Hi Ho, Hi Ho! It’s Interviewing We Go..


Bicycle bicycle bicycle, she wants to ride her bicycle, bicycle, bicycle.
She wants to ride her bicycle, she wants to ride her bike.
She wants to ride her bicycle, she wants to ride it where she likes.

“Freddy Mercury”

And she does by jove!

Tinkle your bell merrily and saddle up for this interview with Gwen, BME’s very own Biker Chick — the self-assured and full of wanderlust bicycle sort of biker chick, not the bobbing-for-hotdogs off the back of a Harley type. She’s cycled, floated, bused, choo-choo’d, hitchhiked, stumbled and otherwise meandered her way thousands of miles! Starting from Hamilton, Ontario she peddled mercilessly onwards to Alabama via Winnipeg, Vancouver, San Francisco, down the coast of Mexico then turned left to cross Texas. Along the way she’s collected some wonderful tales, the odd case of food poisoning, and a gorgeous scarification piece.


A Mexican newspaper covers Gwen’s trip


Let’s get the wheels turning by asking you about your passion for cycling, can you remember the first time you hopped on a bicycle?


I remember this cherry red tricycle I had when I was a kid. I must’ve left it out while my folks were having a garage sale and it got sold — I cried a river that day.


I’m terribly sorry for your loss, it’s a nice thought that a succession of children and probably adults after you have derived some pleasure from it though, or are you still plain bitter?


Well, I’m bitter at my dad depriving me of such a pleasure, but maybe in another twenty years I won’t resent it so much.


I hope so, you’ve got quite enough to carry around without slipping a grudge into your backpack!

Now, without getting all ‘Fight Club on your arse’ — it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue, I just gave it a name — your IAM page doesn’t hint at any genital piercings, is this because you spend most of your life in the saddle, so to speak?


You guessed it!  I’ve heard some piercings don’t get agitated too badly but being on the road for so long means my hygiene level is a little below par, so I wouldn’t be able to take care of ’em so well.


So are you saying all cyclists should be given a wide berth because they pose a significant risk to public health?


A warning couldn’t hurt; saddle sores are a bother in themselves — I wouldn’t want my whole genital area to be inflamed and pissed at me ’cause I couldn’t keep it clean (ROOAnd neither would we Gwen).


The day before leaving


For those who haven’t read about your adventures (which will hopefully have dwindled to zero by the time we’re through) could you recount some memories of people you’ve met and general kindness that keep you warm at night? (See her IAM page for the story in more detail).

And anything that makes your toes curl?


Oh my, there’s been so much hospitality… okay, some that stick out:

  • Being introduced to the bike culture in Portland, Oregon (and seeing a the guy who owns the sleeve with all different front chain rings that I saw on Modblog, no less!).

    What was immediately obvious was that most of the other bikers weren’t modified very much. The Germans and Swedish that I came across were usually older and didn’t seem to be into bodly modifications at all.

  • Meeting ChopperMark, amongst many others while having the chance to joust on tall bikes and mingle with the ZooBombers.
  • Meeting a couple who lived off the land just north of San Francisco and getting to sleep in a gypsy wagon and bathe outdoors.

A DIY homestead visited during the adventure


  • Randomly receiving home-made cookies that some guy was sent in the mail (he was sad to see we were eating store-bought cookies).
  • Having dinner in this million-dollar mansion near Los Angeles even though we were smelly and dirt-poor.

Hanging out with the Zoobombers is just something intrinsic to being in Portland. The crew of people who bomb down on those little bikes every week is so varied, young and old, drunk or sober, etcetera, that you’re guaranteed to meet some interesting characters. The tall-bike jousting was a thrill; I didn’t expect to be able to hold my balance on such a contraption but it’s not as hard as it looks! Everyone takes it lightly and getting hurt is half the fun!

Finally, staying at the million-dollar place was a crazy coincidence; a married biking couple that Morgan and I had frequently run into had arranged to meet with another couple who had travelled the world for 2 years on bikes, and we ended up seeing all 4 of them in town (Ventura, California).  We were invited to stay over as well. The wife of the latter duo house-sat for these rich people, and since they wouldn’t be home, all of us biking nomads were invited to eat and drink at this mansion-villa (who needs to own 4 dishwashers, seriously!?); it was quite a treat.

