Roy Wiegand is trying to bring water to families in the Navajo Nation. When he makes the 12-day trip to bike the more than 1,000 miles between Burbank and Albuquerque, New Mexico, he’ll need plenty of it himself.
The 57-year-old Burbank resident and distance runner has been making physically demanding treks to raise money for charitable organizations for about a decade. On Monday, he’ll start his most daunting journey yet. The bike ride will begin at his house in Burbank and take him to Las Vegas, then to Phoenix and wrapping up his ride in Albuquerque, near the Navajo Nation.
“I haven’t covered that many miles without a car or a plane or a train,” Wiegand said. “This will be all human powered, and it’ll be a challenge, for sure.”
Wiegand is seeking to collect $10,000 for nonprofit DigDeep, which will use the money to fund solar power and access to clean water for two Navajo homes. As of Friday morning, Wiegand had already raised more than $6,000 for this year’s initiative.
According to the Water and Tribes Initiative at the University of Montana’s Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy, 48% of tribal homes don’t have access to reliable water sources, and Native American communities have often been overlooked when federal investments in infrastructure are made.
The need for clean water and sanitation has become even more pronounced during the coronavirus pandemic. At one point last year, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York for the United States’ highest COVID-19 infection rate, according to CNN, though cases and deaths have since plummeted.
Wiegand explained that he heard about the sprawling territory’s need for water while working with nonprofit Lifewater National to raise money for wells in Ethiopia. Last year, he made a 24-hour run from Ventura to the Rose Bowl, raising about $11,000 for DigDeep’s Navajo Water Project.
His trek this year will have some unique challenges. Temperatures are expected to approach or surpass 120 degrees in some areas along his route, and the cyclist will have to haul five to seven liters of water during the journey. Wiegand said he’s also hoping he won’t run into any mechanical issues.
In a departure from his run last year, Wiegand will also make much of the trip alone until he reaches his wife and her friend, who are taking an RV to New Mexico and can provide a mobile resting place. But, he said, several people along the route have offered to let him stay at their residences after hearing about his plans.
“Because it’s such a poignant cause — this is for people in great need right in our own country — I think a lot of people want to help,” Wiegand said.
The athlete could have taken a shorter route, but said he decided to take a more circuitous path that included large cities so he could attract more attention to the fundraiser. Besides, he added, “if I’m going to go for a long-distance bike ride, I want four [digits].”
At the end of his journey, Wiegand will spend the night at a church in the Navajo Nation. It’ll be his first time in the area, but he hopes to meet some of the residents there. And, if the fundraiser goes well, he hopes two families will soon have better access to water and power.
But first, he needs to start pedaling.
“I think the fact that there’s so many people excited for me and praying and supporting me, I think that has really helped,” Wiegand said. “I don’t feel I’m out there alone.”
For more information about the fundraiser or to donate, visit bit.ly/3zouOk1.