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Biking Across the USA

By: Page Heller  October 05, 2020

Chris Hytha, Cycling enthusiast and photographer, shares his photography and inner thoughts as he travels across the United States on a bike.

We got the opportunity to collaborate with Chris and get the inside scoop on this life-changing road trip!

Chris's first huge biking excursion took place after he graduated high school. With very limited biking experience, Chris and his friend Jake decided to ride their bikes 1,000 miles from Philadelphia to Florida the day after they graduated. Chris says, "We were just kids pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible." Their experience was so positive that they immediately started to consider doing a cross country trip.

Chris is a photographer, designer, and architecture student at Drexel University currently. He decided to create a blog to share his experiences as he biked across the country.

The group of four that were brave enough to go cross country were Jake Casmay, Jason Miller, John Adams, and Chris Hytha. They followed the Trans American Bike Route and then the Western Express. The trip totaled just over 4,000 miles broken down into 10 sections, as they traveled across 11 different states, starting in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and finishing in San Francisco, California. They began their cycling tour on June 20th, 2020.


Eight days into their trip, the group had already traveled 462.8 miles and decided to take a rest day in Christiansburg, Virginia. They were thoroughly challenged by the Appalachian mountains. During these first nine days of biking, John popped a tire and left his phone at a lodge that they could not go back for. A woman named Joy from the ranger's station offered to drive John back to the lodge where he left his phone, he was so thankful for her willingness to help.

Within this time frame, they also got to see Amish country, which was peaceful and "paradise," as Chris describes it. It rained nearly every day of the first section which made their gear wet and added weight, making their climb up the mountains more challenging. In the eastern humidity, it seemed impossible for anything to dry off, and they learned to live with their perpetually wet existence. They reached a top cruising speed of 46 mph through the rolling mountains of Shenandoah, and they saw a couple of black bears along the way.

To prepare for the trip, Chris bought a whole power strip to keep everything charged, as he needed to constantly charge his camera, speaker, three external batteries, phone, and Ipad.

Chris recalls, "At one of the campsites in Shenandoah, the only outlet was in the restroom, so we had all of our gear laid out on the sink counter, and we took shifts watching the valuables as they charged. It's funny to watch the surprise on people's faces as they open the bathroom door to see this whole charging operation, and it is definitely a great conversation starter.

I was sitting on the counter, sketching the mess of wires, when a dude walked in and went straight for the stall as if there was nothing odd going on here. After a few seconds he broke the silence and said, 'Charging up are you?' from across the stall partition, I started to explain the circumstances of our trip, and his interest was heightened when he came out and looked at all the camera gear. This was the type of trip he dreamed of being able to take, but his career and family make it near impossible.

This is the case with so many people, and although it was tough for me to quit my job in the uncertain times of 2020, my interaction with this man reassured me that I made the right choice. He asked if I would be here for a minute, and I responded, 'I'll be here all day.'

A few minutes later, he came back with a solar charger and an external battery and handed them over to me. He saw the desperation for energy, and he provided an awesome solution. Every so often, one of my bike brothers would come in, and I shared this story of generosity, showing off our shiny new solar charger. We were already excited and full of positivity after this, then the same man came back again and handed over a business card and a crisp $100 bill. When I broke this news to the boys we were all freaking out.

It's moments like these that start to change our mindset and perception of the world. It is easy to get discouraged when all you see is the media, but in reality, people are unbelievably generous and kind. The guy in the story is Anthony Lieze, the owner of Green Guys Recycling Solutions in New Jersey. Support his business, he is an awesome dude!"

The boys encountered a problem while riding, Jake realized that his bike rack was totally unsecured on one side. The screw that held it in place had sheared off, leaving just the shaft of the screw embedded in the frame, with no head to unscrew it. Cardinal Bike Shop in Roanoke, Virginia was thankfully able to fix up Jakes's bike, and they also provided ice-cold water, and let them camp outback!

Recalling his ride so far, Chris says, "It’s peaceful, slow, and stress-free living among the rolling mountains of Appalachia."

The South

By July 7th, eighteen days into their road trip, the boys had traveled 835.3 miles. Once a week, the boys take a rest day where they finish their ride for the day, then check into a hotel or Airbnb for the night. They look forward to their rest days as they can take a much-needed shower! The following day they relax until their check-out time, then pack up their bikes and sit in a park for the rest of the day, until it gets dark enough to sleep. They use their rest days to recoup, as cycling such long distances is mentally and physically exhausting.

