He has been held-up at gunpoint, trapped in the middle of riots and dodged bears, but Dubliner Billy Lavelle (37) has completed his 28,000 kilometre cycle from Alaska to Argentina.
Almost precisely two years after setting off from Prudhoe Bay, the most northern point accessible by road in North America, Billy, from Blackrock in Co. Dublin, has safely arrived in the Argentinian city of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. His cycle, which has raised almost €14,000 to support Trócaire’s work in Latin America, has seen him pass through 15 countries.
Captions: (left) In July 2012, Billy started his cycle in Northern Alaska. (right) In July 2014, Billy reached Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
“There were some very challenging moments,” says Billy. “The worst was getting held-up at gunpoint by three masked men on an isolated dirt track in Guatemala. They stole most of my valuables.
“I arrived into Colombia during a nationwide strike and I had to attempt to get through road blocks. The first road block that I encountered was the most intimidating. There were hundreds of masked men with sticks blocking the road. They had taken two policemen hostage and run the rest of the police out of the town. Nobody was allowed to pass for seven hours until the UN brokered the release of the two policemen."
“In Alaska I had to cycle by a large bear, who stood up on his hind legs for a better view. Thankfully a car happened to be passing and the driver kindly waited until I was safely past the curious bear before continuing on their journey.”
The cycle took Billy through varied landscapes and conditions. “I got stuck in a vast salt flat while crossing a very isolated and baron stretch in south west Bolivia,” he says. “I was progressing about 10 metres a minute into a gale, pushing my heavily loaded bike through the salt and muck, cursing and laughing at how comically difficult it was. “During my first ten days on the Dalton Highway in Alaska I was eaten alive by swarms of large mosquitos. I was so desperate to get away from the mosquitos by the 10th day that I cycled through the night. I fell asleep cycling and had a small crash!”
Despite being on the road for two years, Billy says that a part of him is sad to have finally reached his destination. “I have mixed emotions about finally reaching the finish line,” he says. “Part of me does not want the trip to end, but with the weather getting colder and more severe by the week I was happy to finally reach Ushuaia. I am completely skint at this late stage but my family gave me some money and I plan on using that to treat myself to a good Argentinian steak. I have been dreaming about Argentinian steak ever since Alaska!”
Caption: Billy Lavelle cycling through Mexico in March 2013
Billy undertook his cycle to raise funds for Trócaire’s work in Latin America. Trócaire works in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Haiti, working with local communities to develop livelihoods, strengthen human rights and protect against humanitarian disasters. Along the way, our teams were delighted to show Billy some of the work he is helping to raise money for.
“Seeing first hand where the money for the fundraising is directly going and knowing that my charity cycle is genuinely helping people a lot less fortunate than me was something that I will never forget,” he says. “I have a renewed sense of the good in people - regardless of what country or background we are from, the vast majority of us are good people willing to help. I have been helped out by literally hundreds of people from all walks of life, so if I don't help strangers, especially touring cyclists, when I return then it would be seriously bad karma!”
It’s not too late to support Billy’s fundraising efforts and support Trócaire’s work in Latin America.
By Suzanne Keatinge, Head of Region, Asia
What does a priest from Myanmar, a former Republican combatant, and an ex-loyalist combatant have in common? That’s what I was wondering, nervously, as I travelled to Belfast recently to hear about peace efforts in Northern Ireland. I shouldn’t have worried.
Caption: A child at a camp for displaced people in Kachin State, northern Myanmar. Conflict has displaced over 100,000 people. Church agencies are responding by providing shelter and food to people in the camps. (Photo: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire)
Caption: Hongsar Htaw (28) and Manoing Rot (26) from Mon State in southern Myanmar, members of a youth group that has undergone gender training to encourage women to become more involved in decision-making processes. Men like Manoing encourage women to get involved in local organisations and to participate in their communities. (Photo: Eoghan Rice / Trócaire)
by Kieran Downey
Teacher Kieran Downey shares his experiences about visiting some of our projects in Uganda which benefited from funds from UKAID and generous donations from our supporters.