Josh Cooper’s big adventure

Mimi Kates
Special to The Black Mountain News

Josh Cooper has never been afraid to try something new - or old.

Sporting a handlebar mustache and a black top hat, the 25-year-old cyclist can occasionally be seen downtown perched precariously atop the 46-inch-high wheel of a Penny Farthing.

Popular in the 1890s, this type of bicycle was named for its wheels’ resemblance to a penny and a farthing (two English coins of the time, one large, one small).

Cooper enjoys entertaining passersby, momentarily taking his hands off of the handlebars in order to twist the waxed “handlebars” of his mustache.

The old-style bicycle he rides belongs to Epic Cycles on Sutton Avenue where the walls are decorated with faded photos of vintage bicycles. The shop’s Penny Farthing is a modern replica.

An experienced bike mechanic with a passion for mountain bikes, Cooper landed his position as manager of the store three years ago. But an additional qualification really clinched the job for him.

During his job interview, he asked to try The Penny Farthing. When he mastered the unusual bike easily, Epic Cycles owner Alan Hightower hired him immediately. “They needed someone to ride it, and I was the only one who could stay on the thing,” Cooper said.

He admits to being somewhat of an adrenaline junkie who identifies with Helen Keller’s famous quote that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

No stranger to travel, this young man has seen Tibet, India, Panama, Sweden and Denmark. Cooper loves new places, “but,” he said, “it’s the people you meet along the way that form lasting impressions.”

Hightower supports the young man’s propensity for the open road. “It’s important to chase your dreams,” Hightower said.

Cooper will ride just about anything on wheels: a mountain bike, a Penny Farthing, even a unicycle. He took his Kawasaki dirt bike for a four-week spin in late September 2015, when he embarked on a cross-country trip via the Trans-America Trail with his older brother Moses.

The Trans-Am Trail, as it is commonly called, is a nearly 5,000-mile arduous off-road path. The route includes, “sections of mud, sand, snow and rocks,” according to

Cooper can attest to the mud. One day in Utah, the road was “like glue,” he recalled, and both dirt bikes became immobilized.

The brothers were stranded at 10,000 feet that night. Fortunately, the next morning they were rescued by two hunters. “It took three hours for them to tow us one mile down the hill,” Cooper said. “There was so much mud in the wheels they wouldn’t spin.”

In addition to the mud debacle, mechanical failures were a challenge. Cooper was thankful for his tool box and repair skills, but he had no replacement parts.

“We used a lot of Amazon Prime,” he recalled, “and a lot of ingenuity.”

In San Francisco, the two brothers rode across the Golden Gate Bridge three times. They even dared to venture down Lombard Street, known as the “Crookedest Street in The World” because of its eight hairpin turns.

When Cooper meets people who long to experience similar escapades, he tells them, “You can do this!” Bicycle and motorcycle travel can be inexpensive if you camp out and cook your own food, he said.

In the Black Mountain area, Cooper’s favorite mountain bike trail is Kitsuma, a 10-mile loop that starts near Interstate 40 in Ridgecrest and ascends to the top of Mount Mitchell by way of the Old Toll Road. The route was first used by the Mount Mitchell Railroad and Logging Co. and was converted to a toll road at the end of World War I.

Cooper appreciates Kitsuma’s terrain as well as its history.

“People used to drive their Model Ts up there back in the day,” he said. He stressed the importance of having a capable mountain bike for this trail. There are more than a dozen switchbacks during a climb of more than 3,100 feet, not to mention a “hair-raising descent,” according to “You can’t take your average Walmart bike up there,” Cooper said.

Although he’s been home from the Trans-America trip only since November, Cooper doesn’t intend to stay put for too long. But he will avoid mud on his next excursion - scuba diving in Mexico.

“Embracing the mystery” is what life is all about, Cooper said. He encourages everyone to “get out there and explore.”

For most people, it’s just a matter of taking that first step. “If you buy the ticket, you’ll take the ride,” he said.