EVANSTON — Some people might think it’s crazy for a 23-year-old woman to rollerblade from Miami to Portland, Oregon. And most will probably think it’s even crazier that she is doing it all alone, with little or no money and no plans for shelter along the way. But that’s exactly what Yanise Ho, aka the Bladress, is doing.
“The whole mission is to show that there are a lot of amazing people in the world,” Yanise said Sunday, when she stopped in Evanston. “Because every day I don’t have plans — I don’t know where I will be staying, I don’t know anything. And from Miami to New York I had a really strict rule to like, not carry a dollar — not accept any money at all because I believed that I really didn’t need anything — just faith in the goodness of people.”
The kindness of strangers, which Yanise is out to prove exists, hasn’t let her down. In fact, it was evident from day one, on March 14. She said she had no expectations, and she was a little nervous. Although she’d rollerbladed from Savannah, Georgia, to Miami two years before, she didn’t train at all for this journey of more than 5,000 miles.
“I had never put on my backpack before, I never tested anything,” she said. “Like half of the things that I had, I’d never used before because I just took off. And it was so heavy. That was the first time putting 45 pounds of stuff on my back while rollerblading.”
It was also the first time she’d been alone like that on the road without even a dollar. She got lost, and her phone broke the very first day. She had a camera rigged to her backpack with PVC pipe to record her journey, but that broke the first day, too.
“So I was just sitting in a park,” Yanise said. “I was lost, and a little kid came to me, he was 7. He was on his bicycle and he asked me questions like, ‘Why are you sitting here? What’s that pipe for?’ I explained to him it was broken and he said, ‘Well, my dad is a plumber; why don’t you come home with me and he’ll help you? He’ll let you stay, too, because he’s a very kind man.’”
Then the boy’s babysitter came over and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure his dad will help you.”
On Sunday, Yanise recalled fondly, “It was the little kid who offered, and I ended up staying with them. He wasn’t with any adult, but he offered, ‘Hey, you can come to my home and we’ll help you.’ It was very touching.”
Yanise raved about the South. She actually plans to move to South Carolina after she finishes her journey and spends a couple of months with her family in her native Hong Kong and then visits some friends in Italy, where she attended school before going to college in Washington and California to earn a degree in journalism.
“In the South,” she said, “every time I would go into a restaurant, everybody would immediately clap or come offer me something to drink or something to eat and tell me … ‘Hey, you’re taken care of,’ without fail, like all the time.”
She’d gotten used to the hospitality. But even then, something blindsided her.
“… Someone came up to me and said, ‘Well, we don’t know you, but we love you. And my son just died two months ago.’ Someone had murdered him in a robbery,” she said. “But [the man] was so cheerful. I could feel a lot of pain in him. And he said, ‘Keep doing what you do, because I believe in love.’
Yanise burst out in tears.
“And then he had to console me … I think that’s the most touching moment,” she said.
Cultural differences and landscape led to Yanise breaking her no-money rule after she left New York to head west.
“I changed the plans a little bit … but in the beginning it was a success, like the whole way I didn’t have to spend a dollar,” she said. “And every day I managed to find random strangers to take me [in]. They fed me, they offered me places to stay. And in the South, I was totally overfed because … even just people at the store … they would come out and offer me food.”
While people were still kind in the northern states and in the Midwest, Yanise said a lot of them were indifferent and didn’t pay much attention to her.
“And I don’t really go up and ask anybody anything — that’s my number one thing, I don’t ask,” she said. “If people want to [help], they can offer, because then it would be from their good heart, not me pressuring them.”
She also realized that as she headed west, the distance between towns would grow and she might have to pitch a tent somewhere or stay at a hotel.
Meeting new people means trying new things. She stayed with Jenny Martin while in Lyman and got to ride a horse by herself for the very first time.
She said she liked her time in Wyoming but could have done without the state’s infamous wind while she was skating.
“Wyoming is pretty,” she said, “but it’s so windy that I didn’t really get to enjoy it because sometimes it burns my eyes, but Nebraska was pretty enjoyable. It’s so flat and a lot of their highways have super wide shoulder lanes and they’re smooth, too.”
Yanise said she’s not really a spiritual person, but she does believe things happen for a reason.
“In Nebraska, in a small town named Kimball, … someone came up to me [and asked], ‘Hey, are you the Bladress?”
The man said Yanise had stayed with his brother in Ohio.
“And it was a complete coincid… well, not a coincidence, it was meant to happen, because he didn’t even live in that town,” she said. “He was actually just pumping gas and about to leave and I was skating past him. But I had been there in that town for two hours. I had been sitting somewhere else and I decided to skate to this other place. I just had a feeling that I had to. … Had I been sitting down, he would not have seen me skating by and wouldn’t have come up to me. … And he found me a host in a small town.”
Things just seem to work out for her, Yanise said.
“A lot of times it happens like a coincidence but it really isn’t,” she said. “I never have to worry about the weather. I never look at the weather forecast because even the rain, it is in my favor. Every time it rains — I can tell you at least five, at least seven times — as soon as it rains I will be standing in front of the right house and the right people will come out. And they’ll say ‘Come in, don’t stay out in the rain.’ So the rain actually leads me to the best people every time.”
With nothing tying her down, her plans are quite fluid. She’s even changed her route a couple of times during her journey.
“In the beginning, I wanted to go from Miami to Atlanta and through Alabama, too, and then to California and back to New York,” she said. “And then when I was in Atlanta, I changed my mind. I was like … ‘I’m not done with the Carolinas yet.’ I felt a calling, so I went back up the coast and decided to end in Portland instead.”
She said there have been times when she gets physically or emotionally tired, but she’s been able to keep her spirit high nearly her entire journey. The hardest part, she said, is having to get up and leave every morning.
“I only have so much time with the host,” she said. “And I’ve never really had a bad experience at all. With all these families, we immediately bonded like families, and then I have to leave the next day. So, a lot of the times — well, sometimes I spend an extra day with them, but leaving is pretty hard, saying bye. I think that’s the biggest challenge because a lot of times they would offer, ‘Oh, why don’t you stay an extra day, you can stay however long you want.’ And had I stayed every day, I would never make it."
Yanise doesn’t only receive kindness, she’s very giving, and she’s already raised more than $21,000 for One Girl Can, which provides scholarships to girls in Kenya and Uganda. Her goal is to raise $60,000, and she said it’s very possible, especially because an anonymous donor has pledged to match $20,000 of what she’s raised.
“The scholarship is to fund girls’ education for them to finish secondary school,” she said, “and my personal goal is to end child marriage,” adding that education is the best way to do so.
“So this organization, their mission aligns with mine because they believe one girl can achieve more than what their society predicts, and this is what I’m doing exactly,” she said. “I also want to really set an example for people that if you dream, you can really do anything.”
For more information about Yanise’s journey or to donate to One Girl Can, visit her website at yaniseho.com.