Talking with A teen with strong legs, stout ideals


Name: Zeke Gerwein
Age: 13
City: Berkeley
Pursuit: Departed San Diego June 15 on a 3,400-mile bike ride


J.: Last summer you got a proclamation of honor from the Berkeley City Council after riding your bike from the Mexican border to Seattle. Wasn’t 1,851 miles in 45 days enough?

Zeke Gerwein: This summer I’m doing 3,400 miles from San Diego along the [Pacific] Crest [Bicycle Trail] to Canada and back down. I had to skip 150 miles from Lake Isabella to Pinehurst [in the Bakersfield area] because of extreme heat. Since most people can’t take off an entire summer, different adults are riding along with me for a week at a time: family members, family friends and friends of friends.

Zeke Gerwein

J.: Why are you doing this?

ZG: I’m raising money for the Sierra Club. Climate change is a really major issue. With the drought in California, it’s becoming apparent that we really need to do more about climate change than we’re already doing. The United States has the second largest carbon footprint in the world, only surpassed by China, and we need to start doing more about lowering our carbon footprint. The Sierra Club is fighting against the Keystone Pipeline and making the world a better place. If we could do more to fight climate change, it would result in less natural disasters and be better for the biodiversity of the world, as well as for us humans.

J.: Do you feel you’re more worried about climate change than your fellow eighth-graders at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School? Why is it such a concern for you?

ZG: Almost everyone is aware of it, and knows it’s a huge disaster waiting to happen. I just wanted to try and do something about it. Last year I raised around $3,000, and my goal this year is to get more, though it might not be realistic as there’s less novelty this year in what I’m doing.

J.: You also once walked all of the city of Berkeley’s paths — over 13 miles — in a single day. Do you come from a family of serious hikers or bikers?

ZG: When I was 9, I don’t know why, but I was fixated on going north. I had a strange obsession with Alaska, so I started taking day rides. My dad would come with me, since I was so interested, and our rides got longer and longer, and I found that biking is a really enjoyable way to see the world.  My dad went with me on those day rides, so we got into it together. On this trip, he’s going for a week with me from Crater Lake in Oregon to Mt. Rainier in Washington, but other adults will be with me the rest of the time.

J.: You became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley earlier this year. Is this trip related? How does your Judaism tie into this?

ZG: This trip and last year’s trip were bar mitzvah tzedek projects, as is raising money for the Sierra Club.

J.: What do you plan to do next summer?

ZG: I hope to ride from Delaware to San Francisco, if I can find enough people to come with me.

What have you learned from cycling in this way?

ZG: The trip taught me that most people are kind. Before the trip, I read about murders, climate change and terrorism, which made me think that humans as a whole are terrible. Cycling the coast changed my mind.

This question is for your mom, Katya Gerwein, who’s a pediatrician. Is it hard as a parent to let your child do something like this?

Katya Gerwein: Yes, it’s hard. But he has a passion. Zeke gets called to things, it’s a very deep part of his soul, and it’s my job as his mom not to quash his dreams but to make sure he does it in as safe a way as possible. We have rules. He has to be with a grownup the whole way since neither of us can do it. He has to wear sunscreen, a sun shirt and a reflective vest. He uses routes that are safer, which are vetted by the Adventure Cycling Association. I started saying “no” instinctively because no one else had done this, but was gradually convinced over the years to try and see the risks with a clear eye rather than just say “no.”

Read Zeke’s blog updates at To donate, visit

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Headshot of Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."