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26 Aug 2020

Pedalling for Scotland – George Russell starts epic cycle across US

A man stands beside an earth bank covered in wild flowers. He stands beside his mountain bike and wears a cycle helmet.
George Russell with his mountain bike
A National Trust for Scotland supporter, whose family has links to the foundation of the Trust, has today (26 August) embarked on a 3,000 mile cycle across the US to raise funds for our charity.

Before he even begins, George Russell (73) has already raised more than £30,000, and he aims to reach his target of £100,000 by the end of his journey. Today, he sets off from San Diego in California and will be pedalling from coast to coast, finishing in St Augustine in Florida.

George’s 50 day route will take him from the Pacific coast through California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to St Augustine, on the Atlantic coast. His wife Mary will set off with him, driving their car as a support vehicle for the first half of this epic trip.

With strong ties to Scotland and to the Trust, this is a very personal journey for the cyclist – his grandfather was the National Trust for Scotland’s first Secretary and Treasurer. His father also worked for the Trust for many years and was a Council Member Emeritus. George himself served on the Trust’s Council. Originally from Edinburgh, George is now based in Colorado.

Read more about George’s links with the National Trust for Scotland.

George’s support comes at a crucial time for the Trust, which has lost almost £30 million, half our expected income, as a result of lockdown restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve launched an emergency appeal – Save Our Scotland – to help us recover from this crisis.

George said: ‘I’ve put in a lot of preparation over the last five months for my coast-to-coast trip and I’m really excited to finally set off and pedal to protect Scotland’s heritage.’

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“I’ve taken on this challenge not only for myself and for Scotland, but for my father and grandfather who worked hard to make sure Scotland’s treasures are cared for and exist for people to enjoy for years to come. The Trust urgently needs donations to guarantee its survival. It is as serious as that.”
George Russell

George added: ‘I’ve treated myself to a new bike that’s strong, reliable and has gear ratios that are suitable for a septuagenarian like myself. I’ve been putting my new wheels and myself to the test, climbing 4,000ft on the Independence Pass road out of Aspen and doing mountain bike trails – the real thrill for me is the beauty of the landscape and I’ll be thinking of Trust-owned places like Glencoe and Ben Lawers when I’m in the mountains and seeing the wildflowers.’

A big thank you to George!

Thanks for your epic efforts to support the National Trust for Scotland, George!

CONGRATULATIONS, George! Journey complete!

Completing his coast to coast journey one day ahead of his target time, George arrived in St Augustine in Florida yesterday (14 October), just 49 days after setting off from San Diego in California.

George said: “I can’t quite believe I’ve finished – and that I only had to repair two flat tyres on the way! There were so many moments where we had to rethink our route after seeing poor weather forecasts, but more often than not the sun shone for us and it has been an amazing experience."

Sir Mark Jones, Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, said: “We are in awe of George’s incredible achievement and his dedication to our charity. Our profound thanks and admiration go out to him as he completes this epic journey. We know that he’s received so many messages of support and we’ve been cheering him on since the day he set off, from the other side of the Atlantic.”

George on completing his epic journey!

Transcript

Thank you folks for the support. Thank you for coming to meet me – appreciate it greatly. It’s been a great trip and Mary, I want to say thank you to you, I couldn’t have done it without you. You’ve been just a star. Four people I want to thank particularly. Firstly, the Butters for my inspirational cyclists, secondly to my friend Dave Lands who put this great bike so well together for me, and thirdly to Keith who’s been an inspiration to me in Fundraising particularly. Fourthly, to my dear wife, to my good friend, my best friend, my soul mate and in cycling parlance – my domestique extraordinaire. Thank you to all those who supported me for the National Trust for Scotland, dig a little bit deeper into your pockets folks. Thank you very much, now I’ve got get the pedals back on and cycle back to California. I joke of course! Goodbye and goodnight, thank you.

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Final week!

Man on bike in hi vis jacket and a white helmet, on a rural road in the sunshine
George is on the last leg of his trans-US bike ride and is now in Florida.

George left Gautier, Mississippi and set off for yet another state – Alabama. It was a big relief for him to reach Dauphin Island which prevented a big detour and meant that on day 43 of his journey, George reached a massive milestone – he arrived in the final state of his journey, Florida, by ferry.

We cannot believe how far George has come!

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“Making that 40-minute ferry crossing from Dauphin Island to Fort Morgan this morning was as significant as any event on the whole trip.”
George Russell reflects on reaching the final state of his epic journey.
George on reaching Florida!