Getting on the road the next day was a bit of a humorous shock, to know that the bike-touring lifestyle throws every extreme of culture at you. I love being poor and dirty, though, so I’d much prefer sleeping by the side of the road to such opulent quarters any day.

I could go on, but those are some fun times.

We were pretty lucky about not having too many bad experiences. Being in fog and mist around the Washington coast and then sleeping on a beach in Oregon with blowing sand and freezing cold nights without a tent sucked. I almost got mugged while visiting Ally in Winnepeg, Manitoba.

A little more about the Oregano beach: The picture where I’m flying a kite (further down the interview) was the night before we realized that the ocean procures some damn cold winds and the sand comes along with ‘em.

We tried using rocks to hold our tarp down as a shield but it just whips up from all directions. That was one of the most miserable mornings, but it makes you that much more anxious to get on the road and wait for the sun to dry you up.

Beaches look so innocent and inviting but don’t trust them to stay that way when the sun goes down!


Life’s a beach, eh.

Mugged? Not by a muggle I hope..


Haha, actually, the mugging happened whilst I was being tattooed!?

My friend got together her stick-and-poke materials (sewing needle taped to a pen, dipped in India ink) and we decided to do it on a bridge over this train yard, but some homeless native guy came around mumbling something about nice bikes and I didn’t pay him any attention. Next thing I knew he was trying to mount my bike?!  Luckily my friend jumped to block his way and “negotiated” with him (I think he was heavily drugged or drunk), and instead of taking my expensive bike he took hers — in the meantime, though, he attempted to hit us with his fists, and then managed to grab my friend’s U-Lock (we were using it as protection), although he didn’t try to hurt us with that, thankfully.

It disturbed me that cars and pedestrians were passing by — the situation being blatantly hostile — and no one even looked when we were screaming for help. I found it so distasteful that someone would steal a somewhat worthless bike just because they didn’t feel like walking; I guarantee he rode it for 3 or 4 blocks then ditched it. (We ended up finishing the tattoo when we got home).


Crumbs Meg, that was a close shave..

Apart from a large tub of courage what else do you pack on an ‘average’ trek?  Nothing that’s got you into trouble I hope..


I have four panniers (saddle bags), two on the front and two on the back, and I usually pack light — sleeping bag, sleeping mat, a few bike shorts and shirts (gotta have that spandex), a few kicking-around clothes, running shoes, bike maintenance stuff, a few books, toiletries, and a bit of food to last me ’til the next grocery store.

I depend on everything I have so it forces me to keep an eye on everything pretty closely.

We always make sure not to have any drug-related stuff when we cross borders, and the only thing that had me stuck for an explanation was the cuts on my arm in Mexico — I didn’t know enough Spanish to convey that I didn’t get stabbed and that they had been willingly inflicted.


Cyclist meet-up in Vancouver


Another close shave?  Can you remember how the conversation went?


It started with a lot of broken English, quite a lot of pointing at their arms referring to mine, me smiling sweetly and looking to Morgan hoping he’d be able to explain the situation, and then ending up saying “lo mismo los tattoos(ROO Rough translation – “the same the tattoos”), adding plenty of hand gestures and then yours truly walking away quickly.


Gwen and Morgan in mainland Mexico with his parents


Care to talk about the ‘cuts’ that almost got you into trouble and how you came to receive them? It was a scarification pierce by Rafael, correct?


Yes, that was a good time. I remember at my suspension Philip Barbosa mentioning he lived in Mexico so I sent him a message to see if he knew any cool places to check out and he forwarded me to Rafael, who lives in La Paz where I was headed.

We met him and ended up hanging out for the time we were in the city then spending time at his piercing studio. I learned that he did scarification, and as I was itching to get more work done (hadn’t had any in a year — too long!) I mentioned I could be a guinea pig if he needed more pictures for his portfolio — and the next day I was getting prepped for the scalpel! Rafael did a great job and now I have a keepsake of my travels in Mexico.


