If you think cycling across the United States is arduous, imagine pedaling barefoot in 100-degree plus heat, often shirtless. Few people can put the mettle to the pedal quite like activist Rob Greenfield. In 2013, he rode across America using as few resources as possible. In doing so, he relied on open bodies of water to hydrate and bathe, while dumpster diving for food along the way — just to prove that he could, and to raise awareness about the staggering amount of food and water that consumers waste each day.
Emboldened by the success of his country-wide bike trip, this summer, Greenfield launched the Goodfluence Tour with plans to create edible gardens in cities across America. Using himself as a model for what can be accomplished on a bicycle, his route passes through 15 states, over a meandering course of 3,200 miles. Along desolate highways, through America's heartland and ultimately to the Big Apple, he's spreading the gospel of leading a more authentic life and what it means to him. MNN contributor Enrique Gili spoke to Greenfield to get the low-down.
MNN: Where are you now?
Rob Greenfield: I'm in Liberty, Texas, just about 60 miles from the Louisiana border beside the Trinity River. I was purifying water when you called. It reminds me of the Mississippi River actually. It has sandbanks about 100 yards wide, with slow-moving brown water with lots of beautiful trees around. Bayou country is coming up pretty quick.
Is this the first large body of water you've encountered since leaving San Diego?
Finding water has definitely been one of the biggest challenges of the first half of this trip. As you know, I don't shower. Most cyclists who want to cool off or clean up can just hop in the shower. I have to find a river or lake. When I do, it's truly a blessing.
Rob Greenfield washing himself and his clothes in a small lake.
Does that explain why in so many of your social media images, you're half-naked?
The reason I'm half-naked is that nudity is natural; wearing clothing should be a personal choice. I just feel comfortable wearing less clothing than the average person. I also think it's a mild form of activism. In the U.S., our minds have been so skewed about nudity and sexuality, when, in fact, every human being has a body. I would like us to embrace them. And just say, "Hey we all have one, so don't worry about it."
One of your goals was to ride across the country barefoot. Does that still hold?
Mostly. I made it to Arizona without putting shoes on. The problem was the desert was so hot, at one point the temperature reached 110 degrees [Fahrenheit]. My pedals heated up to the point that my feet felt like they were on fire. I bought a pair of shoes in Phoenix, I lost them, and I then went without shoes for a while again, until I bought a pair of three $3 couch slippers at a thrift store.
Okay, I'm picturing a half-naked guy riding across the country in couch slippers. Are you getting a lot of comments about that?
No, not about the house slippers. But I do talk to a lot of people. They're always wondering what I'm up to, where I'm coming from, and where I'm headed. I'm definitely not alone out here. And I've always said: If you're lonely and ever want to start a conversation, just go outside barefoot. People will ask, "What are you doing?"
Well, what are you up to?
Well, riding across country does take quite a bit of energy. The last couple of weeks I've been leading a kind of simple life. I realized a couple of weeks ago, we call ourselves human beings, yet we hardly give ourselves time to just be. And that's what I'm doing, I'm just being.
Literature is filled with tales of holy fools and brave knights who go on quests. On the continuum of seekers, where do you place yourself?
I categorize myself as neither. I consider myself as a lead-by-example activist. I live a life that in my mind is beneficial to the Earth, to the community and to myself. I lead by example and live it out loud.
Supporters of Greenfield's Goodfluence tour plant seeds. The bicycles were used to help transport the seeds.
What kind of impact do you think you might have, doing what you do?
I do tend to inspire the people I meet, just because I'm doing things in a nontraditional way, and I'm basically following my dreams. People actually doing things, often inspire other people. Often, they are stuck in a routine and want something more. I'm showing [that] "Hey, guess what? You can have something more, when you live simply."
Each of your previous rides has had a defining theme. How about this one?
I'm calling it the Goodfluence Tour. I want people to be happy, healthy and free. I think riding bikes and growing food are two of the most transformative things people can do, both for themselves and for this country. Because it instills self-reliance, reduces your dependence on the system and the need for money. This summer, I'm focusing on helping people grow their own food and inspiring them to get on bicycles.
Can you be more specific?
Michael Scalli (right) is my garden director. He's traveling across the country via bike, public transportation and rideshares. He's setting up in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Detroit and Washington, D.C., to plant gardens in places where people need them the most, in food deserts. We're creating community gardens, freestyle planting fruits and vegetables in the cities and countryside. And anyone who wants to start a front-yard garden or a backyard garden, we're funding that too. We've got about $12,000 to help people grow their own food.
Related on MNN:
- 10 ways to curb your food waste
- 11 awesome bikes made of wood
- 12 reasons to start using a bicycle for transportation