Riding for waterSeth Willard knows that everyone can make a difference, no matter how big the gesture – from contributing a dollar a day, to riding a bike 3,500 miles across the country.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Seth Willard knows that everyone can make a difference, no matter how big the gesture – from contributing a dollar a day, to riding a bike 3,500 miles across the country. On a total whim, he chose to do the latter, all in an effort to provide clean water to underdeveloped countries.
This summer, Willard, the son of Lloyd and Tanya Willard of Miltona, participated in the Ride: Well Tour. The cross-country bike tour was a fundraiser for Blood: Water Mission, an organization that helps communities in Africa build clean-water wells, latrines and health clinics.
Willard and 19 other teammates kicked off the coast-to-coast bike trip on June 14 by dipping their tires in the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles, California. With almost no training, Willard set off for a long and grueling trip.
The first day’s pedaling took them to San Diego, California before they headed east. For the next two months (45 days of cycling) the group pedaled anywhere from 60 to 135 miles a day.
By July 4 they had pedaled through Arizona and New Mexico and had arrived in Texas. Temperatures and elevations soared on many of those days.
“Out of Phoenix was the hardest day of the trip,” Willard recalled of the 120-mile day with pedaling uphill most of the way. “The next day I thought, I can’t do it anymore. It’s way too hard.
“You would hit a wall and just keep going,” he continued. “It was mind over matter. You keep pedaling and keep encouraging everybody else.”
In Texas the group took part in a water walk, an event designed to give people a taste of what some people have to do to obtain water. Armed with gallon jugs, the team walked a mile to a dirty pond. They filled them up with water and walked the mile back.
“It was a hugely emotional time,” Willard said. “This is what it’s all about. The whole quality of life of a village changes [with access to water]. It was a powerful reminder of the whole purpose of the ride.”
The group then biked up through Arkansas, cut through a corner of Mississippi and into Tennessee. That’s where the trip skidded out of control and things went downhill.
On July 29, a week and a half before the arrival on the East Coast, Willard ran into a patch of loose gravel. He lost his balance, crashed through a guardrail and tumbled down a hill head over heels. The accident resulted in a deep five-inch-long gash on his leg and a trip by ambulance to the emergency room.
He ended up with several stitches, and on crutches. And instead of biking with his teammates, he was a passenger in the support vehicle, a mere observer.
“I was very disappointed. Being in the van was so extremely difficult. But I had to be OK with not riding,” he said. “I looked at it from the perspective that it’s not about everybody racing across the country alone. It was making it as a team. That’s what I wanted to be remembered as doing.”
Expecting not to be able to bike again, on the second to last day of the trip Willard decided to give it a try, at least for a few miles. He made it the entire way. A relatively “easy” day at 50 miles, it ended up being the most memorable ride of his trip.
“Finishing that 50 miles was the most amazing feeling ever,” he said. “It was like I conquered something.”
His plan for the last day was just to “see how far he could go without endangering himself.” Although hills presented a difficult obstacle, Willard made it to the halfway mark. Discouraged and thinking he would have to stop, he told himself the second half would be easier and he kept going.
Once again, he made it the entire distance – the longest of the entire trip – 135 miles. He was there with his group as they biked into Cape Henlopen in Delaware on August 8, just as the sun was setting.
“It was such an amazing feeling,” he said. “It was surreal. It’s astonishing.”
The group shed tears of joy as they dipped their well-worn bike tires into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean – completing their ocean-to-ocean experience.
The Ride: Well Tour raised $125,000 for the Blood: Water Mission. The money will be used to finish a medical center in Kenya, where wells were established from last year’s tour.
Knowing that he has played a role in helping make people’s lives easier by providing them with clean water and access to medical care is worth all the struggle and pain that Willard endured during the tour.
“Knowing that I can do something to make someone else’s life better is amazing.” Willard concluded. “Everybody can, even if it’s just giving a dollar. Even if it’s risking doing something you don’t think you can, but trying it anyway.
“Everybody can make a difference in some way or another.”