How Pittsboro’s Jesse Greenlee Pulled off a 73-Day Cross-Nation Biking Journey
By Victor Hensley, Chatham News + Record Correspondent
Slightly over 26 years in the past, America turned enthralled by the epic story of a person’s otherworldly bodily endurance as he ran the size of the US a number of instances, totaling 15,248 miles in three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours.
That man, in fact, was Forrest Gump, the title character portrayed by Tom Hanks within the 1994 Oscar-winning movie.
Whereas Gump’s journey from his hometown of Greenbow, Alabama, is solely fictitious, for one Chatham County resident, it turned an inspiration.
“It’s one thing I’ve at all times form of wished to do,” mentioned Jesse Greenlee, a 23-year-old Pittsboro native and 2015 Northwood alum. “As a child, I watched a bunch of ‘Forrest Gump’ and noticed the entire working throughout the nation factor, so I’ve at all times wished to do one thing actually lengthy distance like that.”
So again on June 9, Greenlee set off on a biking expedition from Charlotte with the aim of constructing it to Astoria, Oregon. He could have one-upped Gump by venturing by way of bicycle relatively than on foot, however the trek was removed from simple.
Greenlee’s route primarily adopted the 4,228-mile TransAmerica Bicycle Path, created by the Journey Biking Affiliation in 1976 and stretching from Astoria to Yorktown, Virginia.
Every year, about 3,000 cyclists discover themselves touring alongside the coast-to-coast path, which passes by way of 10 totally different states.
As a result of Greenlee began in Charlotte relatively than Yorktown — and he had the extra plan of seeing his girlfriend, who was working in Steelville, Missouri, on the time — he had to make use of Google Maps to search out his manner by way of North Carolina and Tennessee earlier than hopping on the path in Missouri.
Because it seems, Google Maps isn’t at all times dependable.
“One time (my telephone’s GPS) took me 10 miles deep right into a army base,” Greenlee mentioned. “It turned me onto a again highway, which was a gravel highway, which was a mud path, which was an overgrown and rocky mountain bike path, and that was a ditch the place I wrecked my bike.”
Fortunately for him, a utility truck with two off-duty army officers drove by and allowed him to hitch a experience with them again to the principle highway.
This was simply one among many obstacles — or “ordeals,” as he describes them — Greenlee confronted all through the journey.
On common, Greenlee traveled about 70 miles per day, typically going as few as 50 or as many as 120.
Early on, he would usually push himself towards that 100-mile mark, usually with out concrete plans about the place he would possibly end for day. That led to him stopping for the day in the course of nowhere, tenting in unideal locations and experiencing burnout, a typical feeling amongst cyclists who overwork themselves.
“The primary time I actually felt burned out was once I received to Nashville, Tennessee,” Greenlee mentioned. “I used to be getting form of cranky, and there was simply a lot distance in entrance of me at that time, it felt like I barely made a dent within the mileage.”
Greenlee referred to as his dad and mom to vent, main him to take a few days’ hiatus in Nashville. It gave him the prospect to relaxation, regain his vitality and kit up for the following 3,000-plus miles.
The burnout he skilled in Nashville acted as his wake-up name and compelled him to appreciate the significance of planning. From then on, he made certain to rearrange stopping factors in areas the place he might discover a place to arrange camp, seize meals and purchase espresso within the morning. He additionally lowered the variety of miles he traveled every day.
‘A unique form of motivation’
For a majority of the journey, Greenlee biked solo.
Every day, he would rise up round 7 a.m., eat breakfast, bike about 70 miles, cease someplace to eat and arrange camp, fall asleep, then get up the following day and do it once more.
He stayed in parks, campsites, nationwide forests, strangers’ backyards (with permission), church buildings and hostels after they had area obtainable. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, nevertheless, many hostels had been both closed or solely open at restricted capability. COVID-19 additionally affected how he ate.
“If I did wish to eat at a restaurant, relying on what state we had been in, it wasn’t an possibility,” Greenlee mentioned. “Even to go to a quick meals place, I needed to bike as much as the drive-thru as an alternative of with the ability to go inside. I went to Burger King as soon as and rode up with my bike totally loaded, and so they simply needed to do a double-take.”
It took him till he reached Kansas, greater than 1,000 miles into the journey, earlier than he noticed one other bicycle owner making the same trek. Excited to see another person on the identical kind of journey as him, Greenlee took footage of the person and spoke with him for half an hour.
