Former Blaine resident embarks on cross-country journey

Published on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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<  Former Blaine resident Daniel Epstein, l, along with Elliott Bates and Will Butler, r, plan to ride from the international border in Blaine to Mexico in the next three months.

Last Tuesday afternoon three young men bicycled into Peace Arch State Park, circled one of the border monuments on the lawn and then rode south, headed for Mexico. Nothing much unusual about that, except the three are also partners in an outdoor referral service they’ve created called SWAE Sports.

The three month bike ride that began Tuesday afternoon is their way of launching the new company with an event that will draw attention. SWAE stands for snow, water, air and earth, which aside from Alan Shephard’s one-shot round of golf on the moon 37 years ago pretty much covers the possibilities.

“We figured the best way to launch our company was to do some grass roots networking,” said Blaine native Daniel Epstein. “We’ll be stopping at all the outdoor stores we can find, letting one referral and connection lead to another. This industry is one of the last tourist industry to take full advantage of what the internet can offer, and we see that as an opportunity.”

Epstein said that they want to support the individual customer looking for places to do their chosen sport but also want to support the industry. Purchase the annual $36 membership and their website says that “You will receive the raddest deals and the biggest discounts in the industry doing the things you love at your favorite gear shops, breweries, local joints, and on adventure sports.”

SWAE donates all the profits it makes from selling the cards to a deserving conservation or eco-friendly enterprise. Their first one is the 10 Bike Project, an effort to help market and fund the design, development, and production of a $10 bicycle that will be sold in developing world markets, meeting both a social and an environmental need.

Epstein moved away from Blaine to Bellevue while in middle school, but his brothers Matt (2002) and Josh (1998) finished high school here. He and his partners, Elliott Bates and Will Butler, are all University of Colorado graduates and still live in Boulder.

The trio is traveling light, especially Epstein. “All I need is a bag and a tarp and a few tools,” he said. His entire set of camping equipment, clothes and tools fits inside a couple of small bags that sit on top of his rear rack. Butler has that much and side bags, or panniers, as well, and Bates has that much plus a small 30-pound bike trailer.

Bates is pulling the heaviest load but is not using a so-called granny gear, an extra front sprocket that provides a kind of compound low gear that helps riders keep going up long steep hills. “My brother was a bike racer, and told me that if I put a granny gear on this bike he’d have to pound some sense into me,” Bates laughed.

With three months to ride from Blaine to Mexico, the group will wander around enough to almost double the 1,200 mile straight line distance. Epstein said that they will actually ride closer to 2,000 miles between now and September, and they can do that averaging less than 25 miles a day, a fairly easy distance.

They are on their own and have no escort, or “sag wagon” as it’s called by distance riders. “If something happens we have some things along, but if things get bad then we’ll have to ride somewhere or just hitch a ride,” Epstein said.

Their route included a stop at Blackberry House Cafe downtown. “The Tuskis are old friends,” Epstein said, “and then we’ll be staying with some Freemans in Bellingham tonight. Like the rest of Blaine, we’re all related to them,” he said, adding that they plan to visit several stores and outfitters in the area before heading south to Anacortes and into the San Juan Islands. They’ll return after a few days to cross Stevens Pass to Leavenworth and visit the many climbing and river guide services based there that serve the Cascades. They’ll next pass through the Seattle area and head west for the Olympic Peninsula, where they’ll pick up Highway 101, the road that with a lot of side trips will carry them all the way to Mexico. “We’ll use campgrounds a lot, but also just sleep outside if we need to,” Epstein said.

For more information, see their website at