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.
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!