D.C. Bicyclists Killed in Tajikistan

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American bicyclists Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan and others at the border of Kyrgyzstan. Courtesy Simply Cycling.

Two residents of Washington, D.C., with ties to Georgetown, were killed Sunday, July 29, along with two others in Tajikistan, a former Soviet Republic in Central Asia.

Bicyclists Jay Austin; Lauren Geoghegan, a former employee of Georgetown University; Rene Wokke from the Netherlands; and Markus Hummel from Switzerland were hit by a car on the road, according to Tajik authorities and news reports. The attackers then knifed them. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack, but Tajikistan stated that the attackers were from an outlawed political party.

Austin and Geoghegan had quit their jobs to bicycle around the world in no particular order. The 29-year-old boyfriend and girlfriend each earned degrees from Georgetown University.

In their blog — SimplyCycling.org — they wrote of their passion for the open road and the joy of traveling to new places. “We have neither a firm route nor a timetable, a sponsorship nor a place we need to be, and so we’re comfortable just pedaling where the winds and the world and our own hearts take us. We started in South Africa in July 2017, cycled for five months to Dar es Salaam [Tanzania], flew to Morocco in December, moved slowly east through Europe, then flew from Istanbul to Almaty [Kazakhstan] in May 2018. We’re working our way through central Asia, then we’ll probably journey toward eastern Asia and we’ll maybe even dip down into Australia before flying over to South America and slowly pedaling north back to the States.”

The attack took place 60 miles from Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. It is mountainous country, and the bikers wrote in their blog of the effects of the high attitude. Tajikistan borders Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the north and west, Afghanistan to the south and China to the east. It is “a tough place to cycle,” Austin wrote. “Lauren’s been having a bit of difficulty with the altitude.”

Austin’s mother, Jeanne Santovasco, told the Washington Post: “He was just a gentle soul who cared about the world and not leaving any footprint and leaving it a better place.”

In their blog, the bicyclists explained why they were traveling the world: “Well, to keep this brief, it’s because life is short and the world is big and we want to make the most out of our youth and good health before they’re gone. We’d both been working in offices for most of our twenties and living a nine-to-five existence that had been pleasant but not necessarily as challenging or rewarding as biking around the world could be. We wanted to learn new things, live a life on simpler, more deliberate terms, spend more time together and meeting others and being outdoors, and see the world. The limits of cycling are a great way to do so slowly and intimately.

The State Department said it would help in the investigation of the attack to determine who the attackers are and with which group they are aligned.

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