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The Finish Line- Reflections, Butterflies, and the Brooklyn Bridge

I awoke in Doylestown, PA at a moldy motel that smelled like a wet ashtray.  The area was undergoing a heat wave, and the circa 1980's AC unit had vents covered in black mold that were making me ill. 

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Each time I would turn it off, my headache and cough would improve but I would start to sweat, and found myself turning it back on to sleep.  I played this game of off and on all night and by the time morning arrived, I had a terrible cough and felt completely worn down.  I spent the morning ride coughing up black death and drinking lots of water.  I could feel the fresh air helping me detoxify from the exposure, and my spirits were being lifted from the peaceful views of the river beside me.

Lifting my spirits

Lifting my spirits

.  I pulled up to Washington's Crossing Memorial Park, where Washington and his troops had crossed the Delaware river in the Winter of 1776 to turn the tide for the revolutionary war.  I sneaked next to a guided tour and eavesdropped as the tour guide brought the history to life with a passionate description of the events. I took a moment to peruse the statues and such and crossed over the bridge, arriving in New Jersey, my 13th state. 

Washington's Crossing Memorial Park

Washington's Crossing Memorial Park

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State 13- New Jersey

State 13- New Jersey

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As I rolled over the bridge, I pictured Washington and 2,600 starving and freezing men crossing the ice-choked river on Christmas in 1776.  Picturing their struggles and dedication really put my little mold exposure in perspective.  The ride from there was rather peaceful as it took me on a scenic trail with the Delaware on one side and a slow moving river on the other.  The smaller river produced a stunning mirror image of the trees above, highlighting the subtle hues of the colors of the coming Fall.  

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I navigated back onto a busy road and arrived in Princeton, stopping to tour around the well manicured Ivy League campus.  As I stood there stretching my arm into the sky for a selfie, I realized that I had been standing directly between a wedding photographer and a bride and groom for several minutes and an entire crowd had been staring at me with disgust.  I was so embarrassed that I hopped on my bike and sped away from the crowd. 

Princeton

Princeton

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I made it towards the outskirts of the city and onto a busy highway and arrived at my motel.  As I had moved closer towards the coast, the increasing population density had made it hard to find camping options and the motel prices became astronomical.  One of the cheapest motels I could find, turned out to be the nicest accommodation of my trip and I welcomed the clean spacious room in light of the moldy death trap in Doylestown.

A welcomed bit of affordable luxury  

A welcomed bit of affordable luxury  

    I awoke rested and felt much better and headed on towards Hazlet, NJ on the jersey shore.  Navigating through the traffic was challenging and I found myself making most left turns using pedestrian walkways for safety as the motorists had become more honk happy and aggressive.  I arrived at a cheap motel, about 6 miles away from the Jersey Shore.  It had taken me over half an hour to get across the highway to the motel entrance and I was too spent to return to the rush hour traffic to go see the Atlantic coast.  I had waited over 100 days for it, and it could wait one more.
    The next morning I had a video interview with the Christian Post in Manhattan and woke up early and left without my bike to take a train followed by several subways towards the city.  I missed the first train after neglecting to see a sign that all services were leaving from the opposite side of the tracks.  Google suggested that I would arrive at the building at 1258 for the 100 interview, assuming I made my subway transfers flawlessly.  After months of mostly solitude riding through quiet farm country all across the US, the hustle and bustle and busyness of New York was somewhat overwhelming.  I managed to swim through the sea of pushy and noisy people, figure out two subway transfers, and arrive at the building just in time for the interview.  They set me up in a chair surrounded by lights and cameras.  Beyond the gorgeous Australian reporter, out the 30 story skyscraper window, I could see the World Trade Center memorial.  It was such an exciting feeling, I had made it to New York, although not quite yet on my bike.

Missing the train

Missing the train

Interview with Christian Post

Interview with Christian Post

After the interview, I walked around the city with my camera, stopping for a couple slices of New York pizza, visiting the WTC memorial museum, and taking pictures of the magnificent architecture. 

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

Chopper at 9/11 museum

Chopper at 9/11 museum

By the time I made it back through the subway, and rode the train to my motel in Jersey, I was again completely exhausted.  I decided that reaching the Atlantic coast with my bicycle could wait yet another day.
    The morning brought on such an exciting feeling.  This was the day I had been dreaming of for so long.  I coasted through the honking traffic towards the coast until I began to smell the ocean and hear the seagulls.  After looking at all my options, I had decided to take a ferry into Manhattan as there was no safe way to get there with a bicycle and for all intents and purposes, I was about to reach the coast, marking the completion of riding coast to coast. I made it to the shore at about 8 in the morning, and bought a ferry ticket scheduled for 930, so that I could see the ocean.  I rode over a ridge and down to the beach until my tires began kicking up clumps of brown sludgy sand.  I stood next to my bike as the tide sifted over my sandals. I picked up the hulking machine of steel and wheels and camping gear that I had dipped in the Pacific ocean a little over 3 months ago, and dropped its wheels into the wavering tide of the Atlantic.  This is a custom for transAmerica cyclists, and it was an amazing feeling.

The Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean

Dipping my wheels in the Atlantic

Dipping my wheels in the Atlantic


    I strapped my bike to the bow of the ferry, and sat at a window seat, gently rocking back and forth as the statue of liberty grew in size while the boat approached the clustered grandeur of the Manhattan metropolis.  I thought about all the immigrants over the years that had arrived after long journeys and had stared at the same statue as it welcomed them to a land of promises and opportunity.  I walked my bike off the boat and began riding in the general direction of the Brooklyn Bridge until I found myself directly under the massive strings of coiled steel.  A friendly girl named Soomi rode up on her bicycle and started inquiring about my ride.  She explained that she had also crossed the country with a bicycle, twice, and in seeing my bags, she knew what I must be feeling.  After giving me a long list of directions to ride to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, she said, "You know what, I am off today, I'll just show you how to get there."  Soomi was a local girl, and was clearly more seasoned than me at navigating through the insanity of New York traffic, and I followed behind her nervously weaving around delivery trucks, taxicabs, homeless people, and through busy alleyways.  In following her, I realized that you had to take on the aggressive mentality of the city or you would be forever waiting behind people.  It still felt incredibly dangerous to plow in front of and in-between the sea of honking vehicles and hollering people.  She stopped and yelled, "quick, there is a gap, hand me your phone and ride out in the middle of the road."  Without hesitation, she snapped a picture of me in front of One world trade center, before the next stream of cars arrived, then took me all the way to the entrance of the bridge. 

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

Soomi and me

Soomi and me

I thanked Soomi for her generous help, and stood there for a moment just feet away from the Brooklyn Bridge and thought back to the first time I remember really beginning to visualize this trip.  

    It was a couple years ago, and I recall sitting at my computer for the third night in a row writing papers for school. I found myself taking a break and staring at a photograph my friend had given me of the Pacific ocean at sunset.  It was a simple photo of what looked like Malibu, with radiant pinks and oranges resting above an infinite blue ocean.  On this particular night, I had placed the photograph under my computer screen to remind me of my dream of crossing America on a bicycle, and it stayed in that spot for the coming months.  At the time, I worked the night shift at a rural hospital and kept the same schedule on my days off, staying awake all night so that I could minimize my distractions to keep focused on my educational goals.  I woke up at the same time each evening, and sat in that sterile office typing away by myself under a special lamp that I had bought to mimic the sunlight.  For many months, I would stare at that picture periodically as a mental escape from the long hours of work and school and solitude. I imagined dipping the wheels of my bicycle into the Pacific ocean that I saw in that picture, then getting on my bike and riding until I hit the Atlantic.  I pictured boiling water with a camp stove and making coffee next to a tent each morning in different towns across the country, and spending each day talking to people about the miracle that had happened in my life.  I pictured filming the stories of people from many different walks of life.  I wanted to spread a message across all of America.  A message of encouragement.  A message of hope.  For I had experienced a spiritual shift in my life that was nothing short of a miracle.  My life had been fully restored, and yet I couldn't forget the life that I had been saved from.  For I remember when I was not at all hopeful.


    I remember combing through the carpet looking for lost crack rocks for hours on end.  I remember the taste of blood in my mouth, that salty metallic taste, as it would pool behind my swelling lips all those times I got beat up on the streets.  I remember a needle dangling in my arm as I awoke to the loud knock on a bathroom door as some friends found me slumped on the floor, teetering in and out of consciousness. I remember running from terrifying hallucinations after a week long meth binge, stopping in a motel lobby and pleading with the motel clerk for a glass of water before "they" took me away.  In my mind, the motel I had entered on that day was surrounded by a swat team,  and I could hear helicopters circling in to get me.  There were no real helicopters, just me, another crazed addict begging for a glass of water and frightening the poor clerk with my drug induced psychosis.  Drugs came and went in my life until the later years when I narrowed it down to my true obsession and preference, alcohol.  I remember shaking so bad that one hobo had to hold my body and trembling head while another poured a jug of vodka into my mouth to keep me from seizing.  It took about a quart to get the shaking to stop in those days, and I recall lying there one day thinking about what I had become.  A helpless baby wearing adult rags being fed out of a big plastic bottle.  My hazy, pickled brain knew only one thing to be certain in those days- I knew I had passed the point of no return.  I knew my life would soon end.  I hoped that the next life, if anything was to come next, would be less difficult to manage. I remember lying on the side of the road in winter, being dragged into a police car to be rescued after nearly freezing to death.  Come to find out much later, this was always my mother's worst fear.  She cried herself to sleep many nights praying that she wouldn't get that call that her son was found frozen.  They had tried everything to get me to change but the bottom line is change has to be an intrinsic desire and it took a long time for me to decide I wanted it. I remember all those sobering moments when I would awake from a drunken stupor and think about all the people I had once loved, and had lost, and all the hurt I had caused everyone from my selfishness.  No words are capable of describing the depth of the loneliness and regrets and guilt that I felt in those days.  They were feelings that were impossible to handle without masking them with booze.  I deeply longed for the people that were once in my life.  I grieved every day for the loss of my parents, my brothers, and my once close friends.  I grieved them because I didn't think I would ever see them again, let alone have much of a relationship.  I also thought a lot about the closest person I had ever had in my life.  Someone that loved and understood me far more intimately than the short years I had with her could explain, my grandma Bobby.  I often wondered what my grandma was thinking as she looked down from heaven on the stumbling selfish mess of rags that I had become.        
    My grandma had a thing for butterflies.  Before she passed, she told me that when she died, if she could, she would show her presence in my life by showing up as a butterfly.  Years later, after the spiritual restoration had begun in my life, and I was working to rebuild everything I had destroyed, her words about butterflies became rather significant for me.  I recall as I first trained for my nursing career, I spent a lot of time doubting if I would ever be good enough to make it.  I remember the first day I put on scrubs and I got in my car and was on my way to clinicals at a hospital after triple checking that I had my name badge, my stethoscope, and my penlight.  I was so nervous that I was shaking.  I pulled up to a stoplight and a butterfly landed on my windshield and I felt a calm come over me that lasted through the entire day. I knew somehow, that it was my grandma.  I was no longer nervous, and I entered each room with confidence, and began helping patients.  I realized that nursing was not only something that I could do, but something that filled me with so much joy that it practically radiated out of me.  I also knew that my grandma was watching over me, and I knew that she was proud of me.  She was proud of me when I bear knuckled the first few months of sobriety at Providence House, and even more proud when months became years.  She was proud of me when I went back to school.  She was there when I failed that first test and she listened as a teacher told me that she thought I had a learning disability.  She listened patiently when the teacher told me I should consider dropping her class.  She was proud of me when I refused to quit, and when I brought my grade in that class up to a B by the end of the semester.  I felt her presence each night as I studied harder, semester after semester, until one day I looked at my report card and saw nothing but A's.  I stepped out into my garden that day and kid you not, a butterfly flew next to me fluttering its wings with rhythmic grace.  My grandma was there with me when I started helping other addicts get sober.  I remember one afternoon as I left the salvation army after volunteering my time to counsel other addicts and there she was beneath a ray of sun as I got into my car, my grandma, flying around my head, making sure I knew that she was watching, and making sure I knew she was proud.  She was also there when I decided to risk my future and career by putting it all out there to the public- the shameful actions of my past, the drunkenness, the drug use, all the things that could stigmatize me and close doors in my future career and relationships.  I remember a moment of panic as I was first developing this fundraiser when I realized that I was beginning to reveal intimate details about my past that could one day come back to haunt me. As I considered filtering my message with vagueness about my past, I stepped away from my computer and out into the yard and saw her flying next to me and I knew the answer.  I knew I had to talk about all this embarrassing stuff that I felt so inclined to keep private. I knew I had to, even if I didn't want to, because it might help addicts and their family members gain hope.  I also knew that even if all this disclosure about my jagged past closed certain doors in my future, it would open even better ones.  My grandma was there with me countless times as I crossed the country sharing my message of hope with my ever pedaling bicycle.  Even though there were many times that I felt like giving up on this journey, and many times where I became frustrated, scared, lonely, uncomfortable, and exhausted.  There were a whole lot of butterflies. 

    
    I pulled up to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge on the same bike that had glided through a swirling fog on the Golden Gate Bridge a few months before.  My once shiny neon bags were now wrinkled and caked with dirt, sweat, and even blood.  The camping and rain gear in my bags smelled like mildew, and my water bottles had been filled from camping spigots, motel sinks, gas station faucets, and the garden hoses outside of the homes of friendly Americans across 14 different states.  As I approached, I thought of all the new friends that I had made on the journey to get there, all the prayers that had kept me safe, and all the times that I had felt I was in way over my head with this crazy idea.  I had thought of this day, every day, for over three months of pedaling, and realistically, for years before that.  It felt so surreal to be riding up to a place that I had envisioned for so long in my mind. I thought of what this trip had signified for me, and all the people that might find some hope from the message that I brought with me and shared freely everywhere I went.  I had talked to parents that had lost their kids to addictions.  I talked to kids that wanted to call their parents but were still getting high.  I had shared my story with countless addicts that were contemplating relapse, hoping that my example might stop even just one of them from doing so.  I shared my message with cyclists, restaurant workers, motel clerks, townsfolk, dog walkers, farmers, ranchers, homeless people, shopkeepers, and town drunks.  I gave talks and filmed interviews at churches, homeless shelters, and recovery homes as I passed through hundreds of towns over mountains, plains, deserts, and busy cities.  All the places and people and conversations had lead to this beautiful coiled structure of steel and granite sitting beyond the New York skyline- The Brooklyn Bridge.


    I had contacted a videographer from Craigslist named Samuel, to film for the day and I met him near rows of hot dog and gyro stands where tourists swarmed towards the entrance to the bridge's walking and bike path.  Tourists were everywhere with cameras dangling around their necks, speaking in a variety of accents. As I casually talked to Samuel about filming, my friend from childhood, Ted, walked up behind me and I nearly jumped as he tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, I think I know you from somewhere."  He had driven 6 hours from Pittsburgh to surprise me and celebrate my finish.  I was overjoyed.

Ted surprising me on the bridge

Ted surprising me on the bridge

  My parents, and Karen and Denise, two Providence Network staff members, flew out from Denver to celebrate my finish as well, and I saw my parents approach, followed by Karen and Denise.  My mom had rented a bicycle to cross the finish with me and my dad passed out signs for Karen, Denise, and Ted to hold while they cheered me on. They made their way further up the bridge to await our crossing as so many emotions began coming to the surface.  All the times where this had seemed like an impossible reality, all the doubts, all the pain, all the planning, all the struggle, everything had all lead up to this very day. 
    We walked our bikes a little ways up the bridge and found a good clearing to stand and take some photos of the city behind us before fully crossing.  I looked at the towering skyline and the pigeons flying downwards in groups for breadcrumbs at the open public space between my bicycle and the bustling metropolis.  A group of street performers were arriving with PA speakers on dollies and preparing to wow the tourists with their talents in the park at the end of the bridge.  The sky was a clear blue and the sun gleamed and sparkled off of the rows of glass and steel towering in the distance.  It was so beautiful.  I looked next to me and saw something far more beautiful, my mom, standing there, equally as stoic as those buildings, full of pride, and sporting a Colorado cycling jersey, ready to join me as I fulfilled my dream.  This was the same woman that had accepted that she would have to bury me a little over seven years ago.  The same woman that had tried everything to get me help, but eventually had to detach, and grieve the loss of me, waiting for that dreaded call.  Yet none of that really mattered now to either of us.  Forgiveness is such a beautiful thing.  God had healed us to the point that it was as if it had all been forgotten, and we were now just two close friends out for a ride.  A butterfly fluttered down out of nowhere and landed on my moms jersey to rest.  We were on the bridge, far away from any flowers, and yet there it was.  It was my grandma.  My moms eyes swelled with tears of joy and she said that same thing she always says when we see a butterfly, "hi grandma".  Tears were now rolling off her cheeks as it circled around me and flew off.  In that moment I could feel her there with us, just as I had felt her the entire trip, and she was so proud. 

She was proud that I had made it through all the physical challenges to get there.  She was proud of all the money I had raised for the new youth recovery home for Providence Network.  She was probably most proud though, to see our family restored to the way it used to be.  To see my mom and me finishing this journey together, with my dad and friends by our side.


    The pedestrian and bike path on the Brooklyn Bridge is set up with one side for pedestrians going both directions and the other for cyclists going both directions and has a line dividing the two in the middle.  The area was barely wide enough for two bikes to cross, so riding together was a little difficult, especially with the swarms of other tourists taking photos, oblivious to the fact that one side was for cyclists.  We waited for a gap in the cycling traffic, and took off riding away from the city.  We crossed the bridge together, weaving in and out of careless tourists and other cyclists commuting to work. 

My mom and me

My mom and me

As we approached the end of the bridge, I could see the glowing faces of my loving dad, Ted, Karen, and Denise, holding signs and hollering, "Yay Spencer, you did it!"  It was one of the best days of my life.


    This trip and blog is for the addicts and alcoholics still bound by the limitations of their addictions.  May they find themselves free one day, as I have.  It is for the people in early sobriety that know they will never make it.  May they one day know that they will never need to drink or use again.  It is for the people with a year or two of sobriety that are fantasizing about going back out.  May they stop fantasizing, and hang on, and learn to enjoy all the other things that they have gained back with their sobriety until life becomes exciting and adventurous again, just like mine has become.  It is for the people that think that they will never have fun while being sober.  May they seek adventure, and go out and explore the world, and find all the good and wholesome people that I found on this journey.  It is for the parents that have lost loved ones to addictions.  May they find acceptance and peace.  I can only hope I honored them with this ride in some way.  It is for the lives of the young people that will be served by this new home.  May they experience the grace that I have, and go on to see the world that was revealed to me on this trip- adventurous, hopeful, and brimming with random kindness around every turn of the handlebars.
    Thanks for reading and all the prayers, shares, comments, and donations.  I have raised over $57,000 for the new youth home thanks to all of your incredible generosity.  The fundraiser is open until 10/1, and I still remain hopeful of somehow reaching my goal of $100,000.   If you haven't yet donated, please do so, and help other young adults experience the transformation that I experienced at Providence House.  Thanks to all of you that believed in my crazy dream, and all the love and support along the way. 

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Pennsylvania is a long state: Burnt Cabins to Doylestown

I woke up at my campsite next to the peaceful sounds of a stream in Burnt Cabins, PA at the historic Grist Mill, a river-powered flour mill from the 1750's that was still functional and churning out flour products.  The owner explained that I had a decent climb ahead to get out of the Allegheny Mountains but the rest of the day would be milder, rolling hills.  I dropped into a low gear as a fog sank over the trees and found a steady pace while thinking about the satisfying fact that this was the last major mountain range of the trip.  The Sierras, Rockies, Ozarks, Appalachians, and Alleghenys all about to be behind me.  At the summit, I found Cowan's Gap State Park, a magnificent 42 acre lake surrounded by dense trees.  I coasted around the lake with a feeling of accomplishment, and began the decent towards Chambersburg. 

Cowan's Gap State Park

Cowan's Gap State Park

After a restful sleep at a Chambersburg motel, I returned to the quiet and green rolling hills which were starting to show some glimpses of Fall.  Yellow, orange, and red leaves were appearing in patches to contrast the green crops and trees, offering me a taste of the beauty that would be arriving in a month or so.  It dawned on me how strange it had been, watching the seasons come and go from my ever-pedaling bicycle seat.  I started this journey with freezing temperatures, numb fingers and toes, snow, chilling rains, and balls of hail that pierced my face.  I watched the flowers start to bloom around me as the air became warm and floral.  Then came nights in my tent stretched out as puddles of sweat formed between my skin and sleeping bag while the Summer temperatures climbed towards their peak.  Now Fall, my favorite of the seasons, would soon begin, and I was still huffing along on the same bike seat, cranking away at the pedals, welcoming the new colors and breezes.  It was truly a unique opportunity to experience the way the world around me subtly became new and different each day.

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    I passed my fifth large billboard with a grey-bearded man wearing a top hat, advertising for Mister ED's Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium.  Several miles later I reached the place and was too curious not to stop.  The outside of the building had several elephant statues and the inside sold fudge and other homemade candies, as well as hundreds of varieties of elephant-related novelties: figurines of all sizes, keychains, coasters, and anything else you could think of putting an elephant on.  Although disappointed that there were no real elephants in the elephant museum, I enjoyed some fudge and chocolate bacon soda,  before continuing to Gettysburg. 

Mister Ed's Elephant Museum

Mister Ed's Elephant Museum

Breakfast in a bottle

Breakfast in a bottle

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I rode next to the Gettysburg battlefield and took a reverential moment to appreciate the history of the civil war battle before continuing on to York to meet my Uncle Buzz.

Gettysburg  

Gettysburg  

Posing with Abe

Posing with Abe

    My Aunt Sheri, Uncle Buzz, and cousins live in Harrisburg, and my route traveled just South of their house, so my Uncle Buzz picked me up in York for the visit.  On the drive North, my uncle reflected on his own days roughing it on the oil rigs, eating cans of franks n'beans and I shared with him some of my own camping concoctions like sausages and ramen, a calorie dense favorite.  They ordered a Philly cheese steak pizza from a place around the corner and we drove to cousin Steve's for birthday cake with his wife, Stephanie, and their teenage boys, Chris and Cameron. 

Steve

Steve

The Fam

The Fam

I have always idolized my cousin Steve.  As a kid, I remember coming to visit Steve and his brother Tim, and from a 10 year old's perspective, they were about as cool as you could get.  Steve had long hair, was the biggest Broncos fan I had ever met, listened to metal, and was a rock DJ.  He is now a local celebrity as he works as a meteorologist and newscaster at the local CBS station, and he arranged for me to meet another reporter in the morning at the Bethesda Mission to film a little news piece about my ride and my work with the homeless. 

Steve and me at Bethesda Mission

Steve and me at Bethesda Mission

I was granted a tour of the mission which looked like an old church on the outside but had a tremendous amount of modern services inside.  They provide shelter, meals, and medical/ dental care to hundreds of men, women, and children in the Harrisburg area.  They also have drug and alcohol counseling and services and I had the privilege to meet some of the graduates and interview graduate who happened to be volunteering at the mission cooking residents' meals.  It was so encouraging to see that other people were getting sober, and then turning around and giving back to others, as was the spirit of my ride.
    My uncle took me to a bike shop to get some repairs.

Making sure it makes it to NY

Making sure it makes it to NY

  While we waited, he took out his phone and showed me a map of Harrisburg and explained the historical significance of Harrisburg in the civil war and then took me on a cruise bringing the battle to life.  This trip had afforded me a lot of time to learn about American history, making me appreciate our country more than ever before.  In the evening, I met a videographer named Kurt that I had contacted through Craigslist to help with the film.  We drove to a park that overlooked the city and he filmed me riding while the sun was setting across the city skyline. 

We got to talking, and he explained that he had felt compelled to donate his time to help with the project because he was also in recovery and was five years sober.  He agreed to let me turn the camera around on him and interview him about his story.  I felt like I had made another important friend, bonded by our similar desires to help others. 

