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Two Oak Park men ride bikes from Alaska to Argentina for charity

Mark Jirik and Nate Prescott dip their bikes' tires into the Artic Ocean at the beginning of their cross-continental trip. The Oak Park natives plan to ride from Alaska to Argentina, and have made it to Seattle since July.  |  Photo courtesy of Nate Prescott
Mark Jirik adjusts his bike while camping in Alaska. With friend Nate Prescott, the Oak Park natives plan to ride from Alaska to Argentina, and have made it to Seattle since July.  |  Photo courtesy of Nate Prescott
Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik set up their tents to camp on the edge of Kluane Lake in Canada's Yukon Territory. The Oak Park natives plan to ride from Alaska to Argentina, and have made it to Seattle since July.  |  Photo courtesy of Mark Jirik
Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik have packed tents, food, clothes and more into sacks attached to the sides of their bikes. The Oak Park natives plan to ride from Alaska to Argentina, and have made it to Seattle since July.  |  Photo courtesy of Nate Prescott
Mark Jirik and Nate Prescott describe their cross-continental bike trip to a group of students at Chicago International Charter School's West Belden campus. The Oak Park natives plan to ride from Alaska to Argentina.  |  Phil Rockrohr/Sun-Times Media

Facts

Follow the journey To track Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik’s trip from Alaska to Argentina over the next year and a half, visit www.biketoread.org.

Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik wanted to see the world and take a long bike trip, so they decided that riding across it would be the best way to accomplish both.

“It seems like a natural marriage,” Prescott said, without a hint of irony.

Of course, it’s not possible to ride across oceans, so Prescott and Jirik, both 26 and of Oak Park, chose to ride from Alaska to Argentina.

For the former Oak Park and River Forest High School classmates and University of Illinois graduates, the 15,000-plus-mile endeavor didn’t seem unrealistic. Prescott had already helped raise money for cancer research by riding from New York City to San Francisco.

“We’re adventurous and we both love biking,” Prescott told 150 middle school students during a presentation at Chicago International Charter Schools’ West Belden campus on Oct. 9. “We figured, ‘Why not make the trip as big as possible?’”

So far, the two have raised $2,100 and plan to donate any contributions to the after school program at Erie Neighborhood House in Chicago, where Prescott volunteered as a tutor and mentor. Supporters can donate and track their progress at biketoread.org.

Prescott and Jirik flew with their bikes to Alaska to launch their trip in July and made it to Seattle by September.

But they recently flew home for a break to buy a new bicycle for Jirik, after someone stole the original in Canada. Though built a Frankenstein bike with spare parts that took them into the U.S., they decided to come back to Chicago for a break and to buy a replacement.

“I was definitely feeling down and not sure what to do, but we met a great mechanic who helped us build a new bike and I rode it all the way to Seattle,” Jirik said. “It did the job, but I knew it wasn’t going to make it to Argentina.”

They replaced that “frankenbike” with a new Surly Long Haul Trucker put together by BikeFix in Oak Park, where the two bought their original cycles. On Oct. 10, they flew back to Seattle.

Depending on their final route, the rest of the trip through the U.S., Central America and South America will be between 12,000 and 15,000 miles long and take 15 months. Prescott and Jirik plan to return to Chicago in July 2014.

“It’s really a very simple life,” Jirik said of the ride. “There’s no TV, and you’re not on Facebook much. You’re limited by your possessions, but everything you need is within your reach.”

Baskets on the front and back of each bikes carry their necessary belongings, including tents held down with bungee cords.

“The bike is our mule,” Jirik said. “Even though we’re together all the time, we both snore and we didn’t want to be in the same tent, so we each brought our own.”

With the help of a tiny portable stove, they survive largely on ramen noodles, sardines, Doritos, Snickers bars and other instant food.

“We put hot sauce on everything,” Prescott said. “Sometimes, we go to McDonald’s and eat huge amounts.”

Sweat, wolves, bears and mosquitoes are among their biggest challenges. Bear spray keeps away the most threatening of the bunch.

“The first week on the road was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically,” Prescott said. “We went 500 miles without a shower, and in Alaska the sun is shining almost all the time.”

In order to save money for the trip, the two moved back home with their parents in Oak Park for a while. For three years Prescott worked for Groupon; Jirik was a landscape architect.

“It didn’t come without sacrifice,” Prescott said. “We’re in our late 20s, so we didn’t want to move home with our parents. But we did it so we could do this.”

“Part of the trip is trying to embrace everything,” Jirik said. “When it rains, you just try to enjoy it. You either ride or don’t ride. Either way, you’re still going to get wet.”

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Facts

Follow the journey To track Nate Prescott and Mark Jirik’s trip from Alaska to Argentina over the next year and a half, visit www.biketoread.org.
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