I left Davis early in the morning with the company of two new friends, Stu and Bill, from the Davis Bike club. After several turns through the sleepy college town, we coasted along a pleasant bike path that led us across a causeway, bridge, and railroad tracks before arriving at Old Town Sacramento. We stopped at a small restaurant near the river for a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes, eggs, home fries, and sausage. The architecture of Old Town had a Wild West feel, with old saloons and general stores similar to my home town of Golden.
I was half expecting a showdown on the cobblestone street in front of the restaurant, as I sipped fresh dark coffee and chatted with my new friends about my story and our shared passion for cycling. Bill choked up a bit as he shared the story of a friend impacted by addiction, and both Bill and Stu commended me on my recovery with warm sincerity. In addition to treating me to breakfast, they gave me a pair of Davis Bike Club wool blend socks before guiding me out of town and onto the American River Trail. I was touched by their kindness, and inspired by their passion for cycling, friendship, and enjoyment of life.
The great American River Bike Trail took me all the way through Sacramento to Folsom, 32-miles away. It was a treat to pass through such a large city and be completely surrounded by wilderness, rolling through the shady foliage with the deep blue river peeking at me between gaps in the tree cover as I turned each bend, birds chirping gently above.
I stopped at a shady picnic table next to the river to enjoy the lunch that my cousin Gretchen had graciously packed for me. Nearby, a group of teenagers drank shots of Fireball and flirted with each other, talking about working shifts at a restaurant. I became overwhelmed with sadness. For some reason, at that moment, I wanted so deeply to be drinking with them. Alcoholism is so sneaky. Here I was in the most tranquil environment, the soothing trickle of the river beside me, and all I wanted was to be young again, drinking with friends. I felt as if I was grieving a great loss in realizing—for the hundredth time—that I will never again sit around with friends, drinking and laughing like these kids.
I have become more of an introvert in my sobriety, as drugs and alcohol allowed me to feel more comfortable in social settings. It's strange to think how the longing for companionship that kickstarted my teen drinking habits left me completely alone years later, shaking and sick in smoky motel rooms or alleyways. The triggers to drink come at me at random times, and thankfully have become less and less common the longer I have been sober. I am grateful that I have learned the tools to deal with them, and recognize them for what they are.
I quickly repaired my perspective, as I have done for many years now, and reminded myself of those lonely times when I had lost everyone. I reminded myself how I had rebuilt my whole life and restored the relationships with those I love. I reminded myself to look to the joy and adventure of that very moment. After all, I was on an epic adventure, and had been meeting friends and laughing the whole time without a drop of booze. I reminded myself of my mission, to help save other kids from falling further down the path that I had walked. I continued towards Placerville — glad to be sober, glad to be alive.
Planning for the trip, I knew this day was going to be one of the hardest of the entire journey, and I had made it to the hard part: it is only 25 miles from Folsom to Placerville, but it comes with a brutal 3000 feet of elevation gain. The American River Bike Trail ended in Folsom, and I turned onto a busy winding road and began the steep climb. My handlebars wobbled back and forth trying to balance the weight as the hours passed. The baritone rumble of Johnny Cash singing Folsom Prison Blues echoed in my head: "I hear that train a coming, it's coming round the bend...."
I was beginning to wonder if I had packed too much weight as I teetered slowly up the road, handlebars swinging back and forth like a palindrome, while I panted and gasped for air. The climb was burning all of my energy and my hunger began to devour me.
I spotted a fruit stand in the distance, like a mirage. I stopped in the shade, refilled my water, and ate fresh-picked cherries and strawberries while chatting with the stand's owner, Nie, a refugee that miraculously escaped Laos at the age of ten during a civil war. The courage and bravery of her story put the pain of my climb into perspective, and I again found my groove.
As I hit my twelfth hour on the saddle I ran out of energy bars. I had bonked—a fear of most athletes—a term used to describe a physiological process that, spare the science, made me increasingly confused and shaky. In the simplest terms, I needed food, and needed it quickly. To my despair, a sign stared at me from the distance: Closed for Bridge Work - Use Alternate Route.
With no internet, and no other roads labeled on my map, I took a guess, and climbed for thirty minutes around a loop that took me back where I had started. I wanted to cry, or yell, or really more than anything I just wanted to eat like three whole pizzas. As I fantasized about food, I finally found my way into Placerville just as the sun disappeared behind the hills. I could see a neon sign in the distance, a KFC, the first sign of food in several hours. Now shaking and dizzy, I climbed my way towards the sweet aroma of the Colonel's grease, nearly riding through the pane glass before ordering half of the menu.
Refueled, I began my three mile trek through the dark toward my motel on the outskirts of town. Google Maps suggested a bike path, which looked logical on the map, but led me to a dead-end in the middle of the woods. It was 10pm when I found the National 9 motel, and I was exhausted. The motel had no record of my reservation, and no vacancies. The motel's owners were a young couple, visibly drained from keeping up with their responsibilities and their two year old, and took pity as I explained my grueling day of mishaps. They cut me a good deal on a last room they had, below their own room, and gave me some trail mix for the day ahead.
My body hit the bed like a sack of bricks, and I soon faded to sleep after nearly fifteen hours on the saddle, grateful for the goodness and understanding of strangers, and for another day arriving sober and safe.