How my lives on the bicycle and translating gently merged.

I have been translating since I was 11, riding my bicycle since I was five. They have always coexisted with whatever I was doing. The bicycle would get me around locally. Translating and interpreting (scholars call it language mediation) have been part of my daily work or schooling, or a second job, all my life. It was

The author (R) and his brother David about to walk to school in Rome, 1956.

The author (R) and his brother David about to walk to school in Rome, 1956.

no coincidence that I was an interpreter and a tour guide growing up in Rome, Italy, or that I majored in Italian area studies at the Naval Academy.

You can get a taste of how my life as a translator has evolved in this article in Translation Journal of July 2012 (

In every assignment I had in the Navy, command interpreter or translator always seemed to fall my way. Meanwhile my bicycle accompanied me, hidden in the ship until the gangplank went over, and I vanished on liberty. I have ridden around London, Mombasa, Casablanca, Karachi, Honolulu, Manila, Norfolk, San Juan, Muscat, Bahrain, Athens, Barcelona and dozens of ports in between. 

Ashore, I worked in offices to which I commuted from home by bicycle. In 1998, I took educational leave without pay from the University of Virginia to finish up my doctoral studies. Suddenly, I was no longer commuting, but riding to the library and on errands. Mostly, however, I was in my basement office writing up my research or translating for clients. After I graduated in August 2000, our family held a conference on the porch to decide what I would do next. Nothing would pay back my student loans faster than translating, so that is what I’m still doing.

Not commuting every day was a big change for me. I generally hate exercise, and I can’t stand the idea of going to a gymnasium or running in circles. I don’t even like riding my bicycle in circles; I prefer to have a destination. I found myself unable to control my weight and unable to ride enough to feel good. The life of a freelancer is characterized by successive tight deadlines, so going to the gym regularly was next to impossible for someone not used to doing that.

In 2010, I began making a point of taking my work somewhere else, just to get out of the house. Unless I needed the printer, I could work just as easily at Starbucks® or Panera Bread® as I could at home.

Pondering a linguistic challenge outside Starbucks.

Pondering a linguistic challenge outside Starbucks.

Besides, there were no windows in my home office. I was already used to taking my work with me when I traveled, and for years I have been able to get more done in hotel rooms than I could at home with the usual distractions of a family and a house.

When Marriott Hotels launched the Courtyard® brand, I was one of the original Courtyard Club® members. Designed by and for business travelers, the Courtyard® offered the features that business travelers take for granted today: Internet, printers, fax machine, coffee maker, etc.

Working in a Courtyard Inn in 2005.

Working in a Courtyard Inn in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Information Age was maturing. Office equipment, peripherals, computers and data (including dictionaries and research resources) were becoming smaller, faster, lighter, and paperless. Communications became ubiquitous as mobile telephony evolved into mobile computing and the Internet became our workspace.

By 2012, it was obvious that everything I needed to work would fit on my bicycle. As long as I could reach the Internet, I really did not need the books or peripherals in my home office. Thus was born the idea of taking it on the road. Soon I would become a freewheeling freelancer…

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