Kurt the videographer

Kurt the videographer

In terms of produce, I had arrived at the perfect time for fresh vegetables and my Aunt made me BLT's with lettuce and tomatoes grown out of the garden by my Uncle Buzz.

Uncle Buzz's tomatoes

Uncle Buzz's tomatoes

    The next day, my cousins Chris and Cameron came over with Steve and we played whiffle ball in the yard.  I remember Steve showing me how to pitch "like Roger Clemens" with a whiffle ball as a kid, and it was an amazing moment to be all these years later, playing the same game with his kids.

Steve teaching us how to scuff  

Steve teaching us how to scuff  

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Cameron pitching

Cameron pitching

  My uncle and Chris dug fresh potatoes out of the garden and cooked an enormous feast of steak, fresh sweet corn, mashed potatoes,  and garden veggies.

Eating good

Eating good

 I spent the evening sitting in my Aunt's office as she told me stories until late in the night.  My Aunt is one of those rare people that has the ability to engage you in interesting conversation for hours enabling you to forget that time even exists.  She has such a fascinating way of looking at the world and is one of the few people that I know that makes people instantly comfortable by her conversation.  I thought about how I would have lost these moments had my addictions continued to rule my life.  You only get one family, and spending time with my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins reminded me how important family really is since in my worst of days, I had not only lost the connection to my immediate family, but my extended family as well.  I fell asleep feeling grateful for their forgiveness and the time I got to spend getting a glimpse of their lives in Pennsylvania.
    My Uncle dropped me off where he had picked me up in York and I coasted through the Amish farm country sharing the road with buggies and Amish cyclists while dodging horse manure along the roadside.  The streets were lined with fruit and vegetable stands where the Amish sold produce and baked goods.  My Aunt had reached out to a friend in the area who had arranged for me to stay at a recovery home called Revelation of Freedom Ministries (ROFM) near Blue Ball, PA. 

ROFM

ROFM

I pulled up and was greeted by several young guys who had been eagerly anticipating my arrival.  The residents were mostly in their twenties, and were in their first 6 months of sobriety.  They showed me to a shower and a clean bed and cooked me an incredible dinner of grilled chicken, burgers, and Lancaster County sweet corn. 

Getting blessed with a meal

Getting blessed with a meal

Grace with new friends

Grace with new friends

After dinner, they built a bonfire and we sat around the dancing flames as I shared my testimony while the sun escaped behind the hills.  It grew dark and the stars emerged and each guy began praying for me, some of them opening up about how my story had helped them gain hope.  One of the guys told me about how he had lost his health to his addictions and explained that he probably wouldn't be around much longer but it was okay because he had found Jesus.  Joyful tears rolled off his face as he told me that he knew he would see me in heaven.  I encouraged each of them to hang on and to dream big and could feel the presence of God connecting and healing us.

Bonfire testimony

Bonfire testimony

  As I watched them living in the community setting, helping each other with their struggles, I was reminded of living at Providence House in my own early sobriety.  There was something powerful about coming home each day from work and sharing meals and bible studies with others who knew, to some extent, what I was going through.  Although some of them didn't make it, many of my closest friends today developed out of those early dinner conversations at Providence House.  I remember Barb, who was covered in tattoos and had battled years of addictions and abuse.  I recall one day when she showed me her ankle monitor and talked about all the stresses in her life at that point.  I remember thinking how impossible it seemed for her to deal with everything she was up against holding a job at Blockbuster, dealing with legal issues, strained relationships with her daughters, and all the emotional baggage that came from being a domestic violence survivor.  While I was on the trip, she graduated college and is now a certified addictions counselor running her own women's recovery home and is over 7 and a half years sober.  Barb is just one of many that were healed at Providence House, that went on to dedicate their lives to serving others. I could see the same type of healing happen at ROFM that happened at Providence House, and it was a truly spiritual experience.  I couldn't help but wonder if some of these guys would end up close friends like I had become with Barb and so many others from those early meals together at Providence House.  It was the sense of family that made Providence House really work, and this place reminded me so much of that special time of healing for me.
    In the morning, I joined Larry and Richie, two of the staff members at ROFM for coffee on their back porch.  Larry had been sober over 11 years, and radiated with kindness and humility.  Richie is a writer and artist, and explained that he planned to write a poem about the trip for me, which he later posted to Facebook, and it was both touching, and showed incredible writing talent.

Larry and me at ROFM

Larry and me at ROFM

We said our goodbyes and I headed up the road to meet Connie, my Aunt's friend, for breakfast at Shady Maple Smorgasbord, a world famous buffet restaurant.  As I approached, I pictured a small diner restaurant with a salad bar line, fitting the size of the nearby towns.  As I pulled into the parking lot, my stomach rejoiced at the sight of all the cars, since lots of cars usually means lots of food.  I cut it a little too close to an Amish buggy on the way into the parking lot, nearly getting trampled by the horse, which added to the authenticity of eating at Pennsylvania's most famous restaurant.  I found Connie and we proceeded to join hundreds of others in the dining room.  The buffet itself stretched for thousands of feet in different sections and offered every breakfast item I had ever dreamed of.  It even had some I had never even heard of, including regional items like scrapple, whoopie pies, and shoe fly pie.  I filled plate after plate with delicious fruit, greasy meats, and baked goods.

My warmup plates at Shady Maple Smorgasbord

My warmup plates at Shady Maple Smorgasbord

  I could see why my Aunt had been friends with Connie for so many years as I was immediately put at ease by her friendly conversation and charm.  She shared with me that it was her 56th wedding anniversary and that her husband had passed away over 6 years ago.  I felt touched that I could share a meal with her on such a special day.

Connie and me in my heaven

Connie and me in my heaven

  I left fully fueled for a long day of cycling out of Amish country towards Philadelphia, before shifting directions North to Doylestown.  I passed a prison, then circled through a mental health hospital, and then watched a homeless man escaping into the woods with a tall can of beer.  I felt like God was reminding me of where I would be, had I not decided to change, if I would be alive at all.  As I coasted next to the long stretch of curled barb wire, I thought about how close I had been to finding myself on the other side of the fence.  If I had lived to see 34, I would have certainly been in one of those places.  I realized how blessed I was to be rolling along taking in the fresh air and views, no longer trapped in the misery and loneliness of my addictions.  I had been set free, to live a life of adventures and purpose and hope.  Thanks for all the prayers, shares, likes, comments, and donations.  I truly appreciate all the love and support.

I must be on the right street

I must be on the right street

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Pittsburgh to Burnt Cabins, PA

I coasted into Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River as people began their weekends tailgating in docked boats with welcoming smiles until I met up with my childhood friend, Ted, in front of his apartment on the North Shore. After checking out his pad, we picked up some Gyros from an authentic little hole-in-the-wall, walked through the city, and ate them on the stairs in front of a multicolored fountain at Point State Park. The park overlooks the point of confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers as they form the Ohio River and provided a spectacular view of Pittsburgh on a busy summer Friday night.

View from Points Park

View from Points Park

We could hear a Blues Traveler concert from Stage AE on the other side of the river and that iconic 90's tune, "Run Around," echoed off the hills behind us as grease and Tzatziki sauce dribbled off our faces next to young couples necking and laughing by the river. We strolled by a statue of Pittsburgh's own, Mr. Rogers, tying his shoe.

Won't you be my neighbor? 

Won't you be my neighbor? 

We talked late into the night, awoke equally late and wandered back into the city with my camera filming the bustling marketplace along the Strip District. The street was lined with open vendors selling Steelers gear, flowers, and art.

Walking the Strip District

Walking the Strip District

We stopped at Primanti Bros, a legendary Pittsburgh hotspot. The walls were lined with pictures of celebrities enjoying their signature sandwiches topped with fries and slaw. 

We later joined up with John, a photography student that I had contacted through Craigslist, to help me film some riding shots through the city. 

Where's Spencer? 

Where's Spencer? 

The three of us filmed some scenes and crossed a bridge to meet my brother, Ryan, who had just moved to Pittsburgh a week before my arrival. I checked out his near-empty apartment and we made our way with my bike to the rooftop for a photo shoot before further exploring the city.

Checking out the view from the roof

Checking out the view from the roof

We ate dinner at a meatball-themed restaurant which allowed you to mix and match various types of balls and sauces. Both Ted and my brother explained that they would cover my meals for the visit, which meant no more gas station food and trail mix... I would be eating like a guy that hadn't quit his job. 

Two brothers eating meatballs

Two brothers eating meatballs

In the morning we rode up the Duquesne Incline, an historic trolley car that climbs a hill overlooking the city.

We strolled along the rim of the hill, taking in the views before riding another incline back down. Continuing to explore, we got in Ted's car and drove to the Cathedral of Learning, a 42 story Late Gothic Revival Cathedral at the University of Pittsburgh. The Cathedral, referred to as "Cathy" by Pitt students, contained over 2000 rooms which serve as administrative offices and classrooms. The main level has a 4 story vaulted Gothic study and event hall and was surrounded by 29 Nationality Rooms representing various countries. It reminded me a lot of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series.

Hogwarts

Hogwarts

We took an elevator to the top and watched the sun glimmer on the towering skyline and rivers below us before strolling through the rest of the campus to the remnants of Forbes Field, the former Pittsburgh Pirates baseball field, now largely unrecognizable and covered up by a campus building. There was a gold plate near the restrooms marking the location of the former home plate, and I could picture Babe Ruth hitting his last two home runs just a few feet from where I had stopped to pee.

A few of the outfield walls had been saved, and we paused for some pics before visiting some high school friends, Mike and Carrie, in their nearby apartment.

Carrie, Mike, and me

Carrie, Mike, and me

The next day we took in some real baseball at a Pirates game and met some of Ted's friends from college. After a few innings, a storm drenched the ballpark and we took cover, huddled uncomfortably close to thousands of other fans. After months of lonely open roads and little but my own thoughts, I felt invigorated by all the stimulus. I could tell that this city would serve Ryan well as he seemed equally excited by all that was happening as the city worked to reinvent itself to accommodate a new wave of growth. As we perused the ballpark, I found myself comforted to be around my brother and Ted. There are few people I can allow my weird self to really surface, and it was relieving to delve into the world of inside jokes with people that really get me.

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Pirates game

Pirates game

Time does something remarkable to friendships. As the years have passed, I have found that I can now count my close friends pretty easily with the fingers of both hands, or perhaps one. The friendships that remain from childhood have become more important and meaningful with time. I met Ted when I was about 7 years old. We spent our summers at the pool, recording radio shows on cassette tapes, and riding our bikes around the neighborhood. We have traveled to 19 countries together — visiting Mexico as teenagers and backpacking through Europe after College. When my addictions hit their peak, Ted and some friends held a bit of an intervention for me, but I refused to accept that I had a problem. Things became distant between us when I was living in squat motels, shelters, and on the streets. I was both unreachable and ashamed by what I had become.

There were many nights that I found myself staring at the stars, shivering, nauseated, and shaking, wishing I could talk to Ted, my parents, or another close friend. All those nights squatting out with lowlifes, waking up to stumbling drunks and drug deals, bloody fights, and people trying to go through my pockets, made me long for the connections I once had and the simplicity and safety of my youth. I longed for sledding and snow caves, splashing around at the pool, and dreaming of getting rich with a lemonade stand.

Recovery is so much more than just sobriety. It requires forgiveness from those that are willing, and involves the restoration of relationships with friends and family. I have been so blessed in this regard, as my family and friends not only forgave me, but have continued to encourage and support my recovery. In the initial planning stages of this trip, I decided to make sure I stopped in Pittsburgh to see my friend Ted, as there are fewer things more important than connecting with the people you love. I didn't know that my brother would accept a new job in Pittsburgh and move there a week before my arrival, but this made the stop even more fulfilling.

Ted and me

Ted and me

Carrying my bike, I strolled with Ted for part of his walk to work before navigating my way out of the morning traffic and onto the Great Allegheny Passageway (GAP) trail, a gravel trail that connects Pittsburgh with Washington DC. The trail offered shade, wildflowers, waterfalls, and plenty of wildlife. 

View on the GAP trail

View on the GAP trail

I arrived in Connelsville and met John and Lucy, the hospitable owners of Connelsville Bed and Breakfast. As a donation towards my efforts, they gave me a major discount on a cosy, European themed room with crystal chandeliers. I contacted John, the photography student that I met from Craigslist, as he lived in Connelsville, and we met downtown for some filming. In the morning, I awoke to fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, ham, and some delicious banana pancakes made by Lucy, and returned to the GAP trail fully fueled.

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Lucy and me

Lucy and me

Angela, a young girl cycling by herself to Baltimore for an electronic music festival, rode up next to me and started inquiring about my ride.  She had just finished her first year of college and was quite the free spirit. We stopped in Ohio Pyle, and took a swim in the river. I found myself slipping on the slimy rocks and nearly getting swallowed downstream by the powerful current. 

Swimming with Angela

Swimming with Angela

Angela and me

Angela and me

We returned to the trail and I enjoyed her conversation before parting ways at a campsite in Confluence. After setting up my tent, Michael, a PhD English Professor pulled up on his bicycle to set up camp himself. We had a friendly discussion that ranged from cycling to the importance of building design as it relates to racial injustice. He was a fascinating guy, and we decided to ride into town to get some pizza.  He bought us a pizza, explaining that there was an unwritten rule between professors and students that the professor always buys the drink, or pizza in this case, and I certainly wasn't complaining. 

Michael and me

Michael and me

We returned to the campsite and built a fire watching the wood crackle and shift, spitting embers into the summer air under the stars while talking about life, race, and writing.  Michael works with first generation college students to overcome fundamental writing barriers, which often related to race and socio-economic factors, and I found his conversations both stimulating and fulfilling.  We returned to the same restaurant in the morning and chatted some more over coffee before heading our separate ways.

Michael and me

Michael and me

I returned to the GAP trail for the start of the day and then turned off onto green rural roads towards Somerset. The next day, I made my way towards Bedford on hilly scenic farm roads. I arrived in Bedford, a beautiful historic town, and found a run down smoky motel room for about $30. Despite the reviews that it had bed bugs, I couldn't find any evidence on the mattress. I showered and dried myself with the one used towel they provided as it smelled cleaner than my camp towel, and I was too exhausted to complain. I ventured into town and found a local diner that had an all you can eat clams and salad bar special. Despite being the skinniest person in town (which says a lot since I am not skinny), I managed to astound my waitress as I stacked empty plates faster than she could bring them. If only it had been a contest.

From Bedford, I continued to climb over the Appalachian mountains and found a shortcut on the Abandoned PA Turnpike, a highway that had been closed for years, but was unofficially open to cyclists. It reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie, as the highway had grass and trees growing out of the center. It took me through two long graffiti-covered tunnels.

Abandoned PA Turnpike

Abandoned PA Turnpike

Some friendly locals chilling in the tunnel-Kim, Tim, and Ken

Some friendly locals chilling in the tunnel-Kim, Tim, and Ken

I paused in the middle of the second tunnel and was met with disorienting darkness and silence. It felt like the type of place where something really bad could happen. As I made my way away from the tunnel, I passed a full film crew carrying boom poles and camera equipment and they explained that they were filming a horror film. How appropriate. 

Horror film crew

Horror film crew

I continued into the Allegheny mountains to Burnt Cabins, PA. I found a campsite at the Grist Mill, a water-powered flour mill from the 1750s.  The mill is still functional, and I filmed the family owners talk about the flour products they make and sell on the property. I set up my tent next to a stream and fell asleep while picturing the rich history of the mill, dreaming of a life once had, hidden in the woods making flour. 

Thanks for reading and all the love, support, likes, prayers, and shares. I truly appreciate all the support.   

Camping at Grist Mill

Camping at Grist Mill

Grist Mill

Grist Mill

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Columbus to Pittsburgh

The sun filled my tent at a park in Plain City, Ohio until I was slippery with sweat in my sleeping bag. I boiled some water for my morning coffee and oatmeal and returned to the hilly green roads of rural Ohio, navigating up and around the outskirts of Columbus towards the quiet suburb of Mt. Vernon. I arrived at Dick and Barb's house, my Uncle's friends. My Uncle had flown in the Air Force with Dick, and they had remained friends for years. The outside of their home was decorated with flowers and had a lawn the size of a park, which was an astounding display from the living room doors facing it. 

View from the living room

View from the living room

Dick was stuck in the hospital after a routine appointment had ended up requiring an overnight stay, so I was greeted by Barb's brother, David, and mother, JoAnn, and was made to feel at home in their immaculate house by David as he showed me to the shower and helped me to feel at ease. Dick's mother in-law, JoAnn, who was 80 some years young, served me sandwiches, local sweet corn, and cherries while Barb settled Dick in at the hospital.

With a full stomach and laundry in the washing machine, I took to a recliner in their basement next to JoAnn as she told me stories of her own adventures traveling across America (in a car) with her sister staying in KOA campgrounds. This was not a normal pursuit for two ladies in their 80's, and I was inspired by her enthusiasm for life, sense of adventure, and cheerful spirit. Barb returned from the hospital and was equally hospitable and friendly, explaining that she had spent part of the day riding her own bike around Monroe with some friends.

In the morning, I had a peaceful breakfast circled around their kitchen table which overlooked the vast lawn with David, Barb, and JoAnn. They sent me with sandwiches, a bag of cherries, some of JoAnn's famous cinnamon rolls, and handed me some money towards the cause. I was touched by their gracious hospitality and encouragement towards my dream of helping others with addictions.

JoAnn sending me off with her famous cinnamon rolls

JoAnn sending me off with her famous cinnamon rolls

I was overjoyed to find out that I could travel out of Mt. Vernon on the Kokosing Gap Trail for 23 miles. The overhang of the trees blocked the rising sun, and I found a rhythm that mirrored the trickling streams and waking wildlife along the trail. This was bicycle touring at its best: shade, a gentle breeze, and a feeling of oneness with the surrounding nature.

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The trail ended, and I found myself on a series of steep, windy hills on pothole-riddled farm roads through Ohio's Amish country. I began to hear the clopping hooves of passing Amish buggies and see men and women of all ages riding bicycles in Colonial attire. It was as if I had been transported through time. At one point, I had my phone in my pocket helping me navigate while I passed an Amish family on bicycles and I watched them stare at me with bewildered looks as a voice interrupted the silence and directed me to "turn left in 1000 feet." I imagined how peculiar it must be to be separated from technology as the world around you evolved until one day you pass a crazy looking guy like me, decorated in neon yellow, huffing along on a talking bicycle covered with electronic gadgets.

I later found myself standing in the heat, untangling cords and plugging in various chargers to my portable power packs, searching Google for a place to stay for the evening, responding to texts and emails, and growing impatient with the slowness of my 2 bar browsing speed, I began to wonder if they might be on to something. Have we traded the stillness of life for all these devices with their incessant beeping reminders? We have this endless persuasion towards somewhat meaningless digital communications with people, while the Amish remain grounded to each other, the earth, and God in such a simple fashion.

Amish buggy shares the road

Amish buggy shares the road

I reached the top of a treacherous climb arriving at the Guggisberg cheese factory, which had a Swiss themed restaurant called Chalet In the Valley, featuring their award-winning cheese. After 7 hours of climbing mountains, I decided it was apropriate to order "The Mountain Climber," a one pound burger with three cheeses on a pretzel bun, which I gorged on while chatting with my waitress about my trip. After finishing perhaps the best burger of my life, she paid for my meal out of her own pocket. Filled with gratitude (and cholesterol), I continued toward New Philadelphia.

Random Kindness

Random Kindness

Posing as a goat at the cheese factory

Posing as a goat at the cheese factory

"The Mountain Climber" 

"The Mountain Climber" 

In the morning I set off on the Conotton Creek trail.  The trail was lined with wildflowers, red berried bushes, and over 40 birdhouses which attracted plenty of chirping and swooping tree swallows and bluebirds. I arrived in Steubenville, a moderate-sized industrial factory town, and climbed one last steep hill to my motel.

Connoton Creek Trail

Connoton Creek Trail

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After a good night's sleep, I crossed over a massive bridge and began to climb toward Pittsburgh, a little discouraged by my assumption that I had a traffic-filled day ahead, but found myself pleasantly surprised to discover that my route took me onto the Panhandle Trail.  The trail guided me away from civilization for over 30 miles into a completely isolated gravel path which etched its way through the overgrowth of rural West Virginia and into Eastern Pennsylvania.

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I had a conference call scheduled with a non-profit looking to donate and assumed that my cell coverage would improve the closer I got to Pittsburgh. It was a poor assumption, and as the time for the call approached, my signal was waxing and waning between 0 and 2 bars. I pushed hard to get closer to the next town in hopes it would improve until the time to call arrived. By the grace of God, I managed to give my presentation while sitting in the middle of nature with two bars of service, and they donated $7,500 toward the cause, raising my total raised for Providence Network to over $50,000.

Feeling relieved, and a bit celebratory, I stopped to eat and fill my water bottles at Walden's, a small restaurant in Burgettstown, PA. I chatted with my waitress, Vikki, about my ride.  She pointed at a two year old boy in a corner booth and explained that he was her great-great grandson. She was in her seventies and had recently been forced to raise him because her grandkids were locked up as a result of their heroin addictions. She further explained that half of her granddaughter's high school class had been killed from a bad batch of heroin in one weekend, completely devastating the town. Tears began rolling down her cheeks, as she told me about all her kids and grandkids that were being destroyed by drug and alcohol addiction.

I finished a plate of spaghetti as she filled my water bottles, grabbing each one with both hands and walking slowly toward the kitchen with the signs of an aching back, returning to my table with each bottle filled with ice water. I wondered how she would summon the energy to raise a little boy if filling water bottles was so taxing on her. As if she read my thoughts, she said, "How am I going to raise him? I'm too old for this. It is people like you that are going to save my grandkids' generation. You have given me more than you will ever know by coming in here today. You are not paying for your meal, by the way."

Before I could refuse, she returned with a paper bag stuffed with homemade chocolate chip cookies and said, "You will need your carbs for strength." Before I left, she pulled me in for a bear hug and with tears still glimmering in her eyes, she held me tight for about a minute, kissing my cheeks and whispering, "thank you for what you are doing." I realized that I hadn't hugged anyone in a long time, and it felt good to feel so loved and encouraged.

All those years of being ashamed of my own life had left me unsure how to respond when people commended me for my life today. After living by myself out of bags for three months, I really needed to hear her words and feel her hug in that moment.

Walden's Restaurant

Walden's Restaurant

Vikki and Me

Vikki and Me

As I continued on the trail I couldn't help but think about the fate of our country. Every little town I had passed through across the country I had heard the same stories as Vikki's. Stories from mothers that had lost their kids to addictions. Entire communities with a good portion of their young people addicted to meth and heroin. Rural hospital ER's full of overdosing teenagers. City streets flooded with homeless kids.

I thought of myself when I arrived at Providence House at the age of 27 after years of letting addictions run my life.  I remember being shown to my room and deciding that I could play the game long enough to get a job and save enough money to go back out. As much as I wanted to be well, I was pretty sure that I had passed the point of no return. My mind was in a place in which I believed that living a normal life would never be manageable without substances. It was a terrifying realization. As I first got sober, I recognized that despite the ease with which I could say all the right things and follow the rules, the real voice of reason—the one that was hidden from all the counselors and family members, tucked way below the surface—accepted that it would never actually happen.

I wanted sobriety as badly as anyone that had lost everything. But I also knew that my mind compulsively thought about drinking and using. It consumed my every thought, it seeped into my sleep. I spent nearly every dream of every night guzzling booze, sniffing powders, and putting needles in my arms, and I would wake up sweating and scared and ready to leave.

I faced a reality each day that was unimaginably difficult to cope with: my mood was unpredictable and simple daily tasks were chaotic jumbled puzzles being tossed at me faster than I could solve them. For a kid that was once pretty gifted, this presented additional blows to my self-esteem, and the minor failures of daily living seemed devastating, even catastrophic. A song would play on the radio and I would need a drink, a whiff of perfume and I would need a drink. A commercial on TV, drink. Bad day, drink. Good day, drink. I was hopelessly trapped by the inevitable approach of my relapse. I didn't know when it would come, but I knew it would, as it was consistently being developed and molded by my own mind.

