When Ryan Riedel graduated from Arizona State University last year, he didn’t want a job where he would sit in an office all day. He also didn’t want to hang around his family’s Chandler home, waiting to get started on his independent adult life and driving his mother crazy.
Instead, Riedel, who turns 24 Monday, hopped on a bicycle last fall and began a journey along the U.S.-Mexico border that has given him a magnified view of communities on the line.
“I’d go crazy in an office,” said Riedel, who has spent the last several years volunteering at local shelters and other community organizations.
Riedel isn’t riding for his health, even though the benefits of such a workout are probably adding years to his life and already trimmed 10 pounds off his 5-foot-7 frame. And he’s never been big on biking. He’s a soccer player at heart.
“The longest I had ever ridden a bike was the plus or minus five miles around Tempe Town Lake,” he said. “And even then, I think I remember stopping early.”
Riedel said the idea for his border ride came to him while working at a camping equipment store in Cheyenne, Wyo., last summer. There, he met someone biking across the country. The encounter was so inspiring, he thought he could do something similar on the Mexican border — an area that’s always fascinated him.
He wanted to see how issues such as poverty, disease and the national debate over illegal immigration are affecting the people who live on the edge of the two countries.
“This is a project that I not only find meaningful, but also believe that it needs to be shared with others,” Riedel said. “I intend to broaden my own horizons (and) not just come to a better understanding of what the border is, but to feel it.”
Riedel’s goal for the trip is to write a book about the people he meets on the more than 1,500 miles he plans to pedal from Brownsville, Texas, to San Ysidro, Calif. — a trip he hopes to finish by next year.
At each stop, he meets with local residents and observes their efforts to improve communities. He snaps digital photos, records sounds and interviews with an MP3 recorder and jots notes — logging every foot, every encounter of the trip and publishing much of it on his blog, a Web journal at
So far, Riedel has completed just one leg of his trip through the Lower Rio Grande area of Texas. He rode through U.S. and Mexican cities between Brownsville and Zapata, Texas, over six weeks last fall before taking a two-month break and coming home to Chandler in December.
Riedel said he was particularly moved when he visited Mission, Texas, a community with a large chemical industry — and home to several cancer victims. He said he met Ester Salinas, a Mission activist, who showed him the devastating effects of living so near the chemical companies — one of
which continues to pay out a small court settlement to compensate sick victims.
The trip can be bumpy, both on the road and in everyday experiences. Riedel’s first bicycle was stolen at a rest stop near Austin, Texas, while he slept a few feet away. It forced him to delay starting his trip a few days until he had refurbished a donated bike. He started again in mid-October, carrying food, some camping gear, water and clothes — about 75 pounds of freight.
Riedel has had to fix so many flat tires, he’s lost count.
He is paying for most of the trip with his own money but welcomes donations.
His parents, Carmen and Rick Riedel, worry about him on his trip. He didn’t tell them about it until he had started biking in Texas. Carmen said that after he confessed, they talked about safety. Riedel finally agreed to call his parents daily on his cell phone.
His parents support him 100 percent.
“It’s very hard when you’ve done all you can to raise your kid,” Carmen said. “There’s nothing that would have prepared me for my kid to be out on a bike riding from Arizona, to California to Texas to Mexico. But he wants to do that. He’s never been one to do things the easy way.”
Soon, Riedel will leave Chandler to finish his journey. Carmen said he probably won’t tell her when he’s going until the day before.