With little more than an audio recorder, Devi Lockwood has been traveling on a green touring bike, covered in stickers with a jaunty yellow flag flying off the back, across the Southern Hemisphere for more than one year...
Wearing simple cardboard placards that say "tell me a story about water" or "tell me a story about climate change," the 23-year-old American has traversed Fiji, Tuvalu, Australia and New Zealand to collect tales from locals about how climate change is affecting them. After months on the road, she has found stories of water, wildlife and weather, but most of all, people willing to share their lives with her.
Speaking to Mashable Australia from New Zealand, where she is taking a pause from her journey to relax and write, Lockwood said she is just shy of 450 stories out of the 1,001 she has pledged to collect.
She chose the number 1,001 as a nod to Arabian Nights. "There's something very magical and special about the number 1,001," she said.
Originally from Boston, Lockwood studied folklore and mythology at Harvard. While doing her senior thesis, she took a bike trip down the Mississippi River collecting stories and writing poems inspired by people she met along the way.
"I fell in love with travelling by bicycle, and all the magic that happens when I'm travelling alone," she said. "The farther down I got on the Mississippi River on that journey, the more stories people were telling me. About water, climate change, the changing coast line, and more intense storms that lend to the land being worn away."
It was at that point, she realised every community would have its own story to tell about the change in climate.
Setting off in 2014, she crossed Fiji and Tuvalu before arriving in New Zealand to ride from the top of the North Island to the South. In an attempt to reduce her carbon footprint, she pledged to stop flying and caught a cargo ship to Australia using funds she raised on Kickstarter by writing people poems and postcards.
After cycling from Melbourne to Townsville in northern Queensland, she tried to hitch a ride on a yacht to Indonesia, but it didn't work out. Instead she took a yacht going in the opposite direction back to Sydney. Once there, she crowdfunded the money to return to New Zealand via cargo ship.
After long days riding, Lockwood found places to stay along the way off a website for cyclists similar to Couchsurfing, called Warmshowers. Otherwise, she camped. "There's pretty good camaraderie on the road," she said. "There's so much unexpected beauty, and I think that's what keeps me doing it."
The hot days and sore legs were worth it, she said. "Something really random or wonderful will happen. Someone will invite me to stay in their home, or you hear a story so beautifully told that it's just like 'wow, this is why I'm doing it'."
In Queensland, for example, she met a woman who told her how crocodiles are found farther south now than they have ever been before. "She's part of a team who will capture and release them," she explained. "Her conjecture was that because of climate change, wildlife is moving to different parts of the country."
In New South Wales, a farmer told her how his family had worked on the same tract of land for generations, but conditions are becoming increasingly difficult. "It used to be predictable when the floods would come, but those patterns have been changing," she explained.
To encourage people to share freely, Lockwood tries to not let her own politics come into it.
"Pretty recently, I heard a story in New Zealand from a man who had spent his life fracking," she said. "He moved to the South Island to distance himself ... He hadn't told anyone in the town what he used to do for work, because he thought he'd be ostracised for it."
For her, the fact he shared his story with her shows her strategy is working. "It's about establishing relationships of trust, and keeping myself open and willing to hear anything," she said. "I'm not trying to preach or changes people's minds. I'm just documenting, recording and writing about the experience."
Eventually, she hopes to make a digital map of her travels accompanied by audio recordings, so others can listen to the stories she has collected.
But first, where will she find the final 551? "People ask me when are you coming back to the States, or what's next, and I don't know the answer to either of those questions ... I think it will either be Southeast Asia or the Americas," she said. "It depends on where I can get a boat with my bike to next.
"We're pretty good friends, my bike and I."
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