Would you ride your bike across the continental United States?
For Okanagan College alumnus and triathlete Nick Pelletier, the answer is an instant yes.
This isn’t just any ride, though. The 5,977-kilometre journey is a fundraising effort to help build a school in a developing country.
It all started in the fall of 2018 at Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus, where Pelletier was enrolled in a social entrepreneurship business class. Tasked with looking at case studies from the class text, he read the story of Adam Braun, founder of the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. The gears started turning as he read about the forming of the non-profit and how Braun left a stable career to pursue his life’s calling.
“I knew there was a pretty powerful connection there,” says Kyleen Myrah, Okanagan School of Business professor. “But what I didn’t realize was the connection to the book and the cause for him.”
Growing up playing sports, the athletically inclined Pelletier identified with Braun, who had also led a childhood filled with athletic activities before turning his passion into a career at the age of 25. Pelletier grew up competing in baseball and football, but run-ins with concussions led him to lower-impact sports, and subsequently his bike. Reading about Braun’s catalyst moment, Pelletier felt compelled to do something with his natural gifts.
The idea was there: if he could use his athletic talent for good, why not do it to raise funds for a cause? Pelletier reached out to Myrah early in the spring of 2019 as the idea of riding across the States took shape, and Myrah reciprocated support.
The concept for the ride is simple, but the task at hand is seemingly long and arduous. However, in the midst of training for the ITU World Triathlon Age Group Grand Final in Switzerland all summer, Pelletier sees it as the best kind of challenge and something to look forward to after the competition.
“This will be more about me getting out there and enjoying the ride,” he says.
Pelletier will soon return to Canada for a brief period of time before heading out again in early September to begin his journey.
The ride starts in San Francisco, and Pelletier aims to ride an average of 160 kilometres each day, ending in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. His end date is flexible, but finishing by the end of October is the ultimate goal. Riding unsupported with his gear in panniers, he plans to camp and stay at hostels and is open to couch surfing as well, trying to keep operational costs low.
“My family is also scattered throughout the States, so if something happens I have help if I need it,” he says.
While the ride and all funds are going toward a new school overseas, the impact here at home is not lost, and is something Myrah hopes people will recognize as Nick rides from town to town.
“The importance of education is key here,” says Myrah. “The systemic issues of poverty, the underlying root cause often comes back to education. We can lift communities out of poverty, and that’s a very powerful message.
“How privileged are people here that have access to education that we often take for granted?”
The cycle of learning comes full circle when Nick steps back into the classroom this November to speak to this year’s social entrepreneurship class. The ride will be over, but the possibility of inspiration is only just beginning.
“Someone came into my class and provided that point of connection,” he says. “It showed me someone who really cared and was living out a vision, and it provided us with so much value and insight.”
Aiming to do the same as those before him, Pelletier hopes he can connect with current students in carrying the vision of Pencils of Promise forward, as they will have read the same textbook. There is also potential to tie in his own fundraising effort with initiatives that students may want to start.
You can support Pelletier by spreading the word in person or over social media, and by following his journey as he departs in early September. Visit his website at nickpelletier.ca or go directly to his fundraising page at fundraise.pencilsofpromise.org/fundraiser/2089300. Live updates will be provided throughout the ride.