On July 4, 2010, we, Joost Notenboom & Michiel Roodenburg, began a 20 month bicycle journey from Deadhorse in northern Alaska to the Antarctic Peninsula south of Ushuaia. Our mission was to take one bottle of icy Alaskan water from the Beaufort Sea down to the seas around Antarctica in a symbolic effort to complete the natural water cycle and raise awareness for the global water crisis that is leaving over 1 billion people around the world without access to safe and clean drinking water.
This incredible adventure took us through sixteen countries and across roughly 30.000 km of paved and unpaved roads, mountain passes, and dirt tracks. The trip started above the Arctic Circle and other regions along the way included the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, the forests of the Pacific Northwest, the desert areas of Baja, the rainforests of Central and South America, the Andes highlands of Peru and Bolivia, the steppes of Patagonia, and the ice sheets of Antarctica.
To make this an even greater challenge, Cycle for Water was the first ever attempt to do all this by cycling the entire route on bamboo bicycles. Not only was this counting towards our efforts to minimize our own footprint, but it simultaneously demonstrated that a lot of challenges can be overcome using sustainable solutions.
Michiel‘s (27) first cycling experiences were Sunday afternoon trips on the child’s seat of his dad’s bike in Aberdeen, Scotland where he was born in the spring of 1985.
Raised in an internationally oriented family by his adventure seeking parents, he has become quite accustomed to foreign cultures, peoples, and languages. As a youngster, Michiel started sailing on mountain lakes in Syria and as a teenager he was catching snakes, tracking elephants and building multi-platform tree huts in Gabon, West Africa.
After his high school graduation and trips to the Ardennes, Alps and Pyrenees, he went on to study Business Administration and Philosophy in Rotterdam. During his student years, Michiel organized one of the biggest student conferences of Western Europe as part of an ambitious team. Together with his colleagues he managed to attract high profile speakers from business, the sciences, and politics, such as Frederik Reinfeldt (Prime Minister of Sweden), Jakob Kellenberger (President of the International Committee of the Red Cross), and Robert Swan OBE (the first man to walk unsupported to the North and South Poles).
It was Robert Swan’s personal credo (‘whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it – for boldness has genius, power and magic in it’) which made such an impact on Michiel that he vowed to do something extraordinary after his university graduation. On the question – why cycle for water? – he is very clear; ‘when living in the Middle East and Africa I witnessed the importance of clean and readily available water sources. If we don’t act now and contribute, each in our own way, it will be much harder to change the situation later on. Everybody has a right to clean water since it is essential for life to exist. This cycling adventure will be our own personal effort to raise awareness and make a change, however big or small it will turn out to be…‘.
Michiel recently graduated as MSc from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, which included a student exchange period spent in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was here where he met his fellow cycling adventurist Joost. Together they explored Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, traveling by public transportation and meeting fellow students and adventurers along the way.
Joost (29) is like many other Dutch men and could almost ride his bicycle before he could walk. One unfortunate biking incident – in which he broke the middle finger of his left hand at age five – notwithstanding, Joost embraced bicycles at an early age. Next to the compulsory daily round trip to school he had his paper route to complete – which always added many gruelling kilometers of pedalling through rain, sleet, or snow.
After a period of working as a volunteer at the Amakhala Game Reserve in the South African bush – during which he was first confronted with the effects of water shortages on wildlife and local communities – Joost completed a Master of Science degree in management studies from Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University with distinction. Pursuing academic interests in sustainability and natural resources management, he wrote his award winning thesis on transboundary water management in a situation of conflict. When gathering data for this research during a student exchange semester spent in Israel and the Palestinian West Bank, he met up with Michiel and the first outlines for Cycle for Water quickly took form after the two of them traveled to (the dryer parts of) Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iran.
When asked for his motivation for Cycle for Water he replies; ‘like most people that I know I never really gave much thought about the water coming out of my tap. It wasn’t until I saw the people in Africa and the Middle East struggling for access to clean and safe water that I began to appreciate my own fortunate situation. My thesis research has furthermore shown me that water can be a sensitive and complicated issue which involves many stakeholders and conflicting points of view. This is why I want to Cycle for Water; to help those people in need at the local level‘.