Having scarification done by Rafael (Symbiosis) in La Paz, Mexico


Could you ramble a little more about your experience with Rafael please honey?


Asking me to ramble? (ROONo, I’m demanding it!)

With pleasure!

The scarification was done at his shop (Symbiosis, La Paz, Mexico) under very sterile conditions. He changed his gloves often, and wiped my skin down with an anti-bacterial swab. He changed scalpel blades a few times — he explained they lose their sharpness — and wrapped my arm in saran wrap after he was done. It was a new challenge to see someone repeatedly cutting into the same spot while I could watch it all go down (with my calf cutting I was blind to what was going on), but I prefer ‘seeing the pain’, letting it flow through me, and still remaining calm.


Did you manage to get any rest after he’d unwielded his scalpel and before you rode off into the night?


Oh, I slept wonderfully that night — all the rush of emotions and endorphins makes me tired after being cut. We stayed at a hostel so we had time to do laundry and give my arm a day off to get a head start on healing before I’d be riding again.


Staying on the topic of your skin for a moment, have you got any special tattoos you’d like share with us?


There is my tree lady, she signifies everything I encompass.

She reminds me of how I’m half of the earth, and half human, as every cell in my body is comprised of materials that were formally individual molecules that belonged to rocks and plants and water and so on. The roots remind me to stay grounded and remember that I am part of the greater circle of life and not ontop of it.


Feral, Womantree


You’re a diamond, would you say suspending makes you feel the same way?


My suspension is hard to put into a few words. It brought me to a level of consciousness where I could feel the energy of the world and of those around me and embrace them fully.

For the first time in my life I felt connected and loved everthing with a childlike innocence.


Gwen’s suspension


That’s beautiful Gwen, like the pink skin of a baby’s bottom. Anyway, you’re obviously planning on doing a lot more travelling in the future, do you see yourself getting more piercings, (hopefully intentional) scars or tattoos along the way?


Absolutely; I like to think of body modifications I collect on the road symbolizing the time and place of where they were done. I adore having different people work on me and forming those types of bonds with as many people as possible.


Do you generally find that the people you meet on your travels are hospitable?


Surprisingly so. I never knew how welcoming people can be to those they’ve never met before and know nothing about. I could tell you a hundred instances of when someone did something so generous and nice — in all the three countries I’ve been riding through, too. If I ever have an address I’m staying at I know I’ll be welcoming any traveller coming through; a warm shower is the best gift when you’re riding all day and don’t want to pay for a room just to get some hot water.


Have you ever considered starting a cyclists-rest type service to help your fellow iron jockeys?


Absolutely! There’s a women with the moniker ‘the cookie lady’ who welcomes all bike tourers to enjoy a warm shower, a place to stay and, of course, some cookies. There’s another site, www.warmshowers.org, that connects those looking for a place to crash. So the framework is in place, I merely want to be another cookie-lady — only I’d make ’em vegan.


I’d take up cycling if there were vegan cookies at the end of the trail!

Hopefully not, but has anything disastrous happened to you whilst you’ve been roaming the planet that made you regret your path in life? Even for a moment?


Not a thing. Becoming a homeless wanderer was the best decision I ever made. The first week in Mexico made me want to be back in the States, but that’s the only time I felt like changing my route slightly. (A car slowed down and — with great precision — pushed me off the side of the road! I fell pretty hard on my hip and banged my head on the cement, luckily I had a helmet.)


Jeepers, that was a bit mean, onwards to some merrier questions!

Out of all the places you’ve been to can you pick one that struck you as the most beautiful?

Is it the people you’ve met or the places you’ve visited that stand out most for you?


Haha people always ask this (ROO:  Gosh, I’m predictable) and I never know what to say.

Every place has its own qualities that make it special, y’know? If I had to pick my favourite place, it’d probably be Northern California. There was this hiking trail that decided we should bike, and to cut a long story short, after pushing our bikes on this slippery wet trail up a good two hundred metres (or so it seemed) I saw the Redwoods for the first time in all their beauty and wanted to die I was so happy.

Despite that I’d have to say the people I’ve met stand out the most, as there were so many breathtaking vistas and cool places but only a dozen or so people I really connected with, and they made the areas seem alive.

