It’s been a full year since OC rapper Innate released his solo album Ways To Go, writing rhymes about his struggles as a social and artistic vagabond dealing with the complex life changes of a man in his 30s. At the time, the rapper born Nate Wolvin probably didn’t think it would lead to him embarking on the most ambitious long-distance trip of his life–a 5,000 mile bike ride with a friend across the U.S. Obviously if there’s one side effect of being cooped up in your garage for a year working on an album, it’s the need to escape. Last Spring, Wolvin just decided to take that idea a little further than most.
“It wasn’t the most responsible move, dropping an album and taking off,” Wolvin says from a phone in San Antonio, Texas in his mother’s house where he’s been visiting since he completed his three-month journey from May 3 to August 3. “I probably should’ve been putting together a music tour instead of a bike tour.”
However, at the time few things seemed more satisfying to the co-founding member of respected OC rap group Rock Bottom than the open road. It probably didn’t hurt that he’s a professional carpenter by day, kind of an outdoorsy type. The idea for the cross-country bike ride struck him during a backpack camping trip, spurred by a memory of an encounter he had with a group of cyclists at a 7-Eleven. He knew by their rugged looks, packs of supplies, and racing bikes that they’d been on a long haul, similar to the rides from Canada to Mexico he’d heard about from some of his friends.
“I thought that shit was crazy and these dudes were doing that, they had these big beards like they’d been on the road for a minute,” Wolvin says. “I always thought that’d be sick to do something like that.”
Fresh off of releasing Ways to Go, Wolvin and longtime friend Jack Staley decided to go on the trip together, despite the fact that neither of them was serious bikers. “We didn’t even have bikes or any of the gear so just started getting it together,” Wolvin says.
Some research led them to their discovery of the well-known Tans-America Trail–starting from Astoria, Oregon and stretching through the middle of the country all the way to Yorktown, Virginia. After a month of talking about it they began to start prepping and buying as much used gear as they could find, including some racing bikes from the ‘80s.
They started by hopping a plane to Oregon and biking 20 miles to Astoria and then another 50 miles in their first full day on the road. Using the bike tourist’s site warmshowers.com, they located spots to crash along their route. “That [first day] really made me realize what we were getting into,” Wolvin says.
By Day 3 they’d already run into some trouble in Tillamook, Oregon when the spokes on Wolvin’s back wheel broke and the rim on the wheel bent. He and Staley were cruising with another group of bikers heading down to Argentina who continued on their journey while Wolvin got his wheel fixed. Fortunately, after that it was mostly smooth sailing for Wolvin and Staley, pedaling at a clip of about 50-80 miles a day through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
“Idaho is actually really pretty, that blew me away because I didn’t know what to expect, I’d never been there,” Wolvin says. “We were there at a good time, it was really green and the mountains were insane.”
They rode all the way to Missoula, Montana before stopping at a house well known among the touring cyclist community.
“We were told that there’s this dude in town [Missoula] who lets people stay on his lawn or in his house. We got to the dude’s house with a giant lawn and people were just coming and going,” Wolvin says.
The house has a sprawling front lawn where the home owner allows people to simply camp out and use it as a pitstop. Wolvin and Staley stayed there for a week while they waited for Wolvin’s dad to fly into town to join up with them to pedal 400 miles to Yellowstone National Park.
Throughout the trip Wolvin says he rarely listened to music, opting to pedal in silence–and save his phone battery. However, he says he was always thinking about rhymes while he pedaled from coast to coast.
“I kept a journal for the first two weeks but I just said screw this after a while,” Wolvin says. “I didn’t do much writing but I thought about it a lot and the experience made me realize how much I enjoy making music.”
For a daily workout burning thousands of calories per day, their diet was pretty ordinary–a lot of tortillas, peanut butter, honey and whatever semi-healthy options they could find at the Dollar Stores they ran into. They lived on an average of $10 per day.
“I was vegetarian for a while before the trip but at a certain point the options were so limited that I said fuck it, I ate whatever,” Wolvin says. “A lot of ramen and instant oatmeal.”
After a while, the thrill of nature and cruising through lush forests and camping at near the Grand Tetons was the fuel they relied on most to keep the trip going. And once in a while, Wolvin says his mom would mail him some care packages filled with homemade granola.
