By Jordan Freisleben
Jackson Foster ’11 prides himself on being anything but ordinary. Based on his choice of college (he deferred to the Rhode Island School of Design) and his decision to build a treehouse in his backyard earlier this year, it’s not out of character that Foster is planning something completely unique for his gap year.
From the end of August through November, he will cycle across the country from Virginia back to California. Foster plans to bike cross-country with his older brother Drew Foster ’07, who is taking a semester off from Brown University.
Foster said he first thought of the idea to cycle cross-country because of his love of backpacking.
“I’m a backpacker, so the idea of traveling with everything with me and traveling without electricity is something that I’m pretty passionate about,” he said. “I thought I could travel a long distance on a bike instead of walking, this is backpacking on wheels – kind of using your legs as wheels.”
On a trip to Yosemite last summer, Foster met some people who biked across the country.
“I always knew I was going to take a gap year, but I never really knew what exactly I was going to do and this just kind of fit into place,” he said.
Foster said that he and his brother are getting their maps from a website called the Adventure Cycle Association, which specializes in providing long distance bike routes. They are taking the “Transamerica Bike Trail” and will bike more than 4,000 miles.
“The maps give you turn-to-turn directions for the entire way and they also tell you bike shops on the way and campgrounds,” he said.
The brothers are starting in Virginia and then cycling to Kentucky. From Kentucky, they’ll cycle across Southern Illinois to Missouri. From Missouri they’ll continue on through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana to Idaho and Oregon. Foster said that he and his brother are then planning to cycle down the West Coast from Oregon back to Los Angeles.
Foster said that he has already been training for about a month to prepare for the different biking terrains on his trip.
“Going through Colorado, through the Rockies, is going to be extremely hard,” he said.
Foster said that weather conditions during his bike tour might require some improvisation to their schedule.
“We’re going to be going through Colorado in October, so there’s really heavy snow,” he said. “One thing my brother and I are really happy about is that if the weather’s a little extreme, we’re going to have to cut down to New Mexico and to Arizona and then up to California. There’s a sense of spontaneity to this trip. If weather tends to stop us, we’re going to have to find another way home.”
Foster has been training by going on 20-mile bike rides four or five times a week. On his trip, he plans to travel roughly between 60 and 80 miles a day.
He said he and his brother plan on biking five or six days a week and stopping one day a week in a city for a “rest day.”
Foster said that he has never been to most of the places that he’ll be biking through.
“It’s a lot of mountains, a lot of grass, a lot of cows, and you know it’s kind of the biggest contrast to what I’ve been doing the last four years in high school,” he said.
Foster credits his semester at the High Mountain Institute in Colorado in his junior year for opening him up to a plan like this.
“That sculpted this entire trip,” he said. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be going on this trip. That place opened up my entire life – I hadn’t backpacked really before that, and now every free moment, that’s what I do. That gave me the idea of where I’m happiest and where I’m the best person that I am, which is not in a city and when I’m traveling and doing it on my own.”
Foster said he’s looking forward to the experiences he’ll have on his trip.
“I’ll probably learn a lot on this trip about the country and about people and about independence, that’s the biggest thing,” he said.
While Foster has never been on a bike trip of this rigor, he said his backpacking experiences will be helpful.
“I think biking and backpacking are really similar; we’re going to be very lightweight travellers. Sleeping wise, we’re not going to have planned places to sleep – we’ll sleep either at a campground or at a local church,” he said.
Foster plans to use the remaining months of his gap year to do community service or work with the National Forest Service.