Ride For Water
June 14, 2017
Words & Photos: Nicky Slavich
The hardest things in life are often the most rewarding. Whether training for a marathon, climbing Everest, or trying to score a layup on Lebron James, our deepest struggles result in even deeper satisfaction. There’s an irreplaceable feeling to be had when putting everything into something, and then watching it succeed. For me, that feeling came from riding my bike across the United States of America.
In the summer of 2014, four college friends and I decided to embark on an unforgettable journey. Our goal: ride our bikes from the gloomy shores of the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic Ocean in New York City. While we pedaled our greater purpose was to raise both awareness and finances for clean water solutions in developing countries through the nonprofit, charity: water. We formed our team of seven guys (five riders and two support van drivers), started our awareness efforts during our final semester of college, graduated, and then began our two-wheeled odyssey in early May.
This trip quickly became everything at different times: beautiful and terrible, glorious and mundane, triumphant and humbling. We rode for 40 hard days ranging anywhere from 60 to 140 miles on any given stretch. Moving my legs for eight hours a day built character (and impressive quad muscles), and taught me a few things about myself, and even more about the world.
"The mental challenge of getting back on my bike each day was a greater challenge than the actual ride itself."
Mind Over Matter
I know...this may seem like the most cliched phrase you’ve heard about physical activity. However, after exerting maximum energy for six weeks straight, multiple hours a day, I can vouch that this is true! There’s something euphoric about pushing the human body to its absolute limit every single day. Don’t get me wrong, ubiquitous pain and a disenchanted attitude clouded some of my experience. We all had a meltdown day.
However, this trip showed me what my (and your) human body is capable of doing. You can climb higher, ride farther, and run faster than you think! The mental battle of getting back on my bike each day was a greater challenge than the actual ride itself. Henry Ford nailed it when he said, “Whether you think you can, or you can’t — either way you’re right.” Push yourself. Test your body. Think you can and then do it. When it's mind over matter don’t mind the pain because compared to the experience nothing else matters.
"This trip quickly became everything at different times: beautiful and terrible, glorious and mundane, triumphant and humbling."
America is Diverse
America is deep with culture, landscape, and people. The sociological diversity explored throughout 13 states showed me my country from a new perspective. I was raised just outside of the urban chaos of San Francisco, and now live in Los Angeles. I know crowds, and I thought I knew diverse culture. Now I think differently. There’s a fundamental difference between a McDonald’s in Glasgow, Montana, and a microbrewery in Pittsburgh. For better or worse, both are still the USA.
From the perspective of a weary cyclist, this was most noticeable in the geographical brilliance of America: breathtaking scenery from the Cascades of Washington, to Chicago’s riverfront to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. There were times when riding through the country felt like exploring a brown paper bag on repeat (cue North Dakota). But even in the not so glamorous parts of the ride, I can’t help but think that America (and the world) is meant to be explored, seen, and understood from the ground level up.
Purpose over Adventure
I believe that adventure’s craving is deeply ingrained in the human spirit. This reigned true for me personally, but the purpose for the ride will forever outweigh my personal pride. Our team was (and still is) “Ride for Water,” a group of students with a common goal: Pedal hard, be vocal, and raise as much money as possible for the global water crisis.
Life-changing trips are remembered not just for thrills, physical milestones, and memories, but because of the deeper why. Why am I doing this? Why do I feel the need to be a part of something bigger? Why does my soul long for more? This got existential pretty quickly, but seriously it's what drove me and my team to push forward. It’s what woke us up every morning, spinning our tired legs, and talking to complete strangers about what exactly we were doing. Most importantly, it was the why that allowed us to do our small part in supporting the global water crisis: raise $30,000 on behalf of charity: water!
“Ride for Water” changed my life, but more importantly it is giving life to others who cannot afford the world’s most essential resource. The best part? It’s still happening today! We were the second “Ride for Water” team to cycle, and now there are two teams riding simultaneously for the fifth consecutive year. I encourage readers to follow the current journey through social media (@rideforwater or rideforwater.com) and become a part of the cause.
Donate, follow, learn. Be inspired to create your own adventure, and better yet, find a deeper purpose within a story.