In 2019, before taking on the presidency of the Rotary Club of Reynosa 76 in Reynosa, Mexico, Marcelo Méndez set aside some time for a road trip. “I knew when I got elected president that I wouldn’t have time, so I decided to do it before my term,” he says.
The trip he had in mind was on a grand scale. Over 34 days, he racked up more than 13,000 miles on his Triumph Tiger 800 XRx motorcycle, riding to Alaska and back.
He often traveled back roads rather than major highways. “For a motorcycle rider, the back roads are the best,” he says. “They don’t have a lot of traffic, like all the 18-wheelers. And the views are amazing.” He camped half the time and stayed in hotels the other half. And to help prepare for his term as president, he visited Rotary clubs along the way.
Before leaving home on 21 April, he researched clubs on his route to figure out which meetings he could make. “I wanted to see how their meetings are run,” he says. “I wanted to see how clubs do different things.” Méndez visited the Rotary clubs of Greater Southwest Lubbock, Texas; Santa Fe Centro, New Mexico; Salida Sunrise and Kremmling, Colorado; Anaconda and Missoula, Montana; and College in Fairbanks, Alaska. He showed up unannounced, but he always got a warm welcome. “As soon as I walked in the door at any meeting, they’d say, ‘Hey. You are welcome here. Have some lunch or breakfast and tell us about your club.’ It was amazing,” he recalls.
Gary Olson, who is now president of the Salida Sunrise club, says he was happy to have Méndez at his club’s meeting. “We always welcome visitors,” he says. “But it’s a rare day that we have an unexpected international guest. We were all impressed that he was taking the ride to Alaska, and I think more than a few of us were a little envious.”
“For a motorcycle rider, the back roads are the best: They don’t have a lot of traffic ... and the views are amazing.”
At one club meeting, Méndez saw members placing donations in a glass jar and talking about their recent blessings. He has adopted that practice for his 22-member club: “I have a blessings donation jar now at our meetings. We’re going to fill that jar with moments of happiness.” The cash will be used to help someone in need.
Méndez also brought back the idea of partnering with another club to purchase chairs that convert to cots, which will be donated to two local hospitals. “When people are in the hospital, a lot of times their family members don’t have any place to rest,” he says. The planned project also includes buying two surgical delivery tables.
Olson says the Salida Sunrise club will consider working with the Reynosa club when it reviews its grant projects for 2020. “The fact that we can put a friendly Rotary face — someone we have personally met — to a suggested project is a huge plus every time,” he says.
Méndez’s biggest challenge was getting through a snowstorm in Wyoming, he recalls: “Roads were blocked, and I got lost.” He visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and saw a lot of wildlife: bison, bears, moose, elk, bighorn sheep. He crossed the Arctic Circle but didn’t stay long: “I took a few selfies and came back.”
With all that he learned and experienced, Méndez has started thinking about another road trip, this time to Argentina. “Then I will have traveled all through the Americas,” he says.
— ANNEMARIE MANNION
• This story originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.