Something happened to me at Providence House. Something that was much more profound than the mere healing of brain chemistry. This was a spiritual shift, and while it occurred gradually, its significance to my life was cosmic. By nothing short of a miracle, I escaped the fate of my own mind, and have avoided that inevitable drink for seven years and counting.

This ride and blog is for the people out there in early sobriety that are saying all the right things but KNOW in their most honest of inner voices, that they will fail. It is for the people with a year of sobriety that find the world dull and meaningless and are toying with the fantasy of going back out. It is for those who can't imagine ever having fun while being sober. It is for the hopeless. To each of you, I want to share the message that it gets better. There is a world of adventures out there if you can persevere past the cravings and boredom of the first few years of sobriety. In time, the cravings weaken their stronghold, and life becomes rich, meaningful, and rewarding. It gets so much easier to manage. This trip is for you — do anything and everything in your power to hang on.    

Hanging on in Pittsburgh

Hanging on in Pittsburgh

I made it to Pittsburgh as rush hour filled the roads with the roaring and honking of Friday afternoon traffic, pulling over at one point as the road narrowed below an overpass. There was no shoulder, and no end to the rapid stream of fast-moving cars — I had no way to get across without risking an accident.

Just as the overstimulus had begun to feel catastrophic, a turning motorist idling behind me hollered, "I'll get you through, go," and waved me in front of him, timed perfectly with the slightest gap of traffic. He then swooped out in front of the stream of cars to block me, slowly riding behind me until the shoulder returned on the other side of the overpass. I was once again provided for by the random kindness of a stranger, and made my way safely onto a pedestrian bridge. After pausing for a photo as I crossed the bridge into the city, I wrestled my bike down a steep staircase until I reached a bike path next to the river.

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I met my friend Ted in front of his apartment and gave him a big hug. Ted and I had been close friends since grade school, and we have traveled to 19 countries together over the years. I remember calling him years ago and telling him that I was almost 90 days sober and he told me something that really stuck with me. He said, "If you hang in there, eventually we'll be in our thirties and everyone won't always meet at the bars and want to rage it. Drinking will become progressively less of a focal point of our social interactions and it will get a lot easier." He had been right, drinking was much less important these days amongst our circle of friends, and it had become a lot easier. I wheeled my bike to his elevator and up to his sixth level apartment and took a look at the sprawling metropolis below. I was so excited to spend a few days catching up and checking out the city. Thanks for all the prayers, shares, likes, comments, and donations.  I truly appreciate all the love and support.
 

Ted and I overlooking the city

Ted and I overlooking the city


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Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio

I awoke in a trashy motel in Southern Indiana just North of Louisville, KY. It was a planned rest day, so I took a city bus over the bridge and into Louisville to explore the city, marveling at the historical architecture and decorative parks, but I soon found myself beginning to feel a little bit sick.

Downtown Louisville  

Downtown Louisville  

Unsure if it was something I ate or the heat, I got on a bus that I thought was taking me back to my motel until the bus driver told me that I had reached the end of the line, further explaining that I had to get off. Now feeling even worse, I stepped off the bus to the dizzying heat and heard the thumping of rap music. I took a look around — there was a gang of teenagers staring at me from across the street dressed almost entirely in red. I looked down to my neon blue running shoes as I made my way over to the corner that was supposed to be a bus stop, and began to worry. 

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For thirty minutes I waited for the bus while shiny rimmed cars bumping rap rolled past me, slowing at the sight of me, staring at what I assumed would be the pair of shoes I would be buried in. I am no stranger to being in rough neighborhoods, and have developed the ability to differentiate between feeling out of place and genuinely being in danger. My surroundings grew increasingly more worrisome and I began to panic, doubting that the bus was ever going to come. A shiny, tricked-out car slowed next to me and the tinted window drifted downward as my life flashed before my eyes. A face emerged and began to jokingly bark at me like a dog, scaring me so badly that I shook while his friends laughed in the back seat.

Now too under the weather to stand, I sat down on the curb, trying to hide my shoes with my body, while attempting to think of a solution. I remembered that I had downloaded the Uber app, a car service that costs less then a taxi. How else would a middle class suburban white guy get himself out of a threatening urban situation then with the use of technology? Marveling at my stereotypical, but potentially lifesaving suburban ingenuity, I pushed a button and sent out for a driver. Twenty minutes later, I was safely being driven back to my motel to rest and recuperate.

Feeling sick is not fun, but feeling sick in the swampy summer heat while accidentally wandering into a Bloods neighborhood wearing blue shoes took me to a level of discomfort I have never experienced. Under the circumstances, my grungy Motel 6 room might as well have been the presidential suite at the Ritz. I cranked the air conditioning, guzzled about a gallon of water, and fell into an afternoon slumber that lasted until the morning.

After lots of fluids and rest, I awoke feeling better and got back onto my bike and into the heat. It felt good to leave the sprawl of the city and return to the quiet green farmland and small town safety. I passed a giant coal plant that was tucked along the riverside, billowing smoke clouds alongside me until I arrived in Madison, Indiana rolling through the charming downtown with well decorated shops, boutiques, and restaurants.

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I turned away from town and navigated along a walkway next to the Ohio River. I came to the bridge that would take me back into Kentucky toward the campground where I had planned to stay. The bridge started about two blocks above me, and I noticed a pedestrian ramp that would save me from riding two blocks up to the bridge entrance. The ramp had a large "NO BICYCLES" sign, but I was losing daylight and started to push my bike upwards until I became startled by the sound of a person yelling at me from a large house at the top of the hill. "Seriously?," I thought, as I figured the yelling must be some worked-up Ramp Nazi trying to prevent me from taking the shortcut.

Then I noticed the figure waving me towards him, motioning with his palms together next to his tilted head: the universal sign for sleep. I left the ramp and started to push my bike up the steep grass towards what I could now see was two men. They met me halfway, introduced themselves, and offered me a place to stay. I enthusiastically accepted. Bob was the owner of the luxurious house at the top of the hill, and James was a touring cyclist that Bob was also hosting for the night. It took strength from all three of us to heave my fully-loaded bike up the hill and to his house.

Bob blew up an air mattress, handed me a towel, and showed me the shower before taking off to a church group with his wife Charlotte, leaving James and I to get better acquainted and get cleaned up. After showering, we walked into town and ate dinner and then stopped for ice cream cones, which we enjoyed while walking along the river next the the setting sun, swapping stories about our adventures. James had also traveled from San Francisco, but had taken an entirely different route than me. He had just graduated from college and was planning to join the Peace Corps and was full of interesting stories.

When we returned to the house, we got a chance to hear some of Bob and Charlotte's stories about their own bike tours, including their own adventure across America over 20 years ago. They explained that they remembered how emotionally and physically trying it was to cross the country on their bicycles, so they always tried to offer a place to stay to fully-loaded cyclists they happened to spot.

The view from Bob And Charlotte's house

The view from Bob And Charlotte's house

Ice cream in Madison

Ice cream in Madison

James and I

James and I

After a peaceful night of sleep, I awoke to hot coffee, farm fresh eggs, toast, and fruit. As if the shower, bed, and food was not enough, Bob and Charlotte wrote a very generous check towards Providence Network for the cause. It was hard to believe how kind, generous, and thoughtful people have been to me on this trip, and this was a prime example. James was riding at a much faster pace, so I set off across the bridge on my own, crossing back into Kentucky.

Ohio River

Ohio River

I stopped at General Butler State Park to have a reflective moment, as I had visited the park during a summer vacation about twenty years ago. My brain was flooded with memories of playing mini golf and riding my mountain bike around the surrounding trails at the age of 14 while on a road trip with my family. I  remember waiting in the lobby of a motel for the coast to be clear to buy my first pack of cigarettes out of a vending machine, and then riding my skateboard all night under the lamp lights, crouching under a porch at the lodge to smoke, looking over my shoulder as I was afraid of getting caught. Looking back, I have come to believe that this was a turning point in my life that snowballed towards my eventual self destruction.

General Butler State Park

General Butler State Park

Now twenty years later, I stared at the familiar park that I had visited many times in my memories. I thought of how much had transpired in 20 years. This trip has provided so much time for deep and meaningful introspection, and I found myself resting for a moment, wandering through my memories, trying to figure out how I ended up nearly dying at the hands of drugs and alcohol.

I thought back to that curious 14 year old boy, sneaking a cigarette in this park roughly 20 years ago. He would soon start smoking pot, then try cocaine and meth, and even heroin. He would put needles in his arms and smoke crack, getting beaten nearly to death by drug dealers on multiple occasions. He would wake up in hospitals, jail cells, and homeless shelters. He would learn to sleep on couches, in the woods, and on the streets. In time, he would more or less abandon the drugs for his preferred, cheaper, and more easily-available tool for escape: alcohol. He would spend his mornings nauseated and shaking, unable to function without booze. He would lose everything and everyone that he knew and loved. He would miss his family so badly it hurt, and eventually accept his pending death, an acceptance that strengthened with each failed attempt to quit on his own.

Then he would get some serious help—lasting help—and he would rebuild his life through the guidance and support of Providence Network, and have a unique opportunity to help others by riding his bike across the country. If I could talk to my younger self as he snuck a cigarette in this park some 20 years ago, I might take his cigarette out of his mouth and talk some sense into him. I thought some more about my life today. I could see the reflection of my gaze through the ripples in the lake, and liked the guy I saw standing there with his bike—a bike that had just traveled over 3000 miles.

I recognized that I would never appreciate a moment as perfect as this if it wasn't for that stupid kid that wanted to experience it all by taking dangerous shortcuts. I decided that if I could talk to my younger self, I actually wouldn't say anything to change my course. There would be no way to stop my curiosity anyway. I had to make those mistakes, and live through all those scary, lonely nights. It took a lot of illness, hunger, black eyes, handcuffs, and staples in my skull to find myself ready to escape the desperation to arrive at this place of indescribable appreciation for my existence. I took one last look at the mini golf course and winding mountain bike trails that seemed to symbolize the youth that was somewhat stolen away from me by my addictions and poor choices, and began coasting away with a feeling of complete acceptance for what had become of it all. I felt joyful.

Reflections at the park

Reflections at the park

I arrived in Dry Ridge in the early evening and booked a cheap motel. Dry Ridge didn't seem like much of a town, more an exit to a highway that had some motels and restaurants. I left in the morning, following google bicycle maps which lead me through some hilly poverty stricken back roads. 

At least I'm not Travis Lonaker

At least I'm not Travis Lonaker

I found myself in a bit of a disheartened mood after my fourth wave and smile to a passing local received its fourth lack of response and dirty look. It was hot, humid, and the roads were steep, and I continued to get pushed unsafely towards the side of the road by rednecks in clunky Confederate flag-clad trucks, which left a stream of black exhaust in front of my face as I gasped for air. Passing cyclists had warned me about the dogs in Kentucky for several weeks to the point where I attached mace to my bike on a holster. One of the cyclists had told a story about a guy that had to end his trip after a dog took a chunk out of his leg and he had to be flown out from a local hospital.

They say owners tend to look like their dogs, which would indicate that this part of Kentucky was full of starving, angry, vicious pit bull mutt looking people, because I spent most of the day clasping my mace and being chased by attack dogs. In the course of the day, I counted 14 dogs that chased me, each attempting to gnaw a nice chunk out of my tires, or worse yet, legs. I was able to yell at most of them to keep them from locking their jaws around my skin, but had to blast one in the face with mace — I could tell he was not going to stop until he feasted on my flesh.

To make matters worse, on several occasions, the owners sat in their lawns encouraging their dogs to attack. I was so ready to be out of this hillbilly nightmare. I have many friends that are proud rednecks and I enjoy the "Duck Dynasty" type of culture: faithful, family-oriented, hard working, and the type of people who would give you the shirt off their backs. This was something different: distrustful, poor, angry people.

I arrived at my campground on the Ohio river, which was a large RV park with a full restaurant and bar, almost like its own little city. The manager of the campground and her friend pitched in to donate my campsite fees toward the cause. This twelve dollar donation completely refreshed and renewed my dampened spirits that the day riding through Kentucky had left me with. I set up my tent as the sun painted the river with pinks and oranges. I listened to the peaceful rhythmic buzzing and chirping of insects as I fell into a deep sleep.

View from my camp site

View from my camp site

The next morning I packed my bike and cooked oatmeal with my camp stove, then rode north toward the ferry to cross over into Ohio. As I entered the tiny ferry town on the Kentucky border, a kid approached me on his bike and said, "Is that a ten speed?" I explained that it was a 27 speed and he said, "I am going to get a 10 speed, or 27 speed someday, want to race?" We raced for a block through town, and despite my 27 speed, he "somehow" won, then followed me the several blocks down towards the ferry port and explained, "The ferry is closed today, you'll just have to stay with me and my mom tonight. It's not open until tomorrow, but we can ride our bikes around here all day." I noticed the ferry coming back from the Ohio side and confirmed with a local woman working in her garden that it was indeed running. I chuckled and wished him well, then crossed into Ohio, my 9th state.

Ferry between Kentucky and Ohio

Ferry between Kentucky and Ohio

The day consisted of more steep climbs but not a single unleashed dog — I was so happy to be in Ohio! I arrived in Milford and texted Joe and Amanda, a couple that had offered to put me up for the night near Cincinnati. Amanda was the niece of one of my mom's friends in Phoenix, and they treated me to an amazing evening. Amanda did my laundry and Joe cooked a gigantic steak with grilled veggies, while I got cleaned up from the days ride. After dinner, we strolled around their hip, yet historic neighborhood and they treated me to ice cream at Aglamesis Bro's, a local favorite.

Ice cream with Joe and Amanda

Ice cream with Joe and Amanda

It was nice to be around funny, intelligent, like-minded, young professionals after a week of feeling so out of place in Kentucky. We returned to the house and Joe, who is an occupational therapist, gave me a resistance band and showed me some excercises to help with the arm and back tension that I had been experiencing. They even gave me parting gifts of athletic socks, beef jerky, and trail mix. In the morning, Amanda drove me back to Milford and I set off on the Miami Scenic River Trail for one of the most pleasant days of the entire trip.

It was glorious: the entire day was on a bike trail which was not only beautiful and shady, but allowed me the luxury of not having to think about navigating through traffic. I escaped into so many amazing places in my mind, a joyous change from the war zone of attack dogs and angry drivers in Kentucky. The path followed a gently trickling river for most of the day under the shady cover of trees and was decorated with wildflowers, butterflies, blue birds, cardinals, squirrels, deer, and other wildlife. I arrived in Xenia in the evening with a peaceful spirit as I had been calmed by the nature and shade from the trail and the friendly conversations I had had with local cyclists out on day rides. I took a planned rest day in Xenia to work on the documentary I am filming during this trip.

The next day, I got back on the bike trail after fueling up on biscuits and gravy at a local diner. I stopped in Yellow Springs to visit Antioch, the college that my Great Aunt and cousins attended. I rode around the college, which I had visited as a kid, and then circled around the town on the off chance that I would run into one of my favorite comedians, Dave Chapelle, as he lives in town, and I had heard that he is often out and about. After realizing this was not only stalker-creepy, but also kind of a lost cause, I continued on my way.

Antioch College

Antioch College

I stopped to help two cyclists on the trail with a flat tire, and after lending them my tools to help and talking to them for a while, I discovered that they were both in early sobriety and were living in a recovery home. One of the guys preferred to remain anonymous to prevent any issues with job seeking, but the other, Shawn, allowed me to film him talk about his story. Shawn had recently relapsed on heroin after around 9 months of sobriety, but was determined to make it this time. I shared with them my own issues at each of their stages of recovery and encouraged them to fight through the difficulties, emphasizing the abundant, adventurous life that they had ahead if they could hang on. After helping to fix the flat, I left them with some encouraging words and was again reminded of my purpose. I couldn't help but feel that this encounter was not a coincidence, and I hope that they heard something that helps them make it towards long term sobriety.

Shawn and I working on the tire and talking about recovery

Shawn and I working on the tire and talking about recovery

I arrived in Xenia and set my tent up at a city campground under a tree next to a classical music concert that was taking place in the park. It was so peaceful to hear an orchestra version of "God Bless America," as I fell asleep in my tent next to other vacationing families. Thanks for reading and all the comments, prayers, shares, donations, and support for my ride. I truly appreciate all the love.                    

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Illinois and Indiana

I set off into the swampy Illinois heat with my new cycling friend, Greg, after a fast food breakfast. Following the Adventure Cycling Association bicycle maps, we found ourselves on a hilly stretch of scenic backroads with lush overbrush, old farmhouses, lakes, and lots of required turns onto unmarked or poorly-marked roads. 

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One of the things I loved about Greg was his ability, like myself, to enter complete presence as we rode. We each found our own pace and let our minds melt into the beautiful surroundings, taking pictures, chatting with locals, imagining the history, and truly experiencing the serene countryside. We both forgot that we were on bicycles half of the time, which led not only to a rich and meaningful experience, but also to us finding ourselves lost on multiple occasions. My pace was slightly faster, so I found it routine to stop and use a napkin to dry off my sweaty fingers and my phone's touchscreen, finding my location on Google Maps, comparing the roads to our cycling map. Multiple times, I discovered we had both missed a turn, indicating to me that it was not just my wandering mind at fault, but that our maps really had issues, desperately in need of updates to help identify roads with missing signs. 

Greg

Greg

I rolled over a highway overpass into a small town and noticed my bike was bouncing: I had a flat tire. Heat can make normal setbacks seem dramatic—even devastating—and it took everything in me to remain optimistic. I pulled over to the side of the road under a tree and fixed the flat tire, occasionally glancing up at the sky toward approaching storm clouds as the wind picked up. Greg pulled up and helped me load my bike onto my repaired tire as the wind tried to push my bike towards the ground. Our clothes suddenly became soaked by heavy rain showers, and the sky exploded with thunder and lightning. We shuttled our bikes towards a covered garage at a nearby retirement home where we waited out the storm.

After a long wait, we decided the rain had slowed down enough to start riding, so we set off into the drizzle across a slick and puddle-laden road. Between the blistering heat, humidity, hills, poor maps, flat tire, and storm we found ourselves in the mid-afternoon, still hours of riding away from our reserved cabin in Eddyville. We called the owner to let him know that we would arrive late, then powered through our exhaustion until the sun escaped behind the damp green hills. During moments like these, I am thankful to have had the foresight to line my entire bicycle and body with reflective material, allowing the headlights of cars to light us up as we fought through the pitch black darkness of the busy highway, regularly coughing and spitting out mouthfuls of buzzing and pestering bugs.

With the continual blinding beam from the headlights of passing trucks, we attempted to distract ourselves from the exhaustion, disorientation, heat, and seemingly endless climbing towards our cabin. The star-studded sky seemed vast, reminding me of my insignificance compared to the enormous happenings throughout the universe. A truck pulled to the side of the road accompanied by Ben, the owner of Hayes Canyon Campgrounds, who had come out to search for us. He offered to throw our bikes in his truck, and despite the overwhelming temptation to call it quits, we opted to keep pedaling, arriving at our cabin at around 11pm. With every last morsel of our energy used up, we scraped everything resembling food out of our bags and set them on the table: one packet of ramen, one can of soup, several pieces of beef jerky, a variety of energy bars, one package of oatmeal, and some Triscuit crackers. With ravenous hunger and Greg's hiker ingenuity, the most delicious concoction was born: Greg's Illinois Chowder — beef jerky Triscuit-noodle soup. We further enjoyed cliff bars for dessert before I fell into one of the deepest sleeps of my life.

Greg's Illinois Chowder

Greg's Illinois Chowder

We slept late, and in the morning I limped my sore legs toward the office to settle up for the cabin. I was greeted by a sweet little girl who handed me a tomato exclaiming, "It is my job to give the guests tomatoes and fruits." I thanked her, and passed several other cheerful little ones running around on the porch as I made my way inside.

After explaining that I was riding to raise money for a faith-based drug and alcohol recovery home for youth, Ben, the owner, refused to let me pay and explained that the cabin rental, which would have totaled about 70 bucks after tax, was a donation from his family. As we rode off into the heat, I found my train of thought continually drifting back to the amazing generosity that I had just experienced. Ben and his wife Patti had 5 young kids, including one with special needs. They were likely not in a position to give away business, and yet they gave freely and treated us like their own family. This was indeed a world full of good and generous people, and I teared a little thinking about all the goodness this trip has shown me that I otherwise would not have known existed.

Ben, Patti, and family at Hayes Canyon Campground  

Ben, Patti, and family at Hayes Canyon Campground  

Thankfully, our ride to the town of Cave-in-Rock was much less eventful than the prior day, although the climbing and heat still left us rather exhausted as we pulled up to the only motel in town. The motel had five rooms and an office, and clearly doubled as the home to several families who congregated around the entrance to the porch. The men had tank tops, held koozie-wrapped beers, and smoked cigarettes. Similarly, the women clung to babies, or beers and cigarettes. Swarms of slack-jawed shirtless mullet-headed kids of all ages began to circle around our bikes as if we were superheroes, and welcomed us with thick accents exclaiming, "We got y'all the best room and turned the AC on already, will be nice and cool for y'all!"  As soon as the door closed behind us, Greg and I burst into laughter at the strangeness of the place. The room was dingy and dark and smelled like mildew and was decorated with American flags. Even the sheets, comforters, and shower curtain were American flag patterned and Greg immediately encouraged me to wear socks as he noticed that the carpet was damp and sticky.

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After a patriotic night of sleep, we rolled into the center of the small town to a diner for pancakes and eggs before we headed separate ways: Greg traveling farther South toward Virginia, while I began to head North toward Ohio and Pennsylvania. I had really enjoyed having his company for four days of riding, and got the sense that we would remain friends for years to come, perhaps joining forces for some kind of adventure in the future.

Cave-in-Rock, Illinois

Cave-in-Rock, Illinois

Greg and I parting ways

Greg and I parting ways

Now that I was off of the ACA cycling maps, I rode on several highways towards Owensboro, creating my own route. I stopped for lunch in Shawneetown at The Shed, a small burger joint owned by a young lady named Abbey. Her mom, Paula, showed up and I began to talk to her about my ride. She told me about her nephew who was addicted to heroin, and explained how difficult it had been to recently kick him out of her house, leaving him without a home. She talked about how much she worried about him, but yet she felt like she could no longer enable him. I thought of my own parents, and the shame I carried all those years for putting them through so much similar stress and worrying.  Addictions are a family disease. I am grateful that time, positive behavior, and forgiveness have healed my relationships with my family. After an emotional discussion, Paula gave me a big hug and handed me a twenty dollar bill exclaiming, "Dinner is on me tonight."  

Paula and I at The Shed

Paula and I at The Shed

No matter how small the town, I keep hearing stories like hers during this ride, seeing the impact of addiction firsthand. Addictions have become a national epidemic—particularly youth opiate abuse—that is destroying every small community I have visited. It is these encounters that remind me how important the efforts of Providence Network really are. This new home that I am riding for will not solve every community's problems, but it will help a lot of young people, particularly in my home state of Colorado. It may have a ripple effect too: if even a fraction of the many that will be helped through Providence Network end up reaching out to help others, it could make a real impact. There are times that I wish I could help all the people I have met that are being destroyed by addiction, but I realize I can only try to do my part. If you have donated to this trip then you are doing your part too. For that, I thank you.

I arrived in Owensboro in the afternoon and stayed with a host family that I had arranged through warmshowers.org, an organization that offers a platform for hosts and touring cyclists to connect. As the name suggests, they offered me a warm shower, after which I met Todd and his wife Coneathea and their sons Dalton and Jacob. They were incredibly friendly and welcoming and treated me to a delicious home-cooked meal of pork chops, veggies, and potatoes followed by Coneathea's famous Swiss mocha cheesecake for dessert. 

