Petite and full of explosive smiles, 70-year-old Shirley Adams breezed into a Chico, Calif., café one morning in September carrying a basket on her arm. Instead of ordering coffee, she marched up to a shelf on the back wall and began quietly re-stocking it with scarves, jewelry, and water bottles.
“It’s for my organization, Bridging the Gap by Giving,” she said, eyes twinkling beneath a shock of curly blonde bangs. “We provide clean water in Africa.”
Water is Adams’ passion, and as a retired swimming instructor with countless community connections, she works year-round to raise funds for the project. Over the last seven years, she and her husband have donated $521,000 for projects providing clean water to 14,885 people in developing countries.
Adams’ project took root in 2005, when she and her husband Grant who towers a full head and shoulders above her, were hiking in the Himalayas toward the base camp of Mt. Everest. Along the way, they had to cross a series of seven precarious rope bridges. Adams said that on one of them God spoke to her, not audibly but nevertheless distinctly: “Shirley, what do you think about bridging the gap between the countries that have been blessed with wealth and the countries that have need?”
The couple decided to use their mutual love for long-distance bicycling to raise awareness and money for clean water: They pedaled across the United States wearing T-shirts that read, “Everyone needs clean water,” and included a link to their new website. They raised $30,000 on that trip, and the Hilton Foundation matched it “dollar for dollar,” Adams said.
Late last month they flew from California to Maine to set out on their fourth long cycling trip, he on a maroon bicycle and she on white. Friends told them it was not wise to go for two reasons: Adams is still recovering from bike-related carpal tunnel surgery, and it is getting late in the year, meaning they could run into bad weather. But they set out, with Adams saying, “The worst that can happen is that we don’t ﬁnish the trip.”
With Adams taking it easy and biking shorter distances, they started out riding 25 miles and added five miles per day. They are now up to their normal 50 miles per day, and by last night had traveled about 267 of the 2,300 miles between Maine and Florida.
They rest one day per week and ﬁnd a church wherever they happen to be on a Sunday. One Sunday morning on a previous cross-country ride, they were in the South when they came upon a country church ﬁlled with people singing. They removed their helmets and went inside to ﬁnd people clothed in “their Sunday best.” The women even wore white gloves. “We were the only white people there,” Adams said. “They were so great. It was probably the friendliest, warmest church.”