I was in awe of every different landscape change, there were just too many; I remember them as one giant conglomerate of amazing scenery, whereas individual people are easier to recall.


Travelling the California coast.


And we all know how you feel about conglomerates!

Could you run through the route you took on your epic voyage so people get an impression of just how amazing you are?


The course, starting in Mexico.


Well, I began in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, went northwest, around Lake Superior, connected to Hwy 1 and stuck to that straight through all the provinces to British Columbia. I stopped in Winnepeg, Manitoba and Calgary, Alberta but didn’t take a full rest day other than those times. I went through Banff then connected to Hwy 3 south through B.C. (where I hooked up with Morgan) then followed the U.S. border on that highway ’til I hit Vancouver, then I ferried to Victoria on Vancouver Island, went up to Cumberland then back down to Hornby Island, then took a boat to Ucluelet on the western shore (and saw my first real sunrise over the ocean), went by Tofino then rode back to go to Salt Spring Island, then back to Victoria, which ended my Canadian stretch.


Hornby Island


From Victoria Morgan and I took a ferry to Port Angeles in Washington, rode out to the coast stopping in Olympic Nat’l Park, then went inwards to hit Olympia, rode down to Portland (great bike route connecting the two), then back out to the coast to Tillamook and continued on the 101 all the way through Oregon an California, going through the Lost Coast Highway then down to San Fran, Big Sur and on to San Diego, which ended the U.S. part.

We crossed the border to Mexico in Tecate, a few kilometres east of Tijuana, then took the main highway all the way down Baja to La Paz, where we ferried over to Mazatlan and from there we pretty much packed our bikes on buses and the train through Copper Canyon. From there I headed east through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi to rest in Alabama where I am now (done through hitchhiking and buses also).


Morgan and Gwen in Mexico


For the budding cyclists amongst us (not me unfortunately) could you wow us with the specifications of the bike you use and any other tips for the would-be leg powered vagrant.


My bike isn’t too boast-worthy. I don’t know the specifics, aside from the components are all Shimano, about the second to top of the line, twenty-seven speeds, drop-down handle bars, 27″ rims and everything has held up ’cept for the occasional flat tire.

As far as tips go, to anyone who’s thinking about being a vagrant, I say DO IT. Take a few hundred bucks and just take off. If you’re open to going with the flow and taking opportunities as they come, there’s no telling where you’ll end up. And definitely make connections over BME — this here site introduced me to Morgan who I was with everyday for seven months, plus a wonderful lady in Portland (no longer has her page up), Rafael in Mexico, and soon to be another man in Alabama whom I’ve already fallen in love with. If I had stayed at home I can guarantee that wouldn’t have happened. Oh, and Food Not Bombs is in almost every big city and good for a free meal…and raid every dumpster you can find — you can find tonnes of good food from grocery stores!


You’ve almost answered this question, but what exactly do you eat when you’re on the road?


Anything and everything. I started out vegan but relax that to vegetarian most of the time. Peanut butter and bananas has been a staple, but I’ll take anything I can get. As I said, dumpstering brings much of my bounty.

Why pay for it when they’re just throwing it out?


I agree completely, but have you ever been so delirious with excitement upon finding a tasty treat that you gobbled it down without poking at it, then found it to be something poisonous or otherwise unpleasant?


I threw up once…I was eating donuts that came out of a dumpster and I probably wasn’t careful enough in selecting the ones that didn’t get contaminated with other stuff in the garbage bag. Aside from that I don’t think I’ve ever been sick this whole trip.


I wouldn’t be surprised if your constitution’s comparable to that of oxen by now!  Even though that might be true were you at all worried about the risk of developing an infection after the work by Rafael?

There is quite a lot of media-coverage at the moment surrounding the spread of hepatitis in Mexico (that you can contract it from simply drinking a glass of water etcetera).


I’ve heard a few things about the risk of catching diseases in Mexico but I wasn’t worried; I had eaten their food for two months with no ill effects so I felt fairly confident I’d be okay.


Let’s hear Rafael’s view on the situation.. apologies for making you orange but colours are being rationed in Canada at the moment..


