With $25K raised so far, Ridgefielder biking cross-country returns home for the holidays

RIDGEFIELD — After hitting the halfway mark of his cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, Ben Grannis returned home for a much needed month off.

The 26-year-old started his journey at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Mass. on Aug. 21, averaging about 70 miles a day. Last month he completed 5,200 miles when he reached Washington state.

Grannis is biking to benefit TextLess Live More, which is dedicated to eliminating distracted driving. By the end of his journey, Grannis will have clocked in 9,100 miles — all while keeping his eyes up.

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. Levitan was struck by a distracted driver in July 2013, and suffered a traumatic brain injury that led to her death a day after the incident.

Grannis recently surpassed his $25,000 fundraising goal — which he aimed to achieve before Christmas — and hopes to raise a total of $50,000 before ending his ride in Florida this March.

Hearst Connecticut Media last spoke with Grannis in September when he was on his way to Lake Erie State Park, just outside Niagara Falls. Since then he has seen almost all of America’s landscapes, from the “rugged” Northeast and the “rolling hills” of the Midwest to the “dramatic” mountainside of the Colorado Rockies, he said.

“It was really quite spectacular,” Grannis recalled. “The most surprising thing was how quickly those transitions happened. In just one day of riding you can go from one landscape to a completely different surrounding. That was really neat.”

Grannis made a few pit stops during this leg of the journey. He spent some time at Kenyon College, his alma mater, where he met with old friends, a former professor and spoke to the student newspaper for a feature article. Arriving to campus by bike, he said, was “a little bit of a disorienting experience.”

In October, Grannis spent a weekend in Boulder with friends before riding through the Rocky Mountains. The weather was perfect and the trees were in “peak color,” he said.

The familiar faces in both places were a welcome change from the first few weeks of the trip. Grannis has been staying with hosts he’s met through Warm Showers, an app that helps traveling cyclists locate people offering free amenities and services.

“Particularly when the weather has been bad or morale has been lower, I’ve been able to really appreciate having support from those folks,” he said. “Oftentimes they’re complete strangers, (but it’s) always encouraging to know I’m gonna find people who are able to help.”

A portion of the Ozarks between eastern Missouri and western Kentucky posed “a physical challenge” for Grannis, he said, while Colorado’s early winter weather presented less than stellar riding conditions. As he rode up into the Pacific Northwest last month, the seasonal rains took their toll.

“It’s way easier to (ride) hilly terrain when it’s sunny and beautiful than when it’s raining and the roads are wet,” he said. “Mentally the last three weeks in Washington and Oregon were the hardest because of how much rain there was.”

Grannis will resume his ride on Jan. 17; until then he is making the most of his time in Ridgefield.

He will be at Nod Hill Brewery on Dec. 26 from 1 to 6 p.m. to talk with folks and spread awareness about TextLess Live More. On Jan. 4, he will give an hour-long presentation at the Ridgefield Library and take questions from attendants.

Grannis will fly back to the West Coast in the new year to begin the final leg of his journey. He anticipates to find more of the “endless kindness” he’s already experienced while traveling cross-country, he said.

“In the past few years, it’s harder to imagine there’s so much kindness in the country with all of the tension and anger that is channeled into our minds by the media,” he added. “I’ve gotten to meet so many incredible people.”

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