Death by Entitlement
On August 7, the New York Times ran a story by Rukmini Callimachi about Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, a young American couple, both graduates of Georgetown University, who decided to quit their humdrum office jobs and go on an epic bike ride and camping trip that would take them all over the world. “I’ve grown tired of spending the best hours of my day in front of a glowing rectangle, of coloring the best years of my life in swaths of grey and beige,” Austin wrote. “I’ve missed too many sunsets while my back was turned.”
So in July of last year, they flew from Washington, D.C., to Cape Town, and from there bicycled through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. From there, they flew to Cairo, and after seeing the pyramids flew on to Casablanca, from which they cycled through Morocco, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Greece, to Turkey. From there, another flight took them to Kazakhstan. They biked through Kyrgyzstan and entered Tajikistan. It was in that country that their journey came to an abrupt end this past July 29, when five ISIS members deliberately plowed their car into the two adventurers, killing them along with two temporary cycling companions, one from Switzerland and the other from the Netherlands. “Two days later,” wrote Callimachi, “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.'”
Austin, a vegan who worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Geoghegan, a vegetarian who worked in a college admissions office, were both 29 years old – old enough, one would think, to have some idea of just how dangerous a route they had mapped out. A number of the countries they passed through are considered either “not free” or “partly free” by Freedom House. In several of them, it's not uncommon for roving criminal gangs – or, for that matter, police or soldiers or border officials – to rob, rape, or kill innocent travelers without provocation and with total impunity. One assumes the two tourists had all their shots before leaving the U.S., but that's not necessarily enough to protect you from all the ailments you might be exposed to while biking along the back roads of southern and central Africa. Other perils include wild carnivores, extreme weather, unsanitary food preparation, and substandard medical care.
Both Austin and Geoghegan were seasoned travelers, who had separately gone on backpacking adventures in exotic lands and, together, had recently biked across Iceland as a sort of prelude to their odyssey through Africa, Europe, and Asia. Amanda Kerrigan, a friend of Geoghegan's, was concerned when she heard about the couple's plans for a longer expedition that would last over a year. “I said, ‘This is not the Lauren I know,’ ” Kerrigan told Callimachi. “Jay changed the trajectory of Lauren’s life.” Kerrigan was, writes Callamachi, “concerned for her friend, in part because of how bighearted she was and in part because she feared that Mr. Austin had a higher tolerance for danger than Ms. Geoghegan did.” But if Kerrigan was worried about their vulnerability on the road, that was precisely what appealed to Austin: “With...vulnerability,” he wrote, “comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognize your helplessness and recognize that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades.”