WCU Alumnus to Bike America for Charity

On April 30, 2009, Dane Randall will set out from Yorktown, Virginia for Astoria Oregon with camping gear and a few sparse possessions loaded on his bicycle. 4,261 miles and one country later, he hopes to arrive knowing that he has helped support Portland-based charity MercyCorps through a multitude of individuals sponsoring his trip.

A few years ago, Randall had picked up cycling as a way to loose some weight, and 70 lbs. later he had fallen in love with bicycle touring and was eager to get on the road for longer tours. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, less than a year ago Randall fell off a ledge and broke his leg.

After a year to recuperate, and having graduated from WCU in December with a degree in Natural Resource Management, Randall decided the time was ripe to finally take the long tour he had been wanting to and he set his sights on a trans-American trip.

When asked what motivated him to traverse the entire US on bike, he responded “When I was younger, stories about people traversing the United States always intrigued me and I’ve always wanted to do something like that. I wanted to do an extended tour, a really long one where I could get total immersion with the road. I wanted to be out for at least a couple months. I wanted to know what it felt like to be completely reliant and dependent on my bicycle.”

Randall says that the motivating force for such an endeavor came from a couple of main sources, including a fellow WCU alumnus and a movie about a similar tour.

“A fellow WCU alumnus, AJ Rowell, did a similar project where he rode from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Cullowhee, NC and that motivated me to undertake this as well. That’s not what started me touring, though. I got the idea through a friend of a friend. His name was Brian Newhouse. He went to New Zealand for a job offer that fell through and he ended up being stuck there and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to explore the country. He got on the internet and found a $35 bicycle and decided to ride around all the islands and document his trip with a video camera. He made a movie out of the trip that was called ‘Bananadog,’ and that was the key inspiration to why I started to ride.”

Randall felt that just doing this tour for himself was not enough and he decided to find a way to somehow give back through it.

“The idea of being completely reliant on myself and my physical capabilities while coexisting with this planet intrigues me. Furthermore, I have decided to ride across the country and use this opportunity to raise money for those in need. I feel that this trip has been about me the whole time and I would like to make my journey more than that. This will be my opportunity to give back to the world in which I have been so blessed.”

He decided the best way to achieve this would be to have people sponsor him for the ride and donate that money to a charity. He sought long and hard to find a charity to help support and finally found one that fit his criteria.

“It’s call Mercy Corps and they’re based out of Portland. I really wanted to choose a charity that best outlined my principals and morals and this charity is fantastic. Everything about it is amazing. They have worked in 105 countries and work in 36 currently,” he said.

“What intrigued me the most about it was that they don’t purely offer support and food drops and things like that where the just go in and just supply food, though they do offer that where it’s needed. Their real focus is primarily on community and community building. That’s what intrigued me the most. Community for me is really important and I really do value the community we have in Sylva a whole lot. The value of what you can accomplish in a community is tremendous. That was always very important to me and I thought that that was what a lot of countries lacked,” Randall said.

“Mercy Corps will go in and offer new ideas for agriculture and community planning to try and create a sustainable community for the long term. They will actually give out loans to communities so that they can actually provide their own food. One loan they gave out was for a greenhouse so the community could grow tomatoes. They’re also involved in civics, making sure these communities are more involved in their country’s government, especially communities in rural areas and the women of these places. They work with green projects a lot as well, going in and teaching communities to make their own bio-diesel, things like that,” Randall continued.

When I asked Randall about how long the trip will take, he wasn’t able to give me a clear answer, other than that he is in no hurry.

“Well, I know that I will begin in Yorktown, Virginia and I will end the trip in Astoria, Oregon. The trip is 4,261 miles and I leave April 30, 2009. As far as an end date goes, I don’t really have one because I don’t know how long it will take me. It all depends on how fast I travel. I’ve been working with a program called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) that has over 700 farms in the US. You just volunteer your time and help out organic farms in the US and they offer free room and board while you’re working. I’m planning to stop and work these along the way. That’ll be a good way to stop and get a hot shower, which is crucial, and meet some of my fellow countrymen. It’ll take anywhere from 50 to 80 days, I think. Maybe more if I’m working on the farms a lot.”

For Randall this is not simply a bike tour, but the beginning to a new way of life. Randall appreciates how efficient and sustainable a life on the road is for him right now and plans to pursue that lifestyle for longer than simply the trans-America trip. He has sold most of his possessions and will not be returning to his everyday life afterwards.

“I currently don’t have a plan to get back and I don’t really plan on getting back. One reason why I’m trying to do this, other than to support the charity, is to find a new life on the road and to simply my life and to experience complete freedom. Living off a bicycle is a rather simple and elegant lifestyle. Everyday is different and you’re totally immersed in nature and the goodwill of the men and women who make up this country.”

Randall is raising funds both in person and online through an organization called First Giving that can be accessed through his website bikopelli.com. The site offers a streamlined way to sponsor Randall for his tour, and his website bikopelli.com offers a plethora of biographical info and info on his trip, as well as videos where Randall explains his motivation for going.