From the Arctic to the Antarctic on a Bamboo Bike: The Miraculous Journey of Two Wild Dutchmen Cycle for Water: A Bamboo Bike Trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic
Images courtesy of Cycle for Water; Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Zak Stone
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|From the Arctic to the Antarctic on a Bamboo Bike: The Miraculous Journey of Two Wild Dutchmen Cycle for Water: A Bamboo Bike Trip from the Arctic to the Antarctic|
Cycle for Water's Michiel Roodenburg (on left) and Joost Notenboom (on right) are badass, simply put. The two Dutchmen are taking a 18,641 mile road trip–on bamboo bicycles. Traveling from the tip of North America to the root of South America, the duo hopes to raise awareness for the global water crisis, by symbolically hauling a bottle of chilly Arctic Water to release into the Antarctic. They've already battled impossible uphills, swarms of mosquitoes, and hunger pains, and that was just North America.
Currently in month five of their journey, they expect to arrive in the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia, Argentina, in about fourteen months. GOOD had the opportunity to interview the busy duo via email. Click 'next' to read the interview, and check out more of their awesome photos.
GOOD: How are you storing the water from the Arctic? How much water did you collect?
JOOST NOTENBOOM AND MICHIEL ROODENBURG: The only good thing about starting in Deadhorse was that we had access to the Beaufort Sea (i.e. the Arctic). We had to take an official tour since the whole settlement is fenced off by the oil companies that operate up there. We weren't even supposed to swim in the Arctic: The folks there didn't allow it because of all kinds of metal and debris under the water. Michiel did it anyway (pictured above).
So we filled up a normal 300-milliliter PET bottle that we found on the road, and we're still carrying that. It's usually wrapped in a towel in a backpack, which is in my trailer.
G: What's the most amazing thing that's happened on your trip thus far?
JN & MR: This trip has already completely reinforced our faith in humanity. We've already met so many wonderful people on the road these past four months. People dealing with their everyday issues and frustrations, but people 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 all right and wanted some water and 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 met these folks for a few hours but 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 Hwy 101, when we got a call 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 this big car came to pick us up. We got into the studio, got mic'ed up and told we'd go live in a few minutes. That was really amazing.
But even better was two hours after our five minutes of fame. We had a Skype conference call (pictured above) with an elementary school in Olympia. The kids there (4 and 5 years old) had biked around their school and walked carrying a gallon of water to try and understand what it's like for kids not as fortunate as they are. They had raised about $500 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!
G: What was the most grueling leg of the journey so far?
JN & MR: The worst part of our trip, without a doubt, was the start. We hadn't trained at all for this thing. We obviously knew how to ride a bicycle but that was about it. Michiel also knew how to change a tire/tube, but I didn't. So once we got up to our starting point in Deadhorse, Alaska, on July 7 we had a pretty steep learning curve.
The first road was the Dalton Highway, a 500-mile gravel road going from Deadhorse down to Fairbanks, Alaska. There are no services on this road, no towns, no cell phone, no nothing. We had to bring all our food and supplies for this stretch of the trip. Maybe you've seen the show Ice Road Truckers? That's this road–it's desolate and barren.
The only thing that's there are mosquitoes. Millions of them awakening from the permafrost. The gravel road gets sprayed with water and magnesium for dust prevention, so that the truckers who ride the road can see where they're going and not get blinded by the dust. However, this spraying creates an inch thick mush, which is almost impossible to ride through on a bicycle. It slows you down to about 8 to 9 miles an hour. And at this speed all those mosquitoes can keep up and satisfy their hunger.
On top of that, Michiel's bike broke. His back derailleur hanger (made of titanium) broke off. So we were stranded in the middle-of-the-middle-of-nowhere, since you can't weld titanium with a little cooking stove and a lighter. We had no choice but to hitch a ride, which took about six hours to get, and quickly forget about this disastrous 'dress-rehearsal.'
G: According to your website, your bamboo bicycles are supposed to help prevent sore butts. Has that proved true?
JN & MR: Yeah, it's totally true. It's funny as well since we're using Brooks saddles, which you're supposed to break in for something like 1,000 to 1,500 miles. During this time the saddle will take the shape of your butt and you 'might' experience saddle sore.
Not so for us. We haven't had any problems. The saddles are very comfortable, and we think the bamboo helps by absorbing shocks of the road. Little bumps, gravel, and uneven surfaces all get absorbed, more or less, by the bamboo's capacity to flex. It's really awesome!
G: Has this trip changed the way you think about the United States?
JN & MR: The more you know, the less you know right. It's hard to define the United States, or define one homogeneous United States. Alaska (gun shop pictured above) is totally different than California, which is totally different from other experiences we've had in Louisiana, Kentucky, Miami, or New York.
What happens when you spend some time in a different culture is that you are made aware of your own existing stereotypes and prejudices. At the end of the day, people are people, and everyone is dealing with more or less the same issues, whether you're from the Netherlands or from northern California.
Some things remain true though. L.A. traffic just sucks.
G: Where are you most excited to go once you get south of the border?
JN & MR: We'll be crossing the border on Monday (November 8) and will be cycling through that part of the world for the next 14 months or so. We're really hoping we can visit a lot of water projects in different stages of development and see how people deal with their own, local water issues. We want to see the beautiful beaches of Baja, the rainforest of Costa Rica, the coffee plantations of Colombia, the mountain peaks in the Andes, the salt flats of Bolivia, and the rugged nature of Patagonia, just to name a few things.
What we also would love is to get down to Ushuaia (our finish) and hop on a boat to Antarctica to ride our bamboo bikes on the ice for a bit. That would be the most incredible finish to an already amazing journey!
G: What do you hope to get out of this trip, both personally but also in terms of the fresh water cause that you are advocating for? Are you trying to raise money as well as awareness?
JN & MR: That's a tough question. Concerning our cause its both awareness and money. So our trip is sort of two-fold. In the U.S. we've already spoken at universities (SFSU, Stanford, UC Irvine, UCLA, CalTech, CSUF), at primary schools, and in the media about our project and some of the issues around water.
Now that we're about to go into Latin America (November 8) we hope that all this attention will translate into donations that go directly to water projects in some of the communities we'll be cycling through. If you check our site, you'll see that we still need about 4,000 euros to fully finance a water project in Guatemala. It would be awesome if that happened before we reach that little town (San Juan la Laguna) so we can see the change and share it with people back home who gave a euro or a dollar.
Personally this trip is an attempt to satisfy some of our wanderlust and curiosity about the outside world. Traveling by bicycle is, in our view, the best way to really experience a place. It slows you down so you feel every bump in the road, you feel the wind in your hair, and you curse every uphill. You meet people much more quickly than you would in a car. People sense your vulnerability and open up to you. It's just a great way to learn about the world.