Jasmine Reese knew she would be giving up some creature comforts when she began an cross-country bike ride, but no way was she going without her dog, Fiji.
Originally from Los Angeles, Reese, 24, is fundraising for the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation by riding her bike from New York to San Diego. She took a two-day break in Effingham Thursday, allowing her and Fiji to rest up and cool off.
Reese chose the foundation after working for it while enrolled at Columbia College of Missouri.
“A lot of people I worked with had diabetes and were losing their sight,” Reese said.
Watching others experience the loss of sight and knowing she herself had diabetes brought her to a personal revelation.
“I knew it was time to get my life together,” she said.
She wanted to exercise, but couldn’t stand the thought of setting foot in a gym, so Reese took up cycling and gradually worked up to day-line rides.
When she decided to hit the road for her cause, she knew she couldn’t leave Fiji, her adopted pitbull-boxer-whippet mix, behind with a friend.
“Once I get an animal, I keep it for life,” she said.
Reese saved Fiji from euthanasia and now the 45-pound dog rides behind her in a pet trailer. However, on days when it’s cool enough she runs on a leash beside her.
The two travel between 30 and 70 miles a day, depending on heat and elevation, and ride for up to 10 hours a day, but rest days have become more frequent lately as summer temperatures rise.
Even though Reese has a tent among her 125 pound of supplies she carries with her, she has been able to rely on the kindness of strangers for shelter or money for hotel rooms.
And getting people to agree to let Fiji stay is more of an asset than a challenge, she said.
“It’s easier to find places to stay with her. The dog adds the cuteness factor,” she joked.
Fiji also helps guard Reese’s supplies when she has to run inside a store.
Reese has constantly been asked since she began on April 20 if the journey she has undertaken is safe.
While she realizes that there are potential dangers, she said she hasn’t encountered any and doesn’t expect to.
“I’ve only run into really kind people,” she said. “There are more good people than there are bad. ... It’s kind of a social experiment in what people are willing to do for strangers.
“It’s scary when I run out of stuff or I’m low on cash, but someone always comes in right when you need them. There’s always someone at that right moment. It’s angelic,” she added.
Reese is pleased with the donations she has received thus far, both for the foundation and through a personal fundraising page that allows her to continue to ride.
She recently received a donated violin, and has begun performing what she calls random acts of “violince” in which she plays for strangers who have helped her or to raise more money for the foundation.
“Music is a great way to communicate,” she said. “I’m hoping to add some extra spice to this journey.”
Reese initially planned to finish her trek this month, but now is shooting for the end of August or early September instead.
Reese not only has to worry about keeping herself safe from the heat as her journey continues but Fiji as well, which is why she has a cooling vest that Reese fills with cold water. Fiji also wears special dog boots when running on the pavement to protect her paws.
Fortunately, Reese found free accommodations during her stay in Effingham.
“(When people help me), they’re taking a risk and I’m taking a risk ... and it turns out beautiful,” she said.
To make a donation to the nonprofit Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation, visit www.mlerf.org/give. To help Jasmine Reese financially on her journey, go to www.gofundme.com/Fijabam. You can follow her ride at fijabam.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or email@example.com.