If you were downtown on October 31 and saw a man riding a bicycle that appeared to be a cross between something from Swiss Family Robinson and Mad Max, you probably took notice. But far from being a Halloween prop, the bike—and its rider—were in town representing a cause.
Dug Shelby cycled through Pensacola on a recumbent bike made of bamboo while on a cross-country journey to raise awareness of human trafficking. Shelby is completing his coast-to-coast ride this week in Jacksonville, Fla., having left from Santa Barbara, Calif. on Sept. 19.
“I chose this route because there’s trafficking happening from San Diego to Jacksonville, more so than most places in this country. So I took the hot route, trafficking-wise,” said Shelby. “It’s huge anywhere where there are trucking lines or a hub, like an airport. Like Atlanta, Ga.—it’s massive there.”
The human trafficking to which Shelby was referring—also described as a modern slave trade—involves the exploitation of individuals who are forced into prostitution or those who work in resorts, restaurants, and other service industries for little to no wages and whose daily activities, from where they sleep to whether they eat, are controlled by people profiting from their labor.
“It’s been going on for a long, long time,” said Shelby, noting that this system provides labor in the lucrative convention and resort industries, with happenings like the Super Bowl and other high profile sporting events also affecting where individuals are trafficked. “As a society we have that responsibility, if we’re evolving, to say ‘This is wrong.’” And that is exactly what Shelby—who first became aware of human trafficking in 2008—is hoping to promote through his ride.
“I was doing photography and videography for an organization called ‘Life Without Limbs.’ We were working with another organization that frees and rehabilitates women and children from the Red Light district in Mumbai,” Shelby stated of his first exposure to the world of trafficking. “Seeing how you can take a broken life and help them—that gave me hope,” said the California native, who began brainstorming what he could do to draw attention to the issue stateside.
“If you’re faced with it and you don’t do something about it then you’re wasting an opportunity to help other people. And that’s what happened to me in India,” Shelby continued. “I saw it and could not not do anything. I had to do something.”
And so in 2011, Shelby, who said he had never been much of a hiker previously, hiked 2,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to raise money and awareness for Bombay Teen Challenge, the organization he worked with in India. “I thought, ‘What’s next?’ and I then thought, ‘Cross-country bike ride.’ I’m not a hiker, so I hiked; I’m not a bicyclist, so I thought I’d bicycle.”
After two years of planning, Shelby set off from California this past September, riding between 80 to 120 miles a day and camping along the way to minimize costs.
“I wanted to be able to talk to people,” Shelby stated of his motivation to cycle as a means of spreading the word about the issue of trafficking. “When you talk with somebody it’s different than reading it,” said Shelby. “This bike is a conversation starter. I don’t do anything; I ride up and people walk over.”
Aside from accomplishing the feat of riding from coast to coast, Shelby is the first person to do so on a wooden bike. “I know you have to make it different for people to notice,” said Shelby of his motivation to locate a unique vehicle. Searching online, Shelby found Klaus Volkmann of ArtBikeBamboo in Brazil who built, donated, and shipped the bamboo bicycle to Shelby. Upon returning to California, Shelby said he will send the record-setting bike back to Volkmann so he can display it in his shop.
Shelby will split all funds raised during his ride among Bombay Teen Challenge and two other non-profits: his own organization, the Oasis Projeckt, and The WellHouse in Birmingham, Ala.
In addition to planning his bike trip and working his regular job as a taxi driver in Paso Robles, Calif., Shelby founded Projekt Oasis after his PCT hike and inspiring at least one person to undergo a similar venture. “Essentially, all my non-profit does is enable people to do things like this. I get them gear, support and they raise money,” said Shelby, who, while hiking the PCT, met Gen Shimizu. Shimizu was so inspired by Shelby that he later unicycled over 2,000 miles on the Great Divide Bike Trail and raised $10,000 for human trafficking while doing so.
The WellHouse works to rescue women from sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and Shelby plans to visit them on his drive back to California. “I found them as I was searching for people to donate to and be involved with,” said Shelby, “It was so obvious it was exactly one of the organizations I’d love to support. It’s just an honor to ride for those women.”
Though due to time restrictions Shelby had to alter his original goal of cycling north to New York from Florida, he feels every mile has been worth the effort. “Sometimes as you’re riding and things get really tough, certain things come to mind that really motivate you and that’s one of them: the people that you’re riding for. It makes everything a lot easier,” Shelby reflected.
While in Pensacola, Shelby visited with John Fifer, a fellow hiker he befriended while on the PCT in 2011. Hiking over 1,000 miles with Shelby, Fifer, who works locally as a realtor with Beck Property Company, said seeing Shelby at work was an inspiration. “Dug absolutely opened my eyes to the immensity of the issue,” Fifer remembered of Shelby’s discussion with him and others they encountered along the way.
“Meeting him on that trip allowed me to join his journey briefly,” Fifer continued, stating that Shelby’s dedication to the cause drives him to complete the physical challenges he has undertaken. “He dreams big, makes a plan, and then makes it happen,” Fifer said.
And indeed, not quite finished with his ride at the time he spoke with the IN, Shelby was already conceiving his next fundraising effort for the cause of trafficking: hiking four of the tallest peaks in Great Britain in 24-hours.
“I can’t really be Rambo,” concluded Shelby, “I can just do this.”
Catch up on Shelby’s efforts, donate, and find more information about the organizations for which he rides on his blog, “Thru Ride 4 Freedom” at TR4F.wordpress.com.