We first heard about the Rally for Rangers project during the recent Hincapie Gran Fondo in Greenville. Tom Medema, co-founder of Rally for Rangers is an avid cyclist and was participating in his first Hincapie event, but it was the story about his motorized two-wheeled travel that caught our attention. Rally for Rangers is a nonprofit effort that delivers and donates new motorcycles to park rangers in developing countries and remote locations such as Mongolia and Nepal. The project has donated over 100 motorcycles over the past five years in Mongolia, Nepal, and Patagonia. The idea of traveling around the world to buy motorcycles, then riding them thousands of harrowing kilometers, only to donate them to help protect the planet, well, that was something we had to know more about.
Where did this idea come from and how did it get started?
In 2013 a retired U.S. park ranger, Bob McIntosh was doing some development work with Lake Hovsgol National Park in northern Mongolia. He was meeting with the Chief Ranger there to discuss increasing visitor use, resource damage, and strategies to address both. During that roadside meeting the ranger was called to respond to some nearby illegal activity and he jumped on his well-used old Chinese motorcycle to deal with it. Within feet of leaving the meeting the motorcycle hit bump and literally fell apart. The ranger couldn't do his job and McIntosh was furious. He committed in that moment to come back the next summer and ride a new bike all the way from Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, and give it to the ranger. A companion on the trip, Wesley Thornberry, an American living in Mongolia, agreed and said he'd do the same. One year later, fifteen volunteers, rode 1,200 grueling off-road kilometers and donated those bikes to the rangers of Lake Hovsgol. A movement was born.
You're a park ranger by profession so that makes sense, but you're also an avid motorcycle rider?
"Yes and no. I've been a park ranger for 30 years in the U.S. so the idea of helping rangers around the world is an incredible honor. When I heard about this effort in May of 2014 though, I had never ridden a motorcycle off-road in my life. I had owned two motorcycles, a Harley and a BMW cruiser, so I was comfortable street riding, but off-road riding in Mongolia? Not even close. I only learned about this trip six weeks before launch, so it was a literal "crash course" in off-road moto." said Medema. Thankfully a lifetime of cycling, mountain biking in particular, along with a strong skiing background allowed him to pick things up quickly and avoid some of real hard knocks that some of my fellow rally riders have dealt with.
So these rallies come with real challenge and even some risk?
"Oh yes, these are not holiday tours, they are incredibly difficult days in the saddle facing little pavement and a lot of unknown and variable terrain at a fairly high rate of speed. It common to encounter, mud, deep sand, rocks, cliff exposure, scores of river crossings, horribly maintained roads, single track yak trails, open desert, and most any other obstacle you can imagine. Coming off the bike is routine and injuries all too common. Mostly riders face bumps, bruises, maybe sprains, but we've also seen broken collarbones, tib/fib breaks, finger and hand breaks, and a concussion or two. The danger is real, but we have a strong safety record is strong consider how many people are riding and the terrain we're faced with."
Medema continued, "Then there's the magnitude of the daily hours in the saddle. With the distances covered and the unpredictability of road conditions, navigation, weather, and more, its routine to spend 8-10 hours on the motorcycle pounding your way across the roadless countryside. It's as physically taxing as anything I've ever done. Frankly that's what made me want to explore Amp Human when I first heard about it on The Move podcast. I knew there had to be applicability for my 54 year old body's daily recovery on these two-week endurance rallies."
We're excited to hear that you used PR lotion during your rally, how did it work for you?
"When I heard about Amp Human earlier this year it was the moto rallies that first came to mind because those are my longest most difficult days in the saddle. Recovery is critical to minimizing risk, staying alert on the bike, and even being able to more fully enjoy the experience. One of the most telling signs was how much better I felt than many of my fellow riders, particularly at high elevation. I don't honestly know what value the PR lotion has for exertion at 15,000' but coming from sea level in Washington, D.C. and then going through that kind of exertion less than a week later at altitude, I was remarkably resilient and strong day in and day out. This was my seventh such rally and my recovery was noticeably ahead of the previous rides."
It seems like you guys are on to something, what's next?
"It's pretty incredible that a wild idea along a roadside in northern Mongolia in 2013 has turned into a global nonprofit effort to protect the worlds special places one motorcycle at a time. We just completed a rally in Nepal riding from Kathmandu, through the Annapurna Conservation Area to the 15,000' Tebetan plateau and down to Chitwan National Park where endangered one-horned rhino and bengal tiger are protected. The donation ceremony this year took place at the triennial World Ranger Congress with over 500 park rangers from all over the world attending. That ensured we had A LOT of countries interested in getting their own bikes donated so we now have active interest from Peru, Cambodia, Mozambique, Kenya, Bhutan and more. Since Mongolia is our home base we do a rally and donate bike there every year, but we're now adding at least one more country to list annually. It's a movement."
Follow along on their journey by following @rallyforrangers and @tom_medema on Instagram.