Ridgefield man embarking on 'intimidating' cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about distracted driving

Photo of Shayla Colon

RIDGEFIELD — One bike, one set of legs, 9,100 miles and five months.

Ridgefield native Ben Grannis is about to embark on quite the cross-country bike trip with one thought in mind, keeping his eyes up.

Grannis is getting ready to bike across the United States in August, not to break a record of any sort, but instead to raise awareness about TextLess Live More — an organization committed to eliminating distracted driving after a young woman’s life was ended by it.

Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old from Massachusetts who loved being outdoors, was struck by a distracted driver in July 2013. She suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to her death a day after the incident. Her high school friends founded TextLess Live More in her memory the following fall.

After learning about the organization’s mission, the 25-year-old man felt compelled to contribute to the cause.

“As a rider, you’re constantly thinking about the cars that are passing you. Most cars are pretty respectful... but not everyone is, and it just takes one car who is not paying attention, who passes you pretty close to make you remember how easy it is for something to go wrong,” Grannis said.

“It’s important for me to raise awareness about that and it’d be awesome to help grow this mission.”

But the cross-country bike ride is just one component of the effort, he is also setting up a donation page to fundraise $10,000 for TextLess Live More, a little more than a dollar a mile.

Grannis’ mother, Sandy Grannis, said her son had “long expressed” an interest in riding cross-country, but when TextLess Live More became part of the ride, he was even more excited.

Sandy Grannis said it’s a long time to be alone on a bike, but that she’ll symbolically be two meters behind him every step of the way and it’ll be nice for him to know people are rooting for him.

“I have confidence that he will be successful. I think it’s impressive and I feel like it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Although Grannis hasn’t shaped up much of a plan, his goal is to traverse from Massachusetts to California over five months, seeking refuge at local churches or campgrounds wherever he can in between. It won’t be a traditional trek straight across the country, instead making his way through Colorado, north to Montana, west to Seattle and south until he reaches San Diego.

From there, Grannis said he wants to take a month off to celebrate the holidays and then he will jump back his bike to head south from California to Florida between January and March.

He’s launched a website called Eyes Up to document his progress, and despite setting out on this journey alone, Grannis hopes other cyclists will engage with him along the way. For him, this journey can be “intimidating,” but a personal challenge that he’s looking forward to as well.

“Eyes up when you’re driving, but also in life,” he said.

“The things that are on our phones are so much less important than whatever we are doing in the place that we’re in and with the people that we’re with,” he added.

At the end of his course, Grannis wants people to understand you can have a fuller life experience by being conscious of the distractions pulling you away from valuable moments, which is what he’ll be focusing on as he treads through Colorado’s rocky mountains on two wheels.

“I really enjoy the challenge and the reward of climbing a mountain on a bike, then seeing where you came from and [experiencing] the feeling of going downhill after,” he said.

“There’s something really powerful about knowing when you work through a hard ride or hill, that there’s going to be something great at the end. That’s a great way to keep going.”