Transcript

Well, we’re now in Marianna in the heart of the Florida panhandle, about 50 miles or so west of Tallahassee and making good progress. We’re trying to set as much distance as we can between us and Hurricane Delta which tragically, is hitting so hard many of the areas that we were in just about a week ago. We seem to have managed to do that - avoided so far the storm damage. We got across Dauphin Island and onto the Pensacola coast and we’re now within 350 miles of the Atlantic. It’s very exciting. We should be in St Augustine in about 5 or 6 days time. It’s very exciting but not as exciting as raising money for the National Trust for Scotland, hopefully reaching my target of £100,000. That needs help from all of you. I will look forward to speaking to you again, hopefully from the beach in about 6 days time. Thank you. All the best.

George’s first full day in Florida sees him set off from Pensacola to cover 77 miles to Defuniak Springs, a lovely lakeside town, just 319 miles from the finish line. It’s getting very close.

For the next stage of the ride, George gets some company from his friend Charlotte, also a keen cyclist who has also cycled across the States herself. Together, they rode along the US 90, comfortably covering another 70-odd miles and arriving in Chattahoochee for a relaxing evening.

On Sunday, there was much co-ordination involved in ensuring that both Charlotte and Mary could cycle along with George for a while. It was an early start, but it all went very smoothly and the latest projection is that arrival looks set for Wednesday 14 October!

Departing from Tallahassee for Live Oak, George had a big day ahead to ensure that he remained on track for his ambitious arrival date. He enjoyed quiet roads and lovely scenery and weather on these 100+ miles. By the end of the day, George has cycled an incredible 2783 miles in total, on his trip across the USA.

He is continuing to push hard on those pedals, as the end of his journey is fast approaching! All the messages coming in helped spur him on as he cycled through scenic countryside, covering 78 miles in the sunshine, and arriving in Palatka after some lovely sections on trails.

This was his penultimate day in the saddle and he is on track to arrive on the beach at St Augustine, Florida at 2pm on Wednesday 14 October – 50 days since he left San Diego.

What an effort! Please support George on the last stage of his journey:

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week Six

Bright blue sky over a lake in Louisiana
George crossing into Louisiana - another state covered!

George has made it all the way across Texas and we pick up his journey again as he crosses into Louisiana – the fifth state so far on his cycle across the USA. On arrival in Oberlin, George and Mary found that one of the after-effects of Hurricane Laura was that it was tricky to find accommodation in the area. But thanks to some good local knowledge, they found some good food and a safe spot to camp.

The next day, again spurred on by the promise of more quality cooking, George was up early and on the next 68 mile stretch. Stopping at a café in Mamou for some lunch and heard just how challenging the weather in this area has been over the past few months. Fortunately, there was no sign of tornadoes or floods before George arrived safely in Bunkie.

The next day takes George to New Roads where he ended his day with a flat tyre to fix, but he is buoyed by the fact that tomorrow, he will cross the mighty Mississippi River – another major Milestone in this massive trip.

On Saturday 3 October, it’s a trip down memory lane, as George re-treaded a route he’s ridden before. He crosses the Mississippi and passed through Audubon country. Mary manages a visit to the museum to see some of John James Audon's illustrations in real life and the couple to cycled together in very pleasant temperatures and surroundings, chalking up another 79 miles to Tangipahoa.

Day 40 was a bit more of a challenge, with another flat tyre to repair at the outset, and then stiff winds, canine encounters and hills combining to make arrival in Bogalusa a big relief (and achievement).

Bogalusa is George’s final stop in Louisiana and he decided to go for a huge total of 109 miles, mainly because accommodation was so scarce, but also because there’s another storm on the horizon. The ride to Gautier was on rural roads, through lovely scenery and Mary provided not one, but two lunches, which gave George the extra energy he needed for this long section of the trip and arrival in yet another state - Mississippi.

We can't believe how far George has come! Please support him on the next stage of his journey:

Keep checking back on this page for weekly updates on George’s journey.

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week Five

Bridge at sunrise
Crossing the Colorado River.

George begins week five of his incredible cycle across the USA in support of our charity in Johnson City, Texas. From here, he describes his journey into Austin as ‘glorious’. Of course, he stops in at Lance Armstrong’s bike shop and he’s very impressed with the cycling infrastructure in the city.

George in Austin and contemplating a change of route

Transcript

Here I am outside the Capitol Building of the capital of Texas, Austin, with approximately 1600 miles under my pedals, so to speak. It’s been a wonderful trip so far and all has gone well. The next stage is uncertain because of the hurricane, the damage of Hurricane Sally to the Louisiana and Florida coasts. I’m probably going to set a new route through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and probably Georgia, to the coast. But right on song for the rest of the trip. Mary has been a great support. She may not be with me forever, sadly, as far as this trip is concerned. But all is going well and I’ll speak to you again soon.

After a morning sightseeing in the Texan capital, George is on a dedicated bike lane out of the city, covering 39 miles to Bastrop.

On Friday, George particularly enjoys his journey from Bastrop to La Grange. The route goes through two state parks and boasts beautiful scenery, no traffic and a good surface, taking him ever further East.