The Mexican authorities don’t seem to care about body piercing, scarification etcetera..

The senators have recently approved a new law to protect these activities and the customers but really it’s just a meaningless piece of paper!

A lot of people work in the streets, markets and carnivals performing body piercings and scarification, it’s very sad because they attract more custom than an established studio, they also don’t pay rent or taxes and so forth which is obviously bad for the economy.

Customers still supporting these psuedo-artists can very easily pay less than 8 USD for a street piercing, and they don’t seem to care much about the quality of the jewellery, sterility of the equipment or the modification they walk away with.

Piercings in a professional studio usually cost from between 20 USD and 40 USD.

You get what you pay for!


Thanks for the insight Rafael.

From what you’ve just said it appears not, but do you think the chance of someone contracting Hepatitis deters people from having scarification/piercing work done in Mexico?


Obviously I ensure that everything in my studio is clean and sterile!

Only a very small percentage of customers express concerns about Hepatitis, to be honest most of them don’t seem to care.

I’ve been piercing for five years now, I attend seminars to increase my knowledge, I’ve got health department certificates and one of my accquaintances is a doctor who I can call upon if I need support, so in that respect my credentials are amazing!


Do you find you have to work extra hard to bring people in to your shop because of this risk?


Not really, piercings are very popular at the moment.

Most of my customers seem more worried about how much the piercing will cost more than anything.

The vaste majority of scarifications I do are on close friends, and basically I do them for free because scars aren’t really that popular where I live.

In peoples minds the risk of contracting hepatitis doesn’t seem to register so I don’t really have to work any harder to dispel fears or anxieties regarding it.

What I do have to work hard for though is people coming in with crappy jewellery and terrible piercings from the pseudo-piercers I mentioned before.

All in all the situation looks awful but there’s a lot of information out there right now, websites such as BMEzine.com, magazines and so forth, but people just look at the pictures and don’t read the articles.

I don’t know, it’s crazy! The situation in Mexico at the moment is affecting the industry I love and the career that ensures I earn money.

Now I charge 20 USD for a piercing (including jewellery) just to ensure I can pay the rent.

That’s the situation here in La Paz, but I suppose it’s the same everywhere in Mexico City. You can find blocks and blocks of streets filled with jewellery stands and ‘piercers’.

Here’s an example of a crappy tattoo done in a local ‘tattoo studio’ for 30 USD!


30 USD tattoo


So there it is from the horse’s mouth, make your own minds up guys!

Gwen, how many spokes does your bike have?


A lot. Thirty-six or something maybe? Don’t know for sure.


And you call yourself a cyclist!


I’m still starting out! I may have biked a hell of a lot but I’ve never looked into the technicalities! (ROO That’s me told!)


Oregon and Washington


Where do you see yourself in five/ten/fifteen years or so? This is probably a rather silly question but do you have any plans to settle down inside a white picket fence and make marmalade with your husband?


That’s a tricky one. I don’t look too far in the future as long as the present doesn’t pose too many problems. I’d like to be building my own little place out of reclaimed/dumpstered things and have enough land to grow all my own food and can it during the winter. There´ll be no white picket fence, but maybe some branches to keep the wild animals from eating my garden. Funny you mention that, though, ’cause I’m about to move into a place that appears to be that perfect little house.. I’m not one for marriage but I wouldn’t mind having having someone to sow seeds with (literally, not sexually, I refuse to give birth to a child) with. That said, I’ll be a wanderer for the rest of my days at least part of the year. The wanderlust is implanted deep.


Morgan in Todos Santos


I hope it was implanted under suitably sterile conditions. Ok how about this question instead..

Where will you be travelling next?

I’m sure if folks had a vague idea of your plans they’d be willing to offer you some free (or at least discounted) scarification/tattoo work. That is if you have a vague idea, of course.


Unfortunately I don’t know which route I’ll be taking from here (ROO I saw that coming). I’d like to see North Carolina and Tennessee, but I really want to see everything so it’s impossible to pinpoint where I’ll be going next, I usually decide where to go on a whim or a suggestion.. or if someone’s willing to let me sleep on their couch for a night!