The way they draft is for every five miles, the person in the front of the line would drop to the back, with a full rotation completing every 20 miles.

Chris says, "Drafting is when you bike right behind the guy in front of you, the closer you are, the more effective the draft. At high speeds, you barely have to pedal if you get it right. Of course, there is danger involved in this, as you can’t see the road ahead of you. The last section Jason was drafting Jake down a hill, when last-minute, Jake swerved around a pothole. Jason didn’t have time to react, and hit it straight on, popping both of his tires in one fell swoop. Lesson learned, don't draft down hills!"

On July 10, day 21 of their trip they had traveled 1007.6 miles from Philadelphia, where they first began their journey. All of them enjoyed getting to know people on the road.

Chris says, "Life on the road makes you appreciate the little things. By reducing our quality of life to sleeping on the ground dirt every night, even a spicket on the side of a building is a luxury. When we get complacent in our everyday lives, we so easily take the simple things for granted, like a shower and an easily accessible toilet. I hope to bring this mindset back to my life in the city."

Colorado Rockies

Recalling his ride through the Rocky Mountains, Chris claims, "This leg of our journey has been one of the most beautiful weeks of my life. We found ourselves in the presence of many like-minded folks in Colorado. Every car on the road is ready for an adventure, with RVs towed behind, four-wheelers in the pickup bed, or rafts, kayaks, and mountain bikes strapped to the roof. All eager to enjoy the nature we find ourselves in.

Our aggressive pace through Kansas was quickly derailed as we hit the Rocky Mountains. 100 mile days turned to 20 miles as we battled massive elevation gains and low oxygen environments. I’m sure we physically could have made more miles each day, but we made the intentional decision to take our time, stop for every photo, and savor the beautiful mountain experience." If you have ever had the opportunity to see the Rocky Mountains, it makes complete sense the boys decided to take their time riding through them and enjoying the amazing views.

"Mountain Mornings," coined by Jason, was the theme of their Rocky Mountain days. The high elevation made for cooler days, which eliminated the need for them to wake up early to beat the heat. They set their tents up in the most scenic locations possible and woke up to incredible views every morning.

Chris says, "The experience of traversing the Rocky Mountains is far different from the Appalachians. In the east, there are hundreds of miles of rolling hills. Once you get to the bottom of one, you go up the next, and the cycle repeats. Here in the Rockies, it is a series of ridges, with beautiful valleys in between to break up the climbs. We typically spend a day ascending through a mountain pass, followed by a couple of days winding through a valley passing quaint little towns with the next ridge looming in the distance."


The last ride of this section was one of the most challenging climbs they had encountered and was the last major climb of their cross-country journey. It started in Panguitch, Utah, and they wanted to reach Cedar City, Utah. Although the two locations were only 60 miles from each other, there was a mile high peak between them.

Chris says, "It felt like we were back in Colorado, with big pine trees lining the roadway, and blue mountain peaks spanning into the distance at every clearing.

We left Panguitch while the sun was rising, and the climb began immediately. It was 30 miles to the summit, and over 5,000 feet in elevation gain. After so many days on the bike, I have noticed the change in my legs. Through Shenandoah in the first section of our journey, I remember how my thighs would burn as I forced my pedals down over and over. Now I can feel the strength of 70 days of pedaling, and my body gave up on giving me pain because it knows I won’t stop.

Even with healthy legs, a climb is very much a mental battle. It requires plenty of patience, crawling along at 5mph while cars whiz by. At every turn, the road just continues to elevate, with no relief for hours until you reach the summit. Sometimes I just look down directly at the road in front of me, only focusing on the next few feet, refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the climb. Just a couple more feet. Then a couple more.

We were deep into the climb when a pickup truck slowed down and pulled off the road beside us. I couldn’t make out his face, but I saw the window roll down and listened in as Jason approached the car. 'You guys are the first people I’ve seen all year climbing up this mountain on bikes. You’re crazy! I saw you on the way up, so I left a gift for you at the summit,' he said. Jason, mildly confused, responded, 'a gift?'

