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.
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.
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.