COLUMBIA — Robbie Sage wasn’t much of a cyclist when he packed his guitar and set off on a bike to see the world in February 2011.
He was 24 then, fresh out of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he felt as if he were living inside a bubble and desperately needed to escape.
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He decided to buy a used mountain bike, map out a cycling trip around the world and record his memories in songs written along the way.
Sage, now 27, is in the final months of his trip across four continents.
“I was kind of just a little bit unhappy," he said, "and I just wanted to see the world.”
In the last two-and-a-half years, Sage has covered at least 20,000 miles on his bike. He’s ridden through Asia and Europe, pruned cherry trees in New Zealand and learned about the complexity of human behavior in Iran.
Last week Sage arrived in Columbia, roughly two months after landing in Los Angeles on a flight from New Zealand.
The man who has been living out of a tent on $10 a day parked his bike in Columbia to stay with a friend for a few days. When he arrived Thursday, his goal was straightforward: rest up, reconnect with his friend, Sijie Yao, and record some music.
Yao met Sage at a youth hostel in Kunming, China, during the early part of his trip and stayed in touch. Yao, now a sophomore at MU, offered to let him stay with her in Columbia as he made his way across the United States.
She said his trip was unlike anything she had ever encountered in Kunming.
"It's so cool," Yao said. "I've never met people who travel with a guitar. He has the motivation to do that and keep doing that for almost three years."
On the road, Sage wakes up at 6 a.m. and is on his bike by 8 or 9 a.m. He tries to average 50 miles a day before stopping around sunset.
He dines on a casserole of spaghetti, tuna, onions and chili sauce, a dish he says he's made hundreds of times.
In his free time, he takes out his guitar and starts to play the music he composes on the trip.
In his gear, Sage carries a recording kit that has allowed him to complete albums of instrumental songs. The songs he writes are his postcards, he said, the souvenirs of the journey — people he’s met and places he's passed.
“Photographs don’t really do a lot for me,” he said. “When I listen to my music, it’s a really nice documentation of what I was doing at that time."
He knew the songs would be an important part of documenting his experience, but what’s really surprised him has been what he’s learned as he cycles from country to country.
“When you’re at home, you see stuff on TV and you kind of think ‘well that’s bad, and this stuff's going on,’" he said. "But it doesn’t really hit you ... When you go to these places you realize, yeah, we are all on the same planet, and we all have the same feelings.”
An experience in Turkmenistan nearly ended his journey, leaving Sage with a shattered guitar and a bike with broken handlebars.
While cycling on a main roadway, a trailer behind another vehicle swung toward him, smashing his guitar and mangling his handlebars. While Sage escaped injury, the sight of his shattered guitar was almost too much.
But it offered a useful lesson: When you're on your own, there’s no point in brooding over a problem. You just have to find solutions.
“That was the lowest point for me,” Sage said. “But I bounced back and kept going.
"If you don’t have the bad experiences you can’t really appreciate the good experiences.”.
In June 2012, Sage began a six-month break from his adventure. He went back to Scotland to attend a family wedding and stockpile some money, working at a smoked fish factory and operating a pedicab.
He discovered that the sense of loneliness he experienced on his bike became a growing sense of isolation at home.
“When I went back home it was really hard to relate to my friends and family,” he said. “I was like the elephant in the room.”
He returned to his solitary journey in January.
When Sage leaves Columbia on Thursday, he will head to Mexico. He says he has no plans once he completes his trip, which is likely to be early next year.
“I’ve come to understand it’s better not to plan, really,” Sage said. “I don’t need to have a big career when I get back. I prefer to have the free time… I can’t wait to go back and just live in the present."