Coneathea serving up her famous Swiss Mocha Cheesecake to Dalton, Todd, and I

Coneathea serving up her famous Swiss Mocha Cheesecake to Dalton, Todd, and I

After dinner, Todd and Dalton drove me down to a gorgeous riverside park in downtown Owensboro to watch the sunset. Todd is a professional artist and he allowed me to film him painting the sunset, watching his brush blend and smear the colors on the canvas, chasing the pink light as it disappeared below the Ohio River. It was a lot like watching Bob Ross on PBS: there were several moments where I thought he surely botched the whole painting, then over time I began to see it all come together into something amazing. With the presence of my camera, tripod, and microphone, as well as Dalton on the other side taking his own video, it roused the interest of most of the kids at the park and they began crowding around, one of them asking, "is this guy famous?" Dalton and I simultaneously answered, "Yeah, kind of!" For a moment I think we all felt unnecessarily important.

Todd Derr painting

Todd Derr painting

After some morning coffee and warm biscuits with butter and jam, I said goodbye to Todd and peddled away, feeling that I had made another long-lasting friendship. I spent the morning thinking about getting into painting, which is one of the miraculous things I have discovered about an adventure like this: you tend to find new avenues of inspiration from these brief, yet meaningful, encounters with people.

The day's ride consisted of several sketchy highways with little side room and lots of traffic until I crossed the border into Indiana and reached the outskirts of Louisville suburbia. The traffic began to swarm me and I started to notice a pattern in the types of businesses: gun stores, liquor stores, tattoo shops, pawn shops, small convenience stores with large EBT ACCEPTED signs, and cash advance places.

I pulled up to a stoplight and got a really uneasy feeling as a group of thugs began circling around my bike whistling and hollering. The light turned green and all I could hear was "something…white boy!," as I moved my heavy bike faster than I ever knew was possible from a dead stop. For the first time in what seemed like a long time, I was back in the city. After several blocks, I began to see well-manicured lawns and a normal-looking grocery store. Despite not crossing over any, I must have made it to the other side of the tracks. Using my phone, I found the cheapest motel, and once I arrived it became apparent that despite not changing directions, I must have crossed some other tracks to get to it. After my bike was safely in the room, the first thing I did was fasten the deadbolt. It was that kind of neighborhood, but it was cheap.

Thanks for all the prayers, shares, comments, donations, and support. I truly appreciate all the love and support!

Crossing into state #8

Crossing into state #8

 

 

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Missouri: Across the Mississippi River

It was the Fourth of July, and I emerged from my tent in the early morning hours at the Alley Spring campground. Dozens of families snoozed quietly in their tents near the sounds of the river, as they rested before the festivities of the Fourth. I packed my bike and rode several miles over the brutal hills of the Ozarks into the town of Eminence, past the comically named Redneck Co-op, to a small cafe where I joined two other cyclists for breakfast.

Eminence, MO

Eminence, MO

Lindsey was a forestry major traveling to Colorado escorting young Zeke as he made his way back to his home in Berkeley. We swapped stories over pancakes, fueling up for some of the steepest hills of the trip. 

Zeke, Lindsey, and I

Zeke, Lindsey, and I

As the sun climbed toward the center of the sky, the heat seemed to boil my skin until I was bathing in sweat. I enjoyed gazing down at the rivers and lakes that appeared sporadically through the dense overbrush as I reached each precipitous summit before arriving in Emeryville in the late afternoon. I contacted the police to get the code to their bike hostel, which had been recommended by some cyclists several towns back. The hostel was offered by the city for a requested donation of several dollars, and was housed in a modest building with cots, air conditioning, and a shower. It was a magnificent find, and I had the whole place to myself. I cleaned up and made my way into town to ask about their firework show. 

Bike Hostel Emoryville, MO

Bike Hostel Emoryville, MO

I stopped by a fifties-style diner called Spooners, the only open restaurant in town, and the girl at the counter told me that I should go to the supermarket parking lot to watch the show, so I moseyed that way about an hour before dark. I set up my camera on a tripod and began filming people as they lined the parking lot to tailgate from their truck beds, lighting off firecrackers, drinking, and enjoying their families. 

Holidays, particularly drinking holidays, are hard for recovering alcoholics, and I found myself longing to be around close friends and family, drinking and celebrating. The old me would have bought a 30 pack of beer and some fireworks and made friends (or enemies) with the entire town. These kind of cravings defy all reason, but are incredibly powerful when you are an alcoholic, and I have learned to be hyperaware of my internal monologue and emotional states during holidays. Sometimes there is a thin line between thoughts and actions. I have learned that these kind of thoughts will arise in my mind without warning, reminding me how cunning, baffling, and powerful addictions can be. I recognized that I was being triggered to drink, and bought a root beer and guzzling the sparkling syrup while I stood in the parking lot, trying to fight off the sting of my solitude and momentary self-loathing. 

This was supposed to be a happy time, a celebration of our country's freedom and independence, yet I felt like a stranger in a strange land.  My neon shoes, expensive camera, and decent grammar made me stick out like a sore thumb. The sky grew darker and I became surrounded by most of the people in the town as they tailgated. I was crawling in my own skin and felt as if everyone was watching me with distrustful eyes. Despite being around a crowd, I felt completely alienated and alone, and the signs from the nearby liquor store kept catching my glance.

Just as this anxiety reached its peak, I was greeted by a man named Wires, who had a gentle spirit and introduced himself as a street preacher. I told him about my trip, and he got excited and explained that he had been taking to the streets for years telling people about Jesus, feeding needy families, and helping people get sober. He introduced me to a handful of young men and women that were recovering addicts and alcoholics in his recovery ministry, and they started to share their miraculous stories of recovery. Suddenly, the weight I had been carrying came off of my shoulders thanks to this simple encounter.

Holy Ghost Outreach

Holy Ghost Outreach

I began to film a man in his twenties talk about his hopeless addiction to meth, explaining that he had overcome the impossible through his newfound faith, and was now a year sober. I had found my people: the once hopeless turned courageous, and I was immediately comforted. I shared my story and one of the girls murmured, "That kind of gives us hope. it is good to hear that people stay sober for years, and that it gets better." This was a strange thing to hear during a moment of temptation, but I was reminded that it had gotten a lot better the longer I had been sober. Although I had moments of anxiety and weakness and the occasional trigger, they had grown more and more rare with time, and I had learned the tools to overcome them. Each minor success carried me forward toward a lifetime of sobriety.

The sky became black and explosions painted the darkness with colorful light. Wires showed me pictures on his phone of needy families they had been feeding through his ministry. He reached into a worn leather wallet and handed me a twenty dollar bill and explained, "my wife and I are just street preachers and don't have much, but we believe in what you are trying to do." That was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed in that moment, and after the popping finale of the fireworks show had illuminated the entire small town sky, I walked the three blocks back to the hostel, sober, while firecrackers exploded in all directions from the surrounding hills. 

I had regained my sense of purpose and found myself lying on my cot listening to the celebratory popping and hissing around the city, and realized that I will probably always have occasional temptations, but they will never be more than I can handle.

The next day was as physically challenging as the last, but I conquered each horrendous climb with a new sense of determination. To be reminded of my purpose, I had needed to speak to the group of young adults still gritting their teeth from the challenges of new sobriety. I had needed to hear them on fire with the Spirit, hitting the streets and trying to save others from the toils of addictions. I remembered that a big piece of why I decided to ride across the country is because I wanted to provide hope to people in early sobriety. I chased the top of each hill with a newfound fury, thinking of the kids I was riding for, picturing my stories of this adventure helping even just one person make it through early sobriety toward a meaningful life.

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I rolled through Pilot Knob, and stopped to take a reverential moment to read the history of the Civil War battle that took place there in 1864, before arriving in Farmington, MO. 

Pilot Knob

Pilot Knob

I stayed at Al's Place, a cycling hostel organized by the city that has served thousands of cyclists since its inception in 2009. It was located in the historic Farmington Jail, and was named in honor of a local businessman and cycling enthusiast named Al who lost his battle with cancer.  I had heard about this amazing hostel from other cyclists for three states, and had been told to plan a couple rest days there to recharge and regroup since it was only $20 per night and had everything I needed. It was immaculately decorated with hardwood floors, leather couches, framed cycling jerseys on the walls, bicycles on the ceiling, a laundry room, a full kitchen, cable TV, and high speed internet. Every last detail seemed to cater to the cycling tourer. I immediately washed my grungy clothes and settled in for the night in a comfortable bed. 

Al's Place Bike Hostel

Al's Place Bike Hostel

Al's Place

Al's Place

Jennifer and I

Jennifer and I

I had been waiting for several days to reach Farmington to get several things worked on at their bike shop (my derailer, chain, and wheel) and took them to TransAm Cyclery which was conveniently located across the street. While the repairs were being made, I explored the town of Farmington, which unlike so many other small towns, had signs of economic stability: it was well landscaped, had a thriving downtown, and had new construction happening. Somebody had graciously given me money to get a massage in the middle of the trip, so I took the liberty of getting a massage by Jennifer at Massage Works. I felt pretty spoiled.

In the evening, a cyclist named Greg wearing a neon yellow smiley face jersey showed up to the hostel and heated up some chicken and dumplings for me that he had in his pack. Greg was an interesting character and we immediately bonded by our similar sense for adventure. He had worn many hats over the years mainly serving for 27 years on the LAPD working a foot beat in South Central Los Angeles which provided him with a lifetime of interesting stories about the riots and crack epidemic. He also had spent some years as a gym teacher, a coach of a variety of sports and ages, a National Park Ranger, and a mentor to at-risk kids. I found it rather inspiring that at age 60, he was not only cycling across the country, but had somewhat recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, a major four month feat of endurance on its own. As we talked, we discovered that we had the same bike, the same panniers, had left on the same day, the same appetite, and had the same general pace trying to enjoy the scenery and history of America as we passed. We decided to ride together for a few days, and began planning our next day while I cooked steaks with sautéed onions and mushrooms, potatoes, and veggies. It was so nice to be able to cook and eat a real meal and to have some great company with whom to share it.

Cooking at Al's Place

Cooking at Al's Place

In the morning we snapped some pictures in front of Al's Place as we left with "the twins," aka our Maroon Surly Truckers, and got back on the road. 

Greg and I with "the twins" 

Greg and I with "the twins" 

It was incredibly overcast all day, and our bike maps took us through some winding scenic farm roads that had very little traffic, with pristine lakes and wildflowers scattered over rolling hills of grass. The clouds and shady trees brought the temperature down significantly, and having some company to share it with made it one of the most pleasant, joyful days of the entire trip so far.

In the afternoon, we reached the Mississippi River. It was an amazing feeling to reflect on the fact that we had taken ourselves from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River with just our legs. Greg and I cheered, high-fived, and took pictures in front of the bridge as I had my seventh state: Illinois. We crossed the bridge and rode into the town of Chester, the birthplace of Popeye.

The big Miss

The big Miss

My 7th State! 

My 7th State! 

Got Spinach? 

Got Spinach? 

As we rolled into town, an elderly gentleman told us that we could stay at the Elks club for free and gave us directions. We arrived and got a key to a shack that they had set up in the back for free for cyclists called the "Shady Rest Motel," which I found rather comical as it looked a bit shady, but it was free, and I was grateful for any free spot to get horizontal. The inside had built-in bunks and a separate building with a shower and restrooms. We were greeted by Lexie and Sebastian, a young married couple traveling approximately 5400 miles from Berlin, Germany to the Pacific coast on their bikes (although they took a boat from Europe to New York).

Seb, Lexie, and I

Seb, Lexie, and I

Despite being vegan, they joined Greg and I at the Elks club for dinner, eating the two vegan items on the menu, chips and salsa, while we enjoyed a tasty lasagna. I stepped outside to send my GPS signal for the day, and returned to see Greg and Sebastian in a bit of a heated discussion about America, as Sebastian had been talking about healthcare and homeless services being worse in America than Europe.  I could see the veins popping out of Gregs neck as he explained, "If this is such a bad country, then why are you moving here? Why don't you move back to Germany or travel through Turkey or something!?"

I think Sebastian meant no harm, and was rather oblivious to the tension but I honestly began to wonder if Greg was going to reach over the table and knock him out. Greg was a really friendly guy and he had literally put his life on the line every day for this country, so I could see how he could find this line of conversation offensive. I could tell he was losing his cool, whether it was a misunderstanding or not. Greg had the sense to toss me the hostel key and book a room at the Best Western, leaving before things got worse.

Dinner at the Elks

Dinner at the Elks

Seb, Lexie, and I returned to the hostel and had some wonderful conversations about cycling, healthy eating, and our adventures, while they cooked some delicious vegan pasta and vegetables for my second meal. In the morning, they made some oatmeal and fruit and we left in separate directions. I had grown to love meeting new friends in this way, learning about each others cultures and perspectives, if even for a night.

My free bunk at the "Shady Rest Motel"

My free bunk at the "Shady Rest Motel"

I met Greg at his motel and we set off on another pleasantly overcast day and arrived in Murphysboro in the late afternoon. 

Overcast days make me smile

Overcast days make me smile

Greg

Greg

We enjoyed an incredible feast at a Mexican restaurant behind our motel, and stood out in front of our rooms talking to some other travelers while they sipped beers and smoked cigars. One of the men, a retired military officer, handed me a donation to the trip after several minutes of talking and exclaimed, "I am a good judge of character, and I don't need to look up what you are doing, I know you are doing something really good for people." This was just another one of the many random acts of kindness that I keep running into on this trip that have helped shape my optimistic view toward both humanity and our beautiful country.  Thanks for reading and all the prayers, shares, comments, and donations. I truly appreciate all the support.

Mexican feast

Mexican feast

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Missouri: Bike Breakdowns and Milking Goats

Pittsburgh Bike Park

Pittsburgh Bike Park

The city of Pittsburgh, Kansas has a beautiful RV and bike park, where cyclists can camp for free. It had everything I needed: bathrooms with showers, picnic tables, a water spigot, and a nice shady lawn to pitch my tent. As I was setting up my tent, a group of cyclists in their early twenties rolled up and we began swapping stories. Robert was a professional classical singer from Berlin and was headed West from New York to San Francisco, and Mark and Katie were a young couple that had just finished college and were headed from Chicago to Oregon. They had met on the road but had been riding together on and off for a while, and seemed like they had been friends all their lives.

That was what the road would do: connect people in ways that I never thought possible. It was not unusual to care for someone like you would a family member after a brief encounter. The daily challenges of trying to cross the country on a bicycle helped sever the formalities and boundaries that tend to divide us in the social spheres of daily living. This was a different type of existence. Fighting the elements on two wheels for weeks on end created an inherent bond between cyclists, minimizing the dividing lines of race, class or background. I loved the sense of expanded community that it created.

Mark and Robert rode into town and bought pizza (and beer) while I filmed Katie setting up her tent. We sat on a picnic table telling jokes and stories until the fireflies began to flicker in the trees behind us, the sun escaping under the horizon and filling the sky with a pink glow.  For a moment, we felt a slight drizzle of rain and a rainbow arched over the backdrop as the sun disappeared. I was so glad to have some people to talk to, since riding alone through Kansas had left me rather lonely. Somehow the conversation led to me telling my story of losing everything to alcohol, and they subtly attempted to shift their beers out of my sight. I explained that I was quite comfortable being around drinking, if anything I prefer that people don't modify anything on my behalf. Since I had become sober, I had given up so much socially, and the last thing I ever wanted was someone to change what they would normally do just because I had a problem.

While I didn't go out of my way to be around drinking, some of the best nights of my sobriety have been around old friends while they drank all night like I used to. These nights have tended to leave me with a feeling of achievement for staying sober, and a sense that I am not missing out on the fun. With that being said, sometimes being around drinking does force me to grieve the loss of those days. There are times when I wish I was not hindered by the occasional anxieties of life, which was something that dissapeared with a few sips of booze. Long ago I decided it was a worthy trade off to be a bit uneasy in social settings for a lifetime of peace, purpose, and success. Sobriety has to be an intrinsic desire, and at least for me, being reminded of drinking only strengthens my conviction that I have chosen to abstain.

Robert, Katie, Mark, and I

Robert, Katie, Mark, and I

As I was packing up my tent in the morning, Robert showed up with Starbucks coffee, doughnuts, and granola bars. I had not had a good cup of coffee like that in weeks, and we sat under the shade of the picnic table hovering over maps, swapping tips and advice about what to expect from the next few days, since we were both traveling in opposite directions. Robert gave me the number of a couple that hosted cyclists on their goat farm, and I soon had arranged my place for the night. I drifted through the humidity and Eastern Kansas heat while sweat beaded and streamed off of my face until I reached the Missouri border. I had reached my sixth state. 

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I made it to Golden City around lunchtime, and had been told by other cyclists to wander off the route a couple of blocks into town to have a piece of pie at a restaurant called Cooky's. I ate lunch and enjoyed a slice of apple a la mode while I glanced over the cyclist sign-in book, looking at drawings from other riders and seeing some familiar names of cyclists I had met in passing. I thought of Jack Kerouac eating apple pie everywhere he went in the book On The Road, with a sense of nostalgia toward the vicarious adventurous wonderment that his writing had inspired in me years ago.

While I was approaching Walnut Grove, the sun began to set. Suddenly, I heard a loud clunk from the back of my bike and was stopped dead in my tracks. My bike rack had broken off, and all three bags had fallen backwards slamming into my rear wheel. After 80 miles of vigorous climbing over the beginnings of the Ozarks, I lacked the energy to try to fix it at the roadside, so I texted my host family, and soon a man in his mid thirties named Duane arrived and picked me up with my broken bike as I had broken down only a few miles from his house. Duane was a software engineer and we had a nerdy bond that put me immediately at ease. He was incredibly amiable and told me that two girls from Norway were staying with him as well.  They had cooked me dinner, and had it warming in the oven. That was music to my ears — I had planned to cobble together a dinner out of the half melted cheese and Triscuits that were buried in my panniers.

We arrived at his farm and I soon heard the bahhh of the goats. There were chickens, roosters, guard dogs, cats, and a plethora of prize-winning show goats. Duane's house was immaculate, and he showed me to my room and handed me a plush beach towel before pointing me towards the nicest shower I had been in during the entire trip. The sink even looked like a tiny rock waterfall, and was surrounded by all these pleasant-smelling soaps. I was afraid to spit my toothpaste into it as it felt like desecrating nature or something. After cleaning up and meeting the Norwegian girls, I ate an incredible dinner of chicken, quinoa salad, and fresh fruit, which was a delight after a week of eating mostly out of gas stations. I fell into a deep sleep on a comfortable bed that was four feet above the ground, a novel change from the floor of my tent and squeaky stained mattresses at cheap motels.

The Keys and Norwegian girls

The Keys and Norwegian girls

Greeting me in the morning was hot dark coffee, fresh fruit, oatmeal, a fried egg, toast, and cheerful conversation with the Norwegian girls while Duane scurried around the farm feeding animals. We rode into town to take "the redneck tour," as Duane called it, which was a ride around Springfield and a trip to the Cabella's flagship store. It was interesting to watch the Norwegian girls marvel at the gun museum, as they took pictures of the NRA signup booth and the lines of customers buying guns. American flags hung practically everywhere. I enjoy loud powerful explosive things as much as any American, but watching their amusement and fascination with our gun culture put America's unique cultural obsession in perspective. 

The Redneck tour

The Redneck tour

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We ate lunch at a Peruvian restaurant and I ordered a goat burger, promising that I wouldn't tell the other goats when I got back to the farm.  We stopped at a grocery store and I bought some groceries for the girls to make a Norwegian dinner as a token of gratitude to Duane and his wife, Jennifer, who was set to arrive home when we returned.

Jennifer showed up that afternoon, returning from a 70 mile bike race, and I helped Duane put up some drywall and do some farm chores. We fed the goats and refilled their water troughs while the girls cooked an incredible meal of shrimp and smoked salmon pasta with a cream sauce. After dinner, Duane took to milking a goat and let me give it a try. There I was in the middle of Missouri, milking a goat, meeting friends from completely different backgrounds, discovering time and time again the true good nature of humanity. This was the trip of a lifetime.

Got milk? 

Got milk? 

As I put my bike together for the next day's ride, I realized that it would not be the easy fix I had originally imagined. I had a broken spoke, bent rim, and damaged wheel. Jennifer offered to take me into Springfield in the morning to Sunshine Bike Shop to get it fixed. On the ride down the next morning, I got to chat with Jennifer and learn the extended sense of community that she and Duane had discovered by hosting cyclists. She explained that they had been able to meet people from all over the world without even leaving their home. If you have ever considered hosting traveling cyclists, I highly recommend becoming a host on warmshowers.org, as I hope to do the same when I finish the trip and get settled down. I felt a sense that I would remain friends with Duane and Jennifer long after this trip, and am deeply grateful for all their help and hospitality.

The mechanics at Sunshine Bike Shop treated me like family, lending me an electric bike to ride to get some lunch and even drove me to a camera store to get a new microphone to replace the one that stopped working. Within a couple hours, they had built me a new wheel, repaired the rack, and had tuned up the entire bike, refusing to charge me labor explaining that they all had either been on tour, or dreamed of doing it one day, and would hope to be treated the same if the tables were turned. 

Sunshine bike shop

Sunshine bike shop

I took to the road in the early afternoon, glowing from my good fortune. I rode on the historic Route 66 into Marshfield, which was incredibly sketchy as it had no side road and heavy highway traffic. There were no affordable options for lodging, so I called the town Sheriff and he granted me permission to set my tent up at the county fairgrounds. It was a hot sweaty night in my tent with the booming sounds of a nearby railroad and kids lighting off firecrackers, but I was grateful for the free place to set up camp.

In the morning a grungy unshaven version of myself rode through the small town main street, where I asked a local about breakfast. She directed me to a little cafe called Freida's. I watched what seemed like the whole city congregate around biscuits and gravy, chatting about weather and happenings in the town. It was comforting to see the sense of community take place while I fueled up for a long day full of the steepest climbs of my trip. 

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Oh (zarks) my legs burn! 

Oh (zarks) my legs burn! 

When planning the trip, I had never given the Ozarks much thought. Honestly, I didn't really know exactly where they were, but I had started to hear the warnings from other cyclists that many had to walk their bikes from the high grades. These warnings hardly did the Ozarks justice, as I found myself pushed to levels I never thought possible. Even in my easiest gear, I had to fight for each pedal stroke as if doing one-legged squats, my heart thumping around 200 beats a minute until I thought it was going to explode. Tremendous work brought tremendous reward, however, and the descents took my bike to speeds that I also never thought possible, nearing 40 miles an hour while I yelped and hollered and waahooooooed

By the time I reached Houston, MO, my shirt had white sweat lines caked onto it, and my legs felt like Jello. I wobbled up to a cheap motel and headed straight for the shower and bed. I spent some time resting in Houston and waiting out heavy rains and a flood warning before returning to the steepness. I met a cyclist who was staying next door who exclaimed, "You're the famous Spencer I have been hearing about all this time! My buddy Ken rode with you in Nevada. I have seen you signed into a lot of log books…Bridge to Bridge, right?" Ken, who I had ridden with for various days back in May in Utah, came out of a different motel room and greeted me with a cheerful hug and plenty of stories about his journey, catching me up on the happenings of the mutual people we had met. It was strange how small of a world it was crossing the country on a bicycle, running into the same people in various cities along the route, creating friendships and bonds that exceeded anything I had ever experienced.

In the morning, the rain had finally let up. Everything was damp and seemed to breathe with life as I began the climb out of town. My derailer had been shifting erratically between gears for several days, and I was unable to adjust it quite right. This created unnecessary tension on my chain, until I eventually heard it snap off while trying to climb a hill, nearly sending me to the ground. I realized that I was about 100 miles in either direction from the nearest bike shop, so I sat there on the side of the road in the swampy heat trying to fix it.

I rummaged through my bag and grabbed a power link, a connector piece that I had bought for such an event, using it to temporarily repair the broken chain. Then realized that I had looped the chain through incorrectly, so had to pop off another link. A fellow cyclist stopped and I was eventually able to look at his bike to figure out how to put the chain on properly, using a second power link to fix it, grateful that I had had the foresight to bring two of them.

