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A Light In the Dark
Bits and stories about World Bike for Breath. A Bulletin for sponsors. Volume 1, November 2003
Editor's Note: This special newsletter is a bit out of order, but one of the best yet!
I am writing this newsletter to you by candlelight from a Mongolian ger in the Gobi Desert. For the past ten days we have been traveling along almost non-existent dirt tracks over the vast brown, red and ochre Mongolian steppe. Briefly trading in our tandems for a ride on camels, horses and a bumpy dusty Russian off-road van, we have shared our days with herds of camels, horses, yaks, sheep and goats led by proud purple cloaked Mongolian horsemen pounding down the rolling hills. Each night we share their simple yet beautifully decorated round felt tent homes, cooking our meals on their dung stoves. I am amazed and inspired by a people who live their days fighting the fierce wind and sun and their nights battling the ice and snow in the tiny gers -- the light from their stoves flickering like tiny stars across the wilderness.
Each evening as I listen to the soft uncomplaining coughing of the children around the smoky dung fires, I am reminded of my reason for being here. For respiratory illnesses kill more children in the developing world than any other disease.
I think of the cheerful Polish farmer, Anton, who smiled and joked between coughs and wheezes as he served us mushrooms gathered from the woods, along with jellied meat and tea. Like me he has asthma. But unlike me he does not have access to the medicines that make it possible for me to cycle around the world. So he chokes and struggles to breathe unnecessarily as do millions of other people throughout the world.
Then there is Brenda, a generous English woman who returned half the price she was charging for her Bed and Breakfast when she heard the purpose of our ride. Her sister and brother both have asthma (though luckily not herself), she said, and so this was her contribution. Yet as she served us an extraordinary English breakfast of fried eggs, ham, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, toast, juice, coffee and cereal her high pitched wheezing made me wonder. Sadly millions of people with asthma go untreated misdiagnosed or undetected each year.
But perhaps my strongest reason for continuing on this journey is a little boy named Tim who left a message on the World Bike for Breath answering machine a few weeks before we left for Greece.
My name is Tim. I live in Victoria Canada, a small voice began. Im very excited about your ride.
He paused, them continued hurriedly, Im six years old and adding in a quiet voice, I have asthma.
Tim is not alone; for 10% of his classmates probably have asthma too. And this year, in the U.S. alone, almost three thousand children, hoping like Tim, for a cure, will not get to see if our world ride succeeds. For they will die before we return.
For the past few nights, before snuggling up in my sleeping bag in the ger, I have stood in the snow under a brilliant sky filled with so many stars, that the limitless expanse of the desert seems insignificant. Yet as I gaze at the tiny solitary ger in the wilderness, its firelight bravely glowing among the stars, I am humbled by the tenacity of the human spirit. If here, in one of the most remote inhospitable environments of the world, life is not defeated, then it seems that nothing is truly impossible. And no matter how small we may sometimes feel, like the ger in the desert night, it only takes one dream to light up the sky.World Bike for Breath
P.O. Box 11581
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Updated: November 17, 2003