Will Bike for Food
Point to Bay trip to raise funds for Sandpoint backpack program. Haven’t heard of it? That’s why this Sandpoint teacher is doing something about it.
A self-proclaimed adventure junkie, Mac Hollan places no limits on what he can do. After hiking the Appalachian Trail, he said, “I realized that what people tell you is impossible just isn’t true. I came back feeling empowered and ready to change the world.” With that experience, he says he realized you don’t have to be an expert to do something you want to do. “I’m more stubborn than skilled,” he laughed. “Or let’s say ‘tenacious.’ But take it slow and steady and you’ll [eventually] get there.”
The almost 3,000-mile bike ride he’s planning to undertake this summer, what he calls the “Point to Bay” (Sandpoint to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska) is just one more example of how the first step in achieving a goal is understanding you can meet it.
But he isn’t just biking for 2,750 miles through some of North America’s most rugged territory; he’s also hoping to raise a substantial amount of money, and a lot of awareness, for a little-known program of the Bonner Community Food Bank: the Sandpoint Backpack Program.
The program, begun a few years ago, provides chronically hungry schoolchildren with food for the weekend; enough food, it’s hoped, that the child will return to school on Monday well fed and able to concentrate on school work.
“I remember a little girl in summer school who spent the entire morning just waiting for her free lunch,” Mac explained. “I’ve seen first-hand, in the classroom, the way being hungry can interfere with education. Staring at the clock isn’t learning. I am a firm believer in the power of this program, but not enough people know about it. I, myself, have been subbing for two years and never knew it was going on.”
Mac has been working as a substitute teacher in the Lake Pend Oreille School District while he finishes the coursework necessary to obtain his teaching certificate. He’ll be student teaching this fall at Farmin/Stidwell Elementary School. Prior to this, he spent over eight years working with at-risk teenagers.
The Sandpoint Backpack Program works with the school district to identify children in need, and then discretely provides them with food each Friday for the upcoming weekend. Generally, the child will receive enough non-perishable food to provide two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and two snacks; the food is of a type that’s easy for a child to prepare, and the meal plans are reviewed by a dietician. The cost to provide the food is $5 per child; that’s $20 per month, or $200 a year to keep one child’s belly full on the weekends during the school year.
Currently, the program is providing weekend backpacks to around 175 students in the Sandpoint area; it’s believed that at least that many students again, elsewhere in the district, are also in need of this type of support.
Mac is riding to make people more aware of this program and to encourage them to support it financially, but this is not your typical “pledge-an-amount-per-mile” or “sponsor-a-portion” type of event. All donations made will go directly to the Food Bank’s dedicated fund for the Sandpoint Backpack Program. Mac is funding the actual ride himself.
“The Food Bank is a 501c3, so donations are tax deductible,” he explained, “and not a penny is going to me, personally. If you click on the donation link on my website (www.PointtoBay.com) it’s going to take you to the Food Bank.” The brochure he’s prepared about the ride states, “This means that no portion of your donation will be used to fund any part of the ride itself. For every dollar you donate, 100 percent of that donation will go directly to helping fill backpacks for kids in need... so give with confidence and give big!”
How big? Mac is thinking in $20 increments as he solicits donations. “Every $20 I receive will take care of one child for a month,” he said. “Where else can you give so little and make such a big impact?” But as the son of an investment banker, he’s also thinking bigger. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could set up an endowment fund that would help to pay for this program indefinitely?” he asked. “It would be wonderful it someone who hears about what I’m doing, and therefore hears about the program, made a truly large donation. With enough support and awareness, maybe this need will go away.”
He has some reason to expect to be able to give a large financial boost to the program, because he’s done it before. A few years ago, Mac undertook “A Ride for the Kids,” a 4,200-mile, solo trip across America to raise funds for the Brenner Children’s Hospital, located in his hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, and raised $50,000 in the process.
Mac’s adventure gene is enough in itself to encourage him to undertake these types of challenges, but, he says, “It spurs you on to know that you’ve made this promise to people (to complete the trip) in return for their support.” And there’s a benefit, he thinks, to the donors as well. “Not everybody has the opportunity to ride a bike all the way to Alaska,” he said, “but I think, deep down, people want to do something crazy, something they think is impossible. Joining in on my ride is, in a small way, a way they can do that.”
