Epstein journeys cross-country on bike, publishes experiences

Jude Herwitz, Staff Writer

Middle Division science teacher George Epstein traversed almost 11,000 miles around the country by bicycle from August of 2017 to June of 2018, raising thousands of dollars for Lou Gehrig’s disease research and documenting the trip in an article published in Medium Magazine, an online publishing platform.

Epstein first had the idea to tour the country on bicycle at the end of college. After six months of teaching at the school, the opportunity to complete the trip arose, he said.

While planning the trip, Epstein decided to bike solo for the majority of the tour and to dedicate his travels to raising money for research to combat Lou Gehrig’s disease after his distant relative passed away from the illness last November, he said.

The journey spanned the Atlantic Coast, the South and then along the US-Canada border, where Epstein took a train from Montana to Missouri and eventually ended his bike in New York, he said.

Planning the trip was unpredictable. In the beginning, Epstein had a rough sketch of what his schedule would look like, but at any given point on the trip, he only had an itinerary for the next few days in advance, Epstein said.

“It was impossible [to plan far ahead] because there were just so many things that you don’t know,” Epstein said. “You don’t know what the weather is going to be like. You don’t know if there are going to be other places along the way that other people are going to suggest.”

Epstein’s sleeping accommodations varied from night to night depending on who he knew or could contact in any given area, he said. He found such housing through a website where other cyclists offer their homes in addition to reaching out to family and friends who lived along his route.

“You had people who led lives that were so different from what I knew, so getting that perspective, having grown up and spent my entire life in New York state, and just to be able to have a conversation with someone about something so wildly different from that, was very interesting,” Epstein said.

While on his trip, Epstein posted his experiences on his personal blog and used the Internet as a platform to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s, Epstein said. By posting photos regularly and encouraging readers to contribute to the cause, he raised $10,000.

“Spending the better part of a year riding a bicycle is something out of the ordinary—people pay attention to that,” Epstein said. “It was a chance to use what I was doing to effect a positive difference in the lives of the people I care about.”

One of the ways that Epstein, a Physics major, amused himself during his trek was by conducting scientific experiments, he said. Science teacher Oleg Zvezdin, who worked with Epstein in teaching Summer Physics at the school before his trip, kept in touch along the way.

“He had a lot of time to think and process and ponder the world, so he did some interesting physics problems,” Zvezdin said.

One of the problems involved examining the relationship between the size of the teeth in bicycle gears and the number of pedal revolutions per mile, according to Epstein’s blog. Having studied French in college, Epstein wrote his journals in the language for practice.

Music Department Chair Doug Epstein, George’s father, supported his son’s decision to adventure, he said.

“You could say I was worried a bit,” Doug Epstein said. “What am I, crazy? There’s always room for failure, and you don’t know what that failure might look like. But I knew all the preparation was done. I knew if he ran into a problem, he’d figure out a way out of the problem. I had every confidence in him.”

Last month, George Epstein wrote about the experience in a piece for Medium Magazine, an open journalism platform for self-published stories.

The opportunity to write first arose when the Adventure Cycling Association, whose headquarters Epstein had visited while in Colorado, asked him to write a description of his trip after he returned, which eventually became the article he published on Medium, Epstein said.

The article consisted of a series of short descriptions of experiences Epstein had at different points on his journey, including when he thought he had frostbite in Washington state and when he biked on an interstate in New Mexico.

After Epstein shared the article on the platform, it was chosen by a curator to appear as a top story on the travel section of the website, he said.

“I had four journals worth of stuff. I had pictures,” Epstein said. “I had all of these different experiences and to try and distill that down into something that other people could read and really get a sense of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I was thinking, was difficult.”

Epstein’s passion for bicycling led Zvezdin to take up bicycling himself, he said. The summer before the trip, while teaching Summer Physics together, they rode to the Croton Aquaduct in upstate New York.

“I biked down to Long Beach Island and back, which is maybe an 80 mile trip,” Zvezdin said. “No way I would’ve thought to do that if he didn’t [take his trip], because what’s 80 miles in comparison to 11,000? Nothing! He’s an inspiration.”