Instead of going to college, Brooklyn teenagers Charlie Perry, Nicky Meara-Bainbridge, and Sam Tocci decided to take a year to see the country.
The boys, who play together in a jug band called The Easy Rollers, packed a travel-sized acoustic guitar, a cigar box fiddle, a harmonica, a camera, and other basic equipment and set off on a back road bike trip down the east coast and then out west to San Diego.
"Every day, we were seeing something amazing," Perry said. "We didn't even have to go off-route. With fewer people around, it felt like it was ours."
The boys were tested early on when Meara-Bainbridge broke his arm in Kentucky, forcing them to return home before hitting the road again in the spring. They had plenty of hard days too, biking through torrential rainstorms and scorching southwestern temperatures, but it was nothing they couldn't handle.
"No one should think they're not qualified to do this," Perry said. "You don't need to be a star athlete, you just need the motivation and determination."
Their trip was chronicled on a Tumblr named "Nicky Sam and Charlie Visit America."The trio started in Brooklyn in September 2012, carrying camping stoves, headlamps, waterproof clothes, and other necessities.
The boys stayed with friends along the East Coast, traveling from New York to Virginia ...
... down to Tennessee.
A banjo maker in Paris, TN who took the time to give a quick music lesson.
See their jam session here.
From Tennessee they moved on to Kentucky.
The boys relied on directions from the Adventure Cycling Association, which provides detailed maps for cyclists marked with campgrounds and food options.
Anyone planning an adventurous cycling trip can check out the ACA website here.
The boys often pitched tents at campsites along the road. A Mississippi thunderstorm forced them to seek shelter under a pavilion.
Biking between 60 and 80 miles a day, the trio relied heavily on duct tape to keep their possessions in one piece.
Expecting a flat landscape in Missouri, the group was pleasantly surprised when their route took them past the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
A group of quilters in Ellington, Missouri were so impressed by the boys' story that they treated them to lunch.
The group met lots of friendly people along the way, thanks in part to Warm Showers, a website that matches up cyclists on long trips with willing hosts. One memorable Kansas host was fire chief in Newton, who let the group stay in the firehouse eating gumbo and watching "Duck Dynasty."
The Warm Showers website is full of people who open their homes to journeying cyclists.
Portable camping stoves kept the boys well-fed with meals like this grilled cheese, burger, and egg sandwich.
The most precious cargo turned out to be Tony Chachere's, a Creole seasoning salt the boys used to add flavor to basic meals of rice and beans.
From Kansas the group cruised into Colorado.
The Centennial State brought tougher weather and made the boys glad for their waterproof apparel.
Near the Rocky Mountains, camping conditions were tough.
The scenery was beautiful.
"Every day, we were seeing something amazing," Perry said. "We didn't even have to go off route. With fewer people around, it felt like it was ours."
A flexible schedule meant the group could take days off to visit some of the country's most beautiful attractions, like Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado ...
... and the popular Colorado town of Telluride.
They rode narrow mountain passes through the Rockies ...
And on to Utah.
The group preferred the eastern half of the state, where smaller crowds made the views better and the biking easier. "You could pull over on the side of the road, walk a couple of yards, and there was a canyon," Charlie said.
Even though the three had different levels of camping and biking experience, they said the trip was completely manageable.
As they moved southwest, the heat got brutal. Close to Arizona, the boys started their days earlier to avoid midday temperatures over 100 degrees.
In Arizona, they enjoyed the amazing scenery by camping directly on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
The south rim was no less impressive.
The desert climate made a plunge in the Colorado River a welcome pit stop.
After just under three total months of traveling, the group arrived in California, the final state on the trip.
Mexico was visible across the border in California as the boys biked from Ocotillo to Pine Valley.
The epic journey came to an end on the sunny beaches of San Diego in July, where the boys relaxed before boarding a cross-country Amtrak train back to New York.
"For anyone else, Amtrak would seem incredibly slow," Charlie said. "For us, we were going to the same distance we had gone in one day in one hour."
Want more ideas for a college gap year?
North Carolina Teen Goes Around The World >
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