On June 12, rising Wharton sophomore Ryan Torres completed a rigorous 29-day solo biking trip from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Diego, Calif., spanning over 2,500 miles.
One month earlier on May 11, one day after his last final, Torres took an Amtrak train from Philadelphia to Jacksonville. The following morning, Torres began his biking journey, traveling through eight states and two countries: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
Coming from Barcelona, Spain, Torres’ goal for the cycling journey was to take in America’s natural beauty across its Southern coasts, experience first-hand Southern hospitality, and challenge himself physically and mentally.
Cycling across America’s South, Torres faced extreme humidity, tropical storms, and daily temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Torres rode during the nighttime, evenings, and mornings to alleviate himself from the heat. In January 2022, Torres also ran and power walked almost 100 miles from Locust Walk to the Penn Club in New York City amidst freezing temperatures.
Torres cycled to raise money for the LiveLikeLou Foundation, which supports research for ALS and helps people affected by the disease. As of June 19, Torres has raised $830, with donations still available.
Torres, who participated in Modern Pentathlons in high school, rode a second-hand 2016 Trek Alpha 1.1 road bike with no front brakes and carried the bare minimum of supplies. Torres brought a tent, sleeping bag, water-purifying pills, canned food, clothes, gears, and tools to help him repair his bike.
During his journey, Torres experienced several life-threatening moments, including one at the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge, La.
“It’s 11 p.m. at night and there’s no shoulder [bikers and emergency stopping lane], and then there’s trucks hauling past me at 70 miles per hour. I also had just the light from my phone’s flashlight to protect me,” Torres said to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “This was the first moment that I had to make peace with the possibility of dying.”
Torres luckily did find help at the Mississippi River Bridge from one woman who stopped her car and let him travel with her until they reached the first exit.
Torres later faced another life-threatening moment when his bike tube was improperly repaired by a mechanic, leaving him with no tire pressure in the middle of a highway.
“The bike tube snapped as I was sliding down a hill [with no air in the tires] at 25 miles per hour with cars on the left and right side of me. I was miraculously able to hold my balance up for 300 feet until the bike came to a halt,” Torres told the DP. “But if I’d lost my balance, which statistically should have happened, I would have been run over.”
Torres slept in camping sites, RV parks, and churches, although he began most mornings not knowing where he would sleep that evening. One night after biking until 3 a.m., Torres found a rest area and slept a few hours in the women’s restroom.
“There were venomous snake signs outside, so I decided to sleep in the women’s restroom because it’s cleaner [than the men’s restroom],” Torres said. “I had lost my pillow and sleeping bag by then, so I was just on the ground in my dirty biking clothes, resting my neck on my tent bag.”
Along his trip, Torres met many strangers who offered to help him. One of these strangers was Marcos, who is a part of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, one of the most dangerous biker gangs in the United States.
“After waiting out a dust storm that had passed, I realized that my tire had been ripped into,” Torres said. “Marcos spent six hours of his day trying to fix my bike and eventually gave me a ride to the nearest town which is just incredible.”
When Torres arrived at the Imperial Beach Pier in San Diego, it was surreal for him to have finally reached his destination after hundreds of miles in the desert.
“Rolling down from the Laguna Mountains to San Diego, I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing, and I remember thinking that the vegetation was like the gardens of Babylon,” Torres said. “It’s crazy because afterwards I was drinking with my friends, when less than 12 hours ago, I was thinking of drinking my urine because I got a heat stroke on the side of the highway.”
While Torres is very proud of biking coast to coast, the mileage is not what he is most thankful for from his trip.
“What I’m most grateful for this trip is not the miles that I biked, because God knows they were awful. It was the people that I’ve met, the experience that I’ve had, and how I faced and got out of trouble,” Torres said to the DP.