then the idea grew on us. It could be an amazing experience.

“(We still think) they’re crazy,” she added.

Bike legs

Lorenz Eber says it took them about two months to get their “biking legs.”

Although they averaged 35 miles a day, in Holland they cycled as many as 60 miles, whereas Australia slowed the pace to 15-20. The Alps were a five-day, uphill ride.

The best riding country was Sweden, the route running along the sea past pictoresque fishing villages, with colorful boats and a Stonehenge-like rock formation in the shape of a boat.

For Yvonne, the highlight of the trip has been the night markets in China.

“They’re loud, colorful, and really crowded with everyone being really happy, all in one tiny alley,” she said.

They experienced the local cuisine – including whole scorpions impaled with sticks, ready to be grilled alive for customers. They passed on that delicacy.

“You don’t get that on the Fourth of July (on Bainbridge),” Eber said.

Paula Holmes-Eber said Beijing was one of the best places to bike, with 12-foot wide lanes that held cyclists eight abreast.

“Every-one transported stuff on bikes,” she said. “They use bikes like we use pickup trucks. One bike was pulling a load of coal.”

Conflicts inevitably arose on the trip, centering around food (where to eat?), clothes (whose are making the panniers heavy?) and showers (who gets in first?).

Regular meals proved an essential strategy.

“On the trip, calories are your friends. (They) keep people in a good mood and going,” said Eber, who estimates burning through over 5,000 calories a day.

“If somebody says ‘I’m not going,’ I feed them and then they’re OK to go,” his wife added.

To settle clashes about which way to go, Lorenz and Paula alternated being the “leader of the day,” getting the final word in all arguments, and taking all the blame or credit at day’s end.

Paula once made a three-mile mistake in Japan, and the family ended up one mountain pass away from where they wanted to be as it got dark. So they camped at a mountain Buddhist monastery.

“The view was amazing,” she said, “(when) we could have gotten angry and missed the point of the experience.”

Holmes-Eber says the tour has made her realize how obsessed Americans are with time, trying to finish a to-do list with 75 items every day, and “thinking the world will end if the dry cleaning doesn’t get picked up.”

“We must go with the flow and let things roll off our back,” she said. “We just have to back off (if something doesn’t go according to plan). If we don’t, maybe we can bike across the U.S., but not around the world.”

For Yvonne, the trip has taught her “what is poor and not poor.” She recalls a trailer on Bainbridge that she often saw, and always “thought that the people living there must be so poor and not have a good life.”

“But in Russia people live in cardboard and tin and know way more about (poverty),” she said.

On May 8, the family will leave the island for the last leg of their tour to arrive in Washington D.C. in August. Lorenz will return to his job in the city engineering department this fall, while Paula will return to anthropology.

Preparation for the trip took three years, including setting up the nonprofit and finding sponsors, which Holmes-Eber said took a lot of time and hard work as she started after 9/11 when the economy was depressed. “You bang on the door and sooner or later somebody opens it.”

The Ebers refinanced their house for a riding expenses budget of $50,000 for the 16 months. Sponsors provided equipment for the trip.

They agree that the around-the-world experience has made them closer and stronger as a family.

“We learned to rely on each other,” Paula said, as family members were often the only other English speakers around.

Riding together every day for five to six hours, “(the kids) have heard every story of our childhood,” she said.

“Twice,” Anya said.

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