Ride for Water takes Cloquet man 'from sea to shining sea'
When Chase Pritchett dipped the front tire of his bicycle in Lake Superior on Tuesday, it represented the culmination of a baptism by fire. That's because when Pritchett and five of his college friends launched on a cross-country bike ride three weeks ago, they had no real idea what the trip would hold.
Pritchett's journey took him from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Superior - but the experience took him much further.
"Our team was inspired to do this ride after a couple of our team members had first-hand experience in Africa seeing the need for clean water in under-developed countries," explained Pritchett. "The facts are stunning, too: 800 million people do not have access to clean water. Water-related diseases are the leading cause of death around the world...more than war, poverty, cancer or AIDS. According to the United Nations, 4,100 children die every day from water-related diseases."
Pritchett and his friends decided to partner with the organization, "charity: water," because they admired its approach to ending the global water crisis.
"One hundred percent of all donations to the cause go straight to building water wells in affected areas, and donors are supplied with pictures and GPS coordinates once the project is complete to show them to whom and where their donations went," he said.
The team of students raised money by asking people to sponsor their ride or donate online at their specially created website, rideforwater.com.
"The community of Cloquet was phenomenal in their support of us," said Pritchett, saying some $1,200 has already come their way from his home town.
"We have currently raised $19,000 of our $40,000 goal," reported Pritchett. "The charity: water organization estimates that each well will cost between $4,000 and $10,000, so we set our goal in hopes of providing clean water for four different communities. According to charity: water, $20 gives clean water to one person."
Pritchett's team is comprised of a group of friends from all over the United States: Portland, Phoenix, Stockton, Milwaukee, San Diego and Cloquet, as well as from the United Kingdom (Surrey). They all go to Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian college located near Los Angeles, Calif., and all will graduate within the year.
The ride itself started at the Pacific Ocean in Anacortes, Wash., on May 10, with all of the riders dipping the front tires of their bikes symbolically in the Pacific Ocean. Pritchett said the ride has been the dream of a lifetime, one that had its roots in his days growing up in Cloquet.
He lived in Cloquet all his life, and in high school he was involved in a wide range of activities, from chess club to varsity sports. He was captain of the tennis team his senior year and joined cross country the same year.
"It was in cross country, under the coaching of Mike Bushey, that I fell in love with endurance sports," he stated.
Following his graduation from Cloquet High School in 2010, Pritchett moved to Los Angeles to attend Azusa Pacific University, where he now has one semester of undergraduate study in business marketing remaining.
"I made the decision to move out to California for college because I was excited for something new, and I've really enjoyed the last three years in southern California," he explained.
After a knee surgery in 2011, Pritchett picked up cycling on his physical therapist's recommendation, and he found a real passion for the sport.
The idea for the bike ride in support of clean water seemed a fitting tribute to the group of friends as they wound down their college years and prepared to go their separate ways. And though they planned the trip right down to the smallest detail, what they couldn't anticipate is just how formidable it would be.
"I've never done anything like this ride, and honestly, I don't think anything could have prepared me for riding 80-100 miles day after day," he said. "It was challenging at the start for our bodies to adjust to biking for 10-12 hours a day. Along with that, we started right away in the Cascade Mountains, and that was quite the physical shock. We then had to climb the Rocky Mountains and go through Glacier National Park, which were some of the hardest, but most rewarding, rides of my life. The views were stunning, and I've decided there is no better way to see the country than by bike: not too fast, not too slow, it's just right."
They then had to ride the "mind-numbing" plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota, with 40 mph headwinds.
"Those were the hardest days of the trip, riding all day and only going 5 mph because of wind," he said. "And it's never fun to ride in the rain - almost half of our days have had rain and it makes it really hard to keep riding."
The group of young men, who were lucky enough to have "sag support" in the form of a fellow student who drove a van in advance of each day's journey, said some of the highlights of the trip came in the form of new acquaintances they made.
"We have met some of the most incredible, generous people on our journey," he reflected. "We have been housed by churches, families and strangers along the way -- all with more generosity and kindness than we could have ever expected. The support of the people we met inspired us to keep riding on days when we wanted to do anything but get back on the saddle.
"The most inspiring moment for me was when we met a man from Ethiopia," he continued. "It was a rainy, cold, windy day when riding was the last thing I wanted to do. When we met him, we told him about the goal of our ride and he looked me in the eyes and said, 'Thank you for what you're doing for my home.' That was enough to keep me riding in the rain."
When the team reached Cloquet on Saturday, they rode straight to The Warming House on Highway 33 North, where Pritchett used to work. There, they were greeted by some 40 friends, family members and residents of the community, who welcomed them and celebrated their journey and their cause.
They also visited Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle, where Pritchett and his family are members, on Sunday and talked about their mission to the congregation.
"The ride was 1,863 miles to Cloquet, worth every mile to experience the kind homecoming we have received," he commented.
On Tuesday, the group departed for Duluth via the Willard Munger Trail, heading to Canal Park where Pritchett ceremonially dipped the tire of his bike in Lake Superior to symbolize the end of his journey. The rest of his group plans to go on, ending at the Atlantic Ocean in New York City on June 26.
"Unfortunately I cannot ride my bike all the way to New York, which is why we came through Cloquet - to see the community I call home," he said, adding he will fly back to Los Angeles to work for an advertising agency in Hollywood.
"My hope is to work in the advertising business after graduation in December," he stated. "I plan to keep riding my bike, and want to start racing in the Los Angeles area."
He said the trip lived up to his expectations - and then some.
"This ride has given me hope in the generosity of people," he said. "Time after time, the people we met gave us more than we could ask for - food, shelter, equipment - because they believe in our mission. We have been riding across the United States for over three weeks and every day met people that wanted to help give clean water to those without it. There are days when our legs felt like they couldn't bike another inch; but it's then we are reminded it's not just the seven of us on the mission, but the hundreds of donors on our team, and the thousands of people who will get life's most precious resource because of our combined efforts."
The continuation of the group's ride, along with travel blogs, pictures, and donation opportunities can be seen at rideforwater.com.