Snowmass Village resident completes cross-country bicycle ride for Scottish charity
With nearly 3,000 miles under his belt and a 50-day cross-country bicycle ride in the books, Snowmass Village resident George Russell has spent the month since he returned doing quite a bit of reflecting on the merits of human connection.
“If you want to have your faith in humanity restored, cycle touring in rural, small-town America is the way to get it done,” Russell said. “No matter what their political stance, there’s a whole lot of lovely people out there, kind people, and people who are willing to treat you on equal terms and just welcome you, really, just be kind.”
Russell, a Village Shuttle driver, departed for the journey from San Diego on Aug. 26 and spent 50 days pedaling eastbound on Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier route; he arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, on Oct. 14. His wife, Mary, who had accompanied him on two wheels during previous rides, offered support from a vehicle as she drove along the route he was cycling.
The pedal was 73-year-old Russell’s fourth ride from one end of the United States to the other.
But experience, while certainly helpful, is no guarantee against challenges of mental endurance and obstacles en route.
Russell faced trash-strewn highways, 115-degree temperatures and no less than three hurricanes threatening to hit the southern states as he rode through them. COVID-19-related closures, sometimes compounded by hurricane damage, had shuttered many small-town cafes along the route that would otherwise provide a place to rest and refuel during the ride.
Nevertheless, Russell said, it was resiliency, not desolation, that he and his wife saw along the journey.
“We both came across people that had suffered incredible hardship,” Russell said, recalling the owner of one Louisiana cafe still operating after her business was hit by hurricanes and tornadoes. “And still, here she was giving a service to the local community.”
“I suppose standing out for me is the extraordinary friendship, hospitality, warmth of the people,” he said.
Russell embarked on the ride with the goal of raising £100,000 (about $125,000) for the National Trust for Scotland, a conservation charity that protects Scotland’s natural, built and cultural heritage.
The organization relies heavily on revenue from visitors. Amid this year’s lockdowns and travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the trust has been hard-hit with “colossal” losses, Russell said. A Scotland native himself — and the grandson of the organization’s founder — Russell was about a third of the way to his fundraising goal before embarking on the ride.
But incoming donations have slowed; the septuagenarian is now nearing the halfway mark to his goal but still has roughly £57,000 (more than $70,000) to go. He’s now hoping for another surge in donations to bring him closer to the goalposts.
“I haven’t gotten anywhere close to the goal that I set for myself originally,” Russell said. “I’ve made a fair reasonable stab at it, but I do feel I’ve got further to go and would love all the support that I could possibly get.”
Though it will take a significant leap in donations to bring Russell within sight of his fundraising goal, the cyclist keeps things in perspective with a “one step at a time” approach that applies as much to raising money for charity as it does cycling across America.
“When you’re setting out on a big challenge like this — it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, but what you’ve got to remember is one foot in front of the other,” Russell said. “Really, everything’s possible if you just take your time over it and don’t get rushed.”
To donate to Russell’s fundraising campaign, visit fundly.com/george-russell-cycles-across-america.
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Scott and Beau Toepfer see outdoor stewardship as an act of preservation — and a way to earn some good karma.