I was on the phone with Megan and making money.

“It’s funny, Wheelie Healy,” I said. “Fat Brad and I were wondering when you’d ask if Georgeous could join. Of course he’s in. So with us four, Ratchet Rach and Twerk Daddy Tyler we’ll be pretty set.”

I hung up, satisfied. We’d rounded ourselves out to six, and I had just made five dollars off Brady.

To clarify, Brady is neither fat nor enjoys being called “Brad.” He’s my best friend, and cofounder of Keys to Freeze. We’d made a bet back in November about when Megan — “Wheelie Healy” — would call asking if her boyfriend George — “Gorgeous George,” or “Georgeous” — could join in on our 9,000-mile unsupported cycling tour from the Florida Keys to Deadhorse, Alaska. Brady had guessed December, I’d bet on January.

George came in at a good time. We needed a photographer to round out the group’s creative talents, and, boom, there he was. And there we were. The six, our six, set to embark on Keys to Freeze — an idea born from a fevered email I wrote to Brady two years ago.

That day I was drinking too much coffee in a café near my hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. I was looking for jobs, for a path in life, for a way around the box so many of my college friends had fallen and then settled into…a fruitless search. I was upset. I had been crying. Classic. My brain was a thick, knotted rope; my fingers throbbed against the keyboard. These were the words that flowed forth in such angst:

Brady.

Keys to Freeze begins here. With us. In the tips of the Keys, all the way to Alaska. This is a celebration of PEOPLE and ADVENTURE, a collaboration of stories and days, riders and nights. This is PROOF that AMERICANS can bond still from east to west, north to south. This is a call for those wanting something different, wanting something other than their cubicles and cars and button-down dress code. This a mandate for those who BELIEVE in a greener tomorrow — not the green of greed but the green of the forested hills sloping upwards as we ascend into the Rockies, the green sea of Washington spilling against our shore-side road as we take pace up into Canada, the green of grass spread for miles and miles alongside our wheels in the planted lands of the east. We can be the peloton that rides united, the force galvanizing America into a more adventurous tomorrow.

The Force of Keys to Freeze begins with us.

Inspiring stuff. I crashed from the caffeine high, woke up with a headache, and laughed at the email I had sent Brady.

For the next year our trip was little more than a joke. I used it as a pickup line, with marginal success. Then I met Tyler on a charity bike ride sponsored by Bike & Build, called Brady, and told him I’d found another participant for Keys to Freeze. Brady said he’d found someone who builds websites for beer. It was an exciting conversation. Keys to Freeze was happening.

We set a departure date for February 25th, which is today. How about that?

In the space between last fall and winter, our group grew to six. Rachel joined, then Megan, and then George. From there we formed a relationship with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and registered with Climate Ride as an Independent Challenge. We will be cycling to raise funds and awareness for both Climate Ride and the NPCA, while participating in service projects within our parks. Our volunteer efforts will include participating in park preservation projects like trail maintenance, trash pickup, and restoration work. As a creative team, we will work towards producing a documentary and novel about our experiences.

So this is Keys to Freeze: a 9,000-mile unsupported cycling tour riding to bring national awareness to our park systems. We are pedaling into eleven national parks, including the Everglades, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Death Valley, Yosemite, the Cascades, Olympic, and Denali. Wherever possible, we will be participating in park service work. We’ll be filming, illustrating, interviewing and writing about our experiences so that we can share our tales along with the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help the environment. We’ll be fundraising money as an Independent Challenge with Climate Ride, our beneficiary the NPCA.

Illustration by Megan Healy
Illustration by Megan Healy

And it’s our team that will make this trip a success:

Brady – aka “Fat Brad,” “Roller Brad,” or “Sports Brad” — is our videographer and media producer. He’s a nasally, gangly youth of German descent. He’s in a band, into anime, and can grow a beard.

George — aka “Gorgeous George” or “Georgeous” — is our trip photographer. George had a real job for a while as a community organizer but, ah love, is now on the trip. He snapped the fresh pictures you see in today’s article.

Megan — aka “Wheelie Healey” or “Squealie Healey” — is our artist. Megan will be contributing her trip illustrations to the posts. She’s also a nuclear decontaminator, pyromaniac, and strict vegan with a weakness for hotdogs, hamburgers, breakfast sausage, ham, bacon, and pork chops.

Tyler — aka “Twerk Daddy,” “Ooh Daddy,” or “Big Daddy” — is our outdoor expert, head optimist, and silver-tongued talker. He’ll make you feel comfortable discussing your bowel habits while you two are building a fire in the pouring rain.

Rachel — aka “Rachet Rach” or “Roach” — is our official interviewer. She asks the questions, you give the answers. And, man, what a smile! You’ll melt like soft butter on a hot pan. This is Rachel’s first tour, and we’re excited to get her insight on this experience.

Reese — aka “Sweet Reese” or “Yeast” — is me. I’m the writer.

Keys to Freeze is offering tales of the road for the next six months.

Get excited. These are only our first miles north, and you’re only having your first bite of us.

So chew, swallow, savor. Hope you like the taste!

We’ll see you soon…

* * *

 Reese Wells is a writer and adventure cyclist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is a co-founder of Keys to Freeze and is excited to continue sharing stories from the road. reesewells.com