Charity cyclist riding across U.S. has creative survival skills

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 | 1:56 p.m. CDT; updated 10:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 1, 2010

COLUMBIA —  Zachary Hinkley travels in a more stylish manner than most people on the road.

His iPhone and $1,500 Cannondale bicycle set him apart.

If you want to help

Visit Hinkley's blog,

The 25-year-old is pedaling across the country to raise money for a charity he is establishing to provide children with creative ways to become active.

Hinkley, who stayed in Columbia Monday evening, began his journey in Virginia last month and will end it in Oregon. He hopes to finish by the end of July.

On this trip, Hinkley is in a new town nearly every day and is forced to be resourceful to find a place to stay. He searches, networks at gas stations, knocks on the doors of firehouses and, when out of luck, pitches a tent.

“One night I slept behind a Subway (restaurant),” Hinkley said. He said the night manager he befriended failed to notify the morning employees about his campsite.

He was awakened by a police officer violently shaking his tent. “They searched me for weapons,” Hinkley said.

Hinkley is hoping to build a network of free housing for a similar journey with a 12-member team next year. 

Hinkley also plans to establish a nonprofit in Virginia that will work with The Boys and Girls Club of America and other existing organizations to teach bike safety classes, clean streams and fight childhood obesity.

He is blogging during the trip to update supporters about the project.

Hinkley said he can already count a number of accomplishments on the trip. Monday’s 116-mile ride from St. Charles to Columbia marked his longest ride to date.

However, he has also experienced difficulties on the road. One day, Hinkley was chased by a pack of dogs.

“Apparently they don’t believe in leashes,” he said of the residents in rural Kentucky, where the incident took place.

Hinkley said his Spandex shorts and tattoo-covered arm prompt suspicion from people in rural towns.

"I think they are a little threatened because I'm different," he said, but overall, people have been "very accommodating."

Hinkley, who cited the cross-country jog in "Forrest Gump" as an inspiration, said he also took to the road out of frustration after he ran into difficulty raising money for the nonprofit startup.

"It costs $800 just for the paperwork," he said. Local bands held a benefit concert for him before he left, and his journey is partially funded by corporate and private sponsors.

Next week will bring Kansas, where Hinkley said he anticipates intense mental boredom, whipping winds and sticky midday heat.

Most mornings for Hinkley start around 9. But to cope with the heat and lack of shade, he will begin the days in Kansas at 3 a.m.

He was not worried about where he will sleep in the unprotected plains.

"I’m invincible," he said.

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