Cameron Vaughan pushed through the miles -- ignoring the cold that made his nose run or the rain that stung his eyes -- thinking of a little kid he doesn't know. Soon, he hopes, that child might be able to go to school instead of trudging across miles for survival.
Vaughan, a Pleasanton native and college senior at Azusa Pacific University, is a part of a team biking from Washington to New York to raise money for water projects in undeveloped regions worldwide.
Their Ride for Water campaign raised about $55,000 in donations while they traveled more than 3,000 miles over mountains, across plains and ultimately to New York City. They finished their 50-day ride July 2, but fundraising continues until Sept.30.
"It's not about us. It's about individuals in need," Vaughan said during a phone interview last week. "It's humbling. It's a privilege to be able to do this ride."
Vaughan, a 21-year-old Foothill High alumnus, had heard stories of girls in Africa who spent their entire day hauling water from faraway rivers and lakes so their families could cook, bathe and dodge dehydration for another day.
Maybe, if he and five of his friends spent their summer days biking hard -- and more hours pitching the cause -- he'd be able to change that.
Maybe a girl a world away would be able to stay at her home because he traveled so far from his.
Back home, water is easy to come by. Sure, there's a drought. Sure, everyone in Pleasanton -- everyone in California -- has been asked to cut their water use by a quarter or more. Even so, he never has to question whether he'll be able to fill his water bottle before a run. And he knows that water will be clean.
Vaughan and five college friends started training and fundraising for the Ride for Water project in September during their fall semester at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian university near Los Angeles. Two teams have previously completed the Ride for Water project, Vaughan said.
All donations will go to Charity:Water, a nonprofit that organizes projects to bring clean water to developing regions, he said. The organization says it puts all public donations toward water projects, rather than any operational costs.
"We believe that water changes everything, and we're so grateful for everyone who's joined this mission to help us bring clean and safe drinking water to those who don't have it," said Maria Johnson, spokeswoman for Charity:Water.
Vaughan said he was fit before the ride, but he'd never tried a trip like this before. The team put in about 80 miles per day on the seven-week trip.
Along the way, the team ate donated energy bars and slept in rooms offered by kind strangers. Often, they slept in churches, but sometimes, finding a place to stay was the hardest part of the long day.
The first challenge came their first night on the road. They'd biked 100 miles from Seattle to the small town of Marblemount, Wash.
The problem was there weren't many people in this town -- 203, by the last Census count -- which meant not many churches to ask for a place to stay, and the sun was setting.
The driver of their support van was getting nervous, Vaughan said. He pulled up to a coffee shop the size of a hut with a small awning jutting out the porch.
"It's raining, and he's just desperate to find a place to stay for the night," Vaughan recalled.
Could they stay under the porch, he asked. At least they'd be out of the rain.
A coffee shop employee said they could. Before the driver could leave, a man called out to him.
"Or you could stay at my place."
The team bunked at his 400-square-foot home that night. It was cramped but it was dry, and they all fell asleep to the sound of a crackling fire.
For the most part, the organizations they called welcomed them with open arms. Most often, they ended their day in church sanctuaries or in the living room of a kind resident.
Riding across the country without any place to live comes at a cost. You have to trust strangers will take you in, and then you have to trust their intentions are good.
By the same token, Vaughan learned many people were willing to put blind trust in him.
"They happen to be out of town, but they say, 'Here are the keys to our church under this rock in the back. Feel free to make yourself at home,'" he said. "I'll definitely finish this trip knowing there are very loving and caring people out there."
He said he'll come back to California with a new perspective on how to show compassion to others.
When all is said and done, Vaughan said, his faith in God is the reason he spent the past months on this journey. He said he believes this money will help transform lives for the better.
Every morning, before the team got on their bikes, they would gather around to pray for that mission.
They prayed for safety. They prayed for good weather. They prayed for the wind to blow along with them, and not against them.
But mostly, they prayed that people would understand the need for clean water and would help in whatever way they could.
"A lot of time we'll pray for gratitude for the generosity of the people we've met," he said.
For more information or to donate, visit RideForWater.com.