By Sharon Randall
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The following is an article by USA columnist Sharon Randall which was submitted to 400 newspapers across the USA:

SHARON RANDALL: From Alaska to Argentina

Copyright 1999 Nando Media
Copyright 1999 Scripps Howard News Service

(September 10, 1999 4:00 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - 

Emmanuel Gentinetta, 18 and gorgeous as a young Andy Garcia, is wolfing down a triple stack of pancakes with bacon and eggs.

He rode his mountain bike into Monterey recently, stayed overnight with friends, and on this morning, before heading south - way south - he's having breakfast with me.

"So tell me your story," I say.

Pausing to swallow, he wipes his mouth with a napkin and lights up the room with a grin. "First, let me tell you about my parents," he says.

Mario and Elsa Gentinetta Grinfeld fell in love in Argentina, when they were not much older than Emmanuel is now. They came to California, he says, with $100 and a dream, founded a missionary organization ("Life to the Nations"), started a fine art business and had five children - Emmanuel, his two older sisters and his younger sister and brother.

His family means the world to him, he says. He misses them a lot.

"I do get lonely sometimes. I have pictures of my family that I carry with me. There are days when I look more at those pictures than at the scenery. But I know this trip will bring us closer somehow."

In June, after graduating with honors from Summerville High School in Sonora, Emmanuel said goodbye to his family and flew with a buddy to Alaska, to embark on the journey of a lifetime - a 17,000-mile bike trek on the Pan American Highway, across two continents and 14 countries from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, at Argentina's southern tip.

They set out as planned on June 22. Three days later on the Alaskan tundra, his partner turned back, and Emmanuel pedaled on alone.

"I was disappointed," he says, "but I wasn't quitting. In some ways, it's better to travel alone. You see things differently and interact more with people you meet. It's not how I planned it, but it's all good."

Every journey has its surprises. Your partner drops out. You get a flat tire. A grizzly tries to have you for lunch. Twice. Whatever, he says, it's all part of the adventure.

So is taking care of all the stuff --- the mountain bike and trailer, the sleeping bag and tent, the bike tools and cooking equipment, fishing pole and water filter, a couple of changes of clothing, rain gear and a Bible.

He never lets his bike and stuff get out of his sight. He rides nine hours on average, 75 miles a day; sleeps in campgrounds, or backyards if invited; eats oatmeal for breakfast, buys lunch and cooks dinner - five servings of pasta, potatoes or rice.

He keeps a journal, phones home and writes a newsletter to keep family and friends informed of his progress. And everywhere he goes, he says, he meets people who seem to understand what he's doing.

"People get really excited about the adventure. They relate it either to something they've done or would like to do. Even if they think I'm crazy, they're glad I'm doing it."

On Aug. 28, when Emmanuel crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, he was joined by his parents and some 40 friends from Sonora, who came to San Francisco to cheer him on.

His parents plan to see him again in San Diego, he says, and in March or April, if all goes as planned, they will meet him in Tierra del Fuego.

And afterward, when this adventure is over, Emmanuel will embark on another, studying physics at Stanford or Cal Poly, he says, and telling his story to anyone who will listen - a story about perseverance and daring to dream, beginning as always, with his parents.

But first, he has a few rugged miles to ride over mountains and jungles and deserts - and even worse, Los Angeles.

"Emmanuel," I say, "do you know what your name means? "

"Yes," he says, lighting the room up once more. "It means God is with us. I take comfort in that."

And so, I suspect, do his parents.

Sharon Randall is a winner of the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors and the Best of the West commentary awards.

 

 

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