CHICAGO, IL (February 5, 2010) – Matt Kelly is riding his bicycle 18,000 miles from Alaska to the city considered the most southern in the world because he sat in front of his computer reading blogs one frosty January night.
The websites were published by people who had pedaled trips lasting more than a year. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to do it, too,’ ” he recalls.
Kelly, the son of Evangelical Covenant Church missionaries Tom and Janice Kelly, started his trip on June 30 in a town called Deadhorse, along Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. He hopes to conclude his sojourn roughly 18 months later in the city of Ushuaia, Argentina.
Nothing is definite, however. “I try to focus on the journey itself, as the idea of so many thousand miles left can be overwhelming.”
There have been a number of times that Kelly wondered about his decision. The questioning began almost from the very beginning in Alaska.
“All of my previous biking could not have prepared me for the ruggedness of the road, most of which was unpaved,” he says. “For the first 500 miles there were only two truck stops, so you have to take all your food with you, and that is heavy. I had no notion of what it meant to climb a couple thousand feet through a mountain pass, and I had to get used to the multitudinous amounts of mosquitoes.”
Bad weather and illness have increased the challenges of the trip. He just recovered from a bout with food poisoning.
“These are the times where I question having set out to do this and whether it is all worth having left a more stable and predictable life and friends back home,” he says. “These have been the times I’ve told myself I’m flying back to Chicago the next time I get to an airport. Of course this has happened in the middle of nowhere, and then after a few days of self-pity, I feel pumped about the trip and want to keep on with it.”
Kelly says the sense of accomplishment has made the trip worthwhile, as have the people he has met along the way, including other cyclists. “Some were going in different directions than me, but several have a destination of somewhere in South America. I may well run into them again at some point. We keep in touch and offer each other tips about things on the road ahead.”
Kelly grew up in Mexico City, and he had a chance to visit with old friends when he stopped there for two weeks over Christmas.
Kelly’s love of cycling developed relatively recently. “While growing up I had a bike but it wasn’t much more than a toy or a way to get around the neighborhood,” he says.
Then he moved to Chicago to attend North Park University—where he graduated in 2006 with dual math and physics degrees—and began to ride around the city. During the summer prior to his senior year, he spent two days biking with friends in Wisconsin. He also spent several days riding with North Park students who biked across the country in 2008.
Then he read the blogs that night in January 2008. “It is kind of hard to describe, but I became pretty consumed with the idea,” he says. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave for another year and a half, so I had a lot of time to think about what I had just told myself I had to do, and to research the trip.”
He cycled around Lake Michigan, which only strengthened his desire to make the intercontinental ride.
Kelly, who had worked as a computer systems administrator since graduating, saved money to help fund his trip and has received assistance from friends and family. He also has depended a lot on the kindness of strangers he meets along the way.
He applied for a grant to do aerial photography along the way—which he did at North Park and around Chicago by attaching a camera to a kite. (The photos are displayed here.)
“I didn’t get the grant, but I soon realized it was for the better, as I didn’t find that biking was the right setting for it, so I sent my equipment home.”
Though he still has months and thousands of miles yet to travel, Kelly has plans for when he gets home. “Reconnect with friends and family, and eat some deep dish pizza.”
Kelly is maintaining a blog as he travels.