'There are four of you right? I’m sure you can figure it out. I left it right at the sign for Cedar Breaks.' We couldn’t figure it out. What is this guy talking about? What could he have left? This curiosity occupied our minds while we climbed for the next few hours to the top. As we approached the summit, I pedaled around every bend in anticipation of the Cedar Breaks sign. Finally, the words Cedar Breaks were in view, just a couple hundred feet more. Jason and John were already at the top. I propped my bike beside theirs and wandered behind the sign to finally satisfy my curiosity. There it was, the gift, four ice-cold Dos Equis beers to reward us for the hard work. A round of beers from a stranger is always a great gesture, but when it comes at the top of a mountain, with no bars for tens of miles, it is something special.

We cracked open the gifts and sat on the sign listening to music, dancing as cars drove by. The tough miles were behind us, and we enjoyed the 30-mile descent into the city through a beautiful canyon."


During their ride to the Nevada Stateline, they experienced their longest time without service. They had to bike 84 miles on Route 50, known as the loneliest road in America. Route 50 took them across the Utah border into Nevada. The ride had four 1,500 ft summits and it took them nine hours to complete.

Chris says, "Biking into Baker, Nevada, I had a deep feeling of discomfort. On top of the usual pain and soreness of my legs, something felt wrong in my gut. The wind picked up by the end of the ride, and dust was blowing through the one street of this town. There was not a soul around, just the howling of the wind and associated chimes of clanking metal. The gas station I saw on google had no convenience store attached. The restaurant I passed was closed, and the grocery store across the street appeared to have not been open for years. A sign pointed to a cafe 10 miles south. Not going to make it. Finally, at the edge of town, there was hope.

The word 'espresso' was scrolled into a sign pointing right. There was a tiny shack, no more than 50 square feet, with one occupant. The sliding window cracked open as I approached. 'Is there anywhere in town with indoor seating?' I asked. 'Oh no, there isn’t much. The restaurant opens in a few hours, that’s your best bet.' With no other option, I ordered an overpriced turkey and brie panini. The two picnic tables adjacent to the shack were uninhabitable, baking in the midday sun. I sat in the dirt with my back pressed against the neighboring building for shade, shielding my eyes from the dust that picked up with every gust.

This was a low for me. Food and water didn’t ease this unpleasant feeling deep in my body, and I just wanted to escape from the heat, dust, and wind. For the next few hours, we all laid on the porch of the one restaurant in town, waiting for its doors to open.

It was the people we met at the restaurant later that day that reinvigorated my passion for this journey. After so many days on the road, it is easy to lose sight of why we are doing this (a question I still can’t quite answer), but seeing the spark in someone else’s eyes when they hear we biked from Philadelphia makes it all worth it.

We met a delightful couple by the names of James and Suzanne who bought us our dinner that night, and everyone at the small bar and grill listened in and asked questions about our journey. With time, that dreadful physical and emotional feeling ran its course, and I was back in good spirits to finish the section."


After 85 days of riding across the United States, Jake, John, Jason, and Chris reached their final destination, San Francisco, California. Within the last few days of their trip, smoke from the raging California wildfires filled the bay area. This was an unexpected challenge for the group, but it didn't stop them.

Chris recounts, “It was a surreal feeling to see the Golden Gate Bridge through the fog. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. On one hand, we had just completed the most ambitious challenge of our lives, but this sight also meant that it was all over. No more towns to pass through, no more nights sleeping in a tent.”

After Chris's experience with hundreds of people from coast to coast, his biggest takeaways are that people are inherently good, the human body can be pushed to incredible limits, and physical activity is very fulfilling.

Chris reflects on what he learned from his cross-country trip, “On a bike in the middle of nowhere is a vulnerable place to be, so we were always prepared for the worst when someone approached us. Time and time again we were surprised by the kindness and generosity of strangers along the way.”

“The human body is incredible. None of us trained extensively for this trip, and after the first week, it felt like our bodies were falling apart. Somehow, even while maintaining a decent pace of around 60 miles a day, our bodies were able to heal themselves. It was a remarkable experience to feel worn out and exhausted by the end of the day, then fresh and ready to go after just a night's sleep.”

“Physical activity is deeply fulfilling. As mentioned above our bodies are capable of incredible things, and our society is phasing out the necessity of using our bodies. Most of our jobs entail nothing but sitting in front of a computer screen. After this journey, I strive to take any opportunity to be active, whether this means just biking to work, or finding work that challenges my body physically as well as mentally.”

Photos, Photo Edits, and Quotes Courtesy of Chris Hytha

To read more about Chris's trip, check out his bike blog here:

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