“There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” wrote Jay Austin who, along with his girlfriend, Lauren Geoghegan, gave his two weeks’ notice last year before shipping his bicycle to Africa.
They were often proved right.
On Day 319 of their journey, a Kazakh man stopped his truck, said hello and handed them ice cream bars. In a meadow where they had pitched their tent on Day 342, a family showed up with stringed instruments and treated them to an open-air concert. And on Day 359, two pigtailed girls met them at the top of a pass in Kyrgyzstan with a bouquet of flowers.
There were hardships, too, including punctured tires, snarling dogs, freezing hail and illness. But for Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan, both 29, these were far outweighed by moments of human connection. Then, just over a week ago, came Day 369, when the couple was biking in formation with a group of other tourists on a panoramic stretch of road in southwestern Tajikistan. It was there, on July 29, that a carload of men who are believed to have recorded a video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State spotted them.
A grainy cellphone clip recorded by a driver shows what happened next: The men’s Daewoo sedan passes the cyclists and then makes a sharp U-turn. It doubles back, and aims directly for the bikers, ramming into them and lurching over their fallen forms. In all, four people were killed: Mr. Austin, Ms. Geoghegan and cyclists from Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Two days later, the Islamic State released a video showing five men it identified as the attackers, sitting before the ISIS flag. They face the camera and make a vow: to kill “disbelievers.”
It was a worldview as diametrically opposed as imaginable to the one Mr. Austin and Ms. Geoghegan were trying to live by. Throughout their travels, the couple shared Instagram posts about the openheartedness they wanted to embody and the acts of kindness reciprocated by strangers.
Want to cycle the world, beware ISIS countries!!!