When Boise Weekly
caught up with Joshua "Jay" Atlas at Flying M Coffeehouse July 21, a worn Bible open to The Book of Samuel and a cup of drip coffee stood in front of him. His demeanor was relaxed, though he was in a hurry: Atlas and three others—Nathaniel Erb, Sylvester Williams and Tim Sammartino—are on the first leg of a trans-American bike tour raising awareness about human trafficking, and he needs to be in Cheyenne, Wyo., in the first week of August to speak with a group interested in his cause. All-told, he said, he'll have spoken with 36 different groups by the end of his journey.
"It's going to be tight," Atlas said. "Probably the most work we do is just telling people what we do."
Atlas' route will take him from Seattle (departed July 5) to Miami (ETA Sept. 4) as part of the Long Road to Freedom Project
, which raises awareness about human trafficking and aspires to build two safe houses for its victims. The safe houses will be located in Philadelphia, Pa., and Long Road is raising $200,000 to update the houses, pay legal fees and operate them for five years with the help of donations and volunteers.
Atlas travels light: His Mongoose mountain bike is loaded with panniers filled with supplies and spare camping equipment. He rides with a red backpack featuring a sign that reads, "Cycling to End Human Trafficking," which he said took him five minutes to make and has lasted him since departing from Seattle July 5. He doesn't carry much cash or identification, and Atlas shrugged when he said his wallet, recently stolen, contained $20. Atlas has made an ethic of minimalism, and prioritizes reaching his destination
"We operate as if we're homeless," he said.
And the road takes its toll. Despite riding on an oversized, cushy seat and traveling with minimal baggage, "There isn't a day that goes by when I don't feel a little sore," Atlas said.
This is the second year in a row Atlas has ridden cross country: In 2013, he rode from Atlantic City, N.J., to Los Angeles; but already, his trip has been marred with injury: Of the four Long Road members making the journey, two have been injured and are recovering in McCall. Atlas said he will continue to ride ahead, and hopefully regroup with his healed compatriots at the Exodus Cry Abolition Summit
in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 6-8.
The issue of human trafficking struck a chord with Atlas while he was attending a Passion Conference in Atlanta. That's when, after an afternoon of social-media training seminars for service and community-conscious millennials, a speaker told those in attendance to put down their cellphones and listen as a young woman took the stage and told her story about her experience with human trafficking. He said he responded to her testimony viscerally.
"I have a little sister and I didn't want that to happen to my sister," Atlas said.