Biking for Change

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Cyclist Furtemba Sherpa has used six bikes to ride 46,000 miles in 71 countries in hope of promoting environmental awareness and world peace.

Sherpa arrived in Austin on Monday afternoon with the intention of meeting Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who retired Wednesday. He will stay at Casa Marianella, an immigrant shelter, for four days before setting off again.

In 2003 at the age of 26, Sherpa set off from his native land of Nepal on a worldwide cycling trip with the goal of spreading his message to 151 countries by 2020.

Sherpa was inspired by his village’s tradition of climbing Mt. Everest and promoting social causes, he said. Violence in Nepal and civil unrest

further pushed Sherpa to try to improve conditions around the world.

“I changed my mind,” Sherpa said. “I didn’t go to Everest, but I wanted to do something.”

Joshua Collier, case manager at Casa Marianella, said Sherpa contacted the shelter because he wanted to stay somewhere he felt comfortable and where he could help people.

Since he left in 2003 he’s decided to take a break every five years until he finishes his ride in 2020, Collier said.

With little money and no formal education, Sherpa decided to take his passion for cycling and use it to promote awareness on the issues he felt most passionate about, he said.

“That’s what I’m talking about: peace and environment,” Sherpa said. “Use more bicycles. It’s very important. Bicycles mean no more pollution, and you get exercise.”

Sherpa said during his travels, he found Holland to be an especially inspirational region in support of his cause.

“The are 16 million people living there in Holland, and 17 million bikes are in use there,” said Sherpa. “One house has about three people with five bicycles there. That’s why I respect their country.”

Whenever Sherpa enters a country, he displays the country flag at the front of his bicycle, he said. Sherpa said in March 2010, he entered Brazil displaying their flag and a man approached him with a machete.

“He was protesting the Brazilian government,” Sherpa said. “He was like ‘Why do you have the flag?’ I just kept telling him ‘I have respect, I have respect.’ He took the flag and I didn’t stop him.”

Sherpa said he told the man both of their ancestors traced back to Mongolia. Sherpa said this helped to settle the differences.

“I mention that guy too because he is a really nice person anyway,” Sherpa said. “I was talking about my background, then he really said ‘OK you can go.’”

Francisco Escobar, a Cuban refugee staying at the shelter, says he sees Sherpa as an inspiration and a hero.

“It is very smart that he is neither against nor in support of any specific country,” Escobar said. “He made such a great impression on me since, in my home country, such a person doesn’t exist. In Cuba, no one would have given him any credit.”

Sherpa will visit Dallas and New York before flying to Africa, he said. He will be in Africa for 20 months and visit 42 to 46 countries. He said he hopes to find a bike company to sponsor his seventh bike in anticipation of many more miles.