Rienstra ready to roll from here to South America

by Nathan Warner

Contributing writer

On Monday, Aug. 19, Zimmerman might see a familiar lone cyclist heading out of town.

Road warrior, Jim Rienstra, will be leaving his hometown once more to begin his Pan American Cancer Tour (PACT) to raise funds for cancer research.  He’ll bike west to Oregon before turning south along the west coast down into Mexico, Central America, and South America, finally finishing on the Patagonia Strait (or Strait of Magellan) in Argentine, near the South Pole.

This will be the second cancer tour Rienstra bikes since the first day he first pedaled out of Zimmerman for Alaska in 2011.  For that tour, he raised over $16,000 for the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund in memory of his father, Wally Rienstra who died of pancreatic cancer in 2005.

Since then, Rienstra says he’s met so many people struggling with cancer, that this trip is really about everyone.  As part of that mission statement, Rienstra will be wearing a “Team Erin” t-shirt on his trip – a call-out to Erin Pendergast who was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer while 22-weeks pregnant and given only a month to live.

“It’s for people like Erin that we’re fighting for,” Rienstra says.

That fight now has his epic journey rooting for it.

“I haven’t even set my feet to my peddles yet and we’ve already raised $15,000,” Rienstra said.

His goal is to raise $100,000 by journey’s end, 15,000 miles later.  The PACT journey is over 5 times longer than his Minnesota to Alaska tour and will pass through more than a dozen different countries.  Rienstra estimates it will take 15 months.

He’s already looking forward to the half-way point in his journey, when he reaches the Darien Gap, a notorious, 90-mile strip of impassable jungle filled with drug smugglers, revolutionaries and kidnappers to say nothing about the dangers from nature.  This Darien Gap breaks the Pan-American Highway with no road connecting Central America to South America. Rienstra will avoid this danger by chartering a sailboat to take him along 360 islands in the Caribbean until he reaches Columbia.

“I plan to zig-zag through many of the countries in South America,” he says, “hitting Belize and El Salvador for example.”  Internet access and cell phone reception will be persistent problems on the journey.

“I’ll be ditching my phone in Mexico,” he says, “with hit or miss internet after Columbia.”

He’ll be completely out of touch for the 2 to 3 weeks it will take him to cross Bolivia’s salt flats, but he’ll give updates on his blog whenever he can to describe the wonders and the challenges that he faces.

And what challenges they are.  “It isn’t just the distance,” Rienstra says, “it’s also all the different countries I’ll be passing through.”

He’s already been working hard getting the necessary immunizations, visas and other requirements as prescribed by each country.

Then there’s the language barriers.

“I’ll learn Spanish on my way,” he said, smiling.  The mental and physical challenges are enormous, partly from all the different climates he’ll be passing through, which include rainforests, deserts, and the Andes Mountains.

“In some cases, I’ll be going from sea level to 14,000 feet in one day,” he said,” and I’ll be struggling with altitude sickness.”

Even when he crosses the finish line, he may be battling the infamous 80 to 90 mph winds of the Patagonia Strait, which make the 40 mph breeze he battled in North Dakota two years ago seem like a draft.

Another consideration is seasonal.  “I’m trying to time the trip to take advantage of the opposite season south of the equator,” he explains, referring to the fact that when it’s summer north of the equator, it’s winter south of the equator.

All in all, Rienstra just hopes to reach his destination by January of 2015.  By then, his trusty bike, “Mother Trucker” will have a few thousand miles more on it.

“I think I’ll have to sell the bike for my return home by plane,” he said. “But we’ll see.”

For more information on Rienstra’s journey, and information on how to donate, visit his site at: www.pedalingforpennies.info and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pedalingforpennies