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September 28, 2011 4:10 PM

The American Lawyer Bikes the Alps for Charity

Posted by Chris Johnson

We take charitable work seriously at The American Lawyer. With our annual A-List and Pro Bono reports, we regularly champion those leading the way in law firm philanthropy—and note those that aren't quite pulling their weight.

To show that we practice what we preach, I will shortly be mountain-biking across the Alps to raise money for Self Help Africa—a charity organization based in Ireland that funds and executes long-term rural development projects throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The trip indirectly resulted from a piece I wrote in this year's Pro Bono report on the work that Allen & Overy is doing to help rebuild Rwanda's legal system following a fierce and bloody civil war that in 1994 resulted in the deaths of 800,000 people, almost 20 percent of the country's population ABSEIL_08316a["Standard Bearers," July].

I have raised money for charities that work in Africa before. In September 2008 I rappelled down the side of Hogan Lovells's London headquarters for Orbis, which helps treat and prevent blindness in developing countries. (That's me on the right, trying to look casual and not-at-all-petrified for the photographer as I dangle 140 feet above the street.) But learning about Rwanda's struggles inspired me to do something that targeted the continent more directly.

Self Help Africa seemed the perfect fit. The group employs close to 300 staff across nine countries—Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Togo, and Burkina Faso—with an ultimate goal of helping rural Africa achieve economic independence through sustainable solutions to the causes of famine and poverty.

With less than a week to go until the ride begins, I can't work out whether I'm more nervous or excited. I'm certainly both. Those familiar with the lifestyle of the average legal journalist—a clichéd but depressingly accurate stereotype of high stress, late nights, business lunches, and press party champagne—will appreciate that it isn't exactly conducive to extreme athletic endeavour.

I am a keen cyclist, and like to think of myself as being in reasonably good shape, but this will undoubtedly be the most challenging ride—the most challenging thing, period—I've ever attempted. Setting out on October 2, I will be covering approximately 500 kilometers (310 miles) in five days—taking me from Switzerland to Italy and back again—with at least 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) of altitude gain per day. The majority of this will be off road.

To make an already tough task even more daunting, I will be carrying all my gear for the week on my back. (Just enough spare clothes to avoid offending my travelling companions, repair kits for the bike and myself, sufficient energy bars to power a small town, and a toothbrush that I've sawed in half in a desperate attempt to save precious grams.) I weighed my pack last night: Almost 20 pounds, including three liters of water. It's making my spine twinge just thinking about it.

Those readers that would like to sponsor me on this grueling test—whether as law firms or individual partners and attorneys—can do so via my page at JustGiving. For those of you that haven't used JustGiving before, it's really simple, fast, and secure. The money is passed directly to the charity, and the site will automatically claim Gift Aid for donations made by eligible U.K. taxpayers.

U.K. residents can even donate by phone: just text KWEI77 (that's an 'i', not a '1'), followed by the amount you would like to donate, to 70070. 'KWEI77 £20', for example. This SMS service is free to both you and the charity.

I've set an ambitious target of £5,000 (just under $8,000), so please dig deep and donate now. It's a great cause and your money really will make a difference.

I will be writing daily progress reports throughout the trip, which starts in Chur, Switzerland's oldest town, taking me south into Italy via the Chaschauna Pass (2,694 meters, or 1.67 miles, above sea-level), looping round from Livigno through the Alpisella, Rifugio, and Costainas passes, before heading back to Chur.

So remember to check The Am Law Daily regularly to see how I'm getting on!


I would like to thank Kevin, Kyle, and everyone at Transition Bike Company, of Ferndale, Washington; Geoff and the team at the Richmond branch of Bike Lab, and Richie at Silverfish—without whose kind help, this trip wouldn't be possible. Thanks also to equipment suppliers Clif Bar and SealSkinz.

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