While waiting for a new camera lens to arrive, Benjamin spent a few days here at the home of one of his father’s friends — sleeping indoors in a bed and eating normal meals. But that’s the exception.
Since beginning his journey May 1 in Charleston, S.C., there’s been a couple stops with friends and family, but mostly, he’s pitched his tent along roads, looking for spots shielded from passing headlights and without “No Trespassing” signs.
Staying in a municipal park usually draws a visit from the local police, but Benjamin said they usually either OK the camping for one night or suggest a better spot.
“If you talk to someone, generally they’re going to make an effort to help you if you need help in any way,” Benjamin said.
Among the help he’s received: a large bag of food from a fast food worker in Kentucky, free bike repair work from a Findlay, Mich., shop owner and a ride and place to stay from a couple dedicated supporters of longtime fringe political activist Lyndon LaRouche.
His pace is at least 50 miles a day. “When you do more than that you’re not really enjoying yourself, you’re just riding,” he explained.
Benjamin’s rule on accepting rides is that he can’t do it out of laziness.
“Like if I’m going up a mountain, I’m not going to take a ride because I’m going up a mountain,” he said. “But if there’s rain or something, I’ll take a ride.”
When he left Cody on July 27 for Yellowstone National Park (where he did stay in campgrounds), Benjamin headed up the Northeast Entrance to avoid the East Entrance’s Sylvan Pass. Climbing the mountain pass on a similar 2009 cross-country trip was “one of the most frustratingly difficult things I’ve ever done on a bicycle,” Benjamin said. “And the wind was in my face.”
When he finished the steep ascent, Benjamin said he finished off a jar of peanut butter on the side of the road “just because I was so angry.”
The 23-year-old’s staple on the trail is ramen noodles. There’s one package for breakfast, two for lunch and then a big four-serving bowl of rice for dinner.
“I love Ramen, I’m not going to lie — I still love it. It just doesn’t get old to me,” Benjamin said. “I do rotate the flavors, of course. ... The oriental (flavor), compared to the shrimp? Completely different.”
Once a week, he lets himself eat at a restaurant, but he still tries to temper himself.
“If there’s a buffet I can do like eight or nine plates — like eight full plates — but the rest of the day I’m just miserable, can’t ride my bike comfortably,” Benjamin said, adding, “Honestly, if you ride a bike, it’s incredible how hungry you can get.”
He came up with his one-restaurant-a-week routine after his previous cross-country trip, where the occasional ice cream cone turned into a daily budget-breaking thing.
“I ended up borrowing money from my parents because of ice cream,” Benjamin said. “That basically taught me a lesson.”
He began this year’s trip with a friend, and the plan was for both of them to head to Alaska. But the friend quit in Michigan and Benjamin changed his plans to stay in the lower 48 this summer and save Alaska for next year.
Highlights for the remainder of the trip include a return to California’s Yosemite National Park, Mesa Verde in Colorado, Monument Valley in Utah and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.
His trip must end by Oct. 31 near Reno, Nev., where he’ll join his sister and brother-in-law for a trip — by plane — to Mexico.
Benjamin figures he got his travel bug from his family, who moved about every two years as he was growing up, from California to Colorado to Tennessee to Nebraska to South Dakota to Phoenix. He’s lived in South Carolina for the past three years.
After next summer’s Reno-Alaska trip, Benjamin hopes to one day pedal all the way down to the tip of South America, through Columbia, Peru and Chile.
“When you go back to work after something like this,” he said, “you’re waiting ‘til the next time you go out, basically.”
Biker blogging his trip
“When you’re riding a bike every single day, you’re bound to come upon things that are incredible,” says Nathaniel Benjamin, who’s biking across the country. Some of those incredible things are on Benjamin’s blog, www.timetogetalong.blogspot.com, in photos of barns, fields, abandoned buildings and other views from the road.
Benjamin’s blog updates are well behind his travels, in part because they’re in-depth posts and in part because he’s careful about what he writes on a blog that’s read by some of the folks he’s met on the trail.
Benjamin wrestled, for example, with how much to say after going out for ice cream with a waitress in Akron, Ohio.
“Will what I write in any way betray the trust of who I write about?” he asked in the post. Benjamin chose to give an overview of the evening, ending with the two parting as he prepared to hit the road again.
“I quietly said goodnight, turned away, and walked through the darkness down the driveway to (a friend’s family’s) house,” Benjamin wrote. “I listened as the engine or her car turned over and drove away. I stepped in the door, trading one opportunity for another.”
Editor's note: This version corrects that Benjamin is meeting his sister and brother-in-law for a trip to Mexico, not his brother.