The cyclist who stopped called himself Yukon, and was part of the TransAmerica race, yet was willing to set himself back to help me out. It was one of my most trying moments of the trip so far. I was frustrated, exhausted, and hot, and yet Yukon was so pleasant and had an ease to his spirit, cracking jokes and talking about all the cool objects he had found on the side of the road. He was willing to slow his finish time a bit to selflessly help a guy in desperate need. The media can make this world seem scary and negative, even unapproachable at times, and yet this trip has proven that we live in a world that is overwhelmingly full of goodness, love, patience, and selflessness.  

Yukon holding up objects he had found on the side of the road

Yukon holding up objects he had found on the side of the road

As I pedaled the rest of the day to a serene campsite near the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, I kept thinking about how this trip has renewed my belief in the goodness of humanity. It has reminded me of the love and kindness that really exists across this country that I am so proud to call my home. I hope that others might be reminded vicariously through my trip that this is, in fact, a wonderful world. Moreover, I hope that the kids for whom I am raising money to help will someday get a chance to see the world that I am experiencing: vast and beautiful, hopeful and free.

Teenagers roared by my campsite in a red, white, and blue truck streaming American flags, laughing and flirting, having the summer of their lives. I fell asleep in my tent filled with the happiness of the memories of my own teenage Fourth of July weekends without a care in the world. Thanks for reading, sharing, commenting, and donating to my journey to fund a new recovery home for Providence Network. I truly appreciate all the love, support, and encouragement.

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Across the plains of Kansas

I began my ride out of Garden City following the route suggested by Google Maps. The driving directions would have taken me due east out of my way, then south. For bicycles, it suggested an alternative road that cut out about 10 miles by riding a perfect diagonal line southeast. This took me parallel to some railroad tracks along a quiet back road with almost no traffic. It was an amazing find, and I spent the first hour of the day blissfully enjoying the solitude and stillness next to endless rows of corn stalks.

Then I came to understand why I was the only one using this seemingly perfect road. The pavement ended and I found myself slipping around on a dusty farm road that gripped my tires like I was riding through a sandbox. I had traveled too far to justify turning around, so I spent over two hours in the 95 degree heat attempting to get on my bike and ride, slipping out, walking my bike, attempting again, falling, cursing, sweating, guzzling water, running out of water, then growing dizzy. I eventually reached pavement and realized I had forgotten to apply sunscreen and my skin was forming a purple hue. In life, I have learned that sometimes you have to struggle a bit to gain a true appreciation for things, even the little things. I never imagined pavement would be on the list, but I actually found myself spending the afternoon admiring the asphalt, realizing how the invention of paved roads really made my life easier, particularly when trying to cross the country on a bicycle.

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It was evening by the time I arrived in Dodge City, KS, a town with rich history from the frontier days of the Wild West. I was exhausted, and rather than explore the sights like every other tourist, I fell quickly to sleep in a dirt cheap, funky smelling motel.

I departed at sunrise, marveling at the way the rays of light glowed on a train as it churned and puffed alongside me while I found my pace. I had been warned by other cyclists about how difficult Kansas would be: the heat, heavy winds, and the same monotonous scenery day in and day out. The flatlands are more challenging than you would expect, as your back and rear end stay in the same position all day, often creating butt, neck, arm, and back pain.

That morning, however, I had a nice tailwind and a good audiobook and felt pretty pain-free. My spirits were high. After several hours of steady riding, I stopped for a delicious barbecue brisket sandwich and salad at the only place to get food for miles: the Country Cafe, a small truck stop restaurant near Mullinsville. The owner, Katie, told me about some of the other transcontinental people that had passed through including a hippie guy who was running barefoot across the country ahead of me, and I told her about my ride. When it came time to pay, she explained without any hesitation, "I've got your lunch. Thank you for what you are doing." As I pulled away, I felt exalted by the random kindness and friendliness that seemed to follow me on this trip. 

Katie and I at Country Cafe

Katie and I at Country Cafe

As I neared Pratt, I was passed by a road biker going at an insanely fast pace. He looked more exhausted than I had ever seen a person look, and he barely managed to grunt a raspy "hi" as he passed. Then it hit me: the Race Across America must have caught up to me. While I had been giving it my all for the last month and a half, these people had left less than a week ago from Los Angeles, and were riding 20 hours a day at a pace of about 200–300 miles a day.

I started to see dozens of support vehicles and media vans following the riders. I arrived in Pratt and stopped at Taco Bell for a quick dinner and a guy had set up a full editing studio in one of the booths and was editing race footage for the BBC News. It was so exciting to have gone from being a lone crazy guy with a bike out in rural America, to suddenly being surrounded by a city that buzzed with excitement about the world of cycling. I spoke to dozens of people about my tour, each of them encouraging and enthusiastic about what I was doing.

One of the many support and media vans for Race Across America

One of the many support and media vans for Race Across America

The next morning I ran into "Barefoot Jake Brown," the dreadlocked hippie that I had heard about the earlier. He was incredibly friendly and told me about how he was trying to be the first person to run across the country barefoot, averaging between 1-2 marathons per day. He talked about his initiative called the bare sole project, aimed at promoting a global community and conscious lifestyle. He told me that he had chosen to live "homeless" since 2012,  and explained how he provided a platform to share ideas and products for artists, writers, craftsmen, activists, and more. Through his website and run, he is helping a variety of charities through his efforts. I was inspired by both his efforts and the incredible callouses on his feet.

Barefoot Jake Brown

Barefoot Jake Brown

Later in the day, I passed a bearded aging cyclist that called himself Daniel Freedom. He was also a cheerful, easygoing guy and had been riding around the US for 11 years with a trailer full of belongings. As we chatted, he smoked a rolled cigarette, which I found to be a strange thing for a cyclist to be doing. As I handed him my card, he asked me what a blog was, somewhat baffled by the word. He explained that he had put more than 100,000 miles on his bike over the last decade, stopping in whichever town he liked, working for a while, then getting back on his bike and out on the road. In some ways, I felt the spirit of an old boxcar hobo as I talked to Daniel. He showed me some of the random faded flags he had picked up throughout his travels, along with the apartment of things he has collected and carried around the country with his legs. He was a homeless drifter, but a darn motivated one.

"Daniel Freedom"

"Daniel Freedom"

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In the late afternoon, I arrived in the relatively big city of Wichita and found a cheap motel as there were few if any camping options. I grimaced as the front desk clerk explained that they had no vacancies on the first level and began heaving my bike up a set of stairs, nearly falling backwards from the weight. 

I was ravenous from the day's ride and about at the halfway point of the trip, so I decided to celebrate with a trip to Golden Corral, a buffet that was less than a mile away from my motel. I cleaned and stacked empty plates with a fury, astonishing my waitress, and even attracting the concerned eye of the manager. I ate two giant salads, fried chicken, steak, mashed potatoes, rice, chicken, tacos, shrimp, meatloaf, ice cream, brownies, and then more ice cream. I heard that they have since gone out of business.
  

I found my happy place

I found my happy place

As my motel was right off of the highway, I navigated my way across it, and circled around the city to avoid the morning traffic, finding a pleasant bike trail that rolled along the river. I found myself riding through a wealthy neighborhood and was reminded of my early days at Providence House, biking at 4am to work at a coffee shop in Cherry Creek. I thought of those early mornings, when I had first quit drinking, riding from 8th and Logan before the city was awake. I remember looking at the perfectly manicured lawns of the wealthy neighborhood on 7th Avenue, which felt so disconnected from my situation as a broke alcoholic on the mend.

I remembered the urges and cravings that seemed to flood my brain during that first year of sobriety, and how toward the end of each morning's ride, the cravings and negative repetitive thinking seemed to disappear, being replaced by my heart pumping. Those morning rides gave me a blissful mental stillness that helped combat my alcoholism. This was when I first learned that I could use fitness as a tool to stay sober and improve my depression, riding my old bike all those early mornings, next to the perfection of those immaculate homes. 

It was on those rides that I really learned to accept the things that I cannot change, which was otherwise just a mantra that I had mumbled in various recovery meetings. I learned to be okay with my situation as a minimum wage worker, and began to dream about a different and meaningful future for myself. It was on those rides that the guidance and support from all the meetings and counseling that took place at Providence House really turned into reflection — they began to take seed. It was on these rides that I found myself again, that I learned to pray in a meaningful way. It was where I found God, as I understood him.

I had somewhat forgotten about the powerful changes that occurred in my life on those rides until the memories came flooding back as I rode out of Wichita. I knew it was not a coincidence that I randomly found myself cycling through Wichita's mirror image of Denver's 7th Avenue, and began to feel rejuvenated, hopeful, and nostalgic toward the miracle that really happened in my life while I was at Providence House. I was excited to know that, through the efforts of my ride, this miracle would happen in other kids lives as well.

The affluent neighborhood in Wichita

The affluent neighborhood in Wichita

Riverside bike trail through downtown Wichita  

Riverside bike trail through downtown Wichita  

Another picture of the trail

Another picture of the trail

The urban sprawl evaporated into long stretches of corn fields, some with triumphantly thick stalks and signs displaying the patent code for the laboratory that had genetically modified the crop. The heat seemed to drain every ounce of energy out of me and I guzzled several quarts of water between each town, my gloves drenched in sweat and continuously slipping from the handlebars until I made it to Beaumont, a town with a population of 20 people.

The Beaumont Hotel was the only place to stay for 40 miles in either direction, including camping options. Despite the reservation my mom had made for me online, I arrived at the historic hotel and it was closed. I wandered around the side of the building, looking for a door and a man started yelling at me from a nearby building, and began charging me with a crazy look as if he was going to beat me up. I explained who I was, and that I had a reservation, and his manner changed immediately. He explained that he was the maintenance man, and after calling his boss he found me a room. He pulled the air-conditioner out of the wall, installed a replacement, and soon I was in the sweet bliss of its cool breeze. After cleaning up from the days ride, I wandered the property taking pictures and shooting video. The history of the place was pretty interesting, and I took a walking tour around the property reading signs about its history. In the 1940s, businessmen wanting to check on their cattle started landing on Beaumont's Main Street and in 1953 the hotel acquired 70 acres on the east side of town for an airstrip. Apparently, pilots now taxi up Main Street to the hotel, parking at the "Bent Prop Aircraft Parking" across the street, although I didn't catch any planes coming or going.  I also perused the nearly abandoned main street, and took some pictures of a water tower from 1885, which is the only wooden water tower still in use in America.

In the morning, the maintenance man opened up the 1950s diner for me, which was closed for the day, and gave me some coffee and cereal. I filled my water bottles with ice water which became warm within an hour of riding. The road that I needed to take to the town of Chanute was closed, so I looked at my map for alternative options, realizing that I would have to travel over 20 miles out of my way. Meanwhile, I saw a fair amount of trucks were ignoring the sign and continuing on the road.

I waited until a truck stopped at the intersection and asked a guy if he thought I could get through on a bicycle and he exclaimed, "Yup, you can," then roared off without any other details about what I could expect. After 15 miles or so on the completely empty scenic farm road, I came to another roadblock. A construction crew was repaving a two mile section, and I panicked at the thought of having to turn around, but thankfully they let me pass through their work zone, weaving around all the workers and heavy machinery, leaving a bike tire track behind my path on the new pavement.

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Hotel in Chanute

Hotel in Chanute

I arrived in Chanute and stayed at a historic art deco 1920s hotel that had been remodeled and was surprisingly cheaper than another option. I enjoyed the clunky ride with my bike up the old elevator, and the view of downtown Chanute from the third floor. Before continuing on to Missouri, I spent a day catching up on work for the trip and doing laundry, hanging my clothes on my camping rope which I had strung around the antique hand carved bed frame. 

As I neared Pittsburgh in southeastern Kansas, my surroundings were becoming lush and green. I was passing over rivers on a more frequent basis, and feeling the humidity which seemed to add a whole new element to the summer heat. As the bugs buzzed and nibbled on my legs with each pedal stroke, I arrived in Pittsburg and found a park to set up my tent in my last stop before the border with Missouri.

Thanks for reading and all the thoughts, prayers, comments, shares, and donations to Providence Network. I just got the news today that my ride has raised $38,600 so far — I truly appreciate all the love and support for this cause!

 

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Colorado Part 4: Walsenburg to Garden City, Kansas

My friend Shawn pulled up to our campsite in Walsenburg in a van driven by his wife, Jennifer. Shawn is on the Colorado State Patrol in a K9 unit, and we met in a running club and became friends. He races on a team, and looked like a professional cyclist with the classic road racing attire: spandex bib shorts, a muscle tight jersey, an aerodynamic helmet and shades, and a road bike that I could lift with my pinkie finger. There was nothing aerodynamic or fast about bicycle touring, and I had warned him that he might get bored with our pace, but he seemed happy to have a day out riding with friends, even though he seemed to be pedaling backwards more than forwards for most of the ride.

Shawn, Jen, and I

Shawn, Jen, and I

We began our day with some Carl's Jr breakfast burritos and coffee on the way out of town, and discussed the storm that was scheduled to chase us that afternoon, which prompted us to get moving. The road was desolate, but beautiful — completely unspoiled grasslands that stretched for miles with the occasional deer, herd of cattle, or row of wind turbines.  Despite touring through the remote roads in Nevada and Utah, it was still so hard for me to believe that these massive pieces of land had been spared from being defiled by the hands of man, and it left me thinking. I thought of the larger cities of America, and wondered what it felt like to be on the land before the skyscrapers and parking lots. I thought about all this land I was riding past and tried to picture what it will be like in a thousand years: a sprawling metropolis, perhaps.

Being that we were on bicycles in the heat, the downside of undeveloped land soon became obvious, as there was not a single place to stop for water or food for 76 miles. Jen and I were out of water before mile 30. Jennifer, Shawn's wife, came to the rescue in the middle of the day by traveling ahead and filling a cooler with water. By the time she arrived, we were so parched that Jen and I guzzled several bottles on the spot. By the afternoon, a dark cloud had formed behind us and was moving in our direction. It seemed to whisper to us: Go faster! I am coming. It was all the motivation we needed to keep a steady pace and to limit our breaks. 

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By the time we arrived in La Junta, the sky overhead was dark and grim, and began to spit rain. We raced through town toward our motel as it showered on us, the low boom of thunder echoing off of the businesses and houses as we rode through town. Then arrived my worst fear, second only to a tornado: lightning. The flashes of lighting were so intense that they seemed to illuminate and electrify the entire city every several seconds.

My mind was racing. If you are going to take one of us down hit me, not Jen, as I seem to have a lot of lives and could probably live through a lighting bolt or two. But soon we had arrived to the safety of our motel, where we watched out the window in amazement as the storm grew even worse. Massive puddles formed in the parking lot, blinding us like paparazzi as they reflected each burst of lightning. The storm calmed down as we had cleaned up from the days ride. Jen ordered Chinese food, which we devoured before bed.

Shawn and Jennifer met Jen and I at the motel in the morning and we began down highway 50 towards the small town of Lamar, in southeastern Colorado. I had moved to Lamar in 2011 for nursing school and had been living there ever since, working at the local hospital in the Emergency Department. The 57 mile ride between La Junta and Lamar was mostly flat, scattered with farm buildings and ranches that are so commonplace along the Colorado plains. I thought of my training rides on that very road just a couple months prior. I remembered how grueling and long that exact road had felt, and realized how much my body had adapted to daily riding. 57 miles on flat terrain now seem like a pretty easy day. 

We passed Las Animas and as Lamar approached, I began to take in the familiar sights of the place I had called home the last four years.  It occurred to me that I had just ridden my bicycle from the Pacific Ocean, and was about to be back in the house where I had spent hundreds of hours planning for this dream. Just a couple of months ago, it had been just that: a dream. It was something that kept me up late at night, digging through articles and maps. It was something that I talked about, but wasn't actually sure I could really do. On this day, as I returned home carried by two spinning wheels of rubber, it felt so tangible. I knew that if I could make it home to Lamar, I could make it to Brooklyn. As we rolled through main street, I heard the encouraging honks of passing motorists and noticed signs on multiple businesses displaying words like, "Welcome Spencer Nee."  I felt so encouraged and loved.

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We arrived at my house and were greeted with warm hugs by my parents, who had come out from Phoenix to see me again. Realizing that her trip was coming to an end, Jen began to listen to her voicemails from work. For the entire week I had been encouraging Jen to ignore the emails, texts, and voicemails. Providence House was the house that helped me get sober, and Jen serves as the live-in housing director. After five years of living with residents, sharing meals, coaching, and mentoring them through the struggles of early sobriety, I imagined that she needed a break. She had given so much of herself over the last five years to help others, and had assisted so many people to embrace sobriety and rebuild their lives. I deeply respect her level of servitude and selflessness, which was evident to me as she struggled to avoid her ties to the house all week.

Jen listened to her voicemail on my couch, and I suddenly heard her yell, "No, No, No! It can't be true, she didn't! No, it's not true!" Tears began streaming down her cheeks. She ran out to my back yard and collapsed onto the ground and began beating the grass and pleading, "I just talked to her, it can't be true." Before Jen had joined me on the ride, a 29-year-old resident had left the house only a year into the two-year program. The news arrived that she had overdosed and died.

I had no idea how to console Jen, so I rubbed her back and got her some Kleenex. I was reminded of all the friends that I had lost to addiction. I thought of Joey, Larry, Jerry, Collin, Vickie, Neil, and all the others that I had lost. Many of them tried to leave Providence House for a job, to get their kids back, because they thought they had fallen in love, or just wanted to try to do things their own way. As someone that has been through it, I can assure you that it takes years of treatment to get well, not 28 days, or 6 months. It takes years. That is why Providence Network works — unlike other programs, they excel at understanding the importance of providing a continuum of care over a long period of time. As I watched Jen grieving in my backyard, I realized how much she truly loved the broken. I realized that each time someone left, a piece of her left as well.

I thought back to those that had died after leaving Providence House while I lived there. Sometimes it was only a few days after they had left when I would hear the news of their deaths. I remember one time in particular, sitting at the dinner table with my friend Collin, smiling and joking around like we always did. He was so excited that I had found steak in the freezer and incorporated it into the enchiladas for dinner, that he joked that we had finally made it.  He was an attorney, and was working to get his life back on track after his alcoholism had taken over. I will never forget when his mom came to get his belongings after he had decided to try to do things on his own. She said he had fallen in a motel and bled to death only a few days after we had sat at that dinner table laughing and joking around. If he only would have decided to stay.

I remember his mother's tears, and her solemn look when she grabbed me and stared into my eyes, making me promise that I would learn from her loss. She begged me to think of him every time I thought about drinking. She pleaded for her son's death to mean something to someone other than herself and her family. I have seen the vivid image of her grieving face in my mind many times, and heard her words in some of my closest moments to relapsing. I will never forget my promise to her. I promised I would stay sober for him.

While I watched Jen grieve, I was reminded of how important my mission really was. The people who arrive at Providence House—and those that will arrive at the new home that I am raising money to fund—are on the brink of death. They need the Christian love from people like Jen. They need the sense of family that they have likely never felt. They need the support and structure that saved my life, and that continues to save the lives of many others. This was why I was riding each day, in the honor of those passed, and to prevent others from such a fate. 

Jen's friend came and picked her up so that she could return to Denver to grieve and help console other residents impacted by the loss.  I was going to miss having her cheerful spirit riding with me, but knew she was needed at Providence House, doing God's work. I was truly touched and encouraged that she took the time out of her life to come support me with this dream. 

Jen

Jen


Swimming with Corde and Bannor

Swimming with Corde and Bannor

After over a month of missing her and wishing I was by her side, my girlfriend Brandi showed up to my house with her twin boys, Corde and Bannor. I was so excited to get to spend a few days spending time with her. My friends Rod and Julie had us over to their house for a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, sides, homemade ice cream, and a variety of desserts. The boys and I swam in the pool and had water gun fights until the sun faded behind the horizon. 

Since there had been no telling exactly when I would ride into town on Friday, the community pretended that I was coming in Saturday so that others could join me through main street as I rode in.  I met at a gas station on the North end of town and was astonished by the amount of people that began congregating to ride with me, many of them kids. 

The police closed down main street and I rode behind a police escort with dozens of people riding behind me of all ages.  We slowly coasted through downtown Lamar, passing friends and community members cheering and holding signs.  It was one of the best moments of my life.  I found myself tearing up under my sunglasses as I waved at all the people that supported me.  My dream of riding across America to save others from addictions had come true, and so many people believed and supported what I was trying to accomplish. 

We pulled into the park by the swimming pool and dozens of kids signed custom Colorado license plates for my bike, while I snapped pictures with kids that were inspired by my ride. One girl told me that I was her 4H project and she snapped photos with me and my bike. I got to catch up with my friends from the Prowers Medical Center while families lined up at the pool for a free glow in the dark themed swim party. 

 

 

My brother Ryan came down from Denver with our family friend Judy, who had been like an aunt to me growing up. With my parents and my friends Rod and Julie, we left the event at the park and headed over to the local Thai restaurant for dinner and to celebrate each other's company.

 

The next morning, I spoke to all three services at Lamar Christian Church, giving a brief testimony and explaining the purpose of my journey. I also gave an hour-long presentation in the fellowship hall showing pictures and telling stories about the trip so far. I was approached by several families who told me stories about their loved ones impacted by addiction. An elder at the church handed me an envelope so full of checks and cash that I could barely fit it into my pocket saying, "that is from the first service, there are two more coming." The generosity and encouragement from the congregation was absolutely unbelievable.

In the evening I gave a slide show presentation to Grace Fellowship church, a small but mighty congregation of passionate believers that met downtown at the Brew Unto Others coffee shop. I was again approached by several people after the presentation to talk about addictions and was handed an enormously generous envelope full of checks from the congregation. Lamar may be a small town, but its generosity toward my goal to raise $100,000 for Providence Network was massive.

The next day my former coworkers at Prowers Medical Center held a potluck luncheon in my honor. The room was decorated with signs of support, and I stayed for a couple hours eating and catching up with old friends. It was a remarkable place to work, and I was honored that they took the time out of their schedules to support my dream.  

PMC potluck

PMC potluck

Potluck at PMC

Potluck at PMC

Some thoughtful designs made by Amanda at PMC

Some thoughtful designs made by Amanda at PMC

I spent the next couple of days in Lamar working on some of the behind the scenes details of the trip and documentary, hanging out with my beautiful girlfriend Brandi. It was so hard to have to leave her again for two months, and I found myself mixed with so many emotions as the morning of my departure grew nearer. She had sacrificed so much to support this dream of mine, and I was sad to have to say goodbye once again.

I set off for Garden City, which was a little over 100 miles from my house — I had decided to do a century ride out of town because I figured I would be well-rested. Brandi had been contacted by an 11-year-old girl named Kynnadigh who had been inspired by my ride and wanted to ride out of town with me. Her mother was in prison, but she hoped that my efforts might help her mom when she got out. I met Kynnadigh and her sister Londyn in the Wal-Mart parking lot, accompanied by their cousin. They joined me as I rode out, stopping at the nearest turnoff to part ways. I gave them both high fives and their eyes lit up and their smiles became wide. I was so touched that they had come out to support my ride, and I pray that their mother gets the help that she needs.

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I reached the Kansas border by midday and left my beloved home state of Colorado. Almost immediately after crossing the border, a major headwind came in that tried to stop me in my tracks. I dropped into an easier gear, and began fighting with all my might. My speedometer displayed a mere 7 miles per hour, I had almost 70 miles to go. After fighting the heat and wind for hours, I arrived in Garden City, absolutely exhausted. I found a motel since I had no energy to find a place to camp. I stopped next door at a Sonic and started talking to a truck driver about my trip, and he asked the carhop to give me the change from his dinner, which more than bought my meal. As my tired body hit the bed, I reveled in the kindness and generosity that had been showered upon me the prior week.  Thanks for reading and all the thoughts, prayers, donations, shares, and likes.  I truly appreciate all the love and support.

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Colorado Part 3: Lower Piedra to Walsenburg

A cool Colorado rain drizzled on my tent throughout the night at the Lower Piedra campground between Durango and Pagosa Springs while I huddled in my sleeping bag for warmth. Using carabeaners, I had clipped a damp sweatshirt, socks, and long underwear from the prior day's rainy ride to the inside roof of my tent in hopes that they would dry. The morning light revealed that it had been no use — everything was soaked.

