This profile was originally published in the September/October 2014 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
Profile by David Ferman
After more than seven months and 12,500 km of rugged roads through eight countries on three continents, it seems almost cruel to point out that Fred Bouwman is only a quarter way through his epic solo bike ride around the planet. But Fred couldn’t be happier.
He’s on a mission to raise funds and awareness for a small orphanage in the Philippines called Angel House, and nothing will stop him. Not nasty Australian crocs, not territorial Canadian grizzlies (of which he has a warranted paranoia—read his blog), and definitely not a fear of the unknown.
Fred’s most recent job was as vice-president of an insurance company in Bermuda. It was there that he saw a film showing street kids in Manila swimming in rivers of muck winding through a garbage dump. Within days, Fred had dropped his old life to volunteer in Tacloban, Philippines, working with an orphanage.
Tacloban is a very poor area, with no running water, no air-conditioning, etc., but I loved it,” he says. “I particularly loved the children at the orphanage. They had nothing—absolutely no possessions other than the clothes donated to them—and yet they were, without a doubt, the happiest children I had ever seen. The poor put us to shame with our constant search for happiness through our accumulation of possessions.”
And that was before Typhoon Yolanda brutalized the area on November 8, 2013. Fred had been preparing to leave in November, but after the storm hit, he postponed his trip to help build homes and to raise money for the young orphans of Tacloban.
They lost everything when I was there, yet I saw nothing but smiles and laughter,” he says. “In fact, it was actually difficult to raise money because people would see all the happy faces and assume everything was okay.”
At the time of this interview, Fred was in Jasper, Alberta. His circumnavigation of the globe had gone smoothly no injuries, no stomach bugs, and no crashes. He started his odyssey in Bangkok, then travelled through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia (“humid,” he says), Malaysia, Indonesia (“some terrible potholes”), the Philippines, across the entire Australian Outback (“blazing heat”), before reaching northern Canada (“bears!”).
His toughest road so far?
“In Canada, I started in Inuvik and cycled down 730 km of gravel road on the Dempster Highway,” he recounts. “The scenery was breathtaking, but the rough roads [consisting of sharp shale rock] made it very difficult.”
Just as the man has had to change his journey, the journey has altered the man.
“It has definitely changed my priorities in life,” he says. “You can’t keep putting things off… sudden events such as illness can end all your future plans in the blink of an eye, and there is no do-over button to press.”
Update: On August 18, we were shocked and saddened to learn that Fred had been struck by a pick-up while cycling near Bend, Oregon. Fred contacted us from the ICU of a Bend-area hospital, where he was recovering from multiple injuries, including two collapsed lungs, 14 broken ribs, and three fractured vertebrae. His spirit remains intact, however. Said Fred: “I am living and very grateful for the support around the world.” He has since been released from hospital and is now on the road to recovery. To send him your well wishes, please visit his blog, Bike for Orphans, at www.bikefororphans.blogspot.ca/.