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Ex-Banker Found Herself on the Road : Sally Vantress’ life was missing something. She got it back when she bicycled around the globe and now shares it with readers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 29, Sally Vantress figured she had it all: a successful career in banking, her own home and a single-engine airplane that she flew on frequent trips.

But something was missing.

“I felt trapped,” she said. “I used to love to work and enjoyed my life, but it became more materialistic, and I felt like I had to work to support those things.”

Her disenchantment was only magnified after returning from a 1987 vacation to the San Juan Islands off Washington, where she met a man who had just bicycled across America.

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“I never knew you traveled like that and I was really intrigued,” she recalled. “I felt this was a time to make a big change in my life.”

A big change indeed.

She sold her house, her airplane, her furniture and even her clothes.

Then she bought an 18-speed mountain bike and set out on the adventure of a lifetime: an around-the-world bicycle trip that would take her more than 70,000 miles (21,000 by bike, 40,000 by plane, 10,000 by train and 400 by boat).

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Leaving from her home in Capitola near Santa Cruz in January, 1988, she flew to New Zealand, the first of 20 countries she would travel through during her 19-month odyssey.

Along the way, she encountered snow and tornadoes, snakes and leaches--and she was constantly surprised by the many families that opened their homes to her or let her camp on their property.

Depending on the kindness of strangers backfired in Georgia while on the last leg of her trip: She was raped by a man who had befriended her.

Through it all, however, Vantress developed a strong faith in herself and learned to cast aside the materialism that drove her to take the trip in the first place.

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“Seeing Myself Seeing the World: A Woman’s Journey Around the World on a Bicycle,” (SMSW Publishing; $11.95) is Vantress’ self-published trade paperback that chronicles her journey.

Vantress, who is spending August in a friend’s apartment in Costa Mesa, is taking something of a breather from a months-long promotional and speaking tour.

She will sign copies of her book from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Fahrenheit 451, 540 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach; and from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Martha’s Bookstore, 308 1/2 Marine Ave., Balboa Island.

Vantress, who is now 33, had just returned from Laredo, Tex., where she spoke at an international convention for Silva Mind Control. She used the method, which “teaches you how to use the right side of your brain through meditation and visualization,” throughout her journey.

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“People always ask me what did I do to train for the trip,” said Vantress, who carried more than 100 pounds of equipment on her bike and pedaled an average of 60 to 80 miles a day. “I wasn’t a cyclist. I didn’t even know how to change a tire. What I did do is read some books on the mind. I figured if I could do it in my mind I could do it physically.”

She said Silva Mind Control “became very instrumental in giving me inner strength to overcome some of the challenges I had. It really did save my life in certain situations.”

That included the incident in Georgia when the man, who turned out to be an ex-convict, held her captive in his home for 16 hours before she persuaded him to let her leave.

“I was in a situation where nobody else going to save my life but me,” she said. “A lot of it was visualization--to not show fear and to keep my head on and to psychologically disarm him: treating him like a human being. I continued to keep an even voice and really tried to learn more about this person. I can’t say I wasn’t scared. I was terrified inside, but I couldn’t show it. Rape is a power play. If you show fear and play victim, they have more power.”

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Vantress said she included a chapter on the episode, “in a way, to share with people that I was not a victim. It really added to my trip; it didn’t take away from it.”

And the trip, she said, changed her life.

“Every value and belief system was challenged, and my priorities in life changed,” she said, noting that people typically identify themselves with the external trappings of their success.

“What I learned from the trip was I could strip myself of everything, sit on a log in a forest naked and completely be myself. That’s kind of the change that became very significant--that I didn’t need all those external things to tell me who I was. It’s who you are inside.”

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Which is why, she said, “that rape was the ultimate test on proving to myself that it’s who you are inside. Here this person could rape me, but he didn’t get my soul.”

Despite that terrifying experience, Vantress said, the people she met were the highlight of the trip.

“I could not have made it without all the people that came into my life,” she said. “I didn’t expect that. I thought I was just going to be alone.”

She acknowledges there are risks involved in being a woman alone, “but the rewards are much greater. Everybody wants to be your parents: Everybody wants to help you. They just have a certain amount of respect for someone tackling their country on a bicycle by themselves.”

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Since the book came out last Christmas, Vantress said, she has sold out the first printing of 5,000 copies. She has already sold 1,000 copies of the second 5,000 printing in two weeks. The books are available at B. Dalton Bookseller and Waldenbooks.

Vantress said she didn’t want her book to be just a travelogue or about bicycling. It contains her message “that there are no limitations to life. All you have to do is believe in yourself.

“I truly believe that you can create the world in which you live.”


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