After a few days at a friend’s farm picking olives and celebrating George’s 74th birthday, he gets back in the saddle and pedals on to Navasota and during the following stretch from Navasota to Shepherd, George hits a major milestone - he’s halfway in his incredible journey!

He’s definitely encountering challenges, but says there have been far more highs than lows. He has covered an epic 1806 miles so far.

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“To have done this has been the experience of a lifetime.”
George Russell reflects on the first half of his journey

The next day is George’s last in Texas. Over the past few days, he and Mary have been closely monitoring the impact of Hurricane Sally on the planned route through Alabama and Florida. The pair decide to stick with their original route which heads roughly south, as most places seem to be re-opening after the storm. Mary has also decided that she will stick with George, providing vital support for the rest of the route. It’s been a week of incredible achievement for them both. Our charity is so grateful for this support and the huge efforts being made on our behalf.

Please support him on the next stage of his journey:

Keep checking back on this page for weekly updates on George’s journey.

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week Four

Sunrise over a wide road
George saw some more sunrises over this week of his travels.

We last left George in Alpine, enjoying a well-earned rest day. His first leg on week four of his epic trans-USA cycle is a huge 82 miles across the Texas plains, with appropriately enough a stop in a wee town called Marathon, before arriving that evening in Sanderson.

The next day, en route to Comstock, George and Mary encounter a few surprises, some welcome and some less so. First up – the hills. While this stretch looked to be downhill on the map, it was much more ‘undulating’ than a steady decline. On the positive front, the discovery of a museum at Langtry provided a comfortable lunch stop before George completed another challenging stretch of hilly terrain to the best burger they’ve ever had (Mary’s review) and a night under canvas.

Although he’d planned a shorter day on Thursday (17 September), George crosses the Rio Grande and still racks up 63 miles, for an overnight in Bracketville.

After a full 12 hours sleep, George sets off on a tough stretch with the wind and road surface against him, arriving at Camp Wood at 5pm, having glimpsed his first Texas Longhorn cow. The challenges continued with a very steep climb to Leakey the following day.

On Sunday (20 September), there’s the prospect of a meeting with friends to propel George along Highway 83 to Hunt and he gets there by 1.30pm. Fortified by the kind of breakfast only good friends can provide, George sets off on the next stage of his journey at 9am and it looks like the weather might turn. There’s rain forecast for the afternoon, and big storms looking likely in the next few days so George is thinking about what all of this means for his route as he heads further into Texas and beyond …

There’s another chance for a catch-up tomorrow, as George and Mary are joined by Mary’s cousin Jay and they all get to ride together into Johnson City – 1,527 miles into George’s journey.

Please check back on this page for weekly updates on George’s journey.

For those in the UK who would like to put some power in George’s pedals to help the National Trust for Scotland at this vital time, please donate at his JustGiving page.

If you live in the USA, please visit his Fundly page to make a tax deductible gift.

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week Three

A wide river stretches across a flat landscape
The Rio Grande

We find George in Caballo, New Mexico as he begins week three of his journey. After weeks of tackling high temperatures, the weather takes some inspiration from his homeland and he finds himself riding in torrential rain and northerly winds. George said: ‘At times I felt I could have been cycling from Oban to Fort William on a bad day.’ He arrives safely in Las Cruces.

The next day, temperatures stay low and the terrain flattens out, as George covers 52 miles taking him into another state – Texas. He spends the night in El Paso and leaves at 5am the next day, cycling for a short time beside the Mexican border. Mary was able to cycle alongside for a while, before he decided to push on for Sierra Blanca – a huge undertaking involving a climb of 1,000 feet. He reaches his destination after 12 hours in the saddle.

Asphalt and deadlines are causing challenges on the next leg of the trip, as George and Mary aim to get to the Rio Grande for a float trip. With determination and teamwork, another 73 miles are ticked off, breaking the 1,000 mile barrier.

With the change of the clocks, George started riding in the dark on this next stretch from Valentine to Alpine, Texas and the scenery goes from monotonous flat desert to magnificent mountains in a matter of miles! George and Mary have a comfortable overnight in Alpine before enjoying a much-needed and much-looked-forward-to rest day exploring the Rio Grande, a place most of us have only heard of in Westerns.

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week Two

Sunrise
George has seen a few sunrises so far on his travels.

After a pretty challenging first week, George took a well-deserved rest day on Wednesday and set off again from Tempe on Thursday 3 September. This was a gruelling 75-mile ride beginning at 5am and on a really hilly route, into a headwind! High temperatures continued to challenge as George travelled through Arizona, towards his next stop at Safford.

Crossing the San Carols Apache Reservation, George was again reminded of Scotland, with the mountains recalling Torridon.