Signing a check to the Food Bank, or making a donation online, doesn’t have to be the end of a person’s support; Mac plans once the trip begins for people to be able to visit the website and keep up-to-date with his progress via a blog.
“Two friends (Jordan Achilli, a graphic designer who has also helped with the website and promotional materials, and Gabe Dawson, an Oregon social worker who once worked with Mac at a wilderness therapy school) are coming along with me on the trip as riding partners,” Mac said. “We’re bringing still and video cameras to document the trip, and will update the blog whenever we get to a town where we can connect to Wi-Fi.”
While getting himself in shape for the trip by undertaking ever longer rides, finishing up his schoolwork for the year, and taking as much time as he can with his wife, Kirsten, and his two daughters Ellie (age 3) and Marin (age 1), Mac is also full of plans for promoting the Backpack Program and the Point to Bay ride. “I haven’t been sleeping much lately,” he laughed. “I wake up at 2 am with another idea. In addition to seeking donations (he’s already raised $6000, or, in Mac terms, provided a year’s worth of weekend food for 30 children) and developing the website and blog, he’s gotten an agreement from MickDuff’s in downtown Sandpoint to name a beer in honor of the ride (“I really hope it’s their pale ale—I love their pale ale!), and is planning a beer release party, is setting up a silent auction/raffle, is reaching out to various media venues, and is brainstorming ways to get the news out to a larger audience. “I’d love for this trip to go national,” he said, “because it really increases the pool of donors. There are a lot of very giving people out there who are willing to help out, if they know their help is needed. And it really is a great cause—who doesn’t want to help hungry kids?”
He’s also looking beyond the ride, to the future. “I’d like to set up rides—maybe not quite this long—where we can take kids out to participate in doing something like this,” he said. “That’s the best thing that can come out of doing this type of thing: the knowledge that every person is capable of doing something amazing.”
Point to Bay: The Trip
“The tour’s roughly 2,750-mile route,” we’re told in the Point to Bay brochure, “will be traveling through some of the most remote, rugged and scenic terrain in North America.”
The Icefields Parkway
Connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks, the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) parallels the Continental Divide and features views of the Columbia Icefield, which feeds eight major glaciers.
Cassiar Highway (British Columbia Hwy 37) passes through some of the most isolated areas of British Columbia. At Dease Lake, waters stop flowing west and begin flowing north to the Arctic.
The ALCAN (Alaskan Highway) was built during WWII as a way to connect the contiguous U.S. with its territory in Alaska and is one of the most famous roads in America. Highlights include the Watson Lake sign forest and Takhini Hot Springs.
Begins north of Fairbanks and ends near the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, and parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It is one of the most isolated roads in the U.S., with only three towns along its 414-mile length. There are several steep grades, some as steep as 12 percent.
Mac anticipates the ride to take about six-and-a-half weeks, figuring to average about 80 miles per day, six days a week, a schedule he says is “very do-able.” He’s already purchased tickets for the return flight in mid-August.
“The thing I worry most about on this trip is leaving my daughters for so long,” said Mac. “But the second thing would be bears. We’re biking into one of the most active grizzly and black bear corridors around, and then for the last hundred miles we’ll have polar bears. I’m packing tons of bear spray! I have two friends joining me for the ride, so I figure I’ve got only a one in three chance of getting eaten by a bear.”
Because they will be camping on the road, the trio is also bringing air horns, and Kevlar bear bags for their food. “We’ll stop for dinner and while one person is cooking, the other two will ride ahead at least a quarter mile to make camp. We’ll leave our food and smelly clothes hanging in the bear bags at our dinner site.”
Photos: 1) The Icefields Parkway. 2) The Nass River Bridge along the Cassiar Highway. 3) Driving the ALCAN. 4) Bonanza Creek and the Dalton Highway. 5) A juvenile polar bear. All photos via Wikimedia Commons.