by Nathan Warner
“It has been an adventure of a lifetime! Words cannot even describe the amazing scenery and the power of Mother Nature.” James Rienstra said this about the first third of his quest, biking from Minnesota to Alaska to raise money for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund through his project, Pedaling for Pennies.
It is Rienstra’s words, however, that continue to inspire through his online blog where he details the highs and lows of each day’s grueling mileage. As of June 16, he had covered over 1,200 miles since setting out from Zimmerman on May 27 with his high at 111 miles in a single day.
Rienstra’s epic journey is in memory of his father, Wally Rienstra, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2005 at the age of 59. His commitment to helping others dealing with similar circumstances is what keeps him going despite what the weather has to say.
“I’d like to say I go where the wind blows me, but in this case, I’d wind up in the middle of a farmer’s field,” he said about battling the strong winds of North Dakota, but he greeted the headwinds to help him prepare for the steep climb of the Rocky Mountains, which he will be entering this week. “I felt like a human pinball on the freeway battling 40 mph winds with semi trucks buffeting me in their wakes.” To make matters worse, his GPS stopped working and he had to use paper maps from Bainville, Mont., to Shelby, nearly 400 miles, but he says the hardest part of the journey so far has been the rain. “Waking up soaking wet in the morning and having to package everything up wet only to unpack it at the end of the day and it’s still wet has been hard. You really get tired of that quick.”
The flooding he experienced in North Dakota reminded him of seeing New Orleans after Katrina when he traveled down to Louisiana to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Rienstra has had his hands full of adventures so far with incredibly kind and supportive people offering him help and support along the way and he’s also offered encouragement to others. In Chester, Mont., a young teenager named John talked to him about how difficult it is for young people growing up in small towns that don’t offer them anything and many turn to alcohol and drugs as their escape. “I talked to him about my adventure,” Rienstra said, “and how small Pedaling for Pennies started. He was amazed at what one person could do with the help of great friends and family. I talked to him about just doing something to change what he didn’t like. As the card I handed him said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ ”
No town he’s entered yet has been untouched by cancer or hardship and people from all walks of life have shared with him their own stories of survivors or lost loved ones.
The original plan included crossing over into Canada and making his way through the mountains into Alaska. However, Canadian authorities denied him access across the border. With this obstacle, he’s making a new plan. He is still working out the details and the timeline. As of 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 16, Rienstra is making his way from Browning, Mont., on Highway 2 and heading west towards Seattle, Wash. From Seattle, Rienstra will make it to Alaska, even if that means buying a plane ticket and flying there. He is determined to still pedal 3,000-plus miles and fulfill his goals and not disappoint his supporters.
Many of the challenges Rienstra would have faced in Canada biking through the mountains will still present themselves. He says he’ll start hanging his food up and practicing bear safety while keeping his bear spray handy. The area he is entering has a high population of grizzly bears.
He’s hoping the sale of T-shirts on his website will cover the costs of his internet and cell phone, so he can keep in touch with family and continue posting on his blog. With this unplanned detour Rienstra may also face additional out-of-pocket costs, such as airfare.
Despite this hurdle he’s all smiles about the next leg of the journey. “Now that I see the mountains, I feel like I’m getting somewhere after biking all the flat land of North Dakota and eastern Montana. I can’t wait to cycle them. They’re so beautiful!”
All money donated to Pedaling for Pennies goes to the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund. To donate or read about Rienstra’s daily adventures, visit www.pedalingforpennies.info. To help with Rienstra’s cell phone and internet expenses, buy an official T-shirt on his website under the tab “Hobo Gear.”