In the wilds of U.S. back country, things tended to be a lot more peaceful than biking in the city or around cars and trucks whizzing by with enough force to knock you off your bike or into traffic, not to mention the crazy amount of automotive shrapnel on the road that will easily pop a tire or jam up their spokes.
Through every town, Wolvin and Staley would ride past memorialized “white bicycles” tied to sign and lamp posts where riders have been killed by cars. Biking through Montana, Wolvin was sideswiped by a car while on his way to the post office to pick up a package and had driver had to pay through insurance to get his bike fixed.
Wolvin and Staley briefly took a break from each other at various times throughout the trip. In Colorado, Staley went on a brief respite with his girlfriend who came to meet up with them while Wolvin stayed in Denver and linked up with friends and ended up meeting up with friends who were part of some bands playing Warped Tour. Their next stop was on Bonner Springs, Kansas so he hopped on the bus with them through Kansas (not missing much– lots of boring flat land)
The Trans America Trail also has an annual race for bikers trying to beat the fastest time, the record was set again by a guy who made it across the country in just 16 days. Wolvin actually met the winner back in Montana. But a couple people got hit in Kansas by a car and died during that race.
Wolvin and Staley decided to meet up again in Kansas City as Jack who tried riding through Kansas for a day got sick of the high winds and desolate area and decided to hop on a train to rejoin Wolvin who at the time had to decide between continuing with his Warped Tour buddies or waiting for Jack in KC without a place to stay. He opted for the later spending the night on a park bench.
“It was a good thing I did too because the friends I’d been hanging with left that night and three hours after they left they got hit by a drunk driver and the whole bus flipped,” Wolvin says. “My buddy told me the next day what happened and I just had to go sit down for a minute and collect myself…I couldn’t believe it.” Luckily everyone survived and was okay and sustained minor injuries, even one of the riders who was flung from the vehicle.
Though the near tragedy might have been enough to make the rapper rethink his decision to continue on, he decided to press on, riding with his partner Staley through Kansas City, Missouri through St. Louis on the Katy Trail, 400 miles along the Missouri River.
“They have a lot of old train tracks along the Missouri River that aren’t getting used anymore so they cover them with crushed Limestone and turn them into bike trails,” Wolvin says. “They were really cool trails that take you through areas you’d never end up going.”
By the time they reached Philadelphia, it started to set in how close they were getting to finishing the trip. Wolvin says he and Staley were riding longer days, sleeping in local churches and waking up at 4:30 am to eat and be on the road before 6 am. The last stretch was their longest ride, pushing themselves 100 miles from Philly to New York.
Aside from their own journey, part of the fun was encountering people from all over the world on their own crazy adventures, many of which made there’s seem almost tame by comparison. Most people were either younger fresh out of high school or college or retired not many people doing it in their 30s. In the three months they were riding, they met kids almost half their age on similar missions going down to as far as Mexico, Argentina, even one girl who was on a solo mission to ride her bike across several continents. In Oregon at the start of their trip, they came across superstar YouTube celebrity Jamie McDonald, aka Adventureman, who was running around the parameter of the entire US to raise money for a children’s hospital.
“We met people who were doing far beyond what we were doing so it made us realize this was very doable,” Wolvin says.
Those three months on the road were a pivotal point in Wolvin’s life that inspired him to take music and his writing more seriously. Every day since he’s finished riding, the impact of his journey sinks in a little more.
“When I got back people asked ‘do you feel like you’ve changed?’ and honestly, I don’t think I’ve had enough time to think about it,” Wolvin says. “On the outside, it seems like a life changing experience but it wasn’t right off the bat. But now that time is passing I realize I’m a little bit more at peace and open minded. I wanna work within my realm but also expand past it.”
It also put a lot of his anxieties about his rap career into perspective as he plans his next moves. Whatever way he chooses to go after a trip like this, his instincts (and his quads) are definitely strong enough to lead him in the right direction.
“One of my biggest fears in life has to be complacent, I don’t like routine but you need a healthy routine to get anywhere but it’s more about knowing what you want out of life, figuring out how to get there and set up goals to get there,” Wolvin says. “That’s what this trip was like.”
Innate performs with 2Mex at Marty’s on Newport, Sunday, Oct. 14. 9 p.m. Free show. For full info, click here.