VIDEO: Traveling like nomads, Starkweather, N.D, brothers raise funds to house those in needNathan, Isaiah and David Berg hauled barley this week from their family farm to Lake Region Grain Cooperative, just like they’ve done in many summers past. To them, it’s really not work, at least not this year. Last week, they completed a nine-month, 15,000-mile bicycle journey from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina, having raised more than $12,000.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
STARKWEATHER, N.D. — Nathan, Isaiah and David Berg hauled barley this week from their family farm to Lake Region Grain Cooperative, just like they’ve done in many summers past.
To them, it’s really not work, at least not this year.
Rather, it’s an opportunity to spend time with family, a brief respite from their current mission in life: to raise at least $60,000 and help build a house for Habitat for Humanity.
They’ve already done the leg work — and more.
Last week, they completed a nine-month, 15,000-mile bicycle journey from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina, having raised more than $12,000. The brothers returned home to the farm having lost 10 to 15 pounds on the road, but gaining something immeasurable.
“For me, I gained this tremendous trust,” said Isaiah, 22. “We already had it. We’ve been on the farm, working, since we were born. We were really tight-knit before trip. But now, there’s this unbreakable bond.”
“I think each of us learned a lot about ourselves, too,” said Nathan, 24, “just being under all of the stress of being on the road, of camping every night, the physical stress of biking for eight to 15 hours a day. I think we learned a lot about our own little quirks, and each other’s quirks, in their unguarded states.”
“I think you learn a lot about teamwork, too,” said David, 19, “understanding each other’s strengths, weaknesses, understand how best to work together. And I think we’ll be a team the rest of our lives.”
The brothers were each tested along the way.
Early in the trip, Nathan developed tendonitis in the knee, sometimes riding only 30 minutes at a time before having to take a break.
“There were times that I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the trip, or that I wouldn’t be able to continue on, just because I’d be holding us up, and because winter was nipping at our heels the whole time, from Alaska down through Canada,” he said.
Things got better after they rested for a week in White Horse, Yukon Territory, where the local Catholic diocese took them in.
Still, they saw snow along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, and made it through Crater Lake National Park in Oregon two days before it was closed because of snow.
Isaiah struggled with bouts of food poisoning along the way.
In an Ecuadorian convenience store, a large man assaulted David for some unknown reason. His apparent caretaker led him away, but he returned and tried to attack them again before the store owner’s son put him in a headlock and called a taxi to take him. David got away with just a bruise on his cheek.
“It was strange. We were pretty shaken up, too, to have that happen in a foreign country,” David said. “It’s impossible to foresee all of the challenges, all of the obstacles, you face in such a journey,”
Sharing the road
Riding along rural highways and primitive roads, passersby would roll down their windows and ask where the brothers were from or where they were going. “Does your mother know where you are?” the strangers would ask.
The brothers camped out with ex-patriots in Canada, with pastors in Mexico, Colombian firefighters, shopkeepers and families they met along the way. Older women they met became like surrogate mothers, who fed and housed them.
“We were always prepared to camp,” Isaiah said, “so most of our nights were spent in a farm field or somebody’s front yard. We’d go up to the front door, introduce ourselves, and ask if we could camp there. People were very good, very helpful, very accommodating.”
Sometimes, may be a bit too accommodating.
A family in Colombia offered them a place to camp, and joined them outside with coffee, sweet bread and conversation.
“Needless to say, their 19-year-old daughter was quite possibly the most beautiful woman any of us have ever seen in our entire lives,” he said. “Now, Central and South America have a reputation for beautiful women, but this was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ This is like from a movie or something.”
The daughter apparently took an immediate interest in the three young Americans.
“The whole family is sitting by us, in a row, daughter, mother, father, grandpa, talking with us about our journey,” he said. “They’re rural farmers. I don’t know if they’ve traveled even 30 miles from their home in their entire lives, and here we were, randomly being part of their family.”
He said the young woman asked their ages, their education, about life in the United States.
“Later on in our conversation, the girl asked, in Spanish, ‘So, are you looking for adventure in South America, or are you looking for a wife as well?’… The funny thing is, the family, her parents, were sitting right there and they were in total approval of this proposition.”
As they packed the next morning, Isaiah said, “she just kind of twirled her hair and said, ‘leaving so soon?’ I said, ‘I think it’s a good idea that we get out of here while we can.’”
They did move on, facing a double deadline: reaching their final stop in Ushuaia, Argentina, before winter and getting back to Starkweather for the high school graduation of their sister, Marta.
They made both goals.
“I think we learned that you can find joy wherever you are, be it the mountains, desert, a huge city, a rural area sitting under a roof with the farmer’s daughter,” Nathan said. “You can find it anywhere, just like in North Dakota. A lot of it is in the people.”
Looking down the road, David expects to enroll in Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
Isaiah, who graduated from Dartmouth, plans to start Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in October.
Nathan, a teacher, will look for a job. He had considered looking in North Dakota but, after visiting with a couple at an international school in Ecuador, he said he might look there instead.
But first, there’s farm work to do, and a house to build for a needy family.
The brothers plan to put together a video presentation and spend parts of next year touring North Dakota and Minnesota to share their story. They also plan to produce a coffee table book and hope to work with a television producer, all to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity.
“The idea that, after this journey, not only would we have the memories and the photos, and the stories, but we could make a tangible difference,” Isaiah said. “There’d be a house somewhere in Fargo or the Red River Valley where we could point to and say, like, there it is, that’s what this journey built…. That was something that, to me, it was just such a compelling idea, a vision, that we set the goal.”
On the Web: See the brothers’ blog at www.BoundSouth.org.
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send email to email@example.com.