When Garrett Russell ‘08 got a phone call from an old friend, he felt his future calling...Hailey Hawkins (2011) | Editorial Intern
When Garrett Russell ‘08 got a phone call from an old friend telling him that she was going to cycle across the United States to raise awareness about water rights, he felt his future calling and responded, “I think I’m supposed to do this with you.”
The journey would take Russell and his companion, Brittany App, from San Diego, Calif. to St. Augustine, Fla., a grand total of 3,259 miles, averaging 37 miles a day. Russell said that there are few moments in one’s life that feel right or just make sense, and for him, this was one of them. A filmmaker based in Portland, Ore., Russell decided to use the trip as an opportunity to film a documentary called “Water Tension” about water usage and to raise funds to provide fresh water for people without access.
“This issue is happening under the radar,” referring to what he calls the Global Water Crisis. “We talk about climate change, but most people don’t realize that water rights and usage is the issue, the most pertinent issue on the planet. It will affect everyone; it’s a resource we all have to have to survive.”
According to Russell, water rights and access are more than a sanitation issue. He said the problem translates into a human rights issue. In many countries with limited water access, people need to travel, sometimes great distances, just to obtain muddy, diseased water. While hazardous to health, the practice also limits the ability to attend school, particularly for women and children, who are usually responsible for collecting water.
App and Russell aim to raise $20,000 for WaterAid, an international charity that works in Africa and Asia to provide the world’s poorest people with access to safe water by digging sustainable, clean wells.
“We as a species can guide and create a positive flow in the future instead of mitigating disaster,” said Russell. Teaching people how to access clean water helps empower native people and illustrates a message of equality by promoting self-sufficiency.
While bicycle projects like this one usually have support vehicles, Russell and App carried all their own gear, including their cameras, tents and anything else they’d need for their trip on their 1970s bicycles. They had no weatherproof gear while facing hurricanes, rattlesnakes and repair of broken down bicycles on the side of the road. However, said Russell, “It’s by far the best thing I’ve ever done.”