Nearly 10 years ago, Chris Bangs found himself itching to get out of the Garden City. He craved an adventure, something that could free him from the day-to-day grind of his house-painting job. The Missoula native wasn't exactly flush with cash, though.
His father—local real estate agent Collin Bangs—had heard enough grumbling. The elder Bangs, an avid cyclist, handed over his worn mountain bike and told his son that it's only 500 miles from Missoula to Wyoming's Grand Teton Mountains. Maybe he should start pedaling. "'Stop whining about what you can't do or don't have,'" Chris remembers his father saying. "'You just might enjoy it.'"
Chris took the advice. He headed south, pedaling over steep passes and sweeping valleys. "I found that I really enjoyed the freedom of long-distance bicycle touring," he says, "as well as the philosophy that it gave me." Stepping away from motorized transportation and his belongings, he found that he really didn't need much: just water, food, and his second-hand bicycle.
The liberation became addictive. Bangs went on to complete three additional expeditions, including a trip to Mount Rainier. Since the Teton trip, he's cycled 6,000 miles, climbed 11 summits, burned an estimated 650,000 calories—and found a new business and romantic partner in Canadian Justene Sweet. When the two met, Sweet immediately became enamored of Bangs and his lifestyle. "I was like, 'I want to do this,'" she recalls.
The pair recently launched a Bozeman-based nonprofit called Human-Powered Mountaineers, which, through a program in the Bozeman School District, teaches kids about health, nutrition, and self-reliance.
Bangs is training to set off on yet another expedition, this time with Sweet. The two are now charting a nearly 600-mile bicycle trip from Bozeman to the jagged Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia. They plan to tour organic farms en route, filming stops for a documentary that will be used later during educational appearances. It's a way to raise awareness about pesticide-free farming and healthy living while ridding themselves of one of the road's foremost hazards. "Surprisingly, the most difficult part about cycling a thousand miles to climb a dangerous mountain by myself is finding good food at a convenience store," Bangs says.