Day nine: Gütersloh. Day 23: Ceske Budejovice. Day 53: Kostenets.
Katie Fitzmaurice’s summer is all mapped out.
Despite her ingrained fear of navigating using old-school maps and compasses, she’ll be one of three leaders in a 19-member cycling team that will visit those respective towns in Germany, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, among dozens of other cities in 10 European countries in just over 60 days.
Fitzmaurice and Nicole Law, both 22, are Cloverdale residents and former soccer rivals-turned-friends who have been training together for months.
They’ll leave Amsterdam, Holland on June 21 and arrive in Istanbul, Turkey on Aug. 19, pedaling up to 4,000 kilometres.
The itinerary has been set with places to visit and sleep (much of it camping outdoors) and they’re packing light – whittled down to what their bikes and backs can handle.
Fitzmaurice plans to bring one pair of socks with the maple leaf, just in case.
The riders, who come from Canada and the U.S., are volunteers with Global Agents, a Vancouver-based group that either directly implements or supports innovative education and economic development programs in Third-World countries.
Officially, Global Agents (formerly Agents for Change) seeks projects and individuals that have innovative and potentially scalable solutions to difficult economic problems – solutions that involve local leadership in designing and managing economic projects.
Fitzmaurice, who just finished her commerce studies at SFU and is a research analyst at the Business Council of B.C., admits that the concept sounds all good in theory.
“That’s the most exciting thing about it, that it is theoretical. Poverty has been around for ages. So many ideas haven’t worked, and it’s a long-standing issue.”
She says Global Agents are “investing in new ideas” – even if profits don’t appear in the short term.
This ride, one of several across the globe since the organization was formed in 2007, will raise $40,000 to help a technical school in Uganda through Global Agents’ Global Catalyst Initiative.
The riders – including one support vehicle driver, totaling 20 people – have raised $2,000 apiece, plus another $1,800 for trip costs.
Their target, Uganda’s Micro Technology Institute and Social Venture Incubator, or MTI for short, offers training and access to information about community-based enterprises.
Global Agents will provide scholarships to graduates of MTI who show promise – some 12 alumni of out of the 380 that have so far graduated from the school, says Global Agents executive director Kathryn Graham.
Graham says the 12 alumni have been loaned solar energy items to sell in a micro-franchise pilot project.
Among the items are solar panels, LED lights, phone connectors, solar radio batteries and battery packs, all of which were produced in Africa.
The participants “will have to develop a business plan on how they intend to sell the product before they are approved to sell them,” explains Graham. “The MTI staff will closely monitor their progress and assist them as they go.”
“Essentially, (Global Agents) searches for the most innovative ways to solve poverty around the world,” Fitzmaurice explains. “We’re absorbing the risk to help kick-start a local economy.”
While Uganda is a world away from the summer cycling route, riders will absorb the culture and atmosphere of poorer areas of Eastern Europe.
“It’s for a good cause, but we want (our) people to be educated,” says Fitzmaurice. “It’s got a big social component to it.”
The riders will wind their way through side streets, occasionally getting lost on purpose. “You meet more people that way,” she adds.
Due to family commitments, Law will wind her trip up half way through, in Budapest, Hungary.
“This will be my first time travelling to Europe, so I have no idea what to expect, but I’m very excited to meet new people and experience different cultures,” says Law. “I haven’t finalized my packing list, but I will be taking a homemade helmet-cam mount and I’m working on a mount for my handle bars so I can take videos and pictures while riding.”
Fitzmaurice, who plans a layover on a Greek or Italian beach after the ride, has been looking forward to cycling Europe with Global Agents for five years. She waited this long because she “wanted to have a job that I could come back to, and wanted to go on a trip without coming back broke.”
In spite of the physical strain coming her way, she looks forward to the adventure.
“For me, it’s been four years of school, which feels like you’ve got a little bit of the world on your shoulders. Waking up each morning with nothing to do (but ride) will be a nice change of pace.”
Global Agents riders will blog throughout the trip at www.globalafc.blogspot.com.