Alum's bike tour promotes sustainability
UCLA alumnus Jeff Dhungana rode his bike morethan 20,000 kilometers on a trip from Los Angeles to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.
Article by Rotem Ben-Shachar.
Originally printed in the Daily Bruin.
In November 2007, UCLA alumnus Jeff Dhungana set out on what he thought was an impossible journey.
An anthropology student interested in sustainability, Dhungana decided that by bicycling through South America, he could combine his two passions – spreading the importance of sustainability and learning about the cultures about which he was so curious.
Five months after graduation, Dhungana embarked on his trip, beginning in Los Angeles and ending in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost tip of South America.
“I wanted to find a way to travel without using fossil fuels. Biking was perfect because I could travel slowly and see up-close the places I was traveling through,” Dhungana said.
UCLA alumna Saira Gandhi, who worked with Dhungana in E3: Ecology, Economy, Equity – a UCLA sustainability coalition – said she was so proud that Dhungana chose cycling as his method of transportation because it is so efficient and sustainable.
“He set a great example. If he could bike for so many months, certainly everyone can begin biking to work or school,” Gandhi said.
Biking at a comfortable pace of 50 to 60 miles a day on a mountain bike with a trailer attached to carry his few possessions, Dhungana was able to cover 22,236 kilometers, visiting 15 countries in 20 months.
“I was nervous when he told me about the trip because it’s a dangerous trip,” said UCLA sustainability coordinator Nurit Katz, who worked with Dhungana on sustainability initiatives. “But if anyone could do it, he could. He always had an adventurous and strong spirit.”
The trip was physically grueling for Dhungana, who had to ride in extreme weather and in treacherous terrain such as the Andes mountain ranges.
But for Dhungana, the most difficult aspect of the trip was having his western ideas challenged.
“The biking itself was not the main challenge. Anybody could do this trip in their own rhythm,” Dhungana said.
Dhungana would bike about five hours throughout the day and stop at villages in the evening and talk to locals. No matter where he was – whether he was meeting farmers in the rural countryside or rich landowners in Chile – he said he was surprised by how warm and generous people were, especially in impoverished or politically unstable countries.
When he arrived in Colombia, he said he was nervous to be in a country that was seeing civil war and drug trafficking. But after his second night, his perception of the country changed completely.
“I met a family that was so warm and open, and proud to tell me about their country. They dispelled all the rumors I had,” Dhungana said.
Throughout his trip, Dhungana expected to spend most nights camping, but he was usually invited to stay with host families. In Colombia alone, he spent 46 of his 48 nights with host families. Dhungana said he was surprised at how close he felt to people he met in such a short period of time.
“I didn’t expect saying goodbye to these people I had just met to be so hard,” Dhungana said.
Dorothy Le, who co-chaired E3 with Dhungana, said she was not surprised that he made so many close connections.
“He exemplifies true integrity, humility, and strength in character, but still remains extremely friendly and approachable,” Le said.
During his stops, Dhungana also visited local schools and gave presentations about his trip, reasons to live a sustainable lifestyle and the importance to strive for goals and live out one’s dreams.
It was during his travels that Dhungana realized that his goals had changed.
To help finance his trip, Dhungana wrote freelance articles for travel magazines. However, he did not anticipate how much he would enjoy writing about his travels.
Before Dhungana began his trip, he had planned to apply for graduate programs in anthropology.
While in Peru, he applied for several programs and was accepted into his first choice, but declined their offer as he decided he was not ready for graduate school.
“I want to continue writing and sharing my experiences with others,” Dhungana said. “I’ve learned that there is only so much you can learn about people from books and movies. You learn most by talking to people.”
Back in the United States, Dhungana is still using his bike. He recently biked to meet Katz on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.
“At his core, he is still the same person – very warm-hearted and with a great spirit,” Katz said. “But he has a new confidence to seek his own path in life.”
As for the bike, Katz described it as very well-traveled. But what she liked most about it are the little charms on the front of the bike, each given to Dhungana by someone he met on his travels.
For more information about Dhungana’s travels, visit his Web site at transformundo.com.
Published: Thursday, August 20, 2009