Sitting in a Whitehorse coffee shop discussing mosquito-fighting techniques and border-crossing tales with fellow coffee addicts, Cody Tuttle is easily mistaken for another nature-loving young adventurer.
The magnitude of his mission unfolds slowly, modestly within the rhythm of the conversation. No bells and whistles – just a young man, a bicycle and a strong will to help the struggling youth of the world.
For Tuttle, Whitehorse is Day-12 of a two-month-long bike odyssey from Anchorage, Alaska, to Ensenada, Mexico.
Fuelled by determination and a faith in humanity, the 22-year-old rock-climber set out to cycle the 6,100 kilometres from north to south through three countries to help raise money and awareness for his two favourite projects: Invisible Children and Mammoth Lakes’ The Station camp in California.
“I wanted to do something big to raise awareness and help kids, and I’ve been wanting to see Alaska for a while now, so the idea started from there,” he says. “I like the idea of unity too, and going through the three big countries of the continent – we’re all part of the same landmass.
“So far the biggest challenge has been physical. It’s been difficult on the body. I pulled my Achilles tendon a while back. I know it won’t get worse, I’ve dealt with pulled tendons before, but the pain is challenging. And I sure can’t rest it now.”
He talks about the long stretches of being alone, with no cellphone service and how a little place like Tok, Alaska, has redefined his notion of what a small town is.
His faith in humanity comes across when he talks about the folks he’s met so far.
“People have been so generous, they’ve cooked for me, offered me places to stay and donated money just like that,” he smiles in awe. “In Haines Junction, I was offered a spare room in an RV. And a good hot breakfast in the morning.”
The Station in Mammoth Lakes, California, is where Tuttle works as a rock-climbing guide and graphic designer.
“Half of the money raised goes to help underprivileged children attend the nature camps. There are lots of kids out there who would never get a chance to get out of the city and learn to do things in the wilderness. We want to help them.”
The Station’s goal is to offer challenging and fun experiences that provide opportunities for people to overcome the “I could never …” obstacle to action.
The other half of the money goes to Invisible Children, which has a higher profile thanks to the work of three young filmmakers who travelled to Africa in 2003 and documented the abduction and use of children in the war in Uganda.
The film, also called Invisible Children, depicts atrocities and started a wave of social activism.
“It’s a real rough film to watch. There’s a rebel group in Uganda, and 90 per cent of the soldiers are kids under 15 years old that have been kidnapped,” Tuttle says, discussing the film showings and fundraising events he has been a part of so far.
“It’s a really big movement, and it’s still current – people are lobbying right now; a bill just got passed last May in US Congress concerning the issue.”
Tuttle may be selfless in many ways, but he admits to also having personal reasons that help him through the long cycling days.
“This is my fiancee, Cherise Harder from Chilliwack, BC,” he says, smiling wide and holding a picture. “I have to keep up the pace because she’s going to be there to meet me in Prince George when I get there. We are getting married a month and a half after the end of my journey.”
Tuttle’s projected arrival date is September 10th. He has raised $2,000 so far and his goal is set at $10,000.
“All of the money donated will be split 50/50 between the two charities. I saved up my own money for this trip and I’m keeping myself on a pretty strict budget. I’ll be checking out the all-you-can-eat buffets along the way.”
You can follow Tuttle at www.ridealaskatomexico.com. There, you can donate and find links to Invisible Children and The Station camps.
Janice Durant is a freelance writer who lives in Whitehorse.