Cyclists stop in Columbia on nationwide bike tour for clean water

Monday, August 2, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Carmen Peterson, 34, bikes through Sulphur Springs, Ohio as a part of her 4,000 mile bike tour this summer to raise awareness for charity: water, a nonprofit committed to bringing clean water to developing countries. "I'm thinking of water in a different way," she said. "It's definitely brought another level of awareness. I had never through about water before, not so much like this, not on this level, ever." Peterson and her riding partner, Narelle Couper, rode through Columbia on Saturday and will finish in San Francisco.

COLUMBIA— On their road bikes are sleeping pads, bags full of clothes and spare tubes and water — the bare essentials for living on a bike for three months.

Carmen Peterson from Michigan and Narelle Couper from Australia are cycling from Maine to California to raise awareness for charity: water, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building wells in underdeveloped countries to provide clean and safe drinking water.


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They're calling it "Water Cycle 2010."

The goal of the Water Cycle is to raise money and support for charity: water to build a well, which costs about $5,000.

The two cyclists came through Columbia on Saturday as one of the stops on their 4,000 mile bike tour. 

"Cycling is such a fabulous way to see a country and experience the communities," Couper said. "It's slow enough that you can smell the fields and bakeries and the place you're in, but fast enough that you can get somewhere."

Sitting in their matching light blue jerseys writing post cards and making notes about their journey, Peterson and Couper are laughing, full of energy. It's hard to think the two have already biked halfway across the country. They are laid back about meeting deadlines with the time they have left, a practice that has been in place since they started on June 15.

"It's not about getting from here to here," Couper said. "It's about seeing people along the way and seeing America and those communities. It's not about getting to San Francisco at all."

Initial conversations to do the Water Cycle began about a year ago, when the cyclists realized they had time in between their jobs as outdoor instructors to do a longer ride than they ever had before.

They see the tour as a way to build bonds in communities they stop through and have conversations about the 1 billion people in the world who are without clean drinking water.

"On those difficult days with the biking, I just think about those 10-year-old kids who are carrying 35 plus pounds of water on their back," Peterson said.

Peterson pointed to her water bottle she recently filled.  

"The water they're getting is not like this," she said. "You can't see through it. It puts some perspective on it, like this isn't so hard to just keep biking."

Charity: water has it set up so you can create your own campaign online and fundraise for your own well. Peterson and Couper have raised $3,000 since they have been on the road and hope to raise $2,000 more to achieve their fundraising goal.

Charity: water has 2,524 water projects in Africa, Honduras, India and Haiti, serving 1,130,986 people, according to its website.

"When it comes down to it, it's like, ya know, water is a part of all of us.  We need it to live," Peterson said. "It's a part of every living thing and here we just have a different perspective of it because it's in abundance for the most part."

Peterson and Couper can tell Columbia is a cycling community. Riding in to Columbia from St. Louis on the Katy Trail, Couper stressed the importance of appreciating the trail and its accessibility.

"I encourage people to explore that," she said. "Every weekend go explore new places. Just start loving your community."

They also see college towns as a good place to introduce charity: water. It was on MU's campus last spring.

MU Junior Kiki Schmitz is leading the charity: water campaign on campus.

Schmitz found out about the organization after seeing information about it on Facebook.

She soon contacted former MU student Laura Clarke who had been the first at the university to create a page on the organization's website.

"We were able to put everything together really quickly," Schmitz said.

By April the on-campus chapter got ORG status and put a steering committee together by May.  

She hopes to have one large-scale fundraiser this year, partnered with MU's One for One organization, and work on increasing visibility.

Since they got a late start last spring, Schmitz is confident that, between the members of the Facebook group and the members in the steering committee, they will generate support this year.

Schmitz has seen the effects a lack of water can have on an African community.  After spending a month in Ghana in July studying abroad and teaching in a private school, she said that hand washing among the children she taught was the biggest problem.

"They would come back [from the bathroom] and people would get sick," she said. "I would have two or three children vomit a week.  The hygiene is not where it should be."

Lack of clean water and education go hand-in-hand, said Schmitz. When girls hit puberty, they often skip school because of the lack of sinks and toilets.

Experiencing the difficulties of not having clean water firsthand, Schmitz is empowered to do what she can to spread awareness and raise money for charity: water.

"Water is such a universal thing, it's so basic," she said. "It's such a human need, what's more basic than water?"

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Michael Elkins September 24, 2010 | 1:45 p.m.

Carmen, you look like you are having a great time.

Jessica and I wish you the best. You have a good place in our hearts.

With love,

Michael Elkins

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