Cyclist digs deep for Navajos

Jul. 3—Roy Wiegand has been cycling across the Southwest for 12 days.

One sweltering day in Arizona, the thermometer on his bike read 130 degrees.

Another day, Wiegand found himself racing three dogs down a highway past the towering mesas of the Navajo Nation in western New Mexico.

The 57-year-old Southern California resident biked 1,100 miles from Los Angeles to Albuquerque to raise money for Navajo Nation clean water projects.

"So many people are struggling with the most basic essentials," Wiegand said after ending his trip at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden on Friday. "It kind of blows you away to learn the conditions with water here (on the reservation) for our Native American brothers and sisters."

The trip has raised more than $13,400 as of Friday for DigDeep, which installs running water systems in Navajo homes.

Wiegand, who often cycled 100 miles a day, always kept his bike equipped with at least 5 liters of water.

But that much clean water is a luxury for many Navajo residents.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority estimates that at least 30% of the reservation's homes do not have access to piped water.

DigDeep is one of 20 organizations working under the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Water Access Coordination Group.

The agencies used $5.2 million from the federal CARES Act to build safe water access points across the Navajo Nation and install water storage tanks in Navajo homes.

Wiegand's original fundraising goal was $10,000. That amount would fund solar-powered clean water systems for two Navajo homes.

This isn't the California cyclist and runner's first charity ride.

A church lecture on water access in Ethiopia inspired a 100-mile bike ride to fund water wells in East Africa.

Then came the 100-mile and 250-mile runs — one through Death Valley — to raise about $50,000 for Lifewater International.

In 2020, Wiegand raised $11,000 for DigDeep's Navajo Water Project with a 24-hour run from the California coast to Pasadena.

His "rolling circus" bike, with its bags and bright orange flag, couldn't help but attract attention on the Navajo Nation.

Wiegand's bike jersey emblazoned with the DigDeep logo also helped raise awareness about the ride.

"Fire stations along the way have let me camp out, and so have churches," he said. "People have taken me in, given me water and dinner, and given so many donations to this project."

His wife, Angela, and friends greeted him at the BioPark on Friday afternoon with cheers, hugs and handmade signs.

After a few helpings of green chile and sopaipillas, Wiegand will drive back to the Golden State this weekend.

"I feel like people have carried me all the way from California," he said. "The ultimate goal is to help our fellow Americans. If that doesn't keep you going, I don't know what will."

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.