Part personal adventure, part act of environmental consciousness, best friends Boris Mordkovich and Anna Mostovetsky chose a challenging way to raise awareness about the benefits of bicycle commuting at a time of $4 gasoline: a 4,000-mile cross country tour.
Mordkovich, 26, and Mostovetsky, 25, would not strike the casual observer as trans-continental bicyclists. He is a director of Evelo, an electric bicycle start-up based in New York. She has a degree in environmental science and has worked on salmon restoration in her home state of Washington. He sports a stereotypical nerdy look; tall, skinny, and bespectacled. She is slight in build with wavy black hair and deep blue eyes. But Boris and Anne must both have, or soon will have, legs of iron.
"For us, it was an interesting opportunity to see a lot of the different cities in our country and understand what are the transportation challenges in each one," says Mordkovich, who has known Mostovetsky since their high school days a decade ago.
"We've done a lot of traveling internationally and we both cycled together in New Zealand," says Mostovetsky. "We went on a one-month cycling tour in the south island and it was a great experience, and we thought what better way to see the country than to cycle."
Journey across the country
The two coast-to-coast adventurers will ride electric bikes that supply additional power to make it up steep hills and mountains. The tour from New York to San Francisco is expected to take two-and-a-half months, winding and weaving its way over roads urban and rural, stopping in 15 cities where the travelers will give presentations on electric bicycles and the benefits of green commuting.
"Our average is going to wind up being about 80 miles per day, and the number of hours that takes just depends on the terrain that we will be passing through," says Mostovetsky.
WAMU interviewed the bicycling buddies after their tour stop in the greater Washington area. They had spent the better part of the morning traveling south from Baltimore, attended a gathering in Tacoma Park, and made arrangements to spend the night at their host's home in Cabin John, Md. As they travel county-to-county and state-to-state, Mordkovich and Mostovetsky are booking their lodgings online with people who rent bedrooms or couches to travelers.
"They are only strangers for the first few minutes," laughs Mordkovich.
They won't spend any nights sleeping under the stars, but their long voyage to San Francisco will be challenging nonetheless.
"The best stories are the ones where while they are happening you are thinking, why in the world did I decide to do this?" says Mordkovich, who says the trip had gone smoothly during the first week after leaving New York. "There were a couple hiccups here and there. For example, you end up on an interstate just because the GPS sends you in the wrong direction."
They attached trailers to each of their bicycles, each weighing about 70 pounds. They contain tools and spare parts, electric battery chargers, some food and a few changes of clothing.
"So this is our electrical box, and this is where we keep all our chargers and other electrical gadgets for charging batteries," says Mostovetsky as she unzips the fabric covering the trailer's top. "Every evening we look for an outlet and charge them up. And this box which came in handy today is our emergency tools, a first aid kit, some bungee cords, a zip lock bag full of spare tubes and anything else we need."
Mordkovich pulled out two large boxes of Cliff bars, a gift from his brother. Their bicycles were provided by his start-up, Evelo, and they have also received sponsors to help cover the trek's estimated cost of $10,000.
Commuting by bicycle in America
While they hope to gain much personal fulfillment from their long voyage, Mordkovich and Mostovetsky also want to make a point about the way most Americans get to work.
"There are tons of bicycles sold in Holland, Switzerland and Germany and many people use them for commuting and getting around," she says. "Half a percent of the population in the United States uses them as a means of commuting. We could do a lot better, especially in this day in age when oil is peaking and we need to find alternative energy sources."
Mordkovich says Washington D.C. has strong bicycling potential.
"From what we've seen you have a very good bicycle infrastructure," he says. "Furthermore, I think it is very interesting that starting last year you added the Capital Bikeshare."
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Follow the bicyclists on their odyssey here.