This month Flag Live had the privilege of chatting with a couple great guys from Knoxville, Tenn., who embarked on an inspirational cross-country bike trip to help spread Lupus awareness in the bicycle and craft beer scenes. Brothers Matthew and Nathaniel Johnson left San Francisco, Calif., three months ago and are stopping at a bevy of breweries for podcasts and interviews in every city.
They finally made it to Flagstaff on mile 2,000 into their 6,000-mile journey right after the most quintessential Arizona mishap two adventurers could have: Google Maps led them onto a 20-mile rock road in the middle of the desert that eventually took them to the ghost town of Stanton. Their road bikes were useless, the water ran out almost immediately, and the walk took eight hours. However, the kindness of strangers has become a reoccurring theme on their trip and the locals fed and hydrated them before giving them a ride back to a paved road. We caught up with the still-visibly exhausted brothers at Dark Sky Brewing Co. immediately after they got back from biking to the Grand Canyon, where even getting caught in that freak snowstorm didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
Mike Williams: Starting out with the local flavors … You’ve interviewed brewers at Dark Sky, Wanderlust and Drinking Horn since you’ve been in town. Anything jump out as over-the-top?
Matthew Johnson: Nathaniel is our mead guy.
Nathaniel Johnson: Oh yeah, I got hooked. Evan [Anderson] definitely knows what he’s talking about and he sells it really well. The pomegranate mead is delicious. It’s not too sweet, it’s not too dry and, apparently, he’s going to carbonate it, but we haven’t gotten a chance to try it yet. And he gave us a coffee mead before its release, just kind of under the table. That got us through the Grand Canyon for sure.
That sounds about perfect for getting amped up before a ride. Do you have a preferred style for drinking while you’re actually out on the trail?
Matthew: I’m more the IPA guy and Dark Sky gave us a Crowler of theirs to take out to the Canyon. We tasted it at the brewery, but we’re big on taking nature pictures with the beer and promoting an active lifestyle. Our big thing is active beer culture, so we’re including that in hiking, biking, and whatever other outdoor activities. So, we had the Cumulus IPA and thought it was fantastic.
Nathaniel: I love sours, like a really light farmhouse. The 928 was incredible. Wanderlust was the first brewery we’ve been to where the best-selling beer is a farmhouse. And it’s made with yeast from local apples, too! You guys have a really strong community going on here.
What are you doing for pre-ride beers?
Nathaniel: That coffee mead has been great for the last couple days.
Matthew: Any sort of heavy coffee stout. Bicycling just goes hand in hand with drinking because, well, it’s not too strenuous (laughs). It’s a good workout, but you’re not gasping for air like when you’re running. Coffee stouts have that nice little kick to get you feeling good, and then there’s some caffeine in there, too.
Matthew: Mine’s Pilsner. Something really light. Plus it keeps you hydrated.
Mostly water. It’s got to, right?
Nathaniel: Yup, I’d have to say the same thing. Definitely Pilsner.
Matthew: But, honestly, we’re not picky. I always say the best beer you have after a ride is whatever you have on hand.
How did this whole trip come to fruition?
Matthew: We were motorcycling through Vietnam and Nathaniel had just taken a year hiatus from college. I’d just graduated, so I went over to meet him there. We wound up buying motorcycles—I don’t think we even had licenses, and that led us into talking about how much we’d always wanted to bicycle across our country. Nathaniel had a big love for craft beer and I had a big love for bicycling, so we just combined the two. Then two years later he graduated and here we are.
Nathaniel: It kind of started out as a joke. But then we realized we really didn’t have any other plans. And bicycling is pretty cheap. That’s another thing we really wanted to do with this, is to show people that you can see the world and you can see the country by biking. The community has been just insane. People give us food, places to stay, helping us get along the way. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We’re living on a $10-a-day budget and I think a lot of people can afford that.
Matthew: Basically, if you can afford rent, you can afford to bike travel. Obviously, the most expensive thing is the gear. You’ve gotta save up for that as it’s the most expensive part.
Nathaniel: We’re living cheaper than we would be back home right now.
Matthew: Another thing about doing a big trip like this, is when you leave, people try to give you a heads up about the crazy people or things like that in wherever. Like, there’s a lot of wackos out there … No one warns you about the nice people. There’s no way we would’ve been able to do this trip without the kindness of easily hundreds of people so far. It’s been amazing. We’ve gotten rides, food, even seasoning for our rice and beans. One lady actually went home and got us a grocery bag full of groceries and brought it back to us. It’s those little kindnesses that keep getting us through this trip.
Nathaniel: We started out for the bikes and the beers—and the people have really been the highlight, especially here in Flagstaff. Flagstaff has been incredible.
We try our best to keep it friendly here. Always good to hear it shows. Now, this is also a benefit ride for Lupus research as well, right?
Nathaniel: It is. The Lupus Research Alliance is a foundation that’s raising money to directly fund scientists that are trying to find more effective diagnostic techniques because this disease is really hard to diagnose. There’s 160,000 to a million people in the United States because they just don’t know. All the symptoms are so hidden. So, 92 cents out of every dollar goes directly to the scientists in the hopes of eventually curing the disease.
Matthew: My girlfriend back home has actually had Lupus for the last three years and then she spent two months in the hospital after needing a hip replacement. So, this is extremely personal for me and I feel like it’s important to do this for a really good cause. Even if we’re just spreading Lupus awareness by talking about it, anything is good. There’s 800,000 more people in the United States that might have it. Even if one person asks, finds out, and gets proactive about it, I’d say the whole 10 months was worth it.
Fantastic. Best of luck and keep up the good work! For continued updates on their story, their interviews with the breweries they’re visiting, and also to donate to either the brothers or the Lupus Research Alliance, visit them online at www.beersnbikes.wordpress.com.