Neither bears, blizzards, nor bad drivers has kept Ben Grannis from cycling across the country. Grannis, 26, from Ridgefield, Conn., set off on a journey last summer to bike more than 10,000 miles from Provincetown to Washington state, down the West Coast to the Mexican border, and then along a southern route to Florida and back home again. His goals: to raise awareness about distracted driving and money to support the cause.
An average of nine people died every day in the United States due to distracted drivers in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“Being on the road is a huge risk, particularly for cyclists, and it only takes a tiny error in judgment to alter someone’s life,” says Grannis.
Grannis was trying to decide his next step after graduating from Ohio’s Kenyan College in 2017 and spending summers working as a leader for Williamstown-based Overland, an organization that runs epic teen adventure trips worldwide. He grew up listening to stories about his dad’s cross-country trip in 1977 with Adventure Cycling, one of the country’s premiere bike-touring companies. Then he heard about Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old from Massachusetts who was killed on a cross-country bike trip when a distracted driver ran into her and several members of her group. Levitan’s family and friends launched Textless Live More to help tackle the problem of drivers multitasking and not paying attention while on the road. The organization has chapters nationwide that run events at high schools to raise awareness of distracted driving and digital wellness.
Grannis decided to do his own epic bike trip — solo and for a cause.
“I think we are all guilty of distracted driving,” says Grannis. “It’s kind of a tough thing to stop, but to have conversations about it and have it in the forefront of people’s brains is important.”
Grannis launched Eyes Up Ride, a fundraiser to support Textless Live More, and mapped out a 10,000-mile route.
“I had never done more than 3,000 miles on a bike in my life,” he says.
Grannis bought a Kona gravel bike and loaded it up with camping gear, two sets of clothes, a water purifier, rain gear, and snacks — from cookies and protein bars to Velveeta biscuits. He set off on Aug. 21 last year and covered about 5,220 miles in three months, pedaling through 15 states as he made his way to the Pacific. He talked to people about distracted driving along the way — in Denny’s or Subway, where he often stopped for lunch (Subway sometimes offers bikers free sandwiches); with hosts through Warm Showers, whose members across the country offer rides, accommodation, and assistance for bikers; and at other random spots. (I met Grannis, by chance, at the Douglas Peace Arch at the US-Canada border in Washington state where he had stopped for a quick photo.)
Grannis eats about 4,000 calories a day, starting with a breakfast of oatmeal or biscuits with peanut butter and ending, if he’s lucky, with a home-cooked dish offered by friends new or old. Out of the 85 nights on the road during the first leg of his trip, Grannis spent 14 nights in a hotel, 14 nights with hosts he found through Warm Showers, 21 nights sleeping in a tent, and 36 nights staying with people he knows or with friends of friends.
What does he think about while biking for hours on end? Nothing too profound, he says — maybe what type of protein bar he’ll eat next, or about when he’ll reach the top of the hill he’s climbing or what the downhill on the other side will be like, or what he’s going to eat for his next meal. He sometimes listens to podcasts, the news, or even a little music after lunch, but always with his phone on the handlebars so he can still hear everything around him.
He’s had a few close calls — narrow roads with big trucks — but the scariest experiences so far came when he was camping alone in Colorado and a bear came right by his tent, grunting and shaking the earth as it made its way down to and splashed into a pond, and on a snowy mountain pass in Utah, when temperatures dipped into the teens and he faced white-out conditions.
Grannis took a break for the holidays and then resumed his trip down the West Coast, starting where he left off in Raymond, Wash. Knee issues and a crack in his steel bike frame forced him to take another break in February. This month, with his healed knee and fixed bike, he will resume his journey where he left off — in Miranda, Calif.
After completing his leg down the West Coast, Grannis will bike east to Jacksonville, Fla., and then turn north for his final leg back home to Connecticut.
“I certainly encourage people to join me at any point along the way if their schedule allows for it,” he says. “It would be super awesome if it works out.” Follow Grannis on Strava (Benjamin Grannis) or Instagram (@eyesupride) to track his route or jump in and keep him company during the ride. Or consider supporting the trip, which Grannis is funding himself (go to www.eyesupride/support).
Think of Grannis next time you reach for your phone while driving — or, better yet, enable Do Not Disturb (or Focus on an iPhone) and your phone will automatically detect when you’re moving in a car and pause all notifications (you can indicate if you’re a passenger to disable it). That way bikers like Grannis just have to worry about bears and blizzards rather than distracted drivers.
Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.