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.
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.