He made it to Alaska!
by Nathan Warner
“James Rienstra is a foreign national who has not been authorized to enter Canada.”
So read the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration form James Rienstra received when he reached the Montana/Canada border on June 14. It was a major setback for Rienstra, who departed for Alaska May 20 from Zimmerman’s Westwood Elementary biking for his project, Pedaling for Pennies, a cancer research fund in memory of his father Wally Rienstra who died from pancreatic cancer in 2005.
“I will not give up on the fundraiser,” Rienstra said the day after receiving the notice at the border, “I need to reach my goal of $10,000.00 and that’s just it!”
Rienstra thought a lot about what kept him going after he was turned back in Canada. “Planning for 7 months and riding over 1,200 miles to get my heart torn out – I didn’t think I could go on,” he said. “But I couldn’t give up and head home, so I asked myself the question, ‘why did I start this trip?’” The answer? “To honor my father and get something back in me that I lost from his death.” His determination forged a new path, planning to bike to Washington, take a ferry to Alaska, and complete his 3,000-mile pledge there, retracing his last vacation with his father.
As Rienstra set out into the Rockies on Highway 2, the cold winds, steep grades, and thinning air were just a few of the new challenges he faced, not including dangerous drivers who passed other cars uphill and took corners at 80 mph without giving bikers any room on the road. Finally reaching the pass, Rienstra enjoyed coasting at 30 mph for 30 minutes down a major hill.
Everywhere Rienstra goes, he meets people affected by cancer whether it’s in big towns or chance meetings with strangers on the road. “I’m so touched every time I meet these wonderful people,” he said. “They’re the heart and soul of this trip.” When he wasn’t meeting people, he was taking in the majesty of the mountains, sheltering from storms with cows, checking out the surroundings with mountain goats, photographing Grizzly bears, and even ended up chased off a campground by a tenacious squirrel.
He passed through Idaho in three days, pulling into Spokane Washington on June 26. Washington welcomed him with extra-wide shoulders, great views, and kind and polite drivers before offering a little challenge called the Cascade Mountains and Steven’s Pass at the elevation of 4,000 feet, which was locked in snow and freezing rain driven by hard winds. Surviving this brawl with nature, Rienstra cruised down into Edmonds, just north of Seattle, stayed with some new friends, and bought his ferry ticket to Alaska on July 3, setting up tent on deck the next day for the 5-day journey as the ferry pulled out into the North Pacific Ocean.
Rienstra spent July 4 in international waters watching humpback whales, playing Frisbee-golf, reading a good book, sharing stories with other passengers from all over the world, and making a 4th of July party on deck with new friends, but by the last day of the crossing, he was feeling stir crazy. Off the boat at Whittier, Alaska on July 8, he pedaled into Anchorage that evening. With 1,000 miles yet to go, Rienstra is glad to be in Alaska finally and planning the final leg of his journey. “From Anchorage I will ride Highway 3 all the way into Fairbanks,” he said, “Then I will take 3 going east to Highway 4 south. Then it’s the last stretch of the Glenn Highway going west into Anchorage. That trip will put me at my 3,000-mile mark. Thanks everyone for all your encouragement and support and please don’t forget to donate!”
To make a tax-deductable donation to help James reach his goal of 10,000 dollars for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund, visit his website at www.pedalingforpennies.info and click the donation link or mail a check or money order to Pedaling for Pennies – 26721 150th Street, Zimmerman, MN, 55398.
Visit the Elk River Star News’ website for updates on James journey or visit his blog at www.pedalingforpennies.info.