Outer Banks pit stop: Bicyclist and dog traveling from New York to Florida Keys take a breather

Published 9:44 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

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Kristopher Cotton, 36, and his furry companion Ava are making their way from New York to the Florida Keys. The catch? Their form of transportation consists of a Surly bike with an attached trailer stocked with about 200 pounds of supplies to keep them going.

Cotton and Ava spoke to The Coastland Times at Bike Barn in Kill Devil Hills, where shop owner James Stainback had offered the travelers a place to stay.


Kristpher Cotton with James Stainback, owner of Bike Barn in KDH, and Ava. Danielle Puleo photo

“I starting crashing here a couple of nights ago,” Cotton said Thursday, July 16. He was in need of new tires after the trailer hit some glass on the way into the Outer Banks and both tires ended up going flat. Unable to pull over, Cotton and Ava made their way across the 40 mile stretch to their pitstop destination in the pouring rain. They decided to camp out on the OBX for six days after finally making it to the beach.

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The big question Cotton said he always gets is “Why?” His response: “Why not?”

“I’m just doing it because I love it,” he said. “I love biking and I wanted to do something again before she [Ava] got too old and couldn’t do it. It just puts a smile on my face every day and makes other people smile and I’m loving it.”

This is not the duo’s first rodeo. They biked from Illinois to New York about five years ago on a mountain bike not quite suited for the trip. The pair made it work nonetheless. “I had a blast doing it, so I planned this one and had it all set up and ready to go, and all that COVID stuff started happening,” Cotton explained. “I held off a month and then just did it anyways.”

Cotton left New York the last week of May and estimates his arrival in the Keys won’t be for at least another month and a half. He’s been visiting friends along the way, as he follows the path of the East Coast Greenway down the coast.

The East Coast Greenway takes travelers from Maine all the way down to Key West, guiding them through major cities, landmarks and parks that each state on the east coast has to offer. The Outer Banks is not exactly on the trail, but Cotton said he had heard great things about the barrier islands and wanted to check it out for himself.

The past week has brought some new sights for both Cotton and Ava. The 7-year-old canine was able to chase ghost crabs for the first time. “The puppy comes out in her,” Cotton chuckled as he looked to his longtime companion.


Ava, a 7 year old rescue that has traveled the world with her human companion, Kristopher Cotton. Danielle Puleo photo

Cotton shared that while he was living in Tucson, Arizona, he had found Ava on the side of the road and took her in. “She was the size of my hand,” he said. Since then, they have traveled the country together, by car, plane or bike.

Ava has her own spot on the trailer with a canopy made out of an abandoned chair and a little mat to keep her comfy. However, she has put in some serious miles on their journey south.

“When there’s big hills, she gets off and runs right next to me,” Cotton said. “We biked all the time where I was living without the trail. She knows exactly what to do.”

As for their plans when they do reach that final destination, Cotton said he’s still unsure. “I might buy a boat, I might sail, might go island hopping, might ride bike . . . I’m just doing it.”

The bicyclist has worked in several fields which would allow him job opportunities just about anywhere. From automotive work out west to gel coat fiberglass experience while working on boats up north to instructing snowboarding lessons, Cotton has built himself a broad resume over the years.

As for the 200-pound supply trailer itself, Cotton said it contains everything he and Ava need while exploring the coast. “This is all food,” he said motioning to a medium-sized cooler, containing mainly beans, rice, tuna and water. “I try to cook a lot myself.”

Other items on board include Ava’s food, water and toys, as well as clothes, toiletries, blankets, a tent, umbrella and other small miscellaneous items.

A conversation piece in and of itself, Cotton said when people see him, the trailer and his dog on the side of the road, they usually stop to ask what the setup is all about.


Kristopher Cotton packing up his trailer to hit the road and head to the Keys after staying at Bike Barn. Danielle Puleo photo

“Every state, I have just met incredible people,” he said. “I always meet good people, and whenever something bad happens, there seems to be a good stream of stuff that follows.”

Cotton said many have urged him to write a book about his journey, to which he replied:
“I would have no idea where to start.” Instead, he collects memories and photos which are shared with those he meets along the way.

The traveler mused that one day he might write his memories down to share to the world. For right now though, Cotton and Ava are enjoying the ride.


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