Dirk Spits isn't the first person who has set out to cycle from the very top of North America to the absolute bottom of South America but along with realizing a monumental achievement, he is pedaling to make a difference
The 32-year-old native of the Netherlands began his odyssey at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on Sept. 1 and, if all goes well, he'll have arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina in 18-20 months. And along with covering some 27,400 kilometres, he aims to raise about $20,000 for as many as 15 small scale projects designed to improve to the lives of the less fortunate.
He is asking everyone he meets along the way to donate one percent of their daily income to the cause and that's where his friend, Wouter van Eenbergen, 27, comes in. He is driving a support vehicle, setting up fundraising and media events a few days ahead of Spits' arrival at the destinations along the way.
Even if you fail to see Spits as he cycles his way south, van Eenbergen's vehicle is hard to miss - it's a faded-maroon minivan festooned with giant www.99percentride.org decals.
"I was inspired by other people doing charity rides but they weren't always raising enough money, and I was thinking, 'why is that so?'" Spits said Monday during a stopover in Prince George. "Why not have somebody drive ahead of you and do all the PR and media work?"
The projects are chosen through www.onepercentclub.com, a Dutch crowdfunding website.
"They act as a filter for us," Spits said.
They're currently working to raise about $1,000 to supply solar-powered lights to families in a lesser-developed area of Guatemala where they rely on kerosene for illumination.
"Kerosene, as we both know, is very bad for your health, for your breathing," Spits said. "A lot of times, when a light falls, it breaks, you get fires, the whole camp burns down. It's all bad, bad, bad."
Once powered up, the lights can also be used to power cellular phones and the like.
Other than some knee trouble, Spits' side of the trip has gone relatively smoothly despite starting fairly late in the year - most cyclists leave Prudhoe Bay in June or July - encountering snow and significantly sub-zero weather for only three or four days. Riding a steel framed bike weighing 16 kg and carrying as much as 35 kg of gear, Spits has been covering 85 to 140 km per day depending on the terrain.
Arguably, van Eegenberg is facing a daunting challenge in his own right. He's driving a 1990 Plymouth with 250,000 kilometres on it, although the engine has just 60,000. It was purchased in Anchorage for $1,300.
Both have enjoyed sights they just don't get back home due to the abundance of people and lack of wilderness.
"The things we see here are amazing," van Eegenberg said. "The moose, the bears, the caribou."
Spits is equipped with bear bells and spray and keeps his food well away from his tent at night.
They are limiting their spending on food to $8 per day and relying on yet another website, www.couchsurfing.org, to find overnight accommodation when in a community.
"The hospitality has been really amazing," Spits said.