Ridgefielder biking cross country to raise awareness about distracted driving

RIDGEFIELD — The familiar hum of Main Street was more than a welcome sight to Ben Grannis as he biked through his hometown, but the area’s hilly topography was not as forgiving on his joints and knees.

The 26-year-old rode into Ridgefield on Aug. 24 as part of a cross-country bike ride to raise awareness of the organization TextLess Live More, which is committed to eliminating distracted driving. By the end of his journey, Grannis will have clocked in 9,100 miles — all while keeping his eyes up.

“As I’ve started to refine my routine and get comfortable in the actual mechanics of each day, I’ve been talking to motorists, cyclists and other people about distracted driving,” he said. “The most exciting thing that I’ve experienced is having a clear destination, where I can see people I know.”

Grannis was drawn to the organization after learning it was started in memory of Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old from Massachusetts who loved being outdoors and 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.

“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.

Grannis was two weeks into his months-long endeavor when he spoke with Hearst Connecticut Media on his way to Lake Erie State Park, just outside Niagara Falls. The weather was stunning, he said, noting that he had been spared from hurricane Ida’s wrath. But he wasn’t so lucky when tropical storm Henri barreled through New England.

“My second and third days were really, really rainy,” he explained. “It wasn’t unsafe, (just) not a sunny day.”

Grannis started his journey at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Mass. on Aug. 21. He’s been averaging about 70 miles a day and staying with hosts that he’s met through Warm Showers. The app helps traveling cyclists locate people offering free amenities and services, such as meals and lodging.

“The first week was certainly pretty challenging,” Grannis recalled. “I was getting used to biking for five plus hours each day after (spending) most of the summer at a desk, ... (but) the aches and soreness are starting to plateau.”

From Provincetown, Grannis traced the top of Massachusetts all the way to Williamstown before darting south to Ridgefield. He’s connected with friends and family along the way and plans to stop at Kenyon College, his alma mater, as he rides into the Midwest.

“It’s a huge adjustment since so much of life is spent around people you know are or are familiar with, but now ... it’s just me,” Grannis said. “I like having things on the horizon as a motivator.”

That motivation was top of mind when considering one specific leg of the trip. “I’m headed towards ... the Rockies, and I have it in the back of my head that there’s snow eventually coming,” he deadpanned.

From Colorado, Grannis will bike north to Montana, west to Seattle and then south until he reaches San Diego. He’ll take a month off to celebrate the holidays before jumping back on the bike with Florida as his final destination.

Grannis achieved his initial fundraising goal of $10,000 before the ride began and hopes to raise a total of $50,000 before it ends this March. From there, he’s not sure where the road will take him.

“Right before doing this I moved all my stuff back to Ridgefield,” Grannis said. “I don’t have a place. It’s all on my bike.”

To follow Grannis on his journey or make a donation to TextLess Live More, visit www.eyesupride.com.

Shayla Colon contributed to this story.