Wheel of fortune

🕔Dec 15, 2005

Two bicycles burdened with dirty, waterproofed gear, road dust, and bungee cords lean heavily against the coffee shop window in Prince George. Road-worn, with contented faces, the cyclists pore over two computer screens, updating their website with tales of grit, gravel, bad weather, Canadian-beer drinking, bears, logging trucks and the excitement of being on a journey.

The team of two consisting of Gregg Bleakney, 30-year-old software sales manager from Seattle, Washington, and Brooks Allen, 29-year-old marketing manager from San Francisco, California, are on a mission to raise money for and awareness of diabetes: starting at the northernmost access point of North America by road—Prudhoe Bay—Alaska, and ending their journey at the southernmost tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Together, they will cover more than 31,000 kilometres on this self-funded, bicycle-powered adventure-with-acause.

Meeting in college, Bleakney and Allen became friends and eventually began bicycle touring “for the sense of adventure.” Later they became inspired by charity rides when they realized their efforts could help other people. Get fit, see the road and raise money” why not?

When the finish line was crossed and once the victory drinks settled in the stomach, the guys became disillusioned with the preorganized charity rides when they realized how much money was funneled away in advertising and promotion.

So, in response, they have created their own ride, this one to raise money for diabetes, a disease that has affected them close to home. Their Tour de Diabetes is completely self-run and it involves no support vehicle, no advertising except for homemade business cards and word of mouth, local sponsors, friends, family, and a superb website stocked with their own breathtaking photos of the trip and a busy road journal that keeps you updated with the guys, and inspired to boot.

The goal of the ride is to spread awareness of diabetes. In Canada, over two million people are affected by the disease. In the United States, over 13 million are diagnosed with diabetes and over five million are going about their daily lives not knowing they have the disease.

Diabetes affects the hormone insulin that facilitates the transport of sugar from the bloodstream into the body’s cells. There are three types of diabetes: juvenile (type 1), adult onset (type 2), and gestational.

Gestational diabetes begins during pregnancy when the body is unable to produce all the insulin necessary to keep mother and baby healthy. In this condition glucose builds up in the blood and is called hyperglycemia.

Allen’s mom lost her fight with this disease in her 50s, and the core of this ride is to raise money for research and to spread awareness along the way.

Bleakney and Allen chose this route because of the physical and mental challenge of pedalling a bicycle on a continuous road network that traverses Arctic tundra, urban megalopolises, tropical rain forests, 15,000-foot mountain passes, and endless stretches of arid desert.

“We flew in at the northernmost accessible part of Alaska by road and we’re biking right to the tip of Argentina—completely across the Americas,” says Bleakney.

During the journey, the two will experience every type of weather imaginable and set up and take down their tent innumerable times. “Compared to a person fighting diabetes,” they say in their website journal, “it’s a cakewalk, but for us it represents a daunting task and a way to help others in need.”

You can drive a road a hundred times and never see what you see from a bicycle, they point out. With every kilometre, the dream that has been planned for the last two years becomes real.

They invite everyone to log on to their website, where you can watch their journey unfold with updates. “We’ll ride to gain an intimate glimpse into the heart and sole of the Americas that can only be achieved on a self-powered journey. We’ll ride for the thrill of having each day be an adventure of its own. We’ll ride to take the risk of a road less travelled,” they say.

So far, the two cyclists have already raised two times their goal of $20,000. Donations can be made on their Ribbon of Road website,, either to their own non-profit corporation or directly to the American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes foundation.