Morning arrived after my first day on the road. In front of the seedy motel, I tightened my pannier straps and fixed my bike, which began to attract a small crowd, with people from all walks of life inquiring about my trip. An older gentleman gripping a cigarette and beer hollered, "I hope you've got a gun, I'm a retired homicide detective and you wouldn't believe how many bodies I've found just like yours!" He went on to talk about living at the motel, which "should be 5 stars," as far as he was concerned.
I was reminded of all the nights I had spent in weekly motels before getting sober, drinking with guys like this. Drunken morning ramblings about Vietnam and government conspiracies that always lead to one place: violently shaking and scared over a toilet filled with vomit. Smoke-stained motel wallpaper spinning as I would desperately try to figure a plan to evade withdrawals, hunger, and the ticking clock of each week's motel purchase that promised me nights on the cold ground when it expired. Those sobering moments when I would miss my family and real friends so badly that it would make my stomach turn, crippled with shame at what I had become, gulping vodka until I didn't feel anymore.
I sighed with relief as I rode off on my bike, while he sipped his morning beer. I realized how lucky I was to be close with my family again, on the adventure of my life, and on a mission to save others from the desperation I felt in those days. I was now sober, and crossing America on a bicycle, glowing with gratitude.
The crowd gave me a modest applause as I pulled away. I felt recharged, invigorated, as if nothing could stop me. Just as I turned through an intersection towards the direction of Davis, my bike chain snapped, flailing into the busy intersection.
An hour had passed on the side of the road before I accepted the reality: my lackluster mechanical skills were not going to cut it. Grease smeared across my phone as I Googled a bike shop: it was a 1 hour and 17 minute walk. I called up my dad's 79-year-old cousin Gretchen, who lives in nearby Davis, to warn her of my late arrival. She pleasantly exclaimed, "Get lunch, I'll come and help you figure it out!"
It was 4pm by the time I left Fairfield, but my new chain was spinning and shifting with ease as my wheels glided through the quiet Northern California farm country. The cooling breeze smelled floral, and the lush colors of green and red on the landscape renewed my spirit. I could picture the tranquility of growing up on a family farm here, quiet Sunday evenings spinning on a tire swing next to chickens and horses. It's amazing how rapidly the bustling city receded and became farmland.
I arrived in Davis at twilight, coasting past the serenity of the parks near UC Davis, young couples on picnic blankets flirting and falling in love. My cousin greeted me with a warm dinner of curried chicken, brown rice, broccoli, and fresh pears which I ravenously devoured amidst her fascinating stories about her poetry readings, clubs she belonged to, ukulele lessons, and meditation sessions. I felt inspired by the fullness of her life, her compassionate hospitality, and encouragement as I embark on this journey.
A deep sleep brought new life to my spirit—although my muscles (and butt) felt quite different. I rode my bike to Cafe Bernardo's, a local Davis favorite, to meet Barbara, a member of the Davis Bike Club. She greeted me with a warm hug, wearing a neon pink Davis bike club shirt. We chatted like old friends about cycling, homelessness, my story, nursing, and her career as an editor. I savored a gourmet breakfast burrito and coffee, courtesy of the club.
Later, I met my cousin at Davis Community Meals, a homeless shelter and housing resource center. Sitting on the front porch with a loaf of bread and a Schwinn cruiser bike sat Sheila, a resident at the shelter since October. Sheila was gracious enough to let me film her story, one of staggering triumph and courage. She spoke about aging out of the foster system and recently losing her daughter, Mandy, to a complicated illness. My eyes swelled behind the camera as she described the months of hospital tests that ultimately couldn't prevent the loss of life of her precious little girl.
I returned to Gretchen's apartment for fresh steamed artichokes grown in her friend's garden, and a hearty black bean soup with fresh lemon. Gretchen told me about her hippie days in the 1960s and the New York folk scene at the time. We talked about the fears and uncertainties of youth, and her decision to move to Davis because of its abundance of bikes and bike-friendly routes. She pulled out photo albums and books written by pastors on my father's side of the family, which helped paint a picture of my long heritage of spiritual curiosity and pursuits of servitude. I glanced through their sermon books and hoped this trip might carry out their will—all these generations later—to serve and love the broken in this world.
As I got ready for bed, Gretchen showed me a short film about homelessness that her filmmaker friend had sent her, which lead to me showing her one made some years back about my story entitled, Road to Providence. She came into my room with tears pouring from her cheeks and gave me a bear hug and whispered, "I'm glad we have you back."
A special thanks to Gretchen for sharing her home, food, and delightful spirit.