Justin Barney

Justin Barney, 42, is on a cross-country bicycle trip that he plans to complete over the next year. A trip to Florida last year was cut short by wildfires.

White vinegar and water in a PVC pipe with a capped end is a perfectly good washing machine, and is one of the few things Justin Barney took on his cross-country bicycle trek.

The Carolina Forest man left June 15, with his push pins mapped out at Erie, Pennsylvania; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; Key West, Florida and home sweet home.

Barney started a bike trip to Florida last year, but when he reached Savannah, Georgia, a text alert told him wildfires in Florida would have impeded his travel on the East Coast Greenway. He turned around.

This year, Barney is riding independently of a cycling club, but is being guided by an Adventure Cycling Association map.

He’s amended the route somewhat, saying he doesn’t want to do what other cyclists are doing.

Since his aborted trip in April 2018, he’s taken short bike trips, stretching his distance, and also got a new bike.

It’s Surly’s long-tail 7-and-a half foot Big Fat Dummy cargo bike that can hold 400 pounds, giving him 150 pounds over his weight for gear.

Two years ago, Barney was 188 pounds heavier than he is now, and that weight loss is part of why he’s taking this trip.

The 42-year-old has overcome more obstacles than most face in a lifetime, and challenging himself is how he stays focused on his goal.

“When you figure out the game, they reshuffle the deck, but I made a vow to myself not to become a [negative] statistic,” he says.

Most of the people he hung out with years ago are dead or in prison, and he’s watched family members lose their battles with alcohol and drugs.

Being politically correct is not on Barney’s to-do list, but his colorful language and strong opinions aren’t meant to offend.

His thoughts just aren’t filtered through conventional channels, and as his mother, retired schoolteacher Jacqueline Barney says, “He’s definitely his own person.”

Plagued with physical disabilities including heart, neck, and back issues, plantar fasciitis, which is total dis- integration of the nerve under the foot, Osgood-Schlatter disease, which is a crippling knee ailment, drug and alcohol addiction and obesity, he left his home in Erie, Pennsylvania, and took a plane to Myrtle Beach to visit his mother.

A seizure on the plane revealed a benign brain tumor. With an aunt who is a double amputee because of diabetes, learning he also was diabetic was his wake-up call.

When the doctor told him the first step to better health was to stop drinking, he did, seven years ago. “It was do or die,” he says.

Gastric bypass surgery allowed Barney to do things he hadn’t done before, and replacing his mother’s kitchen floor was the beginning of his “one-thing-at a time-get-‘er-done” philosophy.

Because severe vertigo prevents him from driving, he’s always used a bicycle for transportation.

When he was about 16, he started taking old bikes apart, looking for collectibles to restore them with, and of course, trying them out eventually led to cycling.

He’s been a volunteer with the Andre S. Pope Mountain Bike Skills Park in Myrtle

Beach and has participated with the Pee Dee Bicycle group in The Market Common.

A sign on the back of Barney’s bike encourages folks to make donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I’ve learned a lot about distance and how far I can go in a day,” he says. “I’ve learned what to pack, and that last time, I was way overpacked.”

This trip, Barney took a tarp — “A tent attracts too much attention” — food, water, his maps and a minimum of clothes.

“I’ll wear it till it wears out, then I’ll throw it away and get another one,” he says about his cycling wardrobe.

He also took lemon and eucalyptus essential oil to battle the mosquitoes, a cushion to sit on and of course, his PVC washing machine.

Barney started on his trip right after a ribbon cutting at the bike skills park, and spent his first night at Captain Andy’s Campground in North Carolina.

His second night, a pastor offered the use of his picnic grounds.

He’ll travel secondary roads, paved bike paths and back roads.

“When you drive in a car, you’re just getting to your destination,” he says. “On a bike, you can see the country.”

Laughing at himself for using a cliché, he adds, “It really is about the journey, not the destination.”

“I give him a lot of credit for the research he’s done and for always doing his own thing,” Jacqueline Barney says about her son.

“He’s got a lot of imagination and a lot of practical ability.”

Barney hasn’t decided what trip he’ll take after this one, but is considering a ride to Alaska.

“I’m going to ride my bike until it becomes a weather vane on top of my house,” he says.

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I'm the assistant editor of the Carolina Forest Chronicle. I write news and business features. Have a great story idea? Please call me at 843-602-9306.

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