I spent the first part of the morning drinking cold instant coffee and reading a morning devotion on my phone while waiting to hear some noise from Jen's tent. It was my first day cycling with Jen, my friend and Providence House director, and I was excited to have some company. Through the thin walls of my tent I could hear the sounds of the forest waking up, and the exhilarating roar of the river beside me, and felt so connected to a world that had become so hidden by man's urban creations. The rain stopped, and we decided to get moving. With a long stick, I fetched the food I had hung high in a tree to protect ourselves from bears while Jen filmed with my camera and laughed at my awkward attempt at trying to pretend that I was a seasoned outdoor survivalist. Our loaded bikes sunk into the damp soil as we descended down the twisting campground road toward Highway 160.

Jen pointed out how liberating it was to be living off of our bicycles. It was true — to carry all you need on a bicycle did something very special to the spirit. It reminded me that the best moments in my life had never arrived from a purchase I had made, an improvement in my status, or a promotion. They had arrived when I was connected to the beauty and harmony of nature, spending time with loved ones, and serving others. Each day of this trip has filled me with these moments.

Jen and Mr. Ed

Jen and Mr. Ed

Jen, like myself, was not an avid cyclist. She owned a road bike, and had modified it with thorn resistant tires and a rear rack for holding a small amount of gear. She had even engaged in several training rides to prepare. She had decided to join me, not because of a love for cycling, but because she wanted to support my efforts funding a youth recovery home and raising awareness for Providence Network, where she had served as the director of Providence House for the last five years. With that being said, Jen is in phenomenal shape, and despite over a month of daily riding, I found myself barely keeping up with her pace as we rode over the rolling mountainous hills into Pagosa Springs.

My mom's friend had a brother in Pagosa, Rob, who had invited to put us up, so we met him at the West end of town at Boss Hogs Restaurant. He was an incredibly friendly guy, and seemed to know everyone at the restaurant.  After a delicious sandwich and salad bar, we coasted down a hill to his girlfriend, Laura's house, and were welcomed with warm showers and gracious hospitality.

Rob and Laura

Rob and Laura

Jen and I walked into town to explore and found a cheap hot springs that was a bit off of the main drag which had a warm swimming pool, one hot tub, and two insanely hot pools. We rejuvenated our tired muscles in the fiery geothermal springs, then made our way to the larger pool and met Karen, who began to talk about losing her husband recently to a sudden heart attack.

It was a surreal moment, as the dark clouds above began to shower, creating mesmerizing droplets on the steaming surface of the water while she spoke with such openness. Although I was a stranger, she poured her heart out to me, and talked about how hard it was for her to be alone when she had planned her entire life around her husband. The conversation turned to addiction, and she explained the pain and anguish that her drug addicted brother-in-law had caused her through this period of grief. Although it is hard to explain, I felt that God was working through me, lending an ear, providing some piece of comfort in her time of grief, and helping her come to terms with the pain that addicts are capable of inflicting.

Jen and I exploring Pagosa

Jen and I exploring Pagosa

Later in the evening, Rob and Laura returned to the house from an event, and Rob declined my offer to pay him to SAG our gear over the pass, insisting that he do it as a donation toward the cause. This was another one of the acts of kindness and selflessness that had made this trip so incredible.

The next morning, we set off for Wolf Creek Pass into the intermittent rain, stopping only to put on and take off our rain gear. I had been mentally preparing for the climb for several weeks as I had dozens of memories of my car struggling toward the top between trips to and from Durango in college, and knew it would be a beast. It took a couple  of hours of steady climbing to reach Treasure Falls, a magnificent waterfall that cascades 105 feet into Falls Creek before connecting to the San Juan River and marks the point where the pass really starts to climb.  With a maddening look of determination, Jen set the pace, climbing for over an hour before stopping to look down at the enormous amount of elevation we had conquered. 

About half way up

About half way up

For weeks, I had been wondering if Jen would try to kill me for having our second day be one of the most difficult rides of the entire coast-to-coast trip, but to my amazement, she continued to endure the pain, climbing with a feverish pace ahead of me. While my legs screamed at me to stop, I could see her joyously glancing around at the wildlife and the beauty below us, as if the climb was effortless. We continued to the top, and upon reaching the snow-laden summit, Jen smiled and exclaimed, "That was it?! I am going to come back in the Fall and do it again from the other side!"  My fears were apparently unfounded, and I knew Jen would have no trouble making it through the rest of the week of riding. She was an animal. 

We talked to some tourists as they snapped pictures in the summer snow. I told them about the fundraiser, and I was handed money by two complete strangers, and we were showered with compliments surrounding the feat. There happened to be a folk festival in Pagosa Springs that weekend, and two folk artists stood by the sign and sang about Wolf Creek Pass. Then came the reward: over an hour of adrenaline-filled soaring down the other side, gazing at the beautiful scenery as it whizzed past.

Victory! Wolf Creek Pass Summit

Victory! Wolf Creek Pass Summit

We found a rustic cabin suite in South Fork for less than a motel would have cost, and I spent the evening working on uploading video footage while Jen watched a movie and relaxed. We took some time in the morning, sipping coffee and slowly waking up on the tranquil cabin porch before getting back on our bikes. We cycled past countless horses grazing on the dense grass as we glided our way toward Alamosa.

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After stopping at a grocery store to get some provisions, we rode several miles out of town to an RV park that advertised tent camping.  At first glance, I thought the place had closed down. The dumpy exterior had a for sale sign, and the office looked as if it hadn't been used in years. There were remnants of what must have once been a small go cart track, although it now looked like a pile of old tires and rotting signs. We rode up to a man sitting on the porch of a house on the property and he explained, "the guy that takes the money will be back."

It felt like a drug deal was about to happen. Fitting with the theme, a man covered in jail tattoos showed up and took my twenty bucks and pointed toward a picnic table for us to camp.  He said, "Campers shower is around back. They are building a fence next to the tent site — sorry about that." The bathroom was only separated from the house by curtains, and the water smelled like natural gas but I was happy to have a place to get sort of clean and set up to sleep. Sure enough, once our tents were pitched, a construction crew arrived next to us with their noisy equipment and began to work on the fence for the rest of the night. We made the best of it, and Jen cooked a delicious concoction of rice and summer sausage with my camping stove, followed by hot chocolate. We watched the setting sun form the most unique hues of pink on the clouds in the distance. Jen somehow found a kids' tricycle and began riding it around on the go cart track under the twilight until our flesh became a feeding ground for mosquitoes and we were forced into the safety of our tents.  We sat in our tents talking late into the night.

The next day was a planned rest day in Alamosa. I had a lot of work to do for the trip, so Jen rented a car and drove to the Sand Dunes while I booked a motel and worked on my computer. My friend and former coworker, Robert, made a point of stopping by to see me on his way to Durango.  We spent some time catching up in downtown Alamosa while drinking smoothies and talked about his plans to possibly join me for a leg of the trip on his bike in the coming weeks.

Robert and I

Robert and I

Photo Credit: Robert Lutes

Photo Credit: Robert Lutes

My parents had talked about how grueling La Veta Pass would be, and even considered coming back out to SAG for us, so we left Alamosa anticipating a difficult day. Although it was some work, it was such a gradual climb that we found ourselves laughing at the idea of them providing help once we had reached the summit. We enjoyed the coast down the other side towards Walsenburg stopping to look at the various wildlife which included deer and buffalo.

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My friend Alex and her four daughters took a trip to Walsenberg to show their support for the ride. They met us at the fanciest restaurant in Walsenberg, which was one of the only restaurants that hadn't closed its doors from the crumbling small town economy. Alex has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort writing articles about my trip, and designed several ideas to get kids involved in the cause by providing parental tools which included the "Spencer's Jar" campaign. If you haven't already, check them out on the Tools for Parents section. 

She treated us to appetizers, a steak dinner, and dessert while I got the chance to tell her incredibly friendly, polite, and well-behaved daughters about the ride. I felt touched that they drove such a long way to show their support for my efforts. They invited us to swim in their motel pool, but between the 76 miles of riding and the time it took to get our tents set up, we couldn't muster the energy to make our way back to meet them.

Alex, Jen, and the girls

Alex, Jen, and the girls

Jen and I with the Kuykendall girls

Jen and I with the Kuykendall girls

Back at our campsite, an elderly man exited his RV wearing nothing but a red speedo and moseyed over to talk to us, mostly about the weather. He made several appearances throughout the evening, which were so comical that we decided to nickname him Speedo Steve. The next morning was spent packing up, while Speedo Steve paraded around the RV park with his wife. The fact that he was with his wife took something away from my original feeling of creepiness at his choice of clothing.

Jen and Speedo Steve

Jen and Speedo Steve

As we finished packing up, a man who called himself "Dizzle" walked up and asked Jen and I if we wanted to smoke a joint. We politely declined, and he agreed to let me film his story. Dizzle grew up in Sacramento, and was tossed around the foster system until on his 18th birthday, when his foster parent dropped him off at a homeless shelter and told him to have a nice life. He took to the streets, drawn toward the only thing that resembled a family from his fellow Crip gang members. He explained that after seeing so many of his friends die on the streets, he started to contemplate the fate of his lifestyle. At the age of 21, he started to do some serious thinking, as he had heard that the average gang member's lifespan was 21 years. He opened a map of the US and pointed to a spot: Walsenberg, Colorado. He left the streets, and had been here ever since. While I was unsure of the validity of his story, I couldn't help but think about the purpose of my trip in hearing some of his words.  

Dizzle

Dizzle

My hope for this ride is to fund a new recovery home for homeless and addicted youth that find themselves in predicaments similar to Dizzle. This is a unique demographic, as age 18 is when a lot of the funding for these efforts dries up. It is the age when addictions are most likely to engulf lives. It is also a hopeful age, as lives can be profoundly and permanently changed before young people determine what will define their adulthoods. It is when a lot of kids stare at a crossroads and just need some help choosing the right path, much like I did.

This new home for Providence Network has the potential to change many young lives before they choose the wrong direction ending up a tremendous cost to families and society. Thanks for helping me accomplish this dream of helping change the directions of young peoples lives by donating, sharing, liking, and supporting my ride.

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Colorado Part 2: Durango and Lower Piedra Campground

The morning arrived in Durango with my legs curled up on a couch that I knew all too well. It was the same couch where I had spent many drunken nights nearly a decade ago escaping the cold winters in town when I was lost in my addictions. My friend still lived in the same house as he had all those years ago, and it was as if I had traveled through time to be reminded of my old self. I remembered years ago, when his roommates, with good reason, finally told me that I could no longer stumble in drunk and pass out on the couch from time to time.  I felt so worthless back then.

I made my way out to his front porch to sip coffee from a steamy mug, listening to the melody of the birds, drifting off in thought.  I remembered a distinct moment years ago, sipping whiskey on that porch, when I decided that if I could ever get sober that I wanted to be in the medical field and learn to heal people. It was a strange memory because all these years later, after over five years of cramming medical information and all night study sessions, I had pursued just that, becoming a Registered Nurse.

I also remembered a day when I sat hopelessly staring at the winter snow on the porch, realizing I had overstayed my welcome, wondering how I was going to keep from freezing. I remembered all the mornings that came after that, wondering how I was going to get enough booze to stop my violently shaking hands.

Now many years later, the roommates had changed, but the couch and porch remained the same, and the memories they brought forward in my mind left me a bit uneasy. I walked away from his porch for several blocks with my camera, past the tavern that I used to frequent to drink and sing Karaoke. I passed the Section 8 apartments where a Native American lady had taken me in and allowed me to stay for over a year. This was where I drank 40s of malt liquor while she burned sage and spoke in Apache and cared for me like a son.  In the distance was the liquor store that I visited several times per day, and the End O' Day motel. In the corner, I saw my old ratty motel room, a place where I had once accepted the certainty of my pending death.

I was so bound to each drink in those days, so completely alone, so lost. I remembered when I had begun throwing up bile and blood, when all my organs ached — the shaking mornings waking up drenched in sweat, the nights when people would try to pry my window open to rob my few belongings, all the times I woke up bruised and battered but couldn't remember a thing from the prior night. I remembered the winter I had spent in that room with a fractured foot, covered in blankets to keep warm, able to see the fog of my breath because of a busted heater, too behind on my rent to ask to have it fixed. 

I made the walk towards the rusted neon sign, which probably hadn't been lit in decades, and I was reminded of all the times I had made the same walk. Memories flooded my brain, and I remembered how scared and alone I was in those days. I thought of the pay phone that was once next to the liquor store, where I had made a collect call to my parents over seven years ago to ask for help finding a treatment program. I thought of the desperation and loneliness that had led me to pray to a God that I was uncertain even existed, to ask for forgiveness and guidance. It was that prayer that I have come to believe ultimately lead me towards Providence House. It was the prayer that led me to receive the help that saved my life.

I snapped some pictures of the place where I had once lost all hope, and then turned around, and decided to never look back. The sun was shining through the drooping leaves in the quiet Durango neighborhoods ahead and I thought about how hopeful my future was now, how much joy I experienced each day, and all the kids I might save from a similar path of destruction through this ride. I had found closure to that chapter and was excited for the life that lay ahead and the rest of my adventure towards Brooklyn.

I had planned several days of rest in Durango to see various friends and spend some time filming. I spent a morning walking around downtown Durango filming vacationing tourists strolling along the decorated streets while window shopping, the coal smoke from the train puffing in the background. I noticed some college kids getting ready to float the river, and others riding their bicycles. I thought about how much the styles had changed since I was a student at Fort Lewis College here some 15 years ago, and was reminded that I was aging.

I ran into Anne, the owner of a book store called the Book Case, and she allowed me to film her story. She talked about her wilder days of youth traveling with a carnival, sticking needles in her arm, and ultimately getting sober almost forty years ago. Despite the "going out of business" sign on her storefront, she was hopeful for the changes ahead in her life and shoved some crumpled bills in my camera case for my cause and adamantly rejected my refusal to take her money. 

Anne, at the book case.

Anne, at the book case.

I found a quiet spot by the river and took some time to relax while Kayakers practiced their rolls not far from me.

I spent an evening catching up with old college friends, then awoke rested, and walked several miles through town and up a hill to the Manna Soup Kitchen. This place had saved me from the perils of hunger many times in years past. The dining room was packed with people down on their luck and I wandered around with my camera, feeling a little out of place, before finding the Coordinator and Garden Manager, Jason, who agreed to let me film. 

Jason showing me the garden

Jason showing me the garden

He offered me a meal, which was incredible: a fresh salad, stir fried beef and pork over a bed of rice, steamed vegetables, and day old pastries from a local bakery. I sat on some picnic tables outside and broke bread with a middle aged homeless man named Doug who agreed to let me film his story. He talked about recovery and mentioned that a girlfriend had stolen his 9 year sobriety chip from NA, but when I inquired about how he had achieved his sobriety, he admitted that he was again addicted to drugs. He spoke about the Spirit of God and how he had been doing a lot of "soul searching" which had lead him to think about trying to get sober again. I told him about my story and explained that I used to eat at the soup kitchen almost every day but had changed my life before leaving him with words of encouragement.

The soup kitchen coordinator, Jason, took me on a tour of their facility, which had added many services since I lived in town. They had a new building which was used as a culinary arts school for homeless people to learn job skills, a meeting area for NA and AA meetings, and an organic garden. I wandered through the beautiful garden with its rows of organic vegetables and herbs marveling at the project which included a bee hive to make fresh honey.

I thought of days of old, limping up the hill with a broken foot and an empty stomach to get a meal then staying to play games of chess on the porch. I met some of the best chess players of my life at that soup kitchen, brilliant people that were either addicts or lacked the social skills to get their lives together for long enough to manage to hold job or function in society. It had been a refuge for all the community misfits, and I was glad that they had expanded their services to give people a hand up, not a hand out.

I wandered further up the hill to the homeless shelter where I had once lived. I wanted to do some filming, but I was told I could not film anything without the permission from the shelter's higher-ups, so I spent a moment gazing at the building that had once saved me from freezing in the winter cold. I remembered achieving a month of sobriety there, beginning to rebuild my life, and then stopping for a beer sample at a brewery on my way home from work one night, promising myself that I would just have a tiny beer, just this one time. I remembered the deep shame I felt when the little beer sample turned into a three day bender, causing me to get kicked back out onto the streets. I was so powerless back then.

The next morning I contacted Beau, another college friend, and met him downtown for coffee. He had become a probation officer, and allowed me into the court house to film one of the judges talk about drug court and some of the community efforts related to addiction recovery. Strangely enough, I had sat in front of the same judge, ten years prior, from a drinking related incident. I thought about how much had changed for me to be here all these years later, sitting in her office, talking about solutions to the community's addiction problem.

Beau and I drinking coffee

Beau and I drinking coffee

My friend gave me his address, and I packed my bike, and rode to the South end of town towards his house. I rolled past a house that I had lived in my Sophomore year of college and thought of all the great memories I had living with my friend Jarrod before my alcoholism had fully progressed to rule my life. 

My old college house

My old college house

Doug

Doug

After navigating far into a side neighborhood I saw Doug, a homeless guy I had talked to the night before, riding a bike towards me with his dog. He stopped next to me and mumbled, "You must be my guardian angel. I thought about our conversation all night, and I am going to a treatment program. It is only 60 days, but I know what I need to do from there. I've done it before. I guess you must have chosen to talk to me for a reason, so I spent the whole night thinking about it. It is time."

Chills rushed down my spine as he spoke. It was another example of the strange "coincidences" that kept happening on this trip to remind me of my purpose. I hope Doug's words become actions.

The next morning, Beau let me know that he could  join me to ride out of Durango if I waited a couple hours while he did some work, so I packed my bike and rode to Bread, a local bakery and favorite community hotspot for cyclists. The owner saw my bike, asked about my ride, then immediately started handing me free food: a bag of house made trail mix, a sandwich on fresh bread, several cookies, and a strong coffee.

I sat at the outdoor tables for a couple of hours while I waited for Beau, talking to the bakery's customers about the ride, swapping stories of their own cycling tours. I later got an email from one of the cyclists, who informed me that he "cried like a baby" when he learned about the reason I was riding. He too was in recovery, and had escaped some pretty dire circumstances, and said he felt a special connection to me in that parking lot.

Bread

Bread

Beau arrived and we took Florida Road towards Vallaceto, which was a bit longer of a route than 160, but was far more scenic. The ride consisted of a gradual climb next to streams and ranches tucked into the mountain landscape, with intermittent showers overhead. It had rained most of the night and everything was lush and green and smelled fresh and vibrant. 

Beau turned around after a couple of hours to head back to Durango, and I continued toward Bayfield, just as the drizzling rain became a violent thunderstorm. For several hours I rode through the chilling rain until I made it to the Lower Piedra Campground and slopped my way up the muddy road to a camp site. I stuffed my wet dollar bills into the campsite's pay slot, and watched the rain form a puddle in my tent while I set up. Once my rainfly was intact, I dried the floor of my tent with some rags while I waited for the arrival of my friends Jeff and Jen. 

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Jen is a good friend and the director of Providence House, and Jeff and I became close friends during the years spent completing my nursing program in Lamar, Colorado. Jeff and Jen had planned to join the ride through Colorado, but Jeff had some things come up and could no longer join, but he had offered to drive Jen down from Denver anyway.

With no cell service, I sent a GPS signal out and relaxed on top of my sleeping bag while listening to the rain drumming overhead on my tents rainfly. After a couple of hours, I heard a car's engine and an inquisitive, "Spencer, is that you?," followed by cheering when I unzipped a slit in the tent and awkwardly poked my head out with a goofy smile. The rain had stopped and I hugged my friends, relieved that they had found me. I set my camera up and recorded Jeff as he spoke to me about recovery, relapse, and hope. He described the moment, several years ago, when we had started to plan for this trip, together. This trip had once been both of our dreams, but had become a solo adventure as Jeff had to manage his responsibilities as a new father. 

Jeff and baby Sagee stuck in traffic on the way to Lower Piedra

Jeff and baby Sagee stuck in traffic on the way to Lower Piedra

I retired to my tent, excited to spend a week riding with Jen. Thanks for reading and all the likes, shares, donations, prayers, and support.  It means the world to me to have so many people express that they believe in this dream!

Jen

Jen

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Colorado Part 1: Dove Creek and Dolores

Sunset from my campsite in Dove Creek.

Sunset from my campsite in Dove Creek.

I have found the best form of therapy: cycling across the country. Although I am generally a pretty happy guy, all of my fears, insecurities, and worries are washed away by the gentle breeze blowing on my face as I begin each day, listening to the peaceful morning songs from the birds and the rhythmic beating of my heart. With each rotation of the pedal, I am transformed into a better me: a me that only sees the good in people, the harmony of nature, and the miracle of our very existence.

The view from my campsite at Sun Valley Ranch

The view from my campsite at Sun Valley Ranch

Morning sunlight slowly enveloped my tent, seven miles north of Dove Creek at the Sun Canyon Ranch. I had found a quiet piece of land to pitch my tent, surrounded by mountain views in all directions: LaSals to the North, Abahos to the West, Sleeping Ute to the South, and the Lucca Chuccas to the Southwest. It was the Wild West in its purest form: vast, unspoiled, and spectacular.
The view made me forget the struggle of pushing my heavy bike up the 7 mile dirt road the night before, and the lack of energy gained from the meager can of soup I warmed with my camping stove for dinner.

As the sun continued to rise, I filled my water bottles from a rusty spigot and packed my tent and belongings back onto my bike. I made my way back down the dirt road towards Dove Creek, stopping first at the Dove Creek Dinner Bell for breakfast, ready for some serious calories. Their breakfast menu was the typical diner fare with one exceptional choice: "the plate of crap," which I nearly ordered just for the sake of humor, but decided ultimately to get a smothered breakfast burrito. I had finally arrived back in the land of things smothered in green chile.  My travels thus far taught me an important culinary observation that green chile, made with pork like a gravy, must certainly be a Colorado thing, and my nostalgic affinity for the stuff left me practically licking the plate clean. I was back in my home state!

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The ride towards Dolores was tranquil, filled with dense green mountainous pastures that went on for miles, speckled with grazing horses and lots of roadside stands selling mostly beans. I passed a large bean packing plant, which curiously also happened to sell teepees. After eating all those beans, I suppose it might come in handy to have a dwelling designed for good air flow.

After a long steady climb, I glided down a canyon alongside a lake where I found teenage girls in bikinis lying out on the "beach" watching muscle-bound guys showing off on their jetskis. I rolled through Dolores, a quaint town located in the middle of another canyon, and passed its small shops, restaurants, and taverns.

Near Dolores

Near Dolores

I was calmed by the roaring rapids of the Dolores river which flowed along my right side, its relaxing sound echoing off the magnificent rock cliffs on my left. I arrived at Dolores River Campground where I met

the easygoing owners Lainey and Billy, who had a Grateful Dead Colorado flag streaming from the building, a sign to me that I would be met with warmth and hospitality. They were so inspired by my fundraising efforts that they donated a riverside campsite to me for the night. 

Billy, Lainey, Bridger and Heidi Beyhan

Billy, Lainey, Bridger and Heidi Beyhan

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Somewhat stunned by this random act of kindness, I had failed to listen when Lainy told me where my campsite was, so I stood in the parking lot staring at the map trying to figure it out. An 11-year-old kid rode up on some kind big wheel and exclaimed, "hey bro, I'm Skylar. I'll show you where to go, I am the only other person camping out here." 

Skylar

Skylar

Although I found it a little strange to follow a kid on a big wheel, he was so friendly and insistent that I decided to let him lead me past dozens of RVs to the campsite next to the river where I found his mom, Stephanie, and her boyfriend, Jake. I thanked them for Skylar's help and told them that I was riding across the country to raise money for a new addiction recovery home for youth and young adults in Denver. Jake explained that he had spent some years homeless himself, and commended me for my efforts. I asked him if I could film him for my documentary, and after pondering the question for a moment, he politely declined. While I was setting up my tent, Skylar invited me over to hang out, which led to Jake opening up about the real reason that they were there: he had brought Stephanie to the tranquil campground to wean her off of heroin. She was on her third day clean, and was very "dope sick." After some casual conversation, I eased the camera from my bag and she somewhat reluctantly agreed to allow me to film her telling her story.  

