Finding Solace in the Tajikistan Bicycle Attack

I remember backpacking along the John Muir Trail in the California High Sierras way back when the high lakes were so crystal clear and clean you could drink from them. Giardia hadn’t arrived to taint the waters, and the crush of population hadn’t poured over the trails. We could hike for a day and not see another human.

I remember the liberating simplicity of looking up at the huge dome of endless sky and soft clouds and feeling spiritually free. And all I had with me were a few small items packed into a backpack, one pair of shoes and boundless optimism.

A lake in Pamir, Tajikistan
The Karakul Lake in Pamir, Tajikistan. (Photo by Nowak Lukasz/

A jet flew over, silently. It seemed so improbable. Way above us was a silver cigar, packed full of people seated in uniform rows, facing in a uniformly forward-looking direction, sipping beverages, waiting for their tray of food to be served, completely unaware of the tiny human specks on the trail beneath them. Without that plane it could have been 1850 or 1740 or 1520.

That trip taught me how few material goods I really needed to survive, and that the point of existence wasn’t to own but to do. Granted, possessions are needed for survival, but too much of them weigh you down. The material goods of living should be grace notes added to the melody of an ethical, happy life.

While this world has a history of vicious intolerance—one it sometimes appears may continue forever—I see signs that there is more good than bad, that we are evolving socially and spiritually.

What ensued after that backpacking trip was the happy arrival of our child, then home ownership, parenting, careers, and eventually a garage full of books, toys, seasonal decorations, sporting goods and the inherited belongings of various relatives who had passed on. You know the drill: a garage full of boxes, and things like a handmade bow and arrow set, a beautiful and true-to-life bronze statue of a long-distant relative, and golf clubs.

And from that came the desire to downsize and have less to care for and more to live for.

The tiny home movement was intriguing to me because the builders were so innovative, posting online videos of clever ideas for storage solutions, walls that moved to reconfigure living spaces, graduated bookshelves that were actually stairs to the loft, and beds that disappeared into the ceiling during the day.

So when I came across a video of a small home enthusiast who had built a tiny mobile home parked in a suburb of Washington DC, I was intrigued. Due to zoning regulations, Jay Austin could not live in his tiny home full-time, but he was a proponent of the tiny home movement and inspired others. I remembered him from his video—he was humble, smart and exceptionally kind.

Jay and girlfriend
Jay and Lauren, from their website,

Sadly, about four years after visiting Jay Austin’s house online, a devastating news story popped up. Jay and his girlfriend Lauren Anne Goeghegan had been murdered by ISIS members while on their dream voyage bicycling around the world. It was a most astonishing end to two most promising lives.

And it was hugely tragic as both Jay and Lauren were only 29, only one year older than I had been when I went backpacking. They had barely tasted life only to be run over by a car full of ISIS fanatics while on a bike tour in Tajikistan. The news services all carried stories and dozens of journalists opined about why this happened, what the couple had done wrong or right, or why the fanatics were fanatics.

But the end conclusion is this: murder in the name of religion is wrong, doesn’t make sense, cannot be condoned and has to be condemned as hate. There is no other conclusion and there is no other way. We STAND for the inalienable right of all persons to practice their own faith, so long as they allow others to do the same, for murder has no place in faith.

Two children in Tajikistan
Two girls in Kyrgyzstan who greeted Jay and Lauren with flowers as they biked toward them. (Photo from

While this world has a history of vicious intolerance—one it sometimes appears may continue forever—I see signs that there is more good than bad, that we are evolving socially and spiritually. Only in the backwaters of a dark soul can someone believe another’s life is theirs for the taking, and there are many more bright souls than dark in this world.

That is what Jay and Loren discovered on their grand adventure. While their bike tour was rough at times, they apparently found a real connection to many strangers they met along the way, and found much kindness too. There is solace in that.


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