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Brother’s celebration of life inspires man to bike coast to coast

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Published: September 6, 2019, 10:51pm
3 Photos
Robert Gay stands with his bike outside the Rainier Beach Community Center on Aug. 9. Gay, a novice cyclist, has partnered with Trips for Kids to raise awareness for the organization that provides bikes for kids in need, and is stopping along the way in cities with a chapter. Rebekah Welch/Seattle Times
Robert Gay stands with his bike outside the Rainier Beach Community Center on Aug. 9. Gay, a novice cyclist, has partnered with Trips for Kids to raise awareness for the organization that provides bikes for kids in need, and is stopping along the way in cities with a chapter. Rebekah Welch/Seattle Times Photo Gallery

Through the last three years of his late-brother’s life, Robert Gay spent 150 days at his brother’s bedside, chatting about everything and nothing. They talked about politics, whether the Green Bay Packers had a chance at winning the Super Bowl and the life they had lived together.

Eventually, Gay’s brother, Stephen, cut the small talk.

“We got to the point where we realized that he’s not going to be here,” said Robert Gay. Stephen Gay was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2015. He didn’t want to talk about football or politics, things that he would never get to see. He wanted to talk about Robert.

“He said, ‘I do want to talk about the things that you want to do. Give me some insights. What’s on your list? I’m not going to get to any of mine,'” Robert Gay said.

Stephen Gay, died on Sept. 29, 2018. However, some of those final conversations the brothers had triggered Robert’s current mission to bike across the United States, from Neah Bay to Key West, Fla.

It had always been this somewhat fantastical idea. He had done some road trips, and had always thought, “man, I’d love to bike this.” Yet it was — for lack of a better word — a crazy idea. He’s a novice biker. He has a wife and two kids, he’s Zevia’s Chief Strategy Officer and Executive VP of Sales and Marketing. He was about to turn 60. But this was his dream. So on Oct. 11, 2018, at his brother’s celebration of life, Robert decided to begin his quest to bike from the Northwest corner of the United States to the Southeast corner.

Gay, 60, plans to ride 4,764 miles over 107 days. He began his trip on Aug. 6 in Neah Bay, and stopped in Seattle on Aug. 8, about 200 miles into his journey.

He’s trying to average around 60 miles a day, with at least a mile of that ridden on his brother’s bike from 1982. (Don’t worry, Gay had it fixed up in preparation for the trip.)

“I had some work done on it to make sure the pedals still went around and the brakes work,” Gay chuckled.

Gay, who lives in Los Angeles, is a novice cyclist — he has a stationary bike in his office, but before he started the trip, had only ridden about 300 miles outdoors. But he isn’t scared. In fact, 200 miles in, he says all he wanted to do was keep going.

“It’s a whole new experience for me to be outdoors, on the road, watching traffic, managing hills. But the beauty of the outdoors has been amazing. It’s been good,” said Gay.

Trips for Kids

Throughout planning for his trip, he’s received tremendous support from his family and company. Paddy Spence, the CEO of zero-sugar beverage company Zevia, pledged the company’s full support.

To celebrate Gay’s ride, Gay and Zevia, partnered with Trips for Kids — a nonprofit that provides transformative cycling experiences for young people of all communities, especially those in need — and launched a campaign called “Live Your Best Ride.”

“Before this all started to gain momentum, I didn’t realize that this was going to have the exposure it does. I didn’t realize I would actually be able to give something back to the community,” said Gay. “And when I did become more aware of it, (I thought), if I can support — one way or another — children getting outdoors, experiencing what I love, then I wanted to go all for it.”

Gay’s trip will benefit dozens of kids across the United States. Zevia is purchasing 72 bike sets (bikes, helmets, water bottles and more) for Trips for Kids. Every Trips for Kids chapter needs 15 bikes for a starter fleet, and a handful of emerging chapters will benefit from Zevia’s direct support, said Robert Ping, executive director of Trips for Kids.

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