“The Long Ride to Free Them”

One man hauls a rhino from Blaine, Wash. to San Diego, Calif.

April 17 couldn’t come fast enough for Matt Meyer, who was itching to take to the streets. The grueling 59-day journey by bike has been his dream for the past two years.

According to 2013’s South African poaching figures, a rhino is killed every eight hours for the supposed medicinal qualities of its horn, despite the fact that research has shown the horn has no such properties. If poaching continues the same depressing trend, rhinos will be extinct within the next 15 years.

One man has decided to take a stand for these endangered animals. From April 17 to June 15, Meyer will bike nearly 2,000 miles from Blaine, Wash. by the Canadian border to San Diego, Calif., with a 300-pound life-sized rhino statue in tow to raise awareness for the declining rhino population. Meyer is expected to stop in San Francisco from May 19-23 during his journey.

After working as a safari guide for over a decade, Meyer was able to witness firsthand the shrinking rhino population. This eye-opening experience inspired him to fight for the rhinos before it’s too late.

Sensing his passion, several groups stepped forward to sponsor Meyer’s route so all proceeds could be given to charity. Empowers Africa helped manage the funds for the project. Two other organizations, Piper & Heath Travel and Wilderness Safari, have stepped forward as key sponsors for Meyer’s journey. Various other organizations and companies have provided necessities such as protein-rich food and special clothing to keep Meyer comfortable during his journey.

As of April 13, Meyer raised $20,251 out of his goal of $250,000. All proceeds will be split between three different organizations dedicated to saving the rhinos. Care for Wild Africa takes on the challenging task of raising rhinos orphaned by poachers. Ol Pejeta Conservancy, another sponsor, focuses on community-based conservation and aims to assist locals to prevent poaching by partnering with international wildlife security. The Save the Rhino Trust works on conservation by monitoring desert-dwelling rhinos in the Kunene region.

The life-sized rhino statue, bought from an artist, was weighed and measured for its trailer. Meyer hoped the realistic statue would help make the cause more tangible to westerners. Meyer’s specialized AWOL bike will tow the statue on a trailer designed to handle both the topography and the sharp turns the route provides. A sign advertising RhinoRhide.org, the website where onlookers can donate, will be displayed next to the rhino. After Meyer held a naming contest, the life-sized statue became ‘Lunar’.

A ‘Bon Voyage’ Party in San Diego kicked off the journey, after which Meyer drove North to the starting point of his journey. After another celebratory party on April 14, Meyer’s birthday and some preliminary photoshoots, his real journey began.

Each portion of Meyer’s route has been calculated to ensure that travel will be safe and efficient. The route will avoid freeways where Meyer could pose a road hazard. The bike ride has been dubbed “The Long Ride to Free Them” after Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” and long the ride is indeed. Meyer will traverse his almost 2,000 mile path on small roads, zigzagging a route parallel to I-5.

Meyer plans to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge during his time in San Francisco to gain traction. In fact, the West Coast was chosen as the ideal location for Meyer’s bike ride partly due to its large population.

During his ride, Meyer will be accompanied by a jeep driven by Josh Lalley. Lalley, an experienced filmmaker, will accompany Meyer to act as a support vehicle and document and update Meyer’s journey on social media. At night, the jeep will utilize pop-up tents on its roof to house Meyer and a small trailer to store the rhino statue. The Jeep will park in the driveways of designated friends’ homes along the route or at campgrounds so Meyer can rest after biking 40-50 miles each day.

At the end of his nine-week endeavor, Meyer will hold a final fundraiser on June 17, in San Diego. During this event, Lunar the rhino will also be auctioned off.

Myer hopes to spread the word of his cause by finding opportunities to speak about his work during his journey. If you wish to contribute to Meyer’s cause, visit www.RhinoRide.org.