Jason Dilworth probably always saw things a little differently, first with the trained eyes of an art student at Weber State University, then as a bicyclist who viewed the world up close.
And now Dilworth, 30, and a 2006 WSU grad, has seen 2,500 meandering miles of America, from Greensboro, Ala., to San Francisco, from the back of a kit-assembled bamboo bike.
"A friend of mine, Marc O'Brien, said he wanted to bicycle across country before he turned 30, and asked if I wanted to go," said Dilworth, now a graphic arts teacher at State University of New York at Fredonia. "He asked if I wanted to go, and I said yes immediately. I kind of had some unfinished business."
O'Brien and Dilworth met when both studied art at the University of Virginia, O'Brien as an undergraduate, Dilworth as a grad student. After earning his master's in 2009, Dilworth applied for teaching jobs, and set off traveling west on his bicycle, for a summer of sightseeing and visiting friends he couldn't have afforded to see if it required air fare.
"I was in Bryce Canyon when I checked my voice mail and learned I had a teaching job," Dilworth said. "I ended my bike tour short, and left the red rocks for the green hills. But I always felt I had unfinished business."
When O'Brien suggested the latest ride, which would attract two more friends, he mentioned the idea of bamboo-frame bicycles. O'Brien had worked in Alabama, a state with a struggling farm community, and he learned that Alabama has ideal conditions for growing bamboo, a crop for which America is the largest importer. O'Brien and others believe bamboo is a good cash crop for Southern small farmers struggling to make a living.
So the bicycle trip, besides being a fun idea and a celebration of turning 30, became a promotion for Alabamboo, a movement to bring bamboo farming to Alabama.
The riders bought bike kits from Bamboo Bike Studio, an environmentally minded New York company. The team harvested its own Alabama bamboo and held the fibrous canes over heat for hardening.
The canes were then fitted into metal joints from the kit to form a bicycle frame. Dilworth said his bamboo bicycle rides a lot like his regular bicycle, except he feels extra pride knowing he made his cane-based bike.
The Alabamboo riders assembled their bikes in Alabama, and set off June 4 for a trip they would complete in Northern California on July 30. Dilworth and friends stayed away from interstates and took time to look at the art, history and peculiarities of the regions through which they passed.
"The South has these incredible opportunities, not just for economic growth, but for happiness," said Dilworth, an Idaho native who grew up in Vernal, Utah, and attended WSU on a scholarship. "Every place has incredible histories and local color.
"And riding, you see the South turn into the Midwest, and then into the Intermountain West, and into incredibly different communities in Utah. They fade out in Nevada -- then you get traffic and cars in California."
Dilworth said as the only mountain Westerner in the group, he was worried about what others might think of his childhood home.
"I hoped it wouldn't be too hot and dry, and that none of them would get stung by a scorpion," he said. "I hoped they would love it, and they did. I don't think any of them were expecting the majestic beauty."
The group aimed for a leisurely, flexible trip, with time built in for side excursions suggested by locals. The riders averaged about 80 miles a day, including one day of multiple wrong turns that landed them back where they started, much to their amusement.
Finally riding into San Francisco was satisfying, but that high was followed by a trip low.
"I hated to box up my bike," Dilworth said. "It had become part of me. I could hop on that bike and ride it anywhere."
Now back in New York, Dilworth says he feels trapped, relying on cabs, buses and his own feet to get him where he would rather bike. The bamboo bike is still in transit.
"It's back to school now, back to work," Dilworth said. "It's slightly disorienting. My hometown feels new to me, which I guess is why we travel. Still, I wish there had been time to bicycle back."