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.