It took us 605 days.
It took us six hundred and five days to ride our bamboo-and-hemp bicycles from the top of the planet to the tip; to cycle from that isolated town in the most northern part of the Alaskan Arctic down to the Antarctic Peninsula, where – on March 6th, 2012 – we set foot and rim on to the White Continent.
We spent 605 days on our bicycles for a reason, and not because we particularly love cycling. Prior to embarking on this 30,000-kilometer journey, neither of us had pedaled more than 15 kilometers at a time; riding through our hometowns in the Netherlands. No, it wasn’t for the love of cycling that we lived in our small tents, got chased by countless angry dogs, and dragged heavy trailers full of unnecessary gear halfway around the world. We did it for a different reason; we did it for the watery adventure.
We knew we weren’t going to be the first or the fasted attempting this journey. No training, no experience, and no clue, meant that no records would be set or broken. But that wasn’t the point. The point wasn’t to prove something; it wasn’t about claiming some physical achievement or titanic feat. We wanted to engage with people and explore the question of how we, all of us together, are going to live on this planet in a sustainable way; now and in the future.
We knew the inconvenient truths. We knew there will be nine billion mouths to feed by the time both of us will retire, we knew there are more and more cars on our roads, more and more microwaves in our kitchens, and less ‘stuff’ to make it all possible.
We knew all that, but being stubborn optimists we wanted to learn more about the convenient solutions.
That is why we started our journey two years ago in that small, quiet settlement in the Alaskan Arctic; to learn about the basis of life itself, water. To meet a few of the billion people who still don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water, and listen to their stories. To see some of the effects of our unsustainable ways of development that are threatening this most precious resource; and to learn that clean water has the power to transform communities, lift them out of poverty, and send millions of children into education and out of that vicious cycle holding them trapped.
Water is politics; water is business. Water is food and energy. Water is the bloodstream of the biosphere and we need to share our supply between all living things.
And there is no better way to go out exploring than on a bicycle. It does not have doors or windows keeping you detached from your environment. You are part of it. You can feel the wind, the rain, and the sun on your face. You can connect with people and communities, and you can do all this feeling confident that your impact on the planet is minimal.
We pedaled our bicycles across the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the 1,000 mile desert of Baja, the humid rainforests of Central and South America, the Andean Highlands of Peru and Bolivia, the dry pampas of Patagonia, and the ice sheets of Antarctica.
What we learned is that big challenges are overcome in small steps. This was true for our own personal journey of 30,000 kilometers, but it is also true for the progress made on sustainable development.
Change needs action, and for action you need awareness. How many more people have become aware of our collective challenges since 20 years ago?
This is also true for water. Through visiting local projects along our route and listening to what people had to say, we have become more positive about human ingenuity and drive. It is easy sometimes to forget about bottom-up change being made every day by concerned parents, neighbors, and local change makers. Whether it is building water wells using nothing more than a machete, old car tires and bicycle spokes, or fabricating fog catchers to harvest the water from the air, or putting together purification filters from buckets, sand, and a bit of gravel; people are a lot cleverer than we often think or give them credit for.
Waiting for change to come is not the way. We need action. Because the biggest threat to the planet is the belief that someone else will take care of it.
That is why we are continuing our efforts.
We ran out of road once we reached Antarctica, but we feel that where we want to go we don’t really need any roads; we will continue to explore and try. Maybe we will fail miserably, but maybe we will win big. We want to continue trying to make a difference and contribute whatever little we can. So watch this space because change is gonna come!
Cycle for Water 2.0