Over the summer, 2003 Catonsville High graduate AJ Robinson wanted to raise money for hunger, so he got a bike and began riding to Ocean City, Maryland.
The journey wasn’t a short stint down Coastal Highway. It began at the Pacific Ocean and ended with him jumping in the Atlantic Ocean in Ocean City on 133rd Street after he traveled 3,627 miles.
Robinson’s Coast to Coast Cycling for Hunger raised over $14,000 for the Maryland Food Bank and Sunshine Division in Portland, Oregon for the journey that began June 11 and ended Aug. 13.
“I haven’t been able to volunteer like I wanted to over the past year or give back like I have in the past, so I needed a challenge personally, so I figured, why not try to help out two organizations that were experiencing a lot of issues over the past year with supply chains,” said Robinson, who lives in Portland and is a ski instructor at Mount Hood, Oregon.
It was more than just a challenge for Robinson, 36, who played basketball at Catonsville High.
“I’m not really a biker,” Robinson admitted. “I did mountain biking around here and a little mountain biking when I got out west.”
He was inspired by a book titled “To Wake the Sleeping Self.” It was written by Jedidiah Jenkins and chronicled his 16-month bike journey from Oregon to Patagonia at the southern end of South America.
“This was a new challenge for me and something that I had never done before, so I was like why not help out two organizations that mean something to me and then kind of be an inspiration to people who are looking to start new tasks or are on the fence about trying new things that they have never done before,” Robinson said.
He dipped his feet in the ocean at Fort Stephens in Astoria, Oregon and rode his bike to Portland for a big fundraising banquet.
“We had a big send-off party, had a couple of our sponsors there, had a couple of friends within the community and my mom flew out,” he said. “After that it was on our way. We were making our way from Portland.”
A guide provided by Adventure Cycling, offering detailed maps that lists services, camping, hotels and water stops, was his primary asset.
“It was just very detail oriented,” he said.
It provided assistance, but Robinson was on his own overcoming obstacles, including over 21 flat tires he encountered along the way.
“I had some really bad luck where I had to change at least 11 in four days and they were bad valves,” said Robinson, who found ways to negotiate the moguls. “I was like what can I take from this situation. Let go of things you can’t control.”
One thing he couldn’t control happened in Missoula, Montana.
He pulled in thinking he would stay at one of 15 hotels there, but there was a swimming and baseball tournament and all the hotels were sold out.
With the next campsite 15-20 miles away, through contacts he found a family in Missoula who had an Airbnb with a couch and a bed.
“I just made this really good connection with these people in Missoula and things worked out,” he said.
The hosts also provided some biking tips, showing him how to fix the front tire.
“The front of my front tire is hard to fix because of the way to get it out because of the way the rack is set,” he noted. “I’m not that handy, so I wouldn’t have been able to figure this out.”
Two guys showed him how to get a tire off with no leverage and the lesson came in handy immediately.
“A day later I got a flat on a front tire, fixed it and I knew exactly what to do and everything was like that throughout the trip,” he said.
Robinson, who had 12 sponsors, spent close to $5,000 for clothes, camping equipment, hotels, food, a portable stove, new bike tubes and advertising materials.
In his backpack, he had clothes, including rain gear, camping equipment, food, a portable stove and bike gear.
It rained only four days and two of them were early in the trip. And fortunately, he was riding ahead of the 115-degree heat wave and the wild fires in Montana.
Although he fell four times before the trip, he never fell during it and had no major mechanical issues while riding the same Surly Disc Trucker bike the whole time.
He did have a setback at a lake in North Dakota that was filled with algae.
“I had to drink warm lake water that actually clogged up my filter,” he said.
Along the way he captured the beauty of Hyalite Reservoir, Montana, and Lolo Pass, Idaho, and marveled at newfound sites further along the way.
“I knew the west was going to be absolutely beautiful, but in the east, I was just blown away by the beauty of Western Maryland,” he said. “Wisconsin is absolutely insanely beautiful, lakes everywhere and a ton of trees. Each place just had its own just amazing natural beauty.”
He drew a lot of fans in Wisconsin.
“It was one of the best experiences I had throughout my trip, 90 percent was on gravel and there were towns every 20 miles that rallied around the biking community,” Robinson said.
He beat the sweltering heat of the eastern Oregon desert by starting his rides, that averaged 60-80 miles a day, between 5 and 5:30 a.m.
“Probably the last couple of weeks I did several 90-100 [mile] days just because I wanted to get to the ocean by the 13th,” he said.
Nutrition was key and he made sure he didn’t miss meals.
“I like to eat well, so what I would do was have breakfast at local diners and I would eat canned chicken and instant potatoes as my snack throughout the day and I would stop at a local brewery or what was the spot that people were at, that’s what I wanted to see,” he said.
Other than a sponsor riding with him in Minneapolis and his mom and dad riding the Great Alleghany Pass Trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, he was alone, listening to speeches and podcasts along the way.
“I’m into speeches, like I’m into Martin Luther King speeches, Alexander the Great and I really like to listen to Teddy Roosevelt and some inspirational speeches,” he said. “That helped me out and I have a workout playlist.”
He tried to get an escort over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but they don’t allow bikes so he went an extra 23 miles through Elkton and came into Ocean City through Fenwick Island.
“We have a place on 136th Street and coming into Fenwick is how we always came, so I wanted that experience of there it is,” he said.
The first person he called when he arrived in Ocean City was his dad, Rob, a longtime basketball referee in Maryland.
“He was with me through some struggles and he gave me a pep talk. I wasn’t defeated at all, but it was like can you believe this happened,” Robinson said. “He said, this is what you signed up for, get to it.”
His wife, Lindsey Jones Robinson, stayed at home to take care of his dogs Oden and Lulu.
“She was with me throughout the whole way,” he said. “She knows that when I put my mind to an adventure to do something that it is going to get done.”
Along the way he never realized how challenging his journey was as it happened.
“You knew you were doing something, but you didn’t really know how challenging it really was,” Robinson said. “It was OK, I made it here, where is the next 60 miles, you were studying for the next day so you couldn’t really bask in that day’s accomplishment.”
But he did bask with his dip in the ocean.
“The water was perfect. It was right on time,” he said.
After his accomplishment, friends celebrated with a gathering at Pickles Pub in Ocean City.
“It wasn’t a ton of people so it was perfect,” he said, noting several of his friends were in town for a lacrosse tournament. “It was the perfect group of people.”
One journey may have ended, but Robinson is leaving the door open for more.
“We are going to continue Coast to Coast Cycling for Hunger in some form or fashion to be able to help organizations that address human security,” he said. “I definitely love this way of traveling.”