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August 02. 2013 8:08PM

Across America on two wheels

Man bikes cross-country to promote sustainability


Rob Greenfield shows his bamboo bicycle he pedaled on a cross-country bike ride. (Bill Smith/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — One-hundred days and close to 4,500 miles into a cross-country bicycle trip, Rob Greenfield sat in Arms Park, waiting for his next drink of water to be ready.

The trip began April 20, in San Francisco and rolled into New Hampshire last week after a bicycle trek from Boston to Nashua. On Saturday night, he completed the leg from Nashua to Manchester, where he spent much of the 100th day of his journey at Arms Park, sitting by the Merrimack River while his water jug filled with water leaking from a fire hydrant several blocks away at the Manchester YMCA.

The idea of a trip across the country to demonstrate the ability to survive while using fewer natural resources was born of a month Greenfield spent living off the land in Hawaii on $750.

Based on that experience, Greenfield developed ground rules for a cross-country bike trip intended to encourage people to waste less by showing what one man could accomplish even with very strict standards for consumption.

"I would be living off the grid, not using elecricity from on the grid, not using water from on the grid not buying packaged food," Greenfield said. "The idea was to take something of a step backward, not to the caveman days but to the point where we weren't wasting our resources so much."

On a bicycle with a frame made in Africa of bamboo attached with joints made of molded ficus bark and an epoxy, Greenfield set off from San Francisco in April with an itinerary that would take him across the country's wilderness and plains as well as its cities and suburbs.

The most difficult legs of the journey were across state Highway 50 in Nevada, often referred to as the "loneliest road in America," where even in spring, survival was a challenge.

"I had only a 40-degree sleeping bag and it got down to 18 degrees," Greenfield said. "I would make a fire in an aluminum pan and bring the coals into my tent with me."

Biking across the plains of Kansas, where the geography provides no break to the winds that sweep the flatlands, was also daunting.

"You have this flatland in front of you and you're looking at it and thinking 'I can pedal that' but the wind just pushes you backward," he said. Greenfield's bicycle pulled a small bike trailer in which he kept his supplies, including two solar panels used to power a laptop computer.

The computer helped Greenfield market his ideas, with publicity, fund-raising efforts and the inevitable cute marketing slogans.

His journey across Iowa was done with the bicycle seat removed to "stand up for sustainability." He spent no money across Pennsylvania under the slogan "Penniless in Pennsylvania" to highlight the benefits of re-use over disposability.

In New York, he called it "drip by drip," surviving the summer's worst heat wave by drinking only from leaking public water sources.

For most of the trip, his drinking water came from rivers, ponds and rainwater — aided by a $375 portable water purification device.

Waste was composted, buried or recyled. Non-recyclable items, such as wrappers from new tires he needed for the bicycle, were saved. Greenfield said he had accumulated just one pound of trash in his hundred-day journey.

While in New Hampshire, Greenfield allowed himself an exception to his off-the-grid lifestyle and bought peanut butter and bagels.

From Manchester, Greenfield was to set off on the final 150-mile leg of his journey, with arrival in Waitsville, Vt. on Thursday.

Reflecting on the trip on a warm summer day, Greenfield said he hoped that by writing and blogging about it, he would inspire some to roll back their consumption of non-recyclables and waste of natural resources.

"What I'd like to show is that I'm personally living an extreme lifestyle to show just how far it can go," he said. "But I think I demonstrate simple, easy things that anyone can do to cut back on their consumption."

billsmith@unionleader.com


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