Good Cause: Team bicycles 1,000 miles for clean water

Clean water is important to Justin Ahrens and Brian MacDonald. So much so that they cycled from Boston to Chicago in early June to raise awareness about their cause. To prove their point, they used only open water sources along the way. What they didn’t anticipate were the hills, the thunderstorms or the dogs that chased them.

Like all trips about helping others, both men found themselves inspiring others as they sought to motivate people to donate to their cause. The trip ultimately will provide at least 1,000 Ugandans with clean water.

“To see America from the perspective of a bicycle has been incredible,” Ahrens said. “People and towns we would never see otherwise.”

Ahrens is the owner of Rule29, a strategic creative firm in Geneva; MacDonald owns Wonderkind Studios, a visual media production company in Glen Ellyn.

Together they sought to expand on their work in Africa, learning about bringing clean water to people there. The duo wanted to raise enough money for clean water for 1,000 people. To do this, they needed $40 a mile for 1,000 miles.

The $40 for each person means Ugandans will receive clean water for life, and they will get hygiene education.

“You can give someone clean water, but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it,” Ahrens said.

The Ugandans who will receive clean water from the project also will learn how to wash their hands and use the water to keep themselves healthy.

According to Kelly Reed, Rule29’s marketing associate, the two men wanted to use their skills to help good causes.

“(Nonprofits) need good quality production and design,” she said. “Justin and Brian wanted to take a more active role in helping out the nonprofits.”

Initially they worked with an organization called Life in Abundance, traveling to Africa to learn more in 2007.

And each summer since, they returned to Africa and eventually learned about Lifewater, an organization that works toward finding solutions for the world’s water crisis. They also have done work in Asia and India.

Neither man is new to cycling: Ahrens is a cycling enthusiast, and MacDonald had biked across the country, Connecticut to California, 25 years ago.

To accomplish their goal, they needed to ride at least 90 miles a day, and they were followed by an RV with a team of people to help them: the driver and the co-pilot, two people who took care of logistics like food, and a third rider who also is a bike mechanic.

They also had a photographer who was documenting the trip through video and photos for social media coverage along the way.

But this was a different kind of trip.

“I had no expectations,” Ahrens said going into the ride. “It has been harder than I thought but also more exciting.”

While raising money to bring clean water to people was important, it was more than that.

“We want to show how we take water for granted,” Ahrens said.

To do this, they collected their water for the trip from open sources like rivers and ponds along the way using a hand pump and jerry cans to collect it and kill any bacteria.

The tricky part was making sure they thought far enough ahead and they didn’t run out of water for the team.

Any logistical concerns were overrun by their experiences on the road and during their stops, though.

“It’s amazing the people we met along the way,” MacDonald said. “People asked us what we were doing, and we’d explain and they’d want to get behind us.”

Both men felt inspired by the stories they heard.

They wound down their trip June 13, but they are still collecting money to help the Ugandans. Any funds they collect beyond the $40,000 they plan to “ride off” the rest of the summer.

“There is a dollar amount equal to value,” Ahrens said. “It’s a life-saving project.”

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