While many people spend a hiatus from school “blowing money on beer and beaches,” 18-year-old Oliver “Ollie” Plunket is doing something different.
With a year to spare between high school and college, U.K.-based Plunket hopped on his motorcycle six months ago in Argentina, and decided to embark on Ollies Odyssey, a seven-month, 14-nation trek around the world with the purpose of raising awareness and money for wounded troops and their families.
“The thing that people usually do [during school hiatuses] is they work for six months and then they go traveling for six months,” Plunket told PEOPLE on Thursday. “They travel around on buses and they just have a general good time seeing the world. I like to think I have a slightly more adventurous personality. I worked a little bit harder and saved a little bit more, using my savings to help pay for the trip.”
Teaming up with Fisher House – a private-public partnership that supports America’s military in their time of need – Plunket has spent time volunteering in the San Diego and Los Angeles locations, will soon head to the San Francisco location and plans to be one of the first big donors at the newly opened U.K. site.
With just a short time left until he reaches his final destination of Alaska, Plunket recalls the ups and downs of his journey thus far.
During his second day in Peru, he took an unexpected detour with a fellow biker who was headed in his same direction.
“He wanted to do the off-road route, which I was happy to do,” Plunket says. “It was supposedly only going to take us five hours, and about 10 hours later, we were a bit lost and still driving on the same road. We were a bittired and fed up. We were feeling the effects of the altitude. I ended up getting a puncture. We had to stop and fix it, which took an hour. I didn’t want to ride in the dark, so we ended up camping on the side of the road.”
But conditions only worsened from there.
“Because of the altitude, it snowed overnight, and the other bike driver didn’t bring any food or water,” Plunket explains. “So, I ended up sharing my four-liter bottle of water with him, and a little sandwich I packed. So that was pretty scary, just staying in the middle of the wilderness, completely taken by surprise by what should have been a very easy day on the road.”
But that incident was just a minor bump in the road for the young man, whose trip has seemingly otherwise gone off without a hitch.
“In Southern Chile, I did a road called the Caratara Austral and I only started riding a motorbike a month and a half before I came on this trip,” he says of one of his fonder memories. “I’d never ridden one before. When I did this road, it was maybe my fifth day of riding off-road ever. It was really nice quality gravel, so it was fun and the scenery was incredible. There were huge mountains and prehistoric plants and trees.”
Part of what’s gotten him through the experience is the amazing support of people who have been following his adventures.
“I’ve had some people along the way who have said to me, if you eat – For example, in Argentina, I ate blood sausage for $50,” he says. “Every so often, someone will email me with a little task to do in order to raise a little bit more money.”
Adds Plunket: “People are donating to me or to the charity from the idea of me going from Argentina to Alaska. Imagine it’s like somebody running a marathon and asking someone to donate to their charity because they’re running the marathon. People donate through my website, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the charity, so I’m self-funding the trip.”
More Heroes Among Us:
Know a hero? Send suggestions to email@example.com. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine