It Takes Two: Aron Zingman and Jackie E. Stenson

Aron Zingman and Jackie E. Stenson, co-tutors in Cabot House, have been dating for the last two and a half years. Last summer, they took a two and a half-week motorcycle road trip together, traversing Scandinavia’s harsh terrain. The two sat down with FM to talk about their travels, their relationship, and their upcoming adventures.

Jackie

In all honesty, I threw the motorcycle trip proposal out there to a lot of people I had met, never expecting them to actually follow through. But he did follow through. Then I stopped throwing the proposal out there.

I had had my motorcycle license for a month. I had learned to ride a motorcycle from a guy in Ethiopia who spoke about as much English as I spoke Amharic. And at that point I decided, ‘Well I like motorcycles; they’re fun. Wouldn’t it be great to do the West Coast of Africa, but with my own set of wheels?’

This trip through Scandinavia was a prelude to what will be happening next summer. Scandinavia was one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been, despite the fact that it was rainy and cold and miserable. I remember this one time we were driving on a glacier in Norway. And we’re watching all the people drive by us on RVs, and they stop and they take a photo and they appreciate it because it’s beautiful. But they don’t appreciate it fully because they don’t feel the elements like we did when we were on the motorcycle. And even though we were cold and miserable and wet and freezing it was still probably one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been. And at the end of the glacier, we hit a tunnel that did literally a 720 corkscrew down a mountain and dumped us in a fjord.

We were riding these old Japanese motorcycles. Aron, being an engineer, built a solar charging system for our motorcycles. We could run electronics off of either the solar panels or off of the motorcycle battery. It was working great until we crossed into Norway and got rain. One of the parts malfunctioned and completely drained his motorcycle battery. On an old motorcycle you can push start it, which means you can physically run behind the bike pushing it. And we had to push start Aron’s bike for the second half of the trip.

We had a helmet communication system so we could speak to each other, either for talking or just sitting in silence or being able to quickly tell someone if something was happening. One time, a car was pulling out into the wrong side of the road. Aron swerved and honked and the car came a few feet of him, but the car came about a foot from hitting me. And that was pretty frightening. That’s why we kept the helmet communication systems—we could speak to each other more easily.

I always have a list of crazy trips I’d like to do. When we do something, we tend to go all out.

Aron

I used to think that I traveled a lot. There are a few people I’ve met, Jackie being one of them, that make me think I haven’t been anywhere. Before the conference in Colorado, she had been doing a post-graduate traveling fellowship from Harvard. She spent the last two years on less than $10,000 traveling across 11 countries or whatever it was in Africa—started in Ethiopia and worked her way south until she got to South Africa.

We met at a conference in Colorado. She, out of the blue, asked me if I wanted to do a motorcycle road trip across western Africa. Which I was like, “Sure...that’s cool.” After the conference, Jackie went to Cambridge, England to do her master’s. While she was there, she bought a motorcycle for herself, which was a model I recommended. A couple months later I gave her money and she bought a second motorcycle for me.

She rode the train for hours to go buy something off the equivalent of Craigslist in England. It’s meaningful in that we wanted to have an experience together, and she took the steps to make it actually happen.

On motorcycles, you have a different experience than people in a car in that you feel like part of the scenery, but you’re often cut off from other people, so I felt like we got the best of both of it because we had these intercoms and we were talking to each other. It was really nice not thinking about work. Jackie has two jobs, maybe more depending on how you want to count stuff—and one of them is a start-up so she’s super busy. I think it was really nice for both of us to disconnect from that in the middle of nowhere on a mountain on motorcycles.

Of all the people I know, she’s probably the most likely to make an idea happen or test it. If it doesn’t work it’s not because she let the idea sit. Jackie will do it, fail quickly, and move onto something else, or get it done. She’s working on a start-up in India and we just bought tickets for the end of December to January to go to India because the start up she’s working on is making progress. She’s made things that I might have left as ideas actually happen. I kind of joke that I help keep her grounded and she helps keep me from becoming boring.

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