They are two guys from Belgium who say they are running from Alaska to Argentina for people who cannot walk or run.
Billing the project as Via PanAm, Weking Van Reeth, 35, and Sebastian Vanderumolen, 36, are raising money and awareness for To Walk Again, a Belgian organization supporting people with spinal cord injury and physical disabilities.
Their journey began in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska on June 1, 2016.
“We hope to arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina by April 2018,” said Weking Friday morning in Williams Lake before they hit Highway 97 to resume their run.
For the most part the two men alternate, taking turns running 42 kilometers — the equivalent of a marathon.
But Friday they were both going to run because Vandermolen ran 100 km on the Black Water Road a few days ago and said he needs to recuperate.
Van Reeth and his wife Liesbeth Balemans did the same trip by motorcycle nine years ago for their honeymoon.
“We did it in six months and it was a fast trip,” Liesbeth said. “We were inspired to repeat it some day because it is so beautiful.”
Chuckling Van Reeth said they wanted to do a slower trip and running it definitely fits the bill.
Prior to embarking on the project, the two runners did a 250 km staged run together in the Moroccan desert.
“A few days before we left, Weking said he wanted to run from Alaska to Argentina and I said ‘OK I will join you’,” Vandermolen said. “We didn’t really think about it, but he said he wanted to run for a good cause.”
Their trainer is Marc Herremans, a famous triathlete and motivational speaker from Belgium, who fell on his bike years ago during training and received a spinal cord injury that left him in a wheelchair.
“He started the organization To Walk Again in Belgium because there’s a lot of room for improvement in Belgium to help people in wheelchairs and with physical disabilities,” Vandermolen said. “And Liesbeth’s father is in a wheelchair after falling off a roof, so the cause is close to home for us.”
Back in Belgium, on Oct. 1, 2016, there will be a big running event organized by To Walk Again where people will run in teams to complete seven marathons in 24 hours.
While in the U.S., Van Reeth and Vandermolen plan to do the same thing on Highway 101.
“We hope to do some sort of event online so people can donate money and enter to win a prize,” Vandermolen said. “We are doing a lot of things to try and let people know what we are doing and why.”
The runners and their wives quit their jobs, rented out their apartments and sold some of their belongings to prepare for the two-year project.
Van Reeth and Balemans owned a carpentry company, Vandermolen was a graphic designer and his wife An Wouters was a Kindergarten teacher.
The four of them are travelling with two camper trucks that they built themselves.
“The trucks are small normal Toyota pickups,” Balemans said. “We took off the back end and we started building the whole thing. Everything you see we built with our own hands, even the paint job.”
Vandermolen designed the stickers and a friend manufactured them for them.
Their trucks were then shipped to Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived on April 25.
Starting the journey at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska was a bit of “Mad Max” beginning as they ran through the oil fields.
“We were on this long lonely stretch with nothing but muskox, caribou and trucks flying by,” they said, noting it was cold with lots of snow and wind. “It was a hard beginning.”
There were only two gas stations and no where to shop for food so they had to plan for three weeks worth of supplies.
From Williams Lake they will run to Whistler and plan to be in Vancouver to participate in the Terry Fox run on Sept. 18.
After that they will travel along the west coast of the U.S. to Mexico, Van Reeth said.
“We should be in Baja California by December,” he added.
Three months into the journey, the runners are finding a good rhythm and starting to be able to reach out for more of the fundraising aspect of the project.
“We are hoping to run 25,000 km and raise one euro for each kilometre,” Van Reeth said.
Part of that campaign is using post cards that people purchase and the crew mails to wherever the purchaser wants it to go.
“There were people in Belgium who bought post cards in April and in May or June 2018 they will receive a post card from us,” Vandermolen said.