When Chris Greer’s friend Matt first approached him about the prospect of a cross-country biking expedition, spanning from New York to California, one thought came to his mind: “I kind of thought it was a stupid idea.” After all, 25-year-old Chris had minimal biking experience outside of learning how to ride as a youngster. How was he supposed to endure a 4,400-mile odyssey? But little by little, the idea gained steam, and after a few weeks of contemplation, the ever-adventurous Chris was set on tackling the biggest challenge of his life.
Raised in South Pasadena, CA, Chris grew up well-travelled, having visited South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa by the age of 23. But he was never one to test his physical limits: “My idea of exercise was Disc Golf.” He was a photography major in college and had an interest in the outdoors, but he was far from someone you would expect to make a cross-country bike excursion. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right, so he reached out to his uncle, the one person he knew who used their bike for anything more than a trip to the local supermarket.
After learning as much as possible about posture and technique, Chris hit the roads to train for three weeks. He practiced what he’d learned from his uncle and instructional YouTube videos. Ultimately, Chris realized, there’s no way to fully prepare for such a journey. “It’s all about willpower,” Chris explains. “You just have to want to do it.” Soon after, Chris and Matt left New York City with little more than their bikes and iPhones.
The first leg of the trip, from New York to Washington DC, went according to plan. Chris and Matt were averaging roughly 10 miles per hour, as expected, and made it to DC in 5 days. “The most pain was in the first third of the journey,” Chris recalls. “When you first start spending all day in the saddle, it can be painful.” The two brought along chamois butter for the day and diaper rash cream for the night. Chaffing is a legitimate issue when you’re riding long distances. Luckily, the two were prepared for the potential complication. What they weren’t prepared for, however, was what they encountered when the journey veered from north-to-south to east-to-west.
Chris and Matt knew they were going the “wrong” direction when they began. They just didn’t think it would matter much. As experienced travelers know, massive transnational wind currents, known as the Westerlies, blow from west to east across the United States. Because of this, the vast majority of bike journeys start in the west and run eastward. Chris and Matt had made the error of riding head-on into the Westerlies. “Plenty of people go against the winds,” Chris explains. “It’s just smarter to go the other way.” Things quickly turned into a test of will. “Instead of knocking out 80 miles in a day, we were slogging through half that and putting in twice the effort.” By the time they reached Missouri, the journey was beginning to wear on the two.
Help would come in the form of the WarmShowers app on their iPhones. Chris and Matt were able to rest for a day or two at a time, for free, at the homes of bike-friendly locals they connected with through the app. “Their generosity was unbelievable,” Chris recalls. The two were able to do their laundry, sleep, and relax. It was like having a map to all the oases in a desert.
The hospitality also extended to the meals the two ate. The food incredible and they ate as much as they could. “I actually didn’t lose any weight,” Chris says with a chuckle. “I was so consistently hungry that I ended up consuming as many calories as I was burning.” The two did, however, gather quite a few double takes walking into hole-in-the-wall bars--understandable, considering they were covered head-to-toe in Spandex. But they were able to parlay their unique story into a few drinks and even a free meal. No, seriously, they literally had two separate groups argue over who would pay their bill at the end of a meal. They even got invited to a couple backyard barbecues, which they attended in their Spandex, of course.
Once the two crossed the Mississippi, the journey picked up. Chris and Matt were knocking out 100 miles a day. Kansas, which is 417 miles long, took a mere four days. Chris used his Phone to take stunning shots of the scenic landscape, which was filled with views of sedimentary rock formations and vast blue sky. But the duo were temporarily slowed crossing the Great Basin of Nevada, where it rained the hardest of the trip. These desert rains weren’t your typical slow-approaching rains with dark, ominous clouds that last for a couple days. No, they were more like tropical storms. “The rains were cool because you could see patches of storms moving all across the desert horizon,” Chris says. “They would just pass right through, dump on you, and be gone.” Chris and Matt had typically packed it in when rain approached earlier in the trip, but they were determined to finish the journey. “We were well-seasoned road dogs, so we just rode right through it like Lieutenant Dan on the mast of Jenny in Forrest Gump.”
Chris and Matt reached San Francisco a week later, and then their final destination, Los Angeles, 72 days after leaving New York. Re-entering everyday life wasn’t as hard as Chris had initially imagined, but it certainly required some readjustment. Going back to work at a 9-to-5 job was, in Chris’s words, “a real bummer.” He also had to shave his two-month-old beard, the last physical vestige of the cross-country excursion… Naturally, all good things must come to an end. But as Chris’s friend shared with him upon returning home: You have to come down from the summit eventually, but there’s always another one waiting to be climbed in the future.
For more of Chris's photos, check out his Instagram, here.
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