By Sharon Coy
Blade Staff Writer
Helping refugees displaced by the crisis in Syria became a major goal for a Minnesota couple when they began a unique cross country bike ride this summer to raise money to help the millions who have had to flee their country.
The unique part of their journey is that they are not riding ordinary bicycles but 36-inch big wheel unicycles. Dustin Kelm, world champion and three-time national unicycle champion, and his wife Katie who has been riding for eight years, flew from Minnesota to Tybee Island, Ga., where they began their 3,500 mile ride to Yachats, Ore., on June 21.
The couple spent the 47th night of their trip in Concordia at the Holiday Inn Express and were treated to dinner at Taco John's and met Concordia's mayor, Tim Parker.
Dustin said he was inspired to take on this challenge last year when he was performing in Switzerland. There he met a 10-year-old boy, a refugee whose parents had both been killed in Syria. He recalled that when he was 10 years old he taught himself to ride a unicycle and reflected on all the displaced refugees in need of help and the idea for RefugeRide was born.
There are now approximately 1.7 million Syrian refugees, a tenth of the country's population. Seventy-six percent are women and children. On the small cards Dustin and Katie carry with them to give to people who ask about their ride, is printed what Dustin calls their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): Help raise a million for millions of refugees displaced by the crisis in Syria. Support our unicycle ride across America. Donate now at RefugeRide.org.
The couple have no support vehicle. They travel alone with just small backpacks to carry their basic necessities. "We figure the refugees left their homes with just the clothes on their backs, we also can travel lightly," Katie said.
They take highways and county roads and avoid gravel. Hotels, including the Holiday in Concordia, have donated lodging, and restaurants have provided free meals. When free lodging was not available, they have received support from friends and churches.
The couple said they have not encountered any particular difficulties or severe weather since they began riding. They average about 40-50 miles a day. Dustin estimated the rest of their journey will take 51 days.