On a trip to India in November 2008, Paso Robles resident Dug Shelby accompanied a group of humanitarian aid workers into Mumbai’s notorious red-light district.
“The things that I saw there were heartbreaking,” recalled Shelby, who was there as a photographer accompanying Life Without Limbs motivational speaker Nick Vujicic. “Watching men and some women take advantage of people like this was devastating. I came back with a strong spiritual discontent in my heart.”
He also returned home with a fierce desire to help the victims of human trafficking.
On Monday, Shelby, 44, will embark on a 5,000-mile bicycle ride across the country to raise awareness about the scores of people worldwide who have been drugged, duped, kidnapped and coerced into slavery. His solo trek, which he expects to last 45 to 50 days, will take him from San Diego to New York City.
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Instead of a standard diamond-framed steel or carbon fiber bike, Shelby will ride a recumbent bamboo bicycle custom-made by Klaus Volkmann of Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Although Volkmann donated the bike, valued at $4,000 or $5,000, Shelby still had to pay about $700 to ship it to the United States.)
“I just wanted something that would be different and (start) conversation,” said Shelby, a Santa Barbara native who moved to the Central Coast in 2003. “I do more talking than riding. People come up and say, ‘What in the world?’ or ‘It’s the most beautiful bike I’ve ever seen,’ or ‘I’ve never seen a bike made of bamboo.’ ”
During each conversation, Shelby might talk about the international toll of human trafficking — or the time he spent with Bombay Teen Challenge, a Mumbai-based nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitate prostitutes, street children and other destitute people.
“The smiles and the joy and the love for life (were) incredible,” he recalled.
In 2011, Shelby spent four months hiking 2,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness about human trafficking — losing 31 pounds in the process. Now he’s gearing up for a cross-country bicycle trip that will find him traveling 100 to 110 miles each day and camping under the stars. (He’ll carry his sleeping bag and tent on his bike.)
In preparation, Shelby has gone on several rides ranging in distance from 20 to 50 miles. He even sold his car to force himself to depend on his bike for transportation for 11 months.
“It was a fun challenge because I got to deal with everything but flat tires,” he said.
After Shelby rides across the Brooklyn Bridge and dips his wheel into the Atlantic Ocean, he will return home via car.
In addition to raising awareness, Shelby hopes to raise funds for his own fledgling nonprofit, The Oasis Projekt, as well as Bombay Teen Challenge and The WellHouse, a Birmingham, Ala., nonprofit that works with sexually exploited women in the American Southeast. His goal is $10,000.
“That’s a drop in the bucket for what’s needed, but it’s a start,” he said. “I’m grateful for every penny.”
Shelby, who works as a driver for Fetch! Store to Door Delivery in Paso Robles, described himself as “a general Average Joe” with a dream.
“I want to inspire and inform and let people know (that) If I can do it, anybody can do it,” he said.
Find out more
To learn more about Dug Shelby and his mission, visit http://tr4f.wordpress.com