Cary Gray: artist, author, sustainability nut, world record holder, wild man. Also capable of building semi-functional catapults, and currently works at Prima Bistro in Langley.
If the 26-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native has a resume, it probably looks something like that. In town on a longer than expected pit stop, Gray is a free-spirit adventurer who’s been pedaling his way through the Americas since 2013. He’ll be hitting the road again this December, bound for the Mississippi River — he’s going to float its entire length — before making his way to Miami, Colombia and on to Ushuaia in Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, also known as the End of the World.
Of course he won’t be doing the road miles on an 18-speed, in a car or even on a donkey. Nope, his chosen steed is a unicycle. One wheel, two continents, powered by courage and a sense of adventure.
He didn’t pick the unicycle necessarily to turn heads. He wanted to see South America and, it’s his primary means of transportation and has been since he was a kid — he has a passion for sustainability. The choice kinda made itself, he says.
“I’m not doing it to make a statement,” he said. “If you see me going to work, I’m just going to work.”
Gray began his trip in July 2013 after getting a bachelors in fine art, sculpture, from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Md. He rode to Los Angeles, arriving in October, then traveled through Mexico and Central America, learning Spanish and crossing the Darién Gap, a hazardous break in the Pan-American Highway that’s home to armed rebels and drug traffickers. Kayaking the Atrato River with his unicycle aboard, the same thing he’ll do on the Mississippi, he arrived in Colombia only to have his passport stolen.
Beaten but not defeated, Gray flew back home, got back on the horse and rode northwest from St. Louis through British Columbia to Juneau, Alaska. Turning south again, he traversed Vancouver Island and landed in Seattle this past December. He didn’t plan to stay long, but life happened.
“I met a girl,” Gray said.
The romance took him to Whidbey, but its sunset has him looking to the horizon again. He’ll be taking off before the end of the year, riding down the coast a ways then hanging a left and heading to Minnesota and the beginning of the Great Muddy.
Before he leaves, however, he plans to finish and publish his book, “The Naked Unicyclist.” The 80,000 to 100,000-word tale isn’t R-rated nor is it a reference to actual nudity; the title is a metaphor for Gray’s life on the road, what it’s meant to be vulnerable yet keep pedaling.
But just what vulnerable is to a guy like Gray is a bit of a mystery.
“When he was a toddler, we had a 40-foot rope swing over water and he’d swing high like Tarzan in his diapers,” said his mother, Louise Gray. “I knew then we were in trouble.”
She described her son as smart, passionate, high energy and at times challenging to raise. When he was 14, he built a catapult in their backyard. Family and friends had gathered for a test firing, only to watch the sling arm break and launch a large boulder backwards and onto the hood of a nearby car. Their insurance company said it was an “exotic weapon” and threatened to cancel the family’s homeowners insurance. Gray was forced to dismantle his creation.
“That was one of his many ‘Caryisms,’ as we’ve come to call them,” she said.
Jenn Jurriaans, owner of Prima Bistro, got to know him little by little over the busy summer season. Kinda like an onion with layers, you learn cool things about him slowly. One week you learn he’s a unicyclist, another that he’s a world record holding unicyclist, then it’s that’s he’s an author, and so on.
“He’s a super interesting guy,” she said.
For example, he’s already pedaled more than 14,000 miles in all — a unicycling world record, if he ever gets around to turning in the paperwork to Guinness. He’s also given talks at elementary schools in the Northwest state, British Columbia and Alaska, and will continue to do so as he heads east.
“I call it the ‘Get Out There’ program, and it’s about getting out, getting active and eating greens,” Gray said.
A byproduct of Gray’s active lifestyle that many might envy is that he never has to watch his weight. Quite the opposite, he struggles to add pounds.
For the Bistro, a place that tends to hire eclectic people for the busy summer season, Gray fit right in, Jurriaans said. She added that he’s a great employee, reliable and hardworking; he’s pretty popular too.
“The ladies love him,” she said.
Gray has grown fond of Langley, and if older he said could see himself spending more time there. Leaving the restaurant crew will be tough, he said.
“They’re a good team and I like them,” Gray said.
But the road is calling and he’s itching to finish what he started. Once he reaches Ushuaia, Gray said he’s not sure where the next trail will lead.
“After that, I have no idea,” he said. “Part of me wants to stay and work for a while in Chile or Argentina. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Anyone interested in making a donation can do so at https://caryoutthere.wordpress.com Also, Gray’s progress can be followed via his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UnicyclingTheWorldCaryOutThere