40 miles outside of Phoenix, Arizona. My back tire goes flat. As I scanned the area, all I could see were the cars and semi trucks whirring past me at 80 miles per hour. Ahead, there was what looked like a bridge. It was one of the longest walks I’d ever experienced.
It took me roughly 45 minutes to push my bike to the bridge, which was maybe one mile away. I had everything I needed to survive, except spare tubes. My gear weighed almost one hundred pounds, which made the entire process much harder. It was 2 p.m., and the sun was not going away anytime soon. The temperature was 106 degrees, which made it convenient to eat any canned food, as it was already cooked once opened. Under the bridge, I guzzled down one of the six water bottles I had. It was the perfect time to roll up.
My ex-roommate, Noah, had gifted me about seven grams of Michigan-grown sativa before I began my journey in Quartzsite, Arizona. I figured if I played my cards right and rationed well, I could make it last me until I got to the University of Colorado at Boulder. The night before, I was in the middle of smoking a bowl in my tent when I turned my flashlight on and noticed the scorpions that were resting on the outside of my tent. After the initial thought of “Holy Shit,” I simply hit them off my tent from the inside. After that, I smoked another bowl to calm my nerves. I had already gone through a gram with the first bowl, so I made use of my one-hitter instead. Before sleep, I ate some beefaroni.
My mission for this trip was to ride my bicycle from Arizona to Chicago, going to different college towns and selling my specialty grilled cheese to the college students of America. How did this mammoth of an idea come into existence? I was laying in bed one night trying to think of a way I could fulfill my dream of cycling across the country, but I needed a reason. A call to action. Six months prior to my trip, I started a catering business geared towards college kids by going to parties and selling my signature grilled cheese to drunk and stoned people. I always knew there was something about my recipe that people couldn’t resist. So, I decided I would go on a college tour of America, and try to make my grilled cheese reach people outside of my normal demographic.
Managed to raise $500 for the trip via crowdfunding, along with a sizable chunk of savings in the bank. If I only knew how much this would end up costing me. Leaving the city limits of Phoenix, I bumped into a cardboard box on the side of the road. I saw it ahead and thought nothing of it. Once passing it, I heard the noise of a broken bike. Somehow, I had completely broken my derailleur clean off. For those of you who don’t know what a derailleur is, it moves the chain from one speed to another. Just that alone ended up costing me over one hundred bucks. But I didn’t let that stop me.
The first panic attack I had came when I didn’t feel my wallet in my back pocket. I figured it must have clung to my phone when I took it out of my pocket. It was at this point in the experience when I couldn’t think rationally and had to call my mother to calm down. After talking to her, I did some heavy breathing and spotted a couple on electric scooters. I told them of my predicament, and within ten minutes the nice man, Rob, had found my misplaced wallet. I thanked him graciously and took a picture with him to remember the experience. Feeling strong again, I gave my friend, Kash, a call; he was living with his girlfriend, 15 miles away. I finally arrived at 11 p.m., exhausted and beaten. One of the first things he said to me was, “Do you want anything to drink or eat?” I looked him square in the eyes, and told him with a blank face, “the one thing I needed more than food and water is weed.”
We drank, smoked a few bowls, and talked of my travels while cooking grilled cheese. Kash’s girlfriend had invited some friends over. They all screamed sorority, and were very interested in hearing about my trip. I was wearing my sweaty cycling jersey and tights while the other guys in the room were wearing the standard t-shirt and jeans. I had the realization that some of these guys were classic “Chad’s,” or frat guys, as they are also known in other parts of the globe. This didn’t bother me, although I still can’t understand why they love conformity. It felt like meeting five clones of the same dude. They all had the same interests and ambitions. To get rich, party, and have a trophy wife. It occurred to me that this was going to be a common theme on this journey, going from state college to state college.
The next morning, Kash and I smoked a bowl and parted ways. I was back on the road and getting used to the routine: wake up, bike as far as I can, setup camp, repeat. I was making good time and within a week I had reached the Colorado border. I lit a celebratory joint with a stranger I met while taking a picture in front of the sign welcoming us to Colorado. The next day, I ran into another problem that would really test me. I tried turning my phone on, which had been charging all night, to no avail. I was in the middle of nowhere without my navigation, communication, and entertainment. How was I going to get to Boulder?
The old fashioned way of asking for directions. Before long, I was in Colorado Springs, getting my phone repaired. Unfortunately, I lost all of my pictures and videos from the past two years. But it was better than not having a phone at all. Plus, we all know how hard it is to live without a phone in the age of technology.
Once I got to Boulder, I got the phone to work. I was looking for anyone to make a grilled cheese for. Also, looking for a scenic place to smoke. I went to the store to get ingredients and saw someone who looked like he was cool. I inquired about the best smoke spots on campus, and he pointed me to the direction of the creek that runs through campus. I started riding along the trail and finally picked up the scent of cannabis. I followed the smell to the source and found a group of students. I approached, asked if I could smoke with them. After a blunt or two, I told them about my grilled cheese quest. Once hearing this, they asked if I had any ingredients. Fifteen minutes later, they were all eating some delicious grilled cheeses. I used my campstove to cook; there weren’t any outlets nearby. We all took some pictures, and then I wished them well and continued on. Colorado is such a beautiful state to bike through. If you ever get the chance, it is highly recommend. One of the students in the group didn’t have cash; I told him I accepted weed as well. He gave me what he called “Yoda’s Breath.”
Couple days later, I was getting close to Nebraska. I was so tired, my legs eventually gave up from fatigue. I pulled over on the shoulder of the road and started to oil my bike chain when a lady in a white minivan asked if I needed a ride. I learned in Arizona that getting a ride isn’t cheating if you really need it. Once we were done introducing each other, I quickly fell asleep. When I woke up, she had told me we were in Nebraska. I was still in a daze and didn’t really piece together in my mind what that meant. She dropped me off at a gas station and bought me some snacks for the road. I finally realized where I was when I couldn’t see anything except oceans of corn on both sides of the road. When I say oceans, I really mean it. All I could see for miles on end was corn. It reminded me of my home state of Wisconsin. This was the point of the trip that I felt most thankful for my upbringing and my family who supported my journey. I didn’t smoke at all that day— I enjoyed the road with a clear head.
Day after day, I biked and camped. I made it to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and served my sandwiches to a group of fellow cannabis enthusiasts. The latter half of my trip went by in a breeze compared to the rest of my journey. The land was so flat and the temperature wasn’t giving me a heat stroke. Eventually arriving at Iowa City, I met up with my buddy, Jacob. I rested up and showed him how to make a proper grilled cheese, and left the next day with some keef he gifted me.
Some people ask if weed is really “essential” to a bike tour: it’s all opinion based. I don’t think I could’ve made it back without the help of cannabis, but people do all the time. Chicago was only a state away at this point, and I was feeling freedom like nobody else. Within a week, I was back in my city of current residence. My adventure had come to a close. Truly, words can’t describe my feelings and emotions. I had accomplished something I was planning for months. Once I saw my apartment building, tears were running down my face. I was finally able to sleep in my own bed again.
Cole Fortman is an artist and entrepreneur based in Chicago. Born and raised in northern Wisconsin, he developed a passion for cycling, and it grew. Fortman is a self-taught oil painter, giving credit to Bob Ross as an instructor. Fortman has a self-run grilled cheese business, making grilled cheeses for parties; follow his movements on Instagram @thegrilledcheesedude.