Instead of biking for a nebulous cause, Belinda and Roland Hinmueller are getting their hands dirty.
The New Zealand couple – riding a yellow tandem bike from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Argentina – is volunteering at Salvation Army posts along their route.
“In Fairbanks, they needed volunteers to take food boxes to apartments for elderly dependent people,” said Belinda, sitting at the Whitehorse Salvation Army shelter on Wednesday afternoon.
Working alongside regular volunteers, the couple wished they could stay longer.
“Some people do this all the time,” said Belinda.
“And they had a relationship with the residents,” added Roland.
In Whitehorse, the couple had filled, sanded and primed a wall at the shelter.
The next step was painting it.
“I wish we could finish the whole room,” said Belinda.
Sally Ann regulars sat at tables with worn plastic covers finishing up their lunch.
One man leaned over, after staring at the Hinmuellers intently.
“Have you ever seen a mammoth?” he said.
Belinda looked at him, surprised.
“Not a live one,” she said.
The man pointed at her carved bone pendant. “What’s that made of?” he said.
It was cow bone. Belinda and Roland had each carved a pendant for one another.
“That’s cheap stuff,” said the man. “I carve mammoth.”
He walked away.
The shelter is full every night, said Captain Shannon Howard.
“We have a lot of people sleeping out here,” she said, motioning around the room.
After the 10 shelter beds fill up, another 20 people fill the dining room in makeshift beds.
The Hinmuellers weren’t surprised by the amount of poverty and desperation in Whitehorse.
“It’s what I was expecting,” said Belinda.
“I wish it was different. I wish we could go to a town and there wasn’t such a need, but anywhere with more than five people there’s a need.”
In New Zealand, Belinda, who’s a nurse, volunteers on a youth line. Roland, a teacher, volunteers at the SPCA.
Neither have had much experience with the Salvation Army before.
The pair decided to work with the organization because it was worldwide and “was well-known and respected,” said Belinda.
After some research, Roland realized the Salvation Army offered a lot more than a church and a thrift shop, he said.
It also offers counselling, housing and drug-and-alcohol support, he said.
“And there are Salvation Armies everywhere we’re going,” added Belinda.
The Hinmuellers decided to make their epic tandem trek into a mission trip after talking with their local Sally Ann captain in New Zealand.
They’d originally considered trying to raise money for a charity during the bike ride.
“But we thought this was more useful and more personal than raising money,” said Roland.
“We are here for just a short time so we wanted to inject a bit of help and support for people who do it day in and day out.”
“We wanted to really help those in need, rather than just giving them a pat on the back,” said Belinda.
Covered in drywall dust, Roland pried the lid off the paint can, revealing a calming turquoise colour.
“It was from the relaxing section,” said Howard, who wasn’t sure about the colour.
The paint chip looked good, she said.
The Hinmuellers were finishing one wall, but the rest still need painting. And the thrift store can always use help sorting its donations, said Howard.
“We always welcome anyone willing to participate in what we do,” she said.
The Hinmuellers only spent two days in Whitehorse: one day re-outfitting food, supplies and doing laundry, and the other volunteering.
They’d like to stay and finish painting the room, but weather is chasing them.
Peddling south from Deadhorse, Alaska, through the tundra, the pair had a close call.
“The day after we left the tundra, it got a foot and a half of snow,” said Roland.
“So we have to be mindful of the cold weather coming,” said Belinda. “We need to be heading south.”
The couple has been tenting, and in larger centres has been hosted by the “warm showers” website. It’s a bike-touring site where fellow bikers host one another when they’re in need.
In Whitehorse, the Hinmuellers stayed with biking birders, the Boothroyds.
Before starting the trip, Belinda and Roland had spent a total of 30 minutes on a tandem bike.
Now, they’ve been riding it for almost a month.
“It’s been an effective way of flushing out our different cycling styles,” said Roland.
“It’s good for our marriage,” added Belinda with a grin.
“It’s showed us the different ways we approach things,” said Roland. “For instance, I’m a morning person ….”
The pair figured a tandem bike would be safer, especially as they got into the heart of South America.
But the Hinmuellers have already been in an accident, and been robbed.
“We had a squirrel eat through our bag and steal five chocolate bars,” said Belinda.
And their yellow tandem bike, affectionately called Big Bird, was rear-ended just outside Haines Junction.
“Another cyclist ran into us from behind,” she said.
The Hinmuellers had just helped the cyclist repair a flat, and he was so busy staring at his repaired tire, he didn’t see the big bike in front of him.
There has also been a couple of exciting moose moments.
“They run right in front of us,” said Belinda.
The couple’s next Salvation Army stop is Dawson Creek, BC.
“By the end of our trip I hope we’ve done a fair bit of volunteer work,” said Belinda.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without volunteers,” said Howard.
Contact Genesee Keevil at