University graduates see America from their bikes

8/7/2009 | By: Jon Fortenbury  |

Two friends, two bikes, no return date.

While others fresh out of college joined the workforce or went backpacking through Europe, University of Nevada, Reno graduates Joel Kiraly and Ryan Cross chose the open American road, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.

Cross and Kiraly, both 25, realized that they needed to travel across America, but reached the conclusion under different circumstances. For Cross, the itch to see his country originated while he was reading “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey in a literary nonfiction class (Eng 475B) taught by Mary Webb a lecturer in the University’s Department of English.

“I got to thinking about how sad it was that I am an American, have lived in America my whole life, but I have seen so little of America,” said Cross, who graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in December 2007 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with an emphasis in secondary education. “Even with all my years of education, I was so ignorant of my own country.”

Kiraly reached a similar conclusion during his study abroad experience in Japan in 2007. He was asked to speak about America to a fifth grade class learning English. The kids in the class asked him questions such as what the Grand Canyon was like and how New York City was. He felt stumped. It saddened him that he couldn’t give a fair assessment.

“I just realized I was in another country and knew so little of my own country,” said Kiraly, who graduated from the University last December with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. “And that I should go see it.”

The two didn’t just wake up one day, quit their jobs and hit the road. It was a carefully mapped-out trip. They prepared physically as financially. Though they don’t know their return date or how long they’d stay in one spot, their plan was to follow their route carefully.

The planning for the trip began in the fall 2007. They wanted to wait a few months after Kiraly graduated college to avoid the chill of winter. While pondering their means of transportation for this trip, Kiraly and Cross first threw around the idea of trains. It wasn’t much later that they agreed upon a less traditional way to cross the country: bikes.

“It felt like just the right speed to see the country,” Kiraly said. “On regular road trips there is an allure to just blaze through huge chunks of the country in order to get to the next big incandescently lit up city, but riding a bike forces you to stop and stay in a large part of rural America that is overlooked.”

Family and friends found their trip idea interesting, exciting and crazy. Kiraly thought everyone took them seriously until they actually left and people responded, “I can’t believe you’re really doing it.”

“I think a lot of people have this desire, they want to do something but they don’t know how to go about it,” Kiraly said. “They never get to that (final) stage. For someone to actually do it is a step up. It takes a certain person. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m that type of person, it’s just in this case I was.”

On March 7, 2009, Kiraly and Cross began their journey. To keep their friends and family posted about their trip, they created a blog beforehand in which they update weekly. Their families show their support by commenting on nearly every blog. Kiraly and Cross also tell people they meet about the website so they too can follow their journey.

Kiraly’s sister, Nicole Abenojar, 31, keeps up with their blog and is very proud of her brother.

“They’ve experienced more things in the past few months than most of us will experience in our lifetime,” Abenojar said.

Already traveling as far northeast as Ontario in Canada, Kiraly and Cross have covered quite a bit of ground, some places more exhilarating than others. Though sometimes the two will stay at a hostel or hotel, they’ve also had many nights where they camped out or stayed at someone’s house. Whether it’s exciting New York City or flatiron flat Kansas, they continue to bike on, not letting even flat tires or tornados stop them.

Cross says that plans are formed and abandoned everyday. They have to balance spontaneity and their mapped-out route so they don’t regret visiting a place, Kiraly said.

“If we’re going down a highway and see a sign that says 20 miles that way and we’re not going that way, then 20 miles is quite a distance,” Kiraly said. “In a car, it’s a quick detour. For us, it’s anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to two hours, so you’re kind of stuck to the route that you pick. You have to be very conscientious of the road you’re taking.”

Kiraly and Cross have witnessed the generosity of people. Their bikes become the spectacle when they ride into certain towns. People buy them food, give them water and invite them into their homes. Kiraly said that they can’t make it to breakfast without being invited to someone else’s breakfast.

The generosity won’t be ending anytime soon. Cross and Kiraly still have many places ahead of them they want to see, including Chicago, San Diego and Portland. They both plan on returning to Nevada, though they’re not sure how long they’ll stay. Kiraly wants to continue traveling the rest of the world. Cross wants to do the same, eventually becoming a teacher.

David Fenimore, an English professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, took a similar trip with his wife in 1986, starting in Oceanside, Calif., and ending in Bar Harbor, Maine. Their trip lasted two and a half months. Fenimore wrote about his travels in his book “Bicycling Across America.”

Fenimore admires Kiraly and Cross’s trip.

“It’s the perfect time to do it, right after you graduate from college and want to see what the world is like,” Fenimore said.

Having advised both Kiraly and Cross when they were in college, Fenimore said that he’s been impressed with them both. He respects that they don’t let the “what-ifs” remain a thought in their minds and he thinks that they’re short-circuiting the “should-ofs” by getting started on something.

“I thought they were both really just articulate and goal-oriented,” Fenimore said. “They were talking about this trip for a while and were just going to do it. I admire that. They were always very clear with what they wanted.”

Scott Slovic, a University of Nevada, Reno English professor, also thinks this trip is exciting. Having had Kiraly in two of his classes, Slovic thinks his former student is a good writer and will go far in life.

“I do think that there are many aspects of Joel’s personality, ranging from his academic ability to his ability to combining interesting dreams with practical planning, that will enable him to have a good and successful life,” Slovic said.

To keep up with Kiraly and Cross’s travel, go to their blog at


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