“The border was open. I crossed into Mexico without anyone checking my passport. There was no security. Suddenly I was in the middle of an area that did not feel safe. It was like a ghost town. People had been chased out of their homes. It felt damaged. A pack of dogs came chasing after me. I pedalled harder. It was hard to know why it was so quiet.
“I noticed the out-of-date cars. Everything was broken. Most of the buildings lay in ruins. There were a few empty petrol stations. There was almost no one around. The people I did see were very poor and not very happy. It was the lowest point of my journey.”
Jonas Orset described his surroundings as he passed from El Paso-Juárez into the southwest state of Mexico via a border crossing at Tornillo.
This was both the lowest and the most significant moment of his 11-day trip – a ‘Hope Journey’ through six states – to raise awareness of modern day slavery.
He cycled through Guadalupe, a town whose population 10 years ago stood at 10,000. Today, there are fewer than 1,000 people living there, many of whom are older and did not want to leave their homes, or who are living in poverty.
“I spoke with one woman whose family can no longer cross the border for trade because the cartels have taken control”, Jonas said. “It is dangerous. It is a prime smuggling area for the cartels – smuggling of drugs and young women. “This is exactly what I want to raise awareness about”, he added. “This is not just something you hear about in the media. This is real. I was seeing first-hand the reason why I was doing this.”
Jonas had embarked on a one-man mission that involved extreme weather conditions, sleeping in the boot of a car and putting his body through its paces – as well as a personal challenge to speak with complete strangers about modern slavery.
The 28-year-old professional cyclist travelled through no less than six states, covering 600 miles on his bike – a Trek Emonda – and 3,500 miles in a rental KIA Sorento.
His journey began at his home in Dallas, Texas, and took him through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. The main purpose of the tour was to share about Hope for Justice’s work and to raise awareness. “At first it was really strange to strike up conversation with random people about slavery – it’s a really deep topic”, Jonas said. “I spoke with a man in Las Vegas who was gambling and a woman in a café, as well as people living in one of Arizona’s old gold mining villages. People were surprisingly open.”
Jonas is originally from Langhus, south Norway, but moved to Dallas in February to learn more about American people and culture. He said: “The more I heard about Hope for Justice, the more I realised its huge importance. It is about setting people free. The first step to making a change towards a modern slavery-free world is awareness. Along the road, I shared the charity’s mission – a mission to give exploited people back their hope and to put an end to modern slavery. For me, cycling is freedom. It is great to bring my enjoyment of this sport into relationship with modern slavery. I’m also a Christian and Hope for Justice is founded on Christian values. I’m really proud to be able to support the charity. Before embarking on this trip, I thought a lot about my values and how I can be an inspiration and a light for Jesus”, Jonas added. “I don’t think I’ll stop competing but I definitely want to ride for a cause rather than for my own personal gain.”