Friday, August 30, 2013

NAU student rides mountain bike from Canada to Mexico - Long Ride To Schoo

NAU student rides mountain bike from Canada to Mexico - Long Ride To School
Eric Betz Sun Staff Reporter
Jake Bacon - Northrn Arizona University student Matthew Riggins talks about his bike ride from Canada down to Mexico outside his appartment at The Grove Tuesday morning. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Yesterday was the first day of school for NAU students, and that means many are now sitting in class dreaming about next summer break. 

And you can count incoming sophomore and forestry major Matthew Riggins among them.
On a whim, he spent the summer riding from Canada to Mexico on an aging mountain bike. Now he's planning to ride cross-country from Washington to Maine next summer along what cyclists refer to as the northern tier. 

Following a late-semester breakup with his girlfriend just before school let out in May, Riggins, 19, was forced to reconsider what to do with his summer. He had spent his first semester of college studying abroad in Mexico, where he met two men riding their bikes from Canada to Panama. 

They convinced him to at least ride the "easy" segment from Vancouver to San Francisco. He decided it was the perfect time to accept the challenge.

Riggins was no stranger to sleeping outdoors, but he'd never been on a bicycle tour before. By the time he graduated high school in Orinda, Calif., Riggins was a National Outdoor Leadership School graduate, an Eagle Scout, a certified wilderness first responder and had spent  four years working with search and rescue. 

"My parents forced us to be outdoorsy," he said. His brother took a gap year before college that took him through New Zealand and Patagonia. 

Before he set out, Riggins added new racks and handlebar grips to his mountain bike along with more efficient touring tires. He left Canada without GPS or a working smartphone and only some rudimentary maps. His goal was to follow the Pacific Coast Highway. 

"It was basically just 'keep the ocean on your right,'" he said. "People looked at me like 'Are you insane? You're riding a mountain bike.'" 


The first day was the worst. 

In the process of riding 60 miles through the pouring rain, he got a flat tire, overshot his planned campsite and backtracked uphill, had his debit card frozen by Wells Fargo and his last paycheck didn't come in on time. Defeated, he had to call his dad for help. 

The trip got better from there and he made it to San Francisco with surprising ease. It ended up being such a positive experience, that he decided to finish out the final leg to Mexico. 

When he reached Big Sur, Riggins was confronted with California's most desolate stretch of coast. Here, the Pacific Coast Highway hugs sheer cliffs that drop straight down to the ocean as cars rush by in narrow lanes. There is little shoulder for forgiveness. 

It was white-knuckle riding at first as he got close enough to reach out and touch all the cars. Finally, he grew to accept it and keep riding. 

"You get into this kind of Zen-like groove," he said. "When your number's up, your number's up."

Now he is a converted cyclist and out to convert others. Next summer, he's planning to recruit a friend to take the journey with him. 

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