Local Spotlight: Snowmass’ George Russell, 73, cycling across America
That’s the distance from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida via Adventure Cycling’s “Southern Tier” bike route across the United States.
And Wednesday, Snowmass resident and Village Shuttle driver George Russell, 73, embarked on this cross-country cycling route, beginning his anticipated 50-day ride to raise money for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).
“I’m really fired up about it, I’m hugely excited about the people that I’m going to meet,” said Russell, who moved to Snowmass Village with his wife Mary in 2006 but has lived most of his life in Scotland. “Cycle touring is a wonderful way of restoring your faith in humanity.”
On a recent morning at Russell’s home in Snowmass, the Scotland native paged through the “For the Benefit of the Nation” book commemorating the first 70 years of the NTS, showing off just some of his favorite places from Glencoe National Nature Preserve to the 1746 Battle of Culloden site.
Russell explained that the NTS, a conservation charity co-founded by his grandfather, owns and looks after these places, preserving and protecting Scotland’s natural, built and cultural heritage from castles to coastlines for future generations to see and experience.
The trust, which is the largest member organization in Scotland according to its website, relies largely on donations to carry out its protection and preservation work. But because of the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown measures worldwide, NTS has lost 28 million pounds, or $36 million, of “essential” visitor income, forcing the conservation organization to pause projects, postpone some property reopenings and launch a “Save Our Scotland” fundraising campaign, the trust website states.
Like his grandfather — who was the first NTS secretary and treasurer in 1931 and helped draft the trust’s constitution — Russell and his father have been involved in the trust as well, both serving as NTS Council members.
So when Russell found out about the conservation charity’s financial troubles due to loss of visitor income, he wanted to help — leading to his decision to ride across the U.S. to help raise money and awareness.
“I was cycling into Aspen one morning having just read about this and thought, ‘Well, I think I can do something.’ I’ve always wanted to help NTS in a bigger way,” Russell said, explaining that since he and Mary retired to the U.S. 14 years ago he hasn’t been able to be as active with the trust as he’d like.
“I suppose at age 73 not many people do this sort of thing (cycle across the U.S.)… but I felt like this was an opportunity for me because I felt like it was something I could do for an organization that I, my grandfather and father have been hugely involved in all of our lives.”
Russell is no cross-country cycling rookie. This will be the septuagenarian’s fourth U.S. cross-country bike trek, having already rode unsupported west to east, east to west and south to north in recent years with Mary. He said he’s never ridden the Southern Tier route and plans to have support from Mary, who will follow him in their car, for the first part of the ride until he gets into Texas.
By pedaling around eight hours each day, posting his progress on the “crazyguyonabike” cycling website, meeting people with Scottish roots and connections and giving presentations about NTS along the way, Russell said he hopes to get more Americans involved in helping save NTS, which has a U.S. foundation branch based in Boston.
So far, he’s raised about one third of his £100,000 goal (around $130,000), mainly from people living in the United Kingdom. He hopes to drum up more U.S. support over the next several weeks, and said he’s excited to both take on a new cross-country cycling route and to do his part in preserving and protecting Scottish heritage.
“I think there’s an awful lot of Americans and particularly a lot of people in the valley here who have been to Scotland and like going to historic houses and battlefields… and there are also a lot of Americans who would like to go to these places,” Russell said.
“And unless we can help to maintain them, (these places) might not be around to go and see in the future.”
To learn more about Russell’s fundraising campaign for the National Trust for Scotland, visit fundly.com/george-russell-cycles-across-america. To keep up with Russell’s progress on the 3,000-mile bike ride, visit crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o-1mr&doc_id=23005&v=Bm.