From Neah Bay to Key West: The story behind one man’s 4,764-mile cross-country cycling adventure

This image is currently not available
1 of 3 Robert Gay stands with his bike outside the Rainier Beach Community Center on Friday, August 9. Gay, a novice cyclist, has partnered with Trips for Kids to raise awareness for the organization that provides bikes for kids in need, and is stopping along the way in cities with a chapter. (Rebekah Welch / The Seattle Times)
This image is currently not available
2 of 3 Robert Gay was inspired by his late brother, Stephen, who died in 2018 after suffering from a rare from of leukemia, to complete his dream of cycling across America. (Rebekah Welch / The Seattle Times)
This image is currently not available
3 of 3 Robert Gay talks with Trips for Kids Executive Director Robert Alan Ping outside the Rainier Beach Community Center on Friday, August 9. Gay, 60, plans to ride 4,764 miles over 107 days. He began his trip on Aug. 6. As of Monday, Gay had ridden 627 miles and was in Montana. (Rebekah Welch / The Seattle Times)

Through the last three years of his late brother’s life, Robert Gay spent 150 days at his brother’s bedside, chatting about everything and nothing. They talked about politics, whether the Green Bay Packers had a chance at winning the Super Bowl and the life they had lived together.

Eventually, Gay’s brother, Stephen, cut the small talk.

“We got to the point where we realized that he’s not going to be here,” said Robert Gay. Stephen Gay was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2015. He didn’t want to talk about football or politics, things that he would never get to see. He wanted to talk about Robert.

“He said, ‘I do want to talk about the things that you want to do. Give me some insights. What’s on your list? I’m not going to get to any of mine,’” Robert Gay said.

Stephen Gay died on Sept. 29, 2018. However, some of those final conversations the brothers had triggered Robert’s current mission to bike across the United States, from Neah Bay, Washington, to Key West, Florida.

It had always been this somewhat fantastical idea. He had done some road trips, and had always thought, “man, I’d love to bike this.” Yet it was — for lack of a better word — a crazy idea. He’s a novice biker. He has a wife and two kids, he’s Zevia’s chief strategy officer and executive VP of sales and marketing. He was about to turn 60. But this was his dream. So on Oct. 11, 2018, at his brother’s celebration of life, Robert decided to begin his quest to bike from the northwest corner of the continental United States to the southeast corner.

Gay, 60, plans to ride 4,764 miles over 107 days. He began his trip on Aug. 6 in Neah Bay, and stopped in Seattle on Aug. 8, about 200 miles into his journey. As of Monday, Gay had ridden 969 miles and was in Montana.


He’s trying to average around 60 miles a day, with at least a mile of that ridden on his brother’s bike from 1982. (Don’t worry, Gay had it fixed up in preparation for the trip.) 

“I had some work done on it to make sure the pedals still went around and the brakes work,” Gay chuckled.

Gay, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, is a novice cyclist — he has a stationary bike in his office, but before he started the trip, had only ridden about 300 miles outdoors. But he isn’t scared. In fact, 200 miles in, he says all he wanted to do was keep going. 

    More

    “It’s a whole new experience for me to be outdoors, on the road, watching traffic, managing hills. But the beauty of the outdoors has been amazing. It’s been good,” said Gay.

    Throughout planning for his trip, he’s received tremendous support from his family and company. Paddy Spence, the CEO of zero-sugar beverage company Zevia, pledged the company’s full support.

    To celebrate Gay’s ride, Zevia partnered with Trips for Kids — a nonprofit that provides transformative cycling experiences for young people of all communities, especially those in need — and launched a campaign called “Live Your Best Ride.”


    “Before this all started to gain momentum, I didn’t realize that this was going to have the exposure it does. I didn’t realize I would actually be able to give something back to the community,” said Gay. “And when I did become more aware of it, (I thought), if I can support — one way or another — children getting outdoors, experiencing what I love, then I wanted to go all for it.”

    Gay’s trip will benefit thousands of kids across the United States, said Robert Ping, executive director of Trips for Kids. Zevia is purchasing 72 bike sets (bikes, helmets, water bottles and more) for Trips for Kids. Every Trips for Kids chapter needs 15 bikes for a starter fleet, and a handful of emerging chapters will benefit from Zevia’s direct support, said Ping. 

    “Zevia’s support during their ride campaign will help us to launch Trips for Kids chapters in places where we weren’t yet able to offer our positive youth development programs,” said Ping. “In one case, Zevia is donating 10 bikes to help replenish a fleet that was stolen from a storage trailer at our Minneapolis-based chapter.”

    In the meantime, Gay is still in the early stages of his trip and has a ways to go. The end is not yet in sight.

    “I’m not going to know how I feel until I get there. I know that I’m going to be excited, I might be tired. I’ve never hesitated that I’m not going to make it,” said Gay. “I feel like as I get towards Atlanta and Miami and that last ride, it’ll all come together then.

    _____

    Track Robert Gay’s Washington-to-Florida ride here: www.zevia.com/live-your-best-ride

    Natachi Onwuamaegbu: 206-464-3233 or nonwuamaegbu@seattletimes.com