“The Incredible Journey” is the story of three pets that walk hundreds of miles to return to their home in Canada. But this is the story of a man who cycled nearly 5,000 kilometers from the United States to Costa Rica to help animals.
When Davide Ulivieri, 49, decided to devote a year of his life to promote the McKee Project, he combined his love of animals and passion for cycling. McKee’s goal is to train veterinarians in safe, efficient spay and neuter techniques that can be used in remote areas under difficult conditions, as well as in fully equipped clinics. Ulivieri’s goal was to promote a “Corridor of Passion” to help provide a better quality of life for animals in the seven countries he traversed, and at the same time raise $20,000 for McKee.
The trip started Jan. 26 in the snow at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, and continued over mountains, down valleys, across flat desert and through humid seacoasts and jungles. Riding a cyclo-cross sport bike and wearing the standard cyclist’s uniform, helmet and Pearl Izumi shoes, Ulivieri easily made 200 kilometers a day. Bikers and “animal people” joined in along the way to offer encouragement and hospitality, he said. A hundred bikers rode with him in Mexico. He even had offers of rides in vans and buses from curious and friendly people.
Ulivieri said he encountered no problems along the way, which he credits to traveling light, knowing the language and being familiar with crossing borders and getting visas. Daily long-distance rides helped condition him. Everyone was friendly and helpful, even border guards, he said. Along the way, he spent nights in hotels or in the homes of people involved in animal care.
The cyclist and animal lover grew up in Milan, Italy. In Europe, everyone rides bikes, he explained, and he started riding long distances early on. He also developed a love for dogs and other pets. While in the K-9 corps of the Italian army, he got used to working with dogs. He moved to the United States in 1991 and worked at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and at the Milo Foundation Shelter in California.
Ulivieri made his first trip to Costa Rica in 2009 and visited Playa Zancudo on the southern Pacific coast, where he found McKee volunteers organizing campaigns to spay and neuter dogs and cats at low or no cost. His first effort for the animal welfare organization was a solitary bike ride from the Panamanian border to the craft town of Sarchí, in the northwestern Central Valley, to raise interest and funds. He collected enough to start a mini-clinic in San Juan de Sarchí, and the trip inspired him to go for the big ride.
Ulivieri called his odyssey Cycle 4 Strays and kept an online diary of his road trip at www.cycle4strays.com, stopping at Internet cafés whenever he could to upload notes and pictures.
On the 66th day of his journey, he rode from the Nicaraguan border to the home of a friend in Alajuela, northwest of San José, none the worse than when he started. Early the next morning, Ulivieri and friend biked to Sarchí and back, a 200-kilometer trip. His “Incredible Journey” was celebrated April 18 with animal-oriented activities at La Sabana Park in San José.
The McKee Project was brought to Costa Rica in 1991 by Christine Crawford with the aim of enrolling and training veterinarians in new spay and neuter techniques and to develop citizen helpers to organize spay-neuter campaigns in their communities, thus reducing overpopulation and abandonment of dogs and cats. McKee vets also hold “spay days” in their own clinics. The group’s campaigns have operated on as many as 85 animals a day.
The program involves approximately 200 vets in Costa Rica and about 500 in Central America, according to McKee Coordinator Carla Ferraro. McKee’s website, www.mckeeproject.org, features a list of participating vets and groups.