Even with chain trouble the following day, he still chalked up another 38 miles finishing in Duncan, AZ (another Scottish connection there).

The next day, Sunday 6 September, the temperature had dropped, the wind had died down, roads were quiet and the scenery was beautiful. George said: ‘It all made for a delightful day’s cycling’. This was a major milestone in the journey too, as he not only made his way to another state – New Mexico – but he also crossed the continental divide. He and Mary rewarded themselves with another very well-deserved rest day!

George reaches a major milestone on his journey

Transcript

Mary & I have reached this very significant point in our TransAm journey from Pacific to Atlantic. We have endured the searing heat of the Californian and Arizona deserts. We’re now in New Mexico, and as you’ll see, we have reached the Continental Divide.
So, over here, behind Mary who’s at the other end of the camera, is the Gila River, the (inaudible) River and the Colorado River, all flowing into the Pacific. And this way, looking to my right, we’re looking down to the Rio Grande river basin and of course that flows down to El Paso, where we are going next, and then into the Atlantic. So huge, huge milestone this and we’re very excited. We’ve had an exciting trip so far – it’s all on my blog.
Now a word about NTS. I’m in awe of NTS staff and all they are doing, I’m in awe of the organisation. They are crucial in maintaining and keeping open to the public these wonderful properties, many of which they hold inalienably. They badly need funds. I will do my bit, will try to do my bit, and reach the Atlantic. I’d love more support from NTS supporters generally. I’d love to reach my target of £100,000. Please help. All the very best. Speak to you again soon.
Finally, and crucially, I owe a huge debt to the lovely lady behind the camera, my wife, who is supporting me in this endeavour, quite remarkably. Thank you so much Mary, especially for supplying me with all that ice cold water. Thank you.

After a day to recharge, George was on the bike early again at 5.15am and ready to face a huge climb up to 8,228 feet - the highest point of the entire trip. He topped out at 10am and started the descent, racking up another 72 miles. That means we leave George in Caballo having covered 813 miles already. His determination and grit are so impressive, and he doesn’t even look tired …

Weekly updates from George’s journey: Week One

It’s been a week since cyclist George Russell embarked on his epic journey through the southern United States. We’re incredibly inspired by George’s enthusiasm and his willingness to step up and support the Trust during these difficult times. His challenge is no small feat: his route this past week has taken him through some very rough terrain along the US/Mexico border, in temperatures at times exceeding 120F (48C).

While his journey started off idyllically at San Diego’s Ocean Beach Park, George found himself slightly turned around on Day 2, near scorching hot Ocotillo, California, where his wife Mary picked him up and got them safely camped and hydrated.

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“Got a frantic phone call from George late in the afternoon. Thought he’d missed the Ocotillo turn-off and had been blown by the wind 30 miles further down the road. And could I pick him up? I shot off down the interstate only to find he was 30 miles back the other direction. Not thinking too clearly! We eventually found each other – George very dehydrated and overheated.
I was able to drive him back to the RV park (Jackson’s Hideaway—all other accommodation closed due to COVID) where we are spending the night. The owner said it wasn’t safe to camp outside in the extreme heat, so she’s letting us sleep in the Rec room. People coming and going to get ice and use the kitchen, but it’s blissful compared to trying to sleep outside in the heat.”
Mary Russell

The rest of the week passed by much more smoothly, as George carved a steady route from Ocotillo to Brawley, and from Brawley to Blythe, California, where he got his first look at the rolling desert dunes noting: ‘Hills or headwinds in this heat at any time after noon is a non-starter.

In fact, to avoid the heat, George is up well before dawn to get on the road by 4–5am on most days. On Monday he set his alarm for 1.45am so he could be on the road before 3!

Scotland has been on his mind throughout this journey. George has a painterly eye, seeing echoes of the Scottish landscape mirrored in America’s Southwest. He’s noted with some amusement the city of Glamis, California – though the residents there pronounce it ‘Glam-iss’. By the end of his first week on the road, George made it to Phoenix where a particularly majestic mountain crag turned his thoughts back to the Highlands.

George Russell on tour
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Transcript

Well, we’re now in Marianna in the heart of the Florida panhandle, about 50 miles or so west of Tallahassee and making good progress. We’re trying to set as much distance as we can between us and Hurricane Delta which tragically, is hitting so hard many of the areas that we were in just about a week ago. We seem to have managed to do that - avoided so far the storm damage. We got across Dauphin Island and onto the Pensacola coast and we’re now within 350 miles of the Atlantic. It’s very exciting. We should be in St Augustine in about 5 or 6 days time. It’s very exciting but not as exciting as raising money for the National Trust for Scotland, hopefully reaching my target of £100,000. That needs help from all of you. I will look forward to speaking to you again, hopefully from the beach in about 6 days time. Thank you. All the best.