Stephanie and Jake

Stephanie and Jake

Stephanie and Jake spent their childhoods getting abused. They were both abandoned and tossed around through the foster system until Stephanie married a man who abused her just like the men from her childhood had.  About two years ago, she found out that her husband had been raping her little girls. She buried the guilt and pain with a spoon and needle, finding herself hopelessly addicted to heroin.

Jake was on a mission to save her, although he had been battling his own alcoholism. Over a year ago, after five years of sobriety, he watched the house he had built with his bare hands go up in flames, burning his wife to death. He was not sure whether the fire was started by his wife accidentally or on purpose, but the event led him into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse. He had been drinking ever since. Tears rolled down both of their faces as they told me about all the tragedy of the last several years and about how they had found each other to get through it all.

She told me about Skylar and the cancer that had taken most of his arm, and she cried for her girls that she was failing to protect, and despite the depths of her despair, she began to speak about hope. As she wiped away tears she gasped, "I want to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with you, sober, and feel the accomplishment with you. I don't quite get why you showed up here, but I know it was for a reason, and I know I can make it now. I am going to stay sober, I am going to get my girls back."

She retired to the tent, undoubtedly fighting the illness of her withdrawal. Skylar and I found sticks in the surrounding forest to build a fire. We grilled pork chops over the spitting embers as the sun set behind the pillows of campfire smoke. I watched Jake teach Skylar martial arts moves, rolling around in the dirt, both glowing with excitement. Before I left my new friends and returned to my tent, we told stories and sang songs while the fire blazed, eating hunks of smoky meat like cave men, using rocks as plates. I was reminded of camping with my dad and brothers as a boy, and fell asleep with a smile on my face, listening to the river beside me, dreaming about what it would feel like if Stephanie somehow actually showed up in Brooklyn, sober, and working towards her recovery. These are the very people I was riding for each day: the abused and abandoned, the desperate and hopeless.  This is one example of the miraculous encounters that I had not expected on this trip, but continue to find, and that remind me of my purpose.

As I wheeled my bike out of the campground the next day, I saw Stephanie and Skylar smiling on a porch swing near the campground office. Stephanie whispered, "I feel much better today. Thanks for believing in me." I left her with words of encouragement and I swung my leg over the bundle of bags on my bike and clipped my shoes into the pedals. She stared at me with a look of courage and absolute certainty and murmured, "See you in Brooklyn."

The day started with a horrendous climb that left me shedding all my layers. I passed an organic farm that stretched for several miles before descending into the town of Mancos, a small farming and ranching community near Mesa Verde that has grown to become somewhat of an artist colony. I had known several hippie types who had lived there over the years, mixing with the ranchers and farmers to create a uniquely decorated town. The climb out of Mancos seemed to last forever. In the distance, each bend in the road appeared to promise an end to the burning in my legs, but would reveal more and more climbing. I recognized that it was not really the climbing that was bothering me. Instead, it was a strange combination of feelings emerging as Durango grew nearer.

Durango and I had quite a past. I spent two vastly different periods of my life in the town, which is why my journey brought me such mixed emotions of excitement and unease. I first moved to Durango when I was 18 and spent the next four years attending Fort Lewis College. I studied hard and played hard and have fond memories of learning from amazing professors, camping, snowboarding, and mountain biking. My drinking had begun to show signs of becoming a problem, and although there is no doubt that I partied a little too hard, I always managed to keep it together enough to keep my grades up. I even graduated in 2003 with a degree in sociology. This was the Durango, and the friends, that I was eager to revisit.  

I had another period in Durango that made me uneasy to revisit. In my mid twenties, after my addictions had progressed, I had returned to Durango on a Greyhound with 8 staples in my head after being assaulted with a brick by a gang of Crips near Colfax in Denver. Without going into the details, I can assure you that drugs, alcohol, and plenty of stupid choices were involved. After escaping death, I figured I could get sober back in my old college town, and accepted the invitation from a friend to stay on a futon in her garage while I tried to clean up. For several weeks, I went to meetings before finding myself drunk again night after night. Her lease ended, and I moved into a tent in the woods. For several years, I floated between sleeping in the woods, weekly motels, friends' couches, and the homeless shelter. I remember somehow deciding that the only path ahead of me was to drink myself to death. I had lost all hope, and the upward battle towards a chance at a regular life, a sober life, seemed absolutely impossible, I didn't even know where to begin.  

Between Mancos and Durango

Between Mancos and Durango

Although I had healed so much in the last seven years of sobriety, in large part due to the help of Providence Network, this too was the Durango that lay ahead, rapidly approaching. It was the Durango that I knew I needed to face. I made it to the summit and began a breezy, high-traffic decent into town. I realized for the first time on a conscious level that I had designed my route pass through town hoping to gain some closure to that chapter, although I knew it wouldn't be an easy process.

The familiar city approached, and I was flooded with memories: some great, some bad, and some absolutely terrifying. It was these terrifying moments that reminded me of the purpose of this trip and the kids I might prevent from going down a similar path to my own, lost and alone in the woods with a bottle, hoping that I would fail to wake up in the morning, crippled with shame and unable to see a way out.

This ride is to build a new model of recovery home that to my knowledge had never really been tried. I was riding for the first recovery home that would create a family environment with Christian live-in staff specifically for kids after they reach 18. This is the age when the funding dries up and so many are abandoned by the system only to turn to their "families" on the streets. This is when they find pipes, or needles, or bottles — and eventually grave sites or jail cells. Thanks for reading, sharing, and donating. Your help can improve the lives of kids that will be forever be transformed by this home.

    

    

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Utah: Part 2

My Uncle and I decided to stay an extra night in Panguitch to take a semi-rest day and see Bryce Canyon National Park. I slept in, enjoyed a greasy diner breakfast, and rode for several hours on a pleasant bike trail which roamed through the scenic Red Canyon, past towering cliffs and a scattered pine forrest, enjoying my first ride without the stress of traffic in a long time. I met my Uncle Don at Bryce Canyon and we stopped at the park lodge for lunch. 

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The trail had been beautiful and quiet but consisted of mostly uphill terrain and I was ravenous.  To my delight, they had a soup, salad, and sandwich buffet so I piled mounds of food onto my plate while I watched my Uncle try to eat a comically large salad he had ordered. 

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We drove around to the various viewing spots and got out to snap some pictures.  Swarms of tourists getting out of large tour buses and speaking a plethora of languages hummed around each viewing spot practically elbowing each other out of the way to snap pictures of the beautiful rocks.

I circled around the edge of the canyon and away from the crowds to a quiet spot to have a reverential moment. I stood there alone and gazed down in amazement at the breathtaking display of brightly colored spires called Hoo Doos, which glistened magically under the sunlight with hues of reds, oranges, and whites. I pictured what it must have felt like for the Native Americans or early pioneers when they stumbled upon this sight. I forgot about checking my phone, or wanting to objectify this view by capturing more photographs, I just gazed at the beauty for a long moment, and found stillness.

In the evening, my Uncle and I went to a little burger joint for dinner. Over burgers and malts, he shared stories about his and my dad's paper route when they were kids, building his first car from spare parts when he was fifteen, working in the steel mill between college summers, flying airplanes, my grandma and her strange hoarder ways, and his few memories of my grandpa, who was killed by a drunk driver when Don was seven and my dad was four.

I couldn't believe how much about his and my dad's childhood I hadn't known, nor would ever have learned, if it weren't for my Uncle coming to help me on this trip. I went to sleep feeling grateful for the chance to get to know my Uncle better and learn more about my dad from his point of view. I could picture their happy childhood in Briar Hill, a suburban neighborhood in Ohio, swimming in the lake every day of the summer, playing baseball and football until it was time for supper.  It sounded a lot like my childhood, before drugs and alcohol took over.

I thought of the kids that never got to experience the kind of childhood that I did, swimming and biking and building forts in the peaceful mountains west of Golden. I thought of the kids in the foster system, tossed from one foster family to the next. I thought of the kids that only knew adults as the ones that do drugs around them and abuse them, growing up terrified of the very people they should be able to trust.

I knew that in the morning I would wake up and be riding for them, so that they might feel what it is like to have a family, for that is what I felt when I lived at Providence House — family.  A feeling of family is what it takes to overcome the stronghold of addictions. My motivation each day has stemmed from the fact that this sense of family will find its way to some kids through my ride, by helping fund a new recovery home for homeless youth and young adults.

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My uncle dropped me off where I had finished the prior day near Bryce Canyon and I watched the rock formations change their distinct color and shape around each bend. I found myself pondering all the years of weather patterns that had formed and molded each new set of wrinkled red and grey and white rock formations, marveling in their beauty. The dark clouds of the morning's ride erupted into a downpour of cold rain in the middle of the day which I fought through for a couple of hours until I saw my uncle waiving his arms in front of the "Pack Mule" next to a restaurant in Escalante. We enjoyed some locally-raised beef burgers while I warmed my body to try to pack in a couple extra hours of riding.

Brrrr

Brrrr

The next day began with an adrenaline filled decent down a winding canyon with hair pin turns that left little room for error.  I had been warned about the many cars that had tumbled off the side of the road so kept my hands firmly grasping my brakes. 

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The decent was relatively ephemeral, and was followed by a hefty seven hour climb into Torrey, Utah. My Uncle and I ate dinner at an enormous Cowboy themed bar and grill with saddle bar stools, stopping to pose in front of a bull in the entrance way.

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The goal for the next three days was to split the mileage towards Blanding, having my uncle pick me up after 8 or 9 hours of riding and drop me back off in the morning at the same spot.  My first day, as I was loading up my bike on the side of the road, two bulls mosied up to the side of the truck. I took one glance at their massive horns and wondered if my bright orange safety vest might be close enough to red to cause them to charge, making me into an accidental matador. My uncle jumped into the driver seat and frantically climbed over the console to the passenger side to let me in for protection.

They continued up the road and I got on my bike while my uncle shielded me with his truck before they circled around the truck towards the side I was on. I coasted carefully around to the other side of the truck while my uncle idled slowly next to them as a barrier of protection.  After making my way a safe distance from them, with a surge of adrenaline, I began my ride, and by evening, had made it a little past the Colorado River near Lake Powell. The next day I was determined to push it as hard as possible towards Blanding chasing the unlikely hope that I could conquer the multitude of climbs in one day, some as high as a 14 percent grade. I took little time to rest, only stopping to fill my water bottles  at various planned spots that Don had stashed water, where I piled in mouthfuls of trail mix and beef jerky to keep my stamina.

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Much to my Uncle's surprise, I made it to Blanding before dusk and he treated me to a steak dinner for accomplishing the feat.

Steak dinner with Uncle Don

Steak dinner with Uncle Don

I spent two days in Blanding, resting my tired muscles and letting my Achilles tendonitis heal while my Uncle made his way back to Scottsdale. I am so grateful for his help getting me through Utah and the chance I got to spend time getting to know him better. After a continental breakfast at the hotel of waffles and hard boiled eggs, I left Blanding for the Colorado border. My legs screamed from the weight I was carrying, which I hadn't felt in some time, as I was once again self supported and carrying my monstrous load.

It was May 30th, an important milestone for me as it marked my seventh year of sobriety.  I had downloaded an audiobook of the original version of Alcoholics Anonymous by Bill W, often referred to as "The Big Book," which I had actually never read in its entirety. I decided to spend the day reflecting on my sobriety and found an easy, meditative pace. In the early days of my recovery, I would pray for a day, or even a minute of sobriety at a time but over the years I have come to pray for a year at a time. I began my morning coasting out of the quaint town of Blanding, past a Dinosaur Museum, Mormon church, and various stores catering to adventure-seeking tourists, and with the deepest sincerity and humility, I asked God for another year of sobriety.

Just then, I heard the soothing voice of the audiobook remind me that, "God is doing for us what we couldn't do for ourselves." It was true, at least as I saw it through my own spiritual lens. It felt like nothing short of a miracle that the burden of addictions had been lifted from me these last seven years. It was hard to believe that I could be so full of peace and joy without any substances. I thought of the Biblical significance of the number seven, the numerical symbol of fullness, completion, and perfection, and thought of Deuteronomy 15:1, which states: At the end of every seven years you shall grant a remission of debts.

In the distance, I saw the sign staring at me from my beloved home state exclaiming, "Welcome to Colorful Colorado."

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I had made it home, and in so many ways the debts of all my mistakes and selfishness during my days of homelessness and addiction had been granted a remission. I had been forgiven by my family and friends, I had a career that I loved, a beautiful girlfriend, and hundreds of people cheering me on with prayers and well wishes as I set off each day to accomplish this dream of cycling America and helping others find their way towards rebuilding their own lives.  Thanks for reading, sharing, praying, and donating to this journey and for all the love, support, and forgiveness these last seven years.

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Utah: Part 1

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I got a late start out of Baker, Nevada, and coasted the slight downhill toward the Utah border. A feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment overcame me as I had made it to my third state. The landscape grew increasingly colorful and rocky, a welcome contrast to the prior week of seemingly endless yellow desert on the Loneliest Road in America. My parents stayed behind to take a cave tour at Great Basin National Park as I rode across the serene landscape.

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Similar to a routine I had established in Nevada, the day consisted of an hour or two of climbing up each peak, followed by a pleasant decent into a valley as I watched the next peak grow closer and closer until the burn returned to my legs as I resumed climbing. I had learned to love this pattern of work and reward. At one point I found myself taking so much pleasure from the reward section, weightlessly soaring into a valley, yelping and howling at the top of my lungs which then erupted into uncontrollable laughter, joyous tears streaming, as I hit speeds above 40mph. "Whoooo!" echoed off the mountains, and I glanced around with mild embarrassment, but there was not a soul for miles to laugh at my moment of uninhibited joy, except the unamused gazes of grazing cattle. Utah brought richer visual rewards than Nevada, as each summit revealed taller and more vibrant mountains in the distance.  As dusk enveloped the landscape, I arrived in Milford, Utah, where I enjoyed my last meal with my parents at an authentic Mexican taco restaurant before they headed back home to Arizona.

No words can explain my gratitude for their help: first rescuing me from the snow in the Sierras, then guiding me safely through the remote Nevada desert. I have commonly made references to their "tough love" approach when I was at the peak of my homelessness and addictions, but often fail to mention the years before that: the interventions, loving lectures, bailouts before they finally hardened themselves to the reality that I would not change unless I became intrinsically motivated to get sober, which meant detaching from me until I was ready for help.

Despite all their efforts, it was my poor choices, stubbornness, and denial that ultimately led me toward homelessness. Every parent with an addicted son or daughter knows this tug-of-war between enablement and support.

When they first talked about coming out to help me on my bike trip, a familiarity arose to those "bailout" days. Once again, they abandoned their active lives to help get me out of another mess, just like the hundreds of times in my jagged past. That guilty feeling soon vanished once they arrived to save me from the snow on Carson Pass and the remoteness of the Nevada desert. I recognized how much had changed between us since my days as a homeless and hopeless alcoholic. They were proud of what I was trying to accomplish with this ride, and willing to selflessly help in any way they could.

As they prepared to head home, I recognized that they were helping with the ride because of their love for me, but also because of the impact their help could have on other kids. Their help, after all, could save other young people from the trap of addiction by helping fund a new recovery home, saving other parents from the pain and loss that they had experienced—the destruction that goes hand-in-hand with addiction.

The following day was a planned rest day. My parents dropped me off at the Milford Day Spa and spoiled me with a parting gift of a sports massage before heading back to their lives in Phoenix. The therapist, Scott, who specialized in sports massage and had worked as a team massage therapist for the Cardinals, skillfully kneaded out the knots in my back and legs with special attention to my Achilles, which had been bothering me for over a week. Dr. Caldwell, a chiropractor at the spa, was so moved by the motivations behind the ride that he took a look at my injury for free, and taped it with KT tape. I handed him a card, and after reading my website and blog, I received a call from him with offers for food and shelter along my route. It was yet another example of the random kindness that has been so abundant on this trip.

Thanks Dr. Caldwell! 

Thanks Dr. Caldwell! 

My Uncle Don had made plans to leave his busy life in Scottsdale, AZ and take the baton from my parents by providing a SAG wagon through Utah. SAG, for those who are wondering, is a cycling term referring to driving a support vehicle behind a touring cyclist and according to a Google search, refers to "support and gear," or "support and grub." He had taken pity on the thirty thousand feet of elevation gain that Utah presented me, and selflessly volunteered to help so I wouldn't be slowed down by the weight of my gear. 

Don arrived at dusk with a warm hug and a truck, which he referred to as The Pack Mule. He had thoughtfully loaded it with various essentials: hot dogs, cans of soup, tents, cots, camping chairs, firewood, cook stoves, lanterns, and a care package full of biking parts with a new pair of shorts, allowing me to retire my pair that I had fixed with duct tape after my bike crash in California.

The "Pack Mule" 

The "Pack Mule" 

Uncle Don

Uncle Don

As a child, I always admired my uncle Don.  He’s very masculine and confident — a real man’s man. He wears aviator sunglasses, puffs cigars, and excels at fixing and explaining anything mechanical. When he speaks, he projects a certain brilliance and charisma that naturally draws everyone’s attention in the room, perhaps a trait that stems from his years as a Southwest Airlines Captain, or those spent as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. He is now happily retired, spending lots of time with his grandkids or working on model trains, among his many other hobbies. I was excited to spend some time catching up with him, and deeply grateful for his help getting over the mountainous terrain of Utah.

I awoke and set off from Milford, passing through rolling green hills dotted with farm houses, grain silos, and livestock before arriving in Cedar City in the early afternoon. 

That night, we stayed in a clean but dated motel. As I stood in the shower, staring at the familiar layout of the bathroom, I found myself haunted with the memories of a motel I lived at for almost a year as an alcoholic, less than a decade ago.

I first lived at the End O' Days Motel about nine years ago, a rundown place in Durango that had been converted into cheap monthly rentals, inhabited mostly by drug dealers, alcoholics, and various other low-lifes. My first month was spent on the floor of a crazy Hispanic guy’s room for fifty bucks a week. He would drink beer and sniff cocaine at all hours of the night, answering the door with a large Bowie knife. One evening, with a crazed look in his eyes, he confessed that he was on the lam for murder and explained that when I fell asleep, he was going to "stab me up into pieces." True or not, I stayed awake that night.

The next day, I decided to use the little bit of money I had stashed away to get my own unit, two doors away, which seemed at the time to be a reasonably intelligent choice. During the first week, I was assaulted by another neighbor for trying to get him to stop beating his girlfriend while on a meth binge. I found protection from my elderly alcoholic neighbors, Larry and "One-Eyed" Jerry, both career hobos, who through experience, were wise to survival in this kind of environment. 

I spent my days working at various restaurant jobs and evenings drinking vodka out of plastic jugs by the gallon with Larry and Jerry.  "One Eyed" Jerry had a prosthetic eye which would fall onto the ground by midday when his half a gallon of morning vodka had taken its course, and Larry had a stomach like a basketball from cirrhosis of the liver. They would tell me stories about Vietnam and teach me lessons about life on the streets while we chain-smoked and passed around jugs of vodka until I would crawl through the parking lot to my cluttered room and pass out. I spent so many hours in that motel bathroom, hands on the old tile, shaking and vomiting, in and out of blackouts that would last for days, so completely lost and alone, wishing I could find a way out. 

I ultimately found a way out, through the help of Providence Network. Although these terrifying memories find their way back into my mind with something as simple as glance at a motel bathroom, I have found peace, redemption, and forgiveness in my spiritual walk, which first began at Providence House. As I dried off my body and stepped out of the bathroom, I found encouragement in the thought that perhaps I had been called to save other kids from the fear, desperation, and hopelessness that I experienced in those days by riding my bicycle across the beautiful landscapes of America each day. I stepped out of the bathroom and the horror of those memories vanished at the sight of my loving Uncle, waiting patiently to go check out the town. He was one of my many family members who had forgiven me for the pain I had caused them in those days.

Cedar City would be my last mid-sized town for a long time, so my Uncle and I took the afternoon enjoying the suburban guilty pleasures of Walmart and Applebee’s, as well as a trip to a bike shop to get thorn-resistant tubes, as my front tire had been perpetually leaking air.

The climb out of Cedar City

The climb out of Cedar City

In the morning, I left early for one of the most hellacious climbs of my entire trip, ascending from roughly 5,800 ft. of elevation to nearly 11,000 ft before the midpoint. This was the first day that I realized that I was starting to get used to this cycling thing: waking up each day and pumping my legs 8, 10, or sometimes 12 hours a day. I had learned to detach from the pain and let my mind wander into some amazing places: intimate conversations with God amidst the tranquility and perplexity of nature, listening to audiobooks, jamming out to tunes, letting my imagination drift off on tangents, and spending a great deal of time thinking about my beautiful girlfriend, Brandi. My uncle met me with The Pack Mule in the middle of the day on the side of a mountain to tailgate with some sandwiches and warm soup before I made my way to the bitter cold summit which was lined with banks of snow, but revealed some breathtaking views. 

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As I stared off at the layered patterns of red rock that had been molded by an unthinkable amount of years, I was awestruck. I rode down the winding mountain road, over rolling hills and past fisherman tossing their reels into Panguitch Lake, finding my way into the cozy town of Panguitch.

This trip has afforded a lot of solitude, and with that some moments of loneliness, but I continue to feel the prayers and well wishes of the hundreds of people that are with me in spirit each day of riding, and find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for all the prayers, donations, and support I have received thus far. I want to thank each one of you for reading, praying, sharing, and supporting this dream of mine to further the lifesaving work of Providence Network.  

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From a Mother's Perspective

Some words from Susie Nee (Spencer's Mom)

Bill and I just returned from helping Spencer on his ride across America.  As you know from previous posts, we met him as it was snowing over Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  We stayed with him through Nevada and into Utah.  I thought some of you might be interested in the ride from our perspective.

After Spencer responded to the many e-mails he gets about the ride each day, we would help get him ready to go, then check out of the motel about noon and head to the next town taking Spencer his lunch on the road. We check into the next motel, unload everything and then one of us goes out to meet him to take him water and a snack and see if he wants us to bring his bike in if it has been a long distance day.  This was usually my job because Bill was in a cast and on crutches due to foot surgery.  So far, Spencer has refused to put the bike in the car and ride back.  This has resulted in rides of 110 miles, (Fallon to Austin), 77 miles ( Eureka to Ely) and 83 miles (Baker to Milford).  These are all days we thought he would split into two days, but he preferred to have a full day off to try to rest and recover.  Each evening, Spencer would work on writing his blog, updating his website, downloading pictures and videos and responding to e-mails.  My job was to try to fix a nutritious meal for someone burning 1,000 calories an hour.  I became a master at making some pretty good meals just with a mini-fridge and microwave.

                                                                                           Spencer and Bill enjoying dinner in our motel room in Austin, Nevada

                                                                                           Spencer and Bill enjoying dinner in our motel room in Austin, Nevada

 

One of the scariest days for us was leaving Austin after checking out of our motel and heading up a rather steep climb.  As we approached the crest of the hill, we saw orange signs that said “Accident Ahead” - a parent’s worst nightmare when you know your son is biking ahead of you.  We both held our breath for several miles until we approached the flagman and asked if a bike was involved in the accident.  We were assured that "the biker" was fine and had passed through the area an hour before. 

 

It has really been great to see Spencer’s determination each day he rides and how great his spirits are even after lots of mishaps – a broken chain, a tire that keeps loosing air that has to be pumped up every few hours, losing a blog post in cyberspace that he had spent hours writing, several falls, losing two rear view mirrors, and saddle sores not to mention rain, sleet, hail, snow and lots of wind! 