If there are people reading this willing to help you out on your travels by offering a bed, simple home cooked meal, a warm shower or a night at a strip club how should they contact you?


Assuming they’re on IAM, that’d be the best way to contact me (Hi-Ho), but gmail works too (ggraovac@gmail.com) — I’ll be staying in Alabama for a while, but come nice weather I’ll be hittin’ the dusty trail again so if anyone is down for biking with me a few kilometers or just hanging out, shoot me a line!


Any final words you think might be of interest to our lovely (and by now probably as exhausted as you felt upon reaching Victoria) readers?


As far as final words go, I want to be an example of a free-spirited vagrant who decided to live life and choose my own path rather than being led around by someone else’s ideas. The best way to travel is cheap — you meet every type of person and go through every situation, from the lowest to the highest.

I feel if you’re open to the world, she’ll embrace you. As a fellow hitchhiker once said to me: “You meet the angels and the freaks, the sinners and the saints, but that’s what makes the world go round.”

I hope I inspire other kids my age (or anyone) to give up the constant rush of consumer society and breathe in the fresh air and just not care.


Thank you so much Gwendolen, you’re a trooper. Stay safe and may the wanderlust be with you always.





Just imagine how unstoppable (and unlikely) the love child of Pauly and Gwen would be!


Roo Crumbs (iam:RooBot) is 28 29 (ugh), male, a thousand feet tall, and grazes on the treetops for breakfast. He’s covered from nape of neck to tip of wang in heart tattoos. He likes to read and write. He won’t fix your computer (unless you ask nicely) and he doesn’t like Charles Dickens, football or The Beatles.

This article is copyright © 2008 BMEzine.com, and for bibliographical purposes was first published May 16th, 2008.

25 thoughts on “Hi Ho, Hi Ho! It’s Interviewing We Go..

  1. wow. this is my all time favourite interview that i’ve read on here. seriously. of ALL TIME. bicycles and bodymod.. my passions!! i am so inspired by gwen’s journey. next time i don’t think i can ride that extra few kilometres, i am going to be thinking of this girl and her amazing trip. i’d love to do something like that. just pack up and go! if only i knew a lovely person like gwen with the balls to do it with me!

  2. oh! and a question for gwen… how long were you on the road for in total? i think i might have missed that part…

  3. It was a pleasure having gwen suspend at my old loft. she’s got great energy and full of smiles.

    we miss you up north here!

  4. I agree, this is the best interview I’ve read on BME yet! Definitely nice to be reading about someone who’s so like-minded.

  5. Really awesome, and inspiring! It makes me want to go on a walk…maybe I will! *makes like a tree and leaves*

    Her tree woman tattoo is awesome as well. It reminds me of the greek goddess Daphne being turned into a laurel tree…which happens to be my name! Awesome!

  6. I’m really curious to know what she does for a living, that allows her to take such a trip. Because I’d like to do the same thing! being a homeless wanderer sounds like the awesome.

  7. Fantastic interview! I really love Gwen’s outlook, and reading about her stories is fascinating. Gotta love wandering and finding out about the world. :)

  8. Great interview – but as a Winnipegger, I just have to point out that it’s spelled “Winnipeg” and not “Winnepeg”.

  9. Wonderful interview! I love the pictures! When you come to North Carolina honey, you’ve got a shower and dumpstered, vegan vittles waiting!)
    keep peddling!

  10. “I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
    I want to ride my bicycle
    I want to ride my bike
    I want to ride my bicycle
    I want to ride it where I like ” -Queen (<3)

  11. Very Awesome! I’ve been wanting to see more interviews with kick ass BME girls. This really ranks high!

  12. thats so amazing. i envy her alot.
    my plans were always to do something like that, wander for a few years, then buy a place in the middle of nowere away from it all…then i fell in love with a city boy, lol

  13. Pingback: ModBlog - Passionate About Bikes? - Body modification and ritual blog sponsored by BMEzine.com

  14. You forgot to make mention of the brands we gave each other on the nude beach on Hornby with bike spokes! hahaha

    Love the interview.

  15. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » ModBlog » Then we spoke about mathematics..

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