Two weeks ago, John Mele biked into Whitehorse mad as hell.
On the brink of losing his home, the Knoxville, Tennessee, architect decided to cycle north.
Angry about an economic system that had failed him and millions of other Americans, Mele, 60, thought he’d rather hop on a bike than “suck it up” and start over again.
It began as a joke.
When Mele found out last year he would have to close his architecture firm or go broke, he told his wife he was taking off to Whitehorse.
All of his friends and family thought he was insane.
But the more he repeated the idea, the more real it became.
“I think I did it primarily to get my spirit back from so many years of conforming to the system,” he said.
“It was something I could do that nobody could change.”
While other people in his country were joining the right-wing Tea Party or scrounging around for work, Mele was preparing for a 5,800-kilometre bike ride to the Yukon.
Mele can’t quite articulate why. Something just beckoned him up here, he said.
A copy of Jack London’s White Fang and a brief stint living in New Brunswick a few decades ago may have wooed him.
But he likes to think that he was blindly following a dream, similar to the gold prospectors who came to the Yukon 100 years ago.
“We use the word freedom a lot in the southern States and wave flags like hootenany,” he said.
“But how free is a man who has a heart attack then loses his job and can no longer pay for his health care?”
Mele feels cheated by his country.
He was sent to Vietnam as a US Marine at the age of 19.
After surviving the Vietnam War, he enrolled at the Boston Architectural School where he took classes at night and worked as a labourer by day.
He started a family, then built up his own business. He moved several times to weather the country’s several financial storms.
Then, in 2009, the US financial system collapsed.
“In ‘09 they changed all the rules,” wrote Mele on his travel blog.
“The jobs disappeared, gone to China and India. Guys like me and those before us built this great land and were no longer needed.
“Things called ‘derivatives’ took our place.”
Mele knew that cycling to the Yukon wasn’t improving his economic situation. In fact, he was only making it worse.
But it was something he felt compelled to do after chasing the American dream and being left with nothing.
Mele prepared for months and left June 22 from Madison, Indiana.
On the back of his bike he tacked a sign that read “Journey to Whitehorse.” Most people he met along the way had no idea the city even existed.
He averaged about 120 kilometres of riding per day.
It was a tough slog, he admits, but the bike ride gave him a lot of time to think.
It also made him a bit delirious, said Mele.
While on his trip a man he met gave him a couple clay figurines that he tied with fishing line to the front of his bike.
While riding, he decided one of them had a smashing likeness to US political satirist Stephen Colbert – but as a baby.
“I could tell by the little smirk on this clay person’s face that it was indeed Colbert’s,” wrote Mele on his blog.
“He waved his tiny little arms all around and high-fived the sky and sort of looked at me and said, ‘I’m a little baby G*d. Who the hell are you?’
“I mean it this little guy was cocky just like his Papa Colbert.”
Mele eventually sent his blog post to Colbert along with a picture of him on his bike ride.
He’s hoping the story of his bike ride might compel Colbert to put him on his show, the Colbert Report.
“I want to tell people to get up in the morning and do something,” said Mele.
“Don’t blame the Koreans, the Mexicans or the Muslims for your problems. Do something!
“There’s enough scapegoating going on in this country.”
Check out Mele’s blog at http://journeytowhitehorse.posterous.com
Contact Vivian Belik at