You don’t have to be pro to bike cross country

You don’t have to be pro to bike cross country

Meet Jamie Pershing, the SU junior who biked from New York to California with “kind of a week of training.”
Published: May 1, 2019
Abby Pershing, 23, biking with her pannier fastened to the back of her bike while riding on the side of I-20 in Iowa.
Abby Pershing, 23, biking with her pannier fastened to the back of her bike while riding on the side of I-20 in Iowa.

On day 42, Jamie Pershing and sister Abby biked 84 miles through Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Biking 10 hours a day for four days, they climbed up to 10,000 feet along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. The next 18 miles were a 4,000-foot drop in elevation. As Pershing’s bike flew down the Tetons, he saw mountains that “looked like they were dropped by God himself in this valley.”

This was a journey most novices could only imagine, yet Pershing made it a reality. With “kind of a week of training” he and his sister left Flushing, N.Y., for San Francisco on June 11, planning to follow the exact journey that their father and uncle had biked when they were the same age. Most professional bikers recommend weeks to prepare for this kind of trip. Preshing’s training regimen consisted of riding his bike until he got tired for a single week before he left.

Pershing rode the bike he already owned – a GT 2.0 hybrid – or as he put it, “not a bike you should ever bike across the country on.” He carried a single stove top burner, a pan, a 60-day supply of oatmeal and peanut butter, extra bike spokes, a tire pump, patches, tire irons, spare inner tubes, a bike multi tool, a sleeping bag, a tent and his camera in his pannier – the satchel attached to his bike. He estimated that the bike laden with supplies weighed 60 pounds total, which is the equivalent of almost four bowling balls, five gallons of paint, or about two cases of beer.

Selfie taken by Pershing on his trek
Selfie taken by Pershing on his journey

In a medium sized room in a Sumner Avenue rental lie a pile of clothes in the corner, a mattress without a frame, a Canon 6D and tapestries on each wall. This is the messy room of a college boy with an eye for photography, which Pershing studies at Syracuse University. According to his best friend and roommate Kali Bowden, Pershing presents two contrasting personalities: the person and the photographer. Pershing as a person is “a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy,” she said.

“He does things when he wants to do them and doesn’t know five minutes beforehand that he’s gonna do them,” she said – including biking cross country without much proper training.  As a photographer, though, he sometimes shoots on film, which requires planning, patience and accuracy. Bowden said Pershing is impulsive enough to go on random cross country trips, but needs preparation to create a picture he can frame on his wall.

A sign printed by his friend and classmate Molly Coletta hangs on Pershing’s door: Never Stop Exploring

A sign printed by his friend and classmate Molly Coletta hangs on Pershing’s door: Never Stop Exploring.

Pershing’s tattoo which he received this past summer, Summer 2018. The line represents the exact journey that him and his sister biked.

Pershing’s tattoo which he received this past summer, Summer 2018. The line represents the exact journey that him and his sister biked.

On Pershing’s door hangs an 8.5×11 inch drawing of a bicycle with one of those cliché lines: Never Stop Exploring. And Pershing has explored. He spent 61 days on the road with his sister, whom he hadn’t seen since before she came back from the peace corp in Senegal. Now she was back, and they had to reestablish their relationship while also trying to endure a 4,000-mile bike ride. “We could not be more different and we are both really really stubborn and argumentative only with each other. But it was really cool to spend that much time with her,” said Pershing.

His printed photographs hang on adjacent walls overlooking snow covered Syracuse, evoking a time when photography was a hobby rather than a career. As a rising senior, Pershing is well on his way to presenting his photography thesis next Spring. His thesis will focus on Onondaga Lake, named the most polluted lake in America in 2003, a project he started during his sophomore year using microscopic slides and abstract perspective to tell the story of the lake’s clean-up.

After 21 flat tires, 11 broken spokes, one hitchhike, and a high temp of 107 degrees, Pershing says his only regret was not capturing the imperfect details of all he saw. “At that point in my photographic career I was more interested in photographing beauty and I wish I had taken a different approach to it,” said Pershing.

He says his cross country trip will influence his future photography projects, because it taught him to “appreciate the more gritty, emotional photographs opposed to the pure landscapes.”

Avatar for Sam Berlin

Is a contributor to The NewsHouse.