On July 4, 2010, Joost Notenboom and Michiel Roodenburg began an 18 month bicycle journey from Deadhorse in northern Alaska to the most southern tip of Argentina at Ushuaia. Their mission is to take one bottle of icy Alaskan water from the Beaufort Sea down to the seas around Tierra del Fuego in a symbolic effort to complete the natural water cycle and raise awareness for the global water crisis that is leaving over 1 billion people around the world without access to safe and clean drinking water.
About four months ago we (Joost and Michiel) started our bicycle trip that will take us from Alaska to Argentina. By now, we have successfully passed through Alaska, Canada, and the United States, and entered Mexico last week. So far, we have cycled about 4,000 of the total 18,000 miles and still have a long way to go until we reach the finish by Christmas next year. On average, we do 50 miles a day, which is about 6 hours of cycling. It can be pretty tough, especially when plowing through rain, crawling over mountains, and sweating under the scorching sun.
Besides the cycling, we are raising awareness for the global water crisis, which is leaving more than a billion people without access to clean drinking water. The population of second and third world countries are the ones that are most affected with this issue. However, water scarcity is, and will increasingly become, problematic in the ‘rich West’ as well. For instance, California has some major issues with their water supply and is actually importing some of their water from neighboring states.
We have had the opportunity to speak to students and kids in most of the big cities we have cycled through. That has been one of the greatest things so far. At the same time we are raising donations to fund and set up water-related projects in Central and South-America. Our first project is in San Juan la Laguna in rural Guatemala where together with other partners, we are funding a water pump that will benefit 1700 people in that area. We are planning to cycle to all the project sites we support to document the progress, the people, and how they are coping with their lack of access to clean drinking water.
So far, the trip has been a blast. We are amazed by the friendliness of all the people that we meet along the way. We have met people who are dealing with their everyday issues and frustrations, but who nevertheless open up their homes to us, feed us, laugh with us, and thereby share in our story.
We were cycling up a mean uphill in Oregon a while back, it was getting dark and it started to rain. We didn’t have much food and were pretty down. But we cycled past this house and it happened to be that a lady was walking outside along her courtyard. She called out to us, asked us if we were alright, if we wanted some water, and if we needed a place to set up our tents. That was awesome already, but when her husband came home, that water turned into beers, and the tents turned into a warm workshop. The next day we got a nice breakfast, a packed lunch, and the keys to their beach house on the Pacific Coast. We could stay there as long as we wanted…. We’d only met these folks for a few hours. That kind of generosity is more common than you might think.
Another amazing thing happened near San Francisco: We were biking up the last hill on Route 1 just before it merges with Highway 101. It was a very, very hot day and the grade was something like 9 percent. It was pretty tough going, especially because we were hauling about 90 pounds of gear on our bike and trailer. But we got a call on that hill from CNN asking if we could make it down to their studio in San Francisco the next day to go live on their news show. So the next day we settled in at our host, and in the afternoon this big car came to pick us up. We got into the studio, got mic’ed up, and were told we’d go live in a few minutes. That was really amazing.
But even better than CNN was the two hours after our five-minutes of fame. We had a Skype conference call with an elementary school in Olympia. The kids there (4 – 5 years-old) had biked and walked around their school while carrying a gallon of water so as to try and understand what it must be like for kids not as fortunate as them. They had raised about 500 U.S. dollars and had prepared a lot of really cool questions for us. To see these kids and talk to them might have been even better than CNN, but all in all that was a pretty awesome day!!
Next to the good stories, we also had some tough times on the road. We started this trip with no training at all in a place called Deadhorse, Alaska. Deadhorse is a town on the Arctic Ocean in the North of Alaska. The only things they have up there are oil and mosquitoes. The first 500 miles was on a gravel road, continuously sprayed with water to make the surface stickier for the big trucks, but it was terrible for cyclists. And because you cycle so slowly, the mosquitoes can catch up to you. As a result, we had hundreds of bites all over our bodies. How about that for an itch!
Another scary story was the close encounter with a big black bear in Hyder, Alaska. We were cycling up a gravel road when suddenly we saw a big shadow standing up and looking us right in the eyes. It was a big bear just 5 feet away from us! Luckily it decided not to have us for lunch and jumped in to the woods.
But really, the worst times are when you are not on your bike and have the time to reflect about yourself, the trip, and the people you left back home when you started this trip. When you spend the last few moments awake thinking about your family, loved ones, girlfriend, or mom – that can be hard at times. But then you wake up, and with the wonders of modern technology, you can use e-mail, Skype or webcam to share your stories with the people you love. Then, all the pain is soon forgotten and you realize you are undertaking an adventure that will stick with you for the rest of your life.
Want to learn more about Cycle for Water and Joost and Michiel’s trip? Check out their website! http://www.cycleforwater.nl/