Photos courtesy of Henry Fandel and Sam McLaughlin
Sam McLaughlin, left, and Henry Fandel are riding their bikes from Maryland to San Diego to raise awareness for 4 Walls International -- a nonprofit that looks to build sustainable shelters in developing countries.
Twenty-two-year-olds Henry Fandel and Sam McLaughlin rode into Burlingame Tuesday not knowing where they would stay.
They’re not homeless, nor were they looking for a hotel room. Instead, the guys are trying to raise awareness so others can have homes. The recent college graduates were cruising through San Mateo County as part of a 90-day bike trip across the country to raise awareness for 4 Walls International — a Southern California nonprofit that looks to build sustainable shelters in developing countries. Along the way Fandel and McLaughlin are meeting interesting characters, blogging about their journey and spreading the word about 4 Walls in hopes of generating financial support for the cause.
Inspiration for the trip came last summer. Fandel visited McLaughlin in California, where he was working with Greenpeace. The pair heard about 4 Walls and went out to help build an Earth Ship — a model home featuring a bio-friendly design utilizing tires and glass bottles while taking advantage of solar and wind energy, and providing a place to grow food.
"It’s a good solution to provide change. It’s sound architecture and they create beautiful homes,” said McLaughlin.
Once granted access to land, the idea is to create leadership in impoverished communities who can identify their own needs and build homes for one another to meet those needs.
The college roommates loved the idea. McLaughlin decided to fuse his desire to help 4 Walls with his interest in traveling cross country by bike this summer. It took some convincing but he was able to get Fandel on board. Funding the trip started with never-reached hopes of securing grants. Rather than giving up, the guys created the "One Less T-shirt” campaign. They purchased second-hand T-shirts, turned them inside out and stenciled their "4 Walls 4 All” design. Those were sold at two college campuses creating a $3,000 profit to fund the trip.
After graduating from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, the boys started their journey in late May in Williamsport, Md. Originally the goal was not only to reach San Diego by Sept. 1 but also raise $20,000 for 4 Walls. Riding 80 to 90 miles and fundraising proved difficult. One week in, they realized their plan of going door-to-door to solicit donations after their long rides was unrealistic.
Per mile pledges were made before the trip, so there is about $4,000 to be generated from that. And anyone they meet along the way who decides to donate can do so online. So now the focus is spreading the word.
Along the way they’ve met a variety of individuals like people on permanent vacation — i.e. homeless by choice — to little kids at McDonald’s who simply wanted to help. Camping on people’s lawns and sometimes — like when a tornado is coming — being invited in to stay and enjoy a meal. Other times, the guys have found a hospitable home through WarmShowers.org, an online organization of people offering a free stay and often food to traveling bicyclists.
Two characters most stood out in Fandel’s mind — a trucker and a particular farmer.
First, a long-haul trucker named Mark. On the way to Sioux City, Iowa, the guys found themselves against 30 mph winds and a deadline to get to the next city for an interview. They grabbed some cardboard and waited for a ride. Mark came to their rescue. He shared the tricks of the trade with the guys.
Second came in Humboldt County, a grower of cannabis to support his medical need.
As the trip winds down — San Diego is around the corner — the guys will be making their way down Highway 1 stopping in Santa Cruz and small towns until their ultimate destination. Fandel plans to relocate to the sunny Southern California town in hopes of starting his post-college career there. McLaughlin plans to continue his adventure to Mexico.
While slowing down and not riding bikes is an alluring end which they have almost reached, the guys did learn many lessons along the way.
Simply put by Fandel: "Most people are good.”
To follow Fandel’s and McLaughlin’s journey by blog visit http://4walls4all.wordpress.com. To learn more about 4 Walls International visit http://www.4wallsintl.org. Both sites give people an opportunity to donate to the cause.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.