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Nicole Heker, 26, recently wrapped a 507-day, 6,351-mile solo journey on two wheels from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai to the southern Portuguese city of Lagos. The Princeton, N.J., native pedaled on paved highways, gravel roads, dirt trails, and horse paths. She pushed her bicycle through sand and up and down steep steppes. And, for a few miles here and there, she hitched rides with friendly strangers or was given rides by silent security officers.

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