 

It was fun meeting the few other bike riders doing the cross country ride along with Spencer and their “Sag” teams.  As a mother, I especially felt for Caitlin and Mark as they struggled each day with their heavy bags and no one to help them.  One night, in Baker, Nevada, I walked up the road to greet them as they were riding in from a long day and invited them to dinner.  I knew they were camping and would have to not only pitch their tent, but try to fix a meal in the dark.  We sat at a picnic table in our mutual motel/RV park and enjoyed getting to know them. 

 

The day that impressed me the most was when I drove back 21 miles to find Spencer as he was finishing a long ride.  It was so cold and very overcast with sleet and snow and even though it was only about 5 o’clock, it was starting to get dark.  I told him to get in the car and I’d drive him the rest of the way to the motel and bring him back the next day so he could continue the ride where he left off.  Despite my urging, he wanted to continue and felt that he could make it the rest of the way that day.  As I arrived back at our warm motel, I couldn’t help but reflect on my greatest fear during Spencer’s worst days of addiction.  I always worried that the police would call us and tell us that Spencer had frozen to death.  And yet, here he was riding through a blizzard and I was overjoyed.  It made me pause and look back over the last 15 years.

 

Spencer’s drinking started when he was a teenager.  He got his first DUI when he was only 17 years old.  We did what we could to help him.  Took him to his court appearances, got him counseling, went to counseling ourselves and supported him through his community service.  He continued to drink in college and when he got in trouble his freshman year, we hired an attorney to help with the legal issues.  After college, when the drinking didn’t subside, we knew we had to take a “tough love” approach.  One of the most difficult things was when our friends asked about our children.  Our other two boys were doing fine, but our pat answer for Spencer was that he was “trying to find himself and looking in all the wrong places.”  His friends urged us to do an intervention, but we decided against it knowing that Spencer wasn’t ready to get help.  We were hurt by their anger but understood that they were truly interested in helping him get better and concerned for his safety.  For many of the darkest years, we kept telling Spencer that we loved him and cared about him, but until he decided to get some help with his drinking, things were not going to get better for him.  When he was ready to get help we would be there to support him.  It was hard to see him homeless, in jail and hopeless.  No mother sends her little boy off to school and thinks, “Oh, I hope he turns out to be an alcoholic.”  That is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.  In the last few years, prior to his recovery, we knew that every time we talked to him might be the last. 

After he finished his ride that evening, Spencer told me that the police in Durango once found him passed out on the side of the road in the winter with no coat, so my fears were not unfounded.

                                                                                                                                        Spencer - Ready for School

                                                                                                                                        Spencer - Ready for School

 

We are so grateful that Spencer found Providence Network through a friend in our church.  They literally saved his life.  It is my hope that he will raise funds for this organization to help other young people who are struggling with the addictions that he faced and that other families will have the hope that their child can have a positive future.  Many times, Bill and I looked back over our parenting skills questioning what we could have done differently for Spencer.  I hope through this blog people will be aware that this can happen to anyone.  We tried to do all the “right” things as parents – we ate meals together, took our kids to church, had weekly family meetings, attended sports, school and scouting events and tried to provide our children with a loving family, and still Spencer had addiction issues.  I think one of the reasons Providence Network is so successful is that they provide a supportive family atmosphere for people as they are recovering.  Spencer developed many close friendships in his two years at Providence House and one year at Victory House.  He felt loved and supported and in turn supported others in the home. 

 

This last two weeks provided us with a great time to spend with Spencer as a sober, responsible, determined adult.  Each night, we loved hearing his story of the day and sharing a meal.  It has been a joy to see his determination and enthusiasm for this ride and to know that through his efforts, many young adults will have a chance to recover from their addictions.  Please consider donating to Providence Network and sharing his story with your friends and family. 

Thank you,

Susie Nee

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The Loneliest Road in America: Part 2

After my exhausting 112-mile uphill climb, I spent a day in Austin getting some rest before setting off for Eureka, Nevada. I had anticipated the desert being warmer this time of year, but found another cold day, slogging my squeaky bike through fog, rain, and occasional hail. I met a friendly young couple, Mark and Caitlin, who were riding from San Francisco to Pennsylvania prior to their wedding and Caitlin's enrollment in medical school. I was excited to meet my first cross-country cyclists and piggyback with them through the freezing weather, sometimes merely giving each other a friendly look of understanding as we passed each other through the whipping wind.

I finished my ride for the day and met my parents at a beautifully remodeled hotel in the historic mining town of Eureka, soaking my tired muscles in the hot tub, enjoying my last few days of being spoiled by their gracious help before they head back home to Arizona.

The following morning I left early, headed for Ely, Nevada. I was joined on the first climb of the day by a good-natured cyclist named Ken, who was making his way to Virginia. After chatting for a while, he sped ahead on his much lighter road bike. He had been traveling on the same roads a few days behind me, and had already heard about the "Bridge to Bridge guy" from various locals along the route, and had heard that I had hit the worst of the snow on Carson Pass. It amazed me how quickly word gets out in these small towns and how interconnected everyone was on the coast-to-coast cycling circuit.

Several hours into the day's ride, Ken approached me with his wife in an SUV and warned, "There is major snow about a mile ahead." Grateful for the warning, I stopped and put on my winter gear: waterproof booties, snowboarding gloves, layers of thin wool, and waterproof shells. I made my way to the summit of the peak I had been climbing, then was passed by another cyclist, Greg, who also warned me about the snow. Greg was on his third ride across America, and after an amiable chat about us both chasing our dreams, he met his sag wagon at the peak, headed back to Eureka to avoid the snow. I told him I planned to try to ride through it and he gave me a concerned look.

As I descended down the hill into a foggy valley, I endured the repetitive needle pricks on my face from a fierce hail, which turned into rain and then snow. I was freezing, but determined to make it. The ride became a duel between my instinctual internal monologue which pleaded with me to quit, to get warm, to rest — to throw the whole dream away and reach for a phone to call my parents, to at least end the pain for the day. But I had to push forward. I pulled out my phone at one point, snowflakes landing on the screen, sharp pain in my hands as I pulled them out of the gloves. I had no phone reception, so I took it as a sign and got back on my bike.

For hours, I let my legs guide me through the weather—left leg, right leg, burn on the left, burn on the right—with a constant stinging pain in my fingers and toes, but comforted knowing that I had a warm place to stay ahead. I thought of the last time I had really been cold like this, during my days as a homeless alcoholic, with no end in sight.

I spent several years living as a vagrant: in and out of motels, shelters, a tent, and on the streets. I remember one Christmas morning in these years wandering toward downtown Durango after nearly freezing overnight. I had spent the night outside with a bottle, crying for most the night as I recalled the warm Christmas dinners of my youth with laughter and family, before I had let drinking take over my life, before I had lost everything. I remember wandering into the city as I started to shake from withdrawals, a sting in my fingers and toes.

A gas station attendant took pity on me and brought me out a Cup O' Noodles and wished me a Merry Christmas. I held the steaming soup around my freezing hands and wondered how I had found myself here, alone, on Christmas, in the cold. He came back out and offered me a beer, which despite my shakes, I declined, for in that moment I decided I must stop drinking. By that evening I found myself drunk again in the warmth of a friend's Section 8 apartment. Despite countless attempts, I could not quit without some serious help, the help I ultimately received from Providence Network.

On this ride, the cold felt different. It was purposeful, and I knew that at the day's end I would be in a warm motel, sober, and hopeful for my future, greeted by my loving parents. I could endure the weather knowing that, in a way, I was cycling across America to save other kids from a lonely Christmas Eve's crying in the cold with a bottle, or needle, or pipe.

I made it to Ely, Nevada, another historic mining town, and enjoyed some incredible Mexican food at La Fiesta, which had hundreds of pictures lining their walls of people that had celebrated their birthdays there, each wearing a sombrero. Although it wasn't my birthday, the waitress made an exception since I had biked almost 80 miles through the snow, and let me wear the sombrero. My picture now rests on the wall with the words: SF to NY by bicycle 2015, bridgetobridgeride.com.


I took a day off in Ely and visited the Nevada Northern Railway, the sole surviving train from the grand era of railroading in Nevada. They had a nice collection of railroad relics in their museum and a living, breathing, operating historic railroad that smelled of coal smoke, creosote, and sweat. 

After the museum, I stopped into a bike shop to get some new parts and some more chamois cream, used to prevent and heal saddle sores. The owner, Paul, took such pity on the fact that I was not using compression shorts, which are basically tight cycling underwear designed to prevent chafing, that he gave me some for a major discount. He cringed at the fact that I hadn't been wearing a bib or compression shorts, apparently a normal thing for cyclists.

Although I rode my bike a lot as a kid, my reasons behind this journey differ from some of the other cyclists I have met. For me, this entire ride is to raise awareness and funds for Providence Network as a token of my gratitude for their saving my life, and to give other young people a chance at escaping the trap of addiction. I am more of a dreamer than a cyclist. The more cyclists I meet, the more that becomes apparent; there is such a large knowledge base that I lack. By the end of this journey, I will probably be in killer shape and have a much larger understanding of the cycling world, but in the meantime I am learning as I go. That means getting lost, falling off my bike, packing too much gear, struggling with basic maintenance, and dealing with some painful chafing. Part of my hope is that other people that are out of shape and know very little about cycling will be inspired to venture out on a trip like this of their own. As like most things in life, if you can dream it, you can do it.

I left Ely as the yellow desert became more colorful, painted with red and purple and rich green bushes. After climbing my first peak, I glided into a valley that was surrounded with blue mountains with snow capped peaks, it was absolutely serene. I passed Mark and Caitlin after a long climb fighting headwinds and cold temperatures, and coasted into Baker, Nevada, a town with a population of 55 people, just 8 miles from the Utah border. We stayed at the Whispering Elms motel and campground and my mom prepared a delicious dinner of chicken, rice, lentils, vegetables, and salad which we enjoyed on a shady picnic table with my new friends.

Before the trip, I had mentally prepared for loneliness on the Loneliest Road in America, but found quite the opposite: friendly people, new cycling friends, and the love and support of my amazing parents. In the past, I had seen some of these landscapes out of the window of a car and thought little of them. Perched on a bicycle seat, slowly spinning by, I have found a new level of appreciation for these rocky peaks and vast open valleys. This road is rightfully named for being desolate, but within the emptiness I found an undiscovered tranquility, a peaceful connection between myself and the quiet endless desert, and a kinship to a world that once was — a world of cowboys and explorers, a place for dreamers like me to dream. WIth Nevada nearly behind me, I was ready for the new adventures ahead in Utah, dreaming of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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The Loneliest Road in America: Part 1

In the beautiful town of South Lake Tahoe, the gentle ring of my alarm clock woke me early. It was Mothers Day, and despite my offer to take my mom out for brunch, she wanted the free continental breakfast from the motel, so I got up early and surprised her with continental breakfast in bed. I couldn't be more grateful to have such an amazing mom — a mother willing to take the time out of her life to come help me with my dream of cycling across America. I thought about how much my addictions impacted her life, and the lives of all of my family. I put her, my dad, my brothers, and my friends through a lot of worrying, heartache, frustration, and disappointment.

I am grateful every day for their forgiveness and support and hope that this trip might save other families from the destructive path of addictions by helping fund a new recovery home for addicted and homeless youth. It is this hope and support that lifts me out of bed each morning to place my sore butt and legs on the saddle for another day of riding.

I loaded my bike and set out for the day, crossing my first state line of the trip into Nevada. I felt relieved to be over the Sierras and onto a new part of the adventure. As the state line whizzed by, the size of the buildings suddenly rose high into the mountain air, the quaint ski town morphing into a miniature version of Las Vegas. I had officially made it to Nevada.

The first part of the ride followed alongside the serene lake, and I found myself awestruck as the morning sun shimmered on the ripples of blue water. Highway 50 then shifted further East, away from the lake. Gradually the shade from the evergreens disappeared, replaced with a desert landscape, dusty yellow and scattered with clumps of sagebrush. The passing cars became less frequent, signifying the beginning of my journey through the remote Nevada desert on what people call the "Loneliest Road in America."

Photo by Flickr user Jay Galvin

Photo by Flickr user Jay Galvin

After a smooth day of riding and good night's sleep in Fallon, Nevada, I set off on the longest ride of my life. I rolled out of town and gasped at a sign: Austin 112 miles. For some reason, I had anticipated fewer stretches of climbing in Nevada compared to California, but found myself continuing to climb, peak after peak. As I reached the midway point for the day, everything hurt: my knees were stiff, my legs, back, and neck ached and cramped, and numbness riddled my toes and hands. I was ready to quit.  

I thought of the parallels to my early sobriety as I remembered being at Providence House in my first few months after quitting drinking. Every few minutes in those days, I would be confronted with thoughts like this: You should give up. You should just leave this place and go drink. You are a failure, you are a horrible person, you are worthless. You will never make it.

I learned early on to override these thoughts with tools like positive affirmations, prayer, confiding in others, exercise, and distraction. In time, the thoughts became less powerful, less frequent, and my confidence and spirituality developed their own form of power against these attacks. On this journey, even in the worst moments of agony, nothing compared to the trials of those first months of sobriety. As my mind begged me to quit riding, I realized that if I could make it through the mental attacks of those days, I could make it though this.

I hit the 100-mile mark and rain began to spit. The temperature plummeted, and my entire body screamed at me to stop. With each pedal stroke, my mind began to attack me with a voice in my head that I had not heard in years: You should quit! You are fat and out of shape! Who are you kidding, thinking you could do this? You will never make it!

In an attempt to distract myself, I turned my attention to the beautiful mountains behind the fog in the distance, I turned to prayer, reminded myself that this ride might provide hope for others as they are getting sober. I pictured reaching Austin at the end of the day. I pictured crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.

The last five miles into Austin brought a fierce headwind and steep climb. The wind seemed to grab ahold of my bike, trying to toss it back down the road, as if to reinforce the thoughts running through my head: you can't do this. The sun had now set, stealing my visibility and dropping the temperature, strengthening the sting in my hands and toes.

As I reached the last two miles of the climb, I saw my parents' Subaru roll slowly past, with the windows down. My parents hollered and cheered, screaming, "You can do it!"  They turned around and rode behind me, illuminating the darkness in front of me with their headlights, their cheers filling me with newfound strength and determination. I pulled in to the motel and nearly collapsed. I had ridden 112 miles with 5000 feet of elevation gain.

I fought off the lure of sleep just long enough to devour a home cooked meal of brown rice, curried vegetables, and tandoori chicken, then tumbled into bed. I felt like I did as a little kid, before my addictions had stolen everything, I was full from my mom's cooking and comforted by their love and support, which I used to dream about when I was hungry, sick, and alone, living in motels and on the streets.

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And then there was snow: Carson Pass to South Lake Tahoe, California

The pattering of rain on my tent startled me in the middle of the night. By morning, the patter had become a full-blown thunderstorm, leaving me little choice but to wait out the storm. I poured some Folger's Crystals into a water bottle that had nearly frozen overnight, and enjoyed a chilled version of my morning coffee while I thought about the last time I remember sleeping in a tent. 

I spent about six months living in the woods during one of the worst points of my alcoholism. I had a popup tent that I had bought at Wal-Mart, and would make my way from working at a restaurant to my tent every night with a bottle. I would shower at a laundromat and spend my days by myself in the tent, drinking, listening to audiobooks, and fighting off the shakes. I had convinced myself that I was trying to "find myself," but I was really just in denial that I had a problem, and that the problem had stolen everything from me.

I felt so different in this tent, listening to the soothing rain. I had been sober almost seven years, and was now living out my dream of cycling across America, raising money for a recovery home so that others never have to find themselves shaking by themselves with a bottle, scared and alone.

The rain slowed enough for me to walk to the small general store near my campsite, the only sign of civilization for miles. I pressed a doorbell out front and heard a lady call out from the house next door: "I'll be right over!"  I was clearly her first customer in some time. I was happy to refill some water and buy wipes to clean my wounds from the prior day's fall.

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I noticed one bar of service on my phone and called my parents, who live in Phoenix. They had planned to join me for a week in Nevada to provide moral support and carry some of my gear, but they decided to head out early to help me get over the Sierras, and they were getting close. I packed my gear and began the day's ride as the thunder rumbled and rain started to pick up again. My parents pulled up next to me with smiles on their faces, pulling over the car. "Get in! You won't believe the conditions ahead. They might close the roads. We got a motel on the other side of the pass — we'll have to wait out the storm."

We pulled away, and within a few minutes the rain became snow, and then near whiteout conditions. It was absolutely unridable. If they hadn't decided to come out early, I would have ridden another mile or so by myself directly into the snowstorm, having to scramble to find a spot to set up my tent in the snow, waiting for days and hoping not to freeze. The timing was miraculous, like so many things have been on this trip.

On the other side of the pass, we made our way to the Woodfords Inn, a remote and cosy motel run by a friendly couple who went out of their way to make us feel at home, and gave us a major discount as their pledge of support for my ride. We spent a day waiting for the snow to subside, enjoying each other's company and catching up. My mom practiced her recorder, an instrument that apparently some people actually play after elementary school, and my dad limped around with a crutch after a minor foot surgery, his spirits high, as always. I felt so fortunate to be close with my parents again after years of distance brought on by my drug and alcohol use.

When the snow had melted, I left for South Lake Tahoe on the East side of the pass. I was disappointed that I was forced to cover some ground in a car, so I climbed extra mileage back up the dry side of the pass to make up for what I missed on the other side. There was no other practical choice, given the conditions.

The climb over Luther Pass into South Lake Tahoe was beautiful with the tranquil sound of the river flowing beside me, the crisp white snow clinging to the evergreen branches above. My solid steel frame bike felt light as a feather compared to the prior days, due to the luxury of my parents car acting as a sag wagon where I could stash some gear. I was moving at twice the speed without the heavy load, and my legs were enjoying the break.

As I weightlessly coasted into South Lake Tahoe, a blinking sign warned about a women's bike race ahead. I happened to soar into town at the front of the pack, greeted by dozens of photographers snapping pictures, thinking that I was the winning woman's cyclist. The look of confusion on everyone's faces as I passed made me chuckle as they began cheering, then noticed the hair on my face, and gave me a look of perplexity.

I spent the afternoon driving around the lake with my parents, snapping pictures of one of the most serene sights of my life, as the sunset formed a pink hue on the ripples of the massive lake. The Sierras were behind me.


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Placerville to Carson Pass, California

After a fifteen-hour day of riding, my body told me to stay another night in Placerville, even though it deviated from my original plan. The next leg of my journey would bring me up the steep terrain of Carson Pass, into the wilderness with no guaranteed access to food and water. I needed to get provisions.

I stopped at a store in Placerville and bought classic survivalist grub: peanut butter, trail mix, dried meat, and tortillas. Leaving the store, I noticed a homeless man sitting in the parking lot with a rustic guitar. "Welcome to my office," he exclaimed through a flowing gray beard as he gestured toward an old coffee can, a faded US Army sleeping bag, and several bags of clothes. His name was Everett, and he agreed to share his story for my film.

With a kind, friendly demeanor, he talked about losing his job as a union carpenter a year prior to receiving his pension. He seemed to enjoy his current life as a street musician, playing his guitar for a few dollar bills per day. With a rusty twang of his guitar, he sang the blues, and I thought about my days living out of bags like his. I remember the way people would look at me with disgust and go out of their way to avoid talking to me, or even making eye contact. In those days, I felt apologetic for my existence — I felt worthless.

I gave Everett some tortillas and peanut butter before making my way back to the motel to get ready for the next day's ride, grateful that I had found a way out of that lifestyle, relieved that I can be proud of who I am today. I was excited to be biking across the country to save young people from the pain I felt in those days.

Morning arrived and I left into the unknown of the Sierras with an extra twenty pounds or so of food and water strapped to my bike. The weight of my gear made the grade of the climb feel impossible, and my legs burned like a forest fire. I stopped and drained an entire water bottle with a single gulp. I spotted a mailman and asked for help finding my next turn. He chuckled and said, "You have been climbing a long way on the wrong road! I guess you got your exercise for the day!"

I felt defeated. I had been climbing for several hours on the wrong road. With no other choice, I coasted back down the hill, enjoying the breeze on my face, trying to make the best of a bad situation. I found the correct road and began climbing all over again, my heart beating in my ears like a drum as I begged for air.

After five hours of steady climbing, I reached the top of a peak and could see the asphalt curl down for several miles like a labyrinth between the evergreens and pearly aspens. Some downhill, at last! I floated into each turn, cool air drying my sweat. Just as my speed was picking up, I heard my tires rumble. Time slowed. I was going down, and going down fast.

Pain pierced through my body as I smacked the pavement with a fierce clop. I found myself lying in the middle of the road, still clipped to my pedals, looking uphill at a blind curve with the sound of approaching traffic getting louder. I wriggled and twisted my knees, trying to unclip with all my might, but it was no use. I had to get out of the road fast.

In an adrenaline-fueled feat of strength, I heaved my entire body toward the side of the road with my bike attached to my feet, a tangled and burdensome weight. All of my gear came with me as I tumbled over and slipped into a ditch, a cloud of dust blasting into the air. I spent a moment lying in the embankment. I heard a truck roar past the spot where I had just been lying several seconds prior. It was a blind corner with no guardrail, and I had almost been killed. I was stunned, tasting blood, with a sharp sting of pain pulsing throughout my body. I thought about death.

For years I had accepted my death as not only a certainty, but something rapidly pending. In the days when I couldn't make it until noon without a quart of vodka, I had nothing left to live for. In the peak of my addictions, I had lost everyone and everything that had ever mattered to me. I recall depression and loneliness that made death seem like the only viable answer, the only ray of hope.

Still clipped to my bike, I knew I didn't want to die now. Not today. Not after all the work that it took to rebuild. In that moment, I reflected on all I had to live for. I loved life again. I loved so many people again. I had so many lives to change. I have never felt gratitude like I did in that ditch.

I had to unpack each of my bags to get situated again. Despite some cuts and bruises, I was okay, as was my bike. I discovered the culprit of my fall: a pair of shorts that I was drying on my bag had been sucked into the wheel, causing the bike to stop dead in its tracks.  How could I have been so stupid? I had even run my daily safety check, looking for loose straps, but I had missed the obvious. I felt determined to get back on the bike and keep going, with a renewed appreciation for my very existence.

At about 6pm, I approached a crossroads near a small mountain restaurant, and pulled out my map only to discover that I was a solid 5 hours of climbing from the nearest listed campsite. I began to panic. A young couple was eating dinner and came out to smoke a cigarette. The young man hollered while he pointed at the roads, "That way's steep, that way's steeper. They both get you to the same place!"  I approached and asked the couple about camping nearby — the sun was soon setting. The man was named Jay, and must have sensed my desperation, and graciously offered to let me stay on a piece of remote property that his family owned. "If you get moving, you might get there by dark," he challenged, then gave me directions.

Hours later, a flashlight led me down a dirt road, past a couple of gates and a rusty old Dodge. Then there it was: a nice flat spot to camp. It was midnight when I got into my sleeping bag in the tent. In the stillness of that moment, I felt so much appreciation for all the complexity of life. I felt so close to nature, and felt so close to God. I had been saved by the kindness of a stranger, once again, and fell into a deep sleep.

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Editor's note from Spencer's brother Ryan: Due to a technology mishap, Spencer had to write this blog post twice because the first version inexplicably disappeared. Spencer sounded heartbroken on the phone when he heard his writing was gone; it had taken him several hours to write. He sent me a second (completely rewritten) copy at 1:30am the night before a long day of biking through Nevada. Although his blog focuses mostly on the bike ride itself, Spencer is also pushing his limits by writing a blog, filming a documentary about addiction, and working very hard to raise $100,000 for Providence Network — all while he completes a bike ride that few people could accomplish, even without all of those extra pressures.

I've been able to see some of the behind-the-scenes complexity of his journey, and it makes his stories and trip even more remarkable. If you get a chance, please share his story, website, or Facebook page with your friends, family, or even random strangers. In the last few weeks we have gone from about 150 people regularly following Spencer's ride to more than 300. Your help spreading the word about Spencer's journey will help illuminate work that Providence Network is doing in people's lives daily. They hugely contributed to saving my brother's life, and your advocacy for their organization will directly benefit other people like him. Thank you so much!

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