When he reached Colorado, cyclists turned extra frequent, although most, if not all of them, had been stepping into the wrong way.
He remained on his personal till he arrived within the small city of Dubois, Wyoming — inhabitants 768 — the place he discovered three those that utterly modified his journey.
Two of them, Kenneth and Alli, are a pair who met whereas mountain climbing on the Appalachian Path final 12 months and had been additionally making the journey to Astoria. Whereas passing by way of Missouri, they’d met one other bicycle owner, Athena, who joined them.
The 4 of them clicked nearly immediately, changing into what Greenlee referred to as “a unit.”
After Greenlee joined the group, they took a detour to Jackson, Wyoming, the place they took a small break from biking to go on a whitewater rafting journey. For the primary couple of days along with his new group, Greenlee felt a bit of like an outsider, however that feeling didn’t final lengthy.
“I used to be having fun with touring alone, as a result of it takes a special form of motivation and thought course of to do it, however it was cool to have the stability of ending in a bunch setting,” Greenlee mentioned. “There’s folks to socialize with, folks to separate bills with and simply joke round with and get nearer to.”
Alongside the TransAmerica Path, many individuals and locations aren’t afraid to open their arms — and houses — to cyclists due to how usually they encounter them. Because the group climbed down from McKenzie Move in Oregon, a mountain cross at an elevation of 5,225 ft, they got here throughout a person named Oscar who was intrigued by how far they’d traveled.
Greenlee talked about that the group can be in Eugene, Oregon, the next day, which occurred to be the place Oscar lived. He prolonged an invite to his house and the group biked about 70 miles that evening to Eugene to stick with him.
“That they had a lot meals cooking for us,” Greenlee mentioned. “I used to be consuming for a strong hour. It was form of like we had been an addition to the household. That was actually nice, probably the most hospitality I’ve ever skilled.”
‘A whole lot of fortitude’
From Eugene, the group made the 200-mile journey to Astoria, the path’s last vacation spot. They purchased bottles of champagne, celebrated on the seaside and reveled in what they’d completed.
The journey, nevertheless, wasn’t precisely over. That they had made a plan to go to Greenlee’s sister, Sara, in Portland, almost 100 miles from Astoria.
Two days later, on August 20, they arrived in Portland. After 73 days of planning, biking, tenting, sightseeing and overcoming adversity, Greenlee had performed it. He’d traveled the size of the US on a bicycle.
“Portland was extra the ultimate vacation spot for me, in order that morning, it felt form of bizarre,” Greenlee mentioned. “As a result of for the previous two and a half months, once I was biking, it was form of a life-style. You get up, you eat, you bike, you eat and then you definitely fall asleep. After which going from that to being performed, it was like, ‘Now what do I do?’”
Greenlee thought-about including one other 800 miles to his journey as a result of the group was driving all the way down to California, however funds had been working low, so he determined to separate off from them and head again to Charlotte. He rented a automotive — made attainable by his associates from house, who pooled collectively $500 to assist fund his manner again — and pointed it simple, driving house for the primary time in months.
When discussing his journey lower than every week after arriving again in N.C., Greenlee was already excited for what is likely to be his subsequent journey. He needs to finish each a triathlon and a marathon, together with the triple crown of mountain climbing: the Appalachian Path, the Continental Divide Path and the Pacific Crest Path.
“He has a number of fortitude,” mentioned Kathy Greenlee, Jesse’s mom. “If he units his thoughts as much as do one thing, he’s typically going to drag it off. He’s tremendous with simply residing very merely and placing his cash towards experiences relatively than materials objects.”
All through the journey, Greenlee encountered a plethora of issues that will make most individuals throw within the towel. He had two main mechanical mishaps along with his bike, weathered an excessive storm in Kansas, carried his belongings three miles within the mud (additionally in Kansas), endured threats from motorists and withstood the scorching mid-summer warmth whereas biking 70 miles — or extra — almost each day.
However he by no means faltered.
“You possibly can’t stop every little thing from taking place, so simply believing that I might deal with no matter got here, that was the mindset I went into it with,” Greenlee mentioned. “I wish to try to middle my life to the place I can do extra of those sorts of adventures, relatively than making different issues the principle focus. I’m making an attempt to gear every little thing I do in the direction of changing into who I wish to be.”
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