Cycling the States | August 7, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - August 7, 2009

Cycling the States

British teen travels coast to coast on solo bike ride pstyle:byline>By Geoff Gillette

A tradition in the United Kingdom is for teenagers who've just finished high school to take off one year and work or travel before starting college. It's called a "Gap Year," and many British teens use that time to get out and see the world, riding in planes, trains and automobiles.

Greg Evans, 19, decided seeing the world from a comfy chair in a moving vehicle was a bit too easy. Late in his junior year of high school he decided that he'd spend his gap year touring the United States - by bicycle.

Over the course of 70 days, the Horsham, U.K., teenager rode his bike from Yorktown, Va., all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge before finishing his journey with a visit to relatives here in Danville.

"I got the idea when I stumbled across this blog this guy was doing. I was studying for exams and came across it," Evans recalled. "I knew I had the year off and I thought, 'There's no reason someone like me can't do that.'"

Knowing that his gap year was coming up, Evans began making preparations for the ride. One main thing was raising the capital to fund a bike, camping supplies, an overseas trip and two months of food and lodging.

"I worked for six months to pay for the trip. I was doing temporary work, so really menial tasks," he explained.

One job was in a pharmaceutical factory doing quality control.

"It was tedious work, but I had the end target in sight so I did it," he recalled.

He also decided to take sponsorships and raise funds for Facing Africa, a charity working to prevent and cure Noma, a face-disfiguring infection. (See sidebar.)

Physically, Evans prepared for the ride by playing sports at school and doing some limited rides on the weekends. He said he only did two back-to-back rides of 55 and 65 miles over one weekend to get ready for the journey.

Initially, the plan was for two other graduates to join him on the journey, but both backed out, leaving Evans riding solo over 3,784 miles of a foreign country.

"My Dad offered to go with me," Evans said, "but the idea came to me that I could do it on my own and it would be that much more of a challenge."

After months of preparation he set out on May 1. Evans flew into Atlanta, Ga., en route to Newport News, Va., and it was there that he hit the first bump in the road.

"I got held up in immigration because they had lots of people arriving. By the time I got through passport control, the baggage carousel had stopped turning and they were unloading things from it," he said.

The box containing Evans' bike was nowhere to be found. The teen said he checked all throughout the baggage area, but no one had seen it.

"I was getting a bit frantic at that point," he remembered, "because I wasn't really sure what to do with myself."

At the airline's urging he made his connecting flight with promises that the bike would be found and shipped to him in Virginia. Five long days of waiting later, when Evans was ready to write the bike off as lost, it surfaced and was brought to his hotel. He was ready to begin riding, but he'd lost valuable days.

"My target was to ride 60 miles a day, approximately 60 days of cycling. I just figured I'd get fewer rest days," he said.

Evans had no support vehicles, or help of any kind, which meant he was forced to carry all his clothes, tools, maps and equipment on panniers attached to the front and rear wheels of the bike, adding to its weight. He intended to camp out five nights a week and stay in hotels the other two nights in order to catch up on sleep and wash clothes.

But heavy thunderstorms slashing through the Midwest made for long, wet days of cycling and forced him to seek indoor accommodations more than half the time.

Still he pedaled his way through the long climbs of the Appalachians and across the plains states. Using his iPhone, he updated a daily blog and kept in contact with his parents in Horsham.

"They were my moral support," he said with a smile. "My dad was very keen on this. My mom was supportive. But I don't think she got a good night's sleep until I got to California."

It was during that time that he also had a chance to see some of this foreign land that he'd only visited once before.

"I don't know what I expected, really, but I had a lot of good experiences here," he said. "Everyone said to me that Americans are really nice people, which is 100 percent true. Everyone I've spoken to has been really nice and helpful."

He encountered other bikers attempting the same route or shorter versions during his trek and even spent time with one man engaged in a solo ride around the world.

"He told me he'd been biking for 12 months already," laughed Evans. "Although it's not something I'd fancy, I could see how you'd get used to it and just be able to get up and keep going every day."

Settling into a routine, Evans said his body adapted to the long days of riding and it got easier. But there were still times where he wondered whether he'd make it all the way to San Francisco. One of those moments occurred in southern Colorado when Evans was crossing the Continental Divide at the 11,312 foot summit of Monarch Pass.

"It started raining when I was about two miles from the top. And at that grade, two miles is 20-30 minutes so I was soaked by the time I got to the top," he said. The ride down, he recalled, was so cold that he had to stop frequently to keep adding layers to keep in his body heat. "It's times like that, when you're freezing and wet, that you start to doubt."

Still he kept pedaling away, leaving the mountains behind and crossing through the heat of Utah and into California. After more than two months on the road, he rode the final leg of his journey going from Davis to Vallejo and then taking the ferry to San Francisco. He reached the Golden Gate bridge around 7 p.m. on July 16, which was 71 days after starting out.

After finishing, Evans spent a week in Danville with Mike and Melinda Faith, his mother's cousin. On July 22 he boxed up his bike and boarded a plane back to Horsham, where he'll be studying economics at University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

From there, he said he's not sure where the road will take him.

"I've finished this with the mentality that anything's possible to me now," he said. "I'm not sure what I want to, I'm just going to take it one step at a time and see how things pan out for me."

To read about Evans' route, equipment and the blog of his adventures in America go to