My friend Shawn pulled up to our campsite in Walsenburg in a van driven by his wife, Jennifer. Shawn is on the Colorado State Patrol in a K9 unit, and we met in a running club and became friends. He races on a team, and looked like a professional cyclist with the classic road racing attire: spandex bib shorts, a muscle tight jersey, an aerodynamic helmet and shades, and a road bike that I could lift with my pinkie finger. There was nothing aerodynamic or fast about bicycle touring, and I had warned him that he might get bored with our pace, but he seemed happy to have a day out riding with friends, even though he seemed to be pedaling backwards more than forwards for most of the ride.
We began our day with some Carl's Jr breakfast burritos and coffee on the way out of town, and discussed the storm that was scheduled to chase us that afternoon, which prompted us to get moving. The road was desolate, but beautiful — completely unspoiled grasslands that stretched for miles with the occasional deer, herd of cattle, or row of wind turbines. Despite touring through the remote roads in Nevada and Utah, it was still so hard for me to believe that these massive pieces of land had been spared from being defiled by the hands of man, and it left me thinking. I thought of the larger cities of America, and wondered what it felt like to be on the land before the skyscrapers and parking lots. I thought about all this land I was riding past and tried to picture what it will be like in a thousand years: a sprawling metropolis, perhaps.
Being that we were on bicycles in the heat, the downside of undeveloped land soon became obvious, as there was not a single place to stop for water or food for 76 miles. Jen and I were out of water before mile 30. Jennifer, Shawn's wife, came to the rescue in the middle of the day by traveling ahead and filling a cooler with water. By the time she arrived, we were so parched that Jen and I guzzled several bottles on the spot. By the afternoon, a dark cloud had formed behind us and was moving in our direction. It seemed to whisper to us: Go faster! I am coming. It was all the motivation we needed to keep a steady pace and to limit our breaks.
By the time we arrived in La Junta, the sky overhead was dark and grim, and began to spit rain. We raced through town toward our motel as it showered on us, the low boom of thunder echoing off of the businesses and houses as we rode through town. Then arrived my worst fear, second only to a tornado: lightning. The flashes of lighting were so intense that they seemed to illuminate and electrify the entire city every several seconds.
My mind was racing. If you are going to take one of us down hit me, not Jen, as I seem to have a lot of lives and could probably live through a lighting bolt or two. But soon we had arrived to the safety of our motel, where we watched out the window in amazement as the storm grew even worse. Massive puddles formed in the parking lot, blinding us like paparazzi as they reflected each burst of lightning. The storm calmed down as we had cleaned up from the days ride. Jen ordered Chinese food, which we devoured before bed.
Shawn and Jennifer met Jen and I at the motel in the morning and we began down highway 50 towards the small town of Lamar, in southeastern Colorado. I had moved to Lamar in 2011 for nursing school and had been living there ever since, working at the local hospital in the Emergency Department. The 57 mile ride between La Junta and Lamar was mostly flat, scattered with farm buildings and ranches that are so commonplace along the Colorado plains. I thought of my training rides on that very road just a couple months prior. I remembered how grueling and long that exact road had felt, and realized how much my body had adapted to daily riding. 57 miles on flat terrain now seem like a pretty easy day.
We passed Las Animas and as Lamar approached, I began to take in the familiar sights of the place I had called home the last four years. It occurred to me that I had just ridden my bicycle from the Pacific Ocean, and was about to be back in the house where I had spent hundreds of hours planning for this dream. Just a couple of months ago, it had been just that: a dream. It was something that kept me up late at night, digging through articles and maps. It was something that I talked about, but wasn't actually sure I could really do. On this day, as I returned home carried by two spinning wheels of rubber, it felt so tangible. I knew that if I could make it home to Lamar, I could make it to Brooklyn. As we rolled through main street, I heard the encouraging honks of passing motorists and noticed signs on multiple businesses displaying words like, "Welcome Spencer Nee." I felt so encouraged and loved.
We arrived at my house and were greeted with warm hugs by my parents, who had come out from Phoenix to see me again. Realizing that her trip was coming to an end, Jen began to listen to her voicemails from work. For the entire week I had been encouraging Jen to ignore the emails, texts, and voicemails. Providence House was the house that helped me get sober, and Jen serves as the live-in housing director. After five years of living with residents, sharing meals, coaching, and mentoring them through the struggles of early sobriety, I imagined that she needed a break. She had given so much of herself over the last five years to help others, and had assisted so many people to embrace sobriety and rebuild their lives. I deeply respect her level of servitude and selflessness, which was evident to me as she struggled to avoid her ties to the house all week.
Jen listened to her voicemail on my couch, and I suddenly heard her yell, "No, No, No! It can't be true, she didn't! No, it's not true!" Tears began streaming down her cheeks. She ran out to my back yard and collapsed onto the ground and began beating the grass and pleading, "I just talked to her, it can't be true." Before Jen had joined me on the ride, a 29-year-old resident had left the house only a year into the two-year program. The news arrived that she had overdosed and died.
I had no idea how to console Jen, so I rubbed her back and got her some Kleenex. I was reminded of all the friends that I had lost to addiction. I thought of Joey, Larry, Jerry, Collin, Vickie, Neil, and all the others that I had lost. Many of them tried to leave Providence House for a job, to get their kids back, because they thought they had fallen in love, or just wanted to try to do things their own way. As someone that has been through it, I can assure you that it takes years of treatment to get well, not 28 days, or 6 months. It takes years. That is why Providence Network works — unlike other programs, they excel at understanding the importance of providing a continuum of care over a long period of time. As I watched Jen grieving in my backyard, I realized how much she truly loved the broken. I realized that each time someone left, a piece of her left as well.
I thought back to those that had died after leaving Providence House while I lived there. Sometimes it was only a few days after they had left when I would hear the news of their deaths. I remember one time in particular, sitting at the dinner table with my friend Collin, smiling and joking around like we always did. He was so excited that I had found steak in the freezer and incorporated it into the enchiladas for dinner, that he joked that we had finally made it. He was an attorney, and was working to get his life back on track after his alcoholism had taken over. I will never forget when his mom came to get his belongings after he had decided to try to do things on his own. She said he had fallen in a motel and bled to death only a few days after we had sat at that dinner table laughing and joking around. If he only would have decided to stay.
I remember his mother's tears, and her solemn look when she grabbed me and stared into my eyes, making me promise that I would learn from her loss. She begged me to think of him every time I thought about drinking. She pleaded for her son's death to mean something to someone other than herself and her family. I have seen the vivid image of her grieving face in my mind many times, and heard her words in some of my closest moments to relapsing. I will never forget my promise to her. I promised I would stay sober for him.
While I watched Jen grieve, I was reminded of how important my mission really was. The people who arrive at Providence House—and those that will arrive at the new home that I am raising money to fund—are on the brink of death. They need the Christian love from people like Jen. They need the sense of family that they have likely never felt. They need the support and structure that saved my life, and that continues to save the lives of many others. This was why I was riding each day, in the honor of those passed, and to prevent others from such a fate.
Jen's friend came and picked her up so that she could return to Denver to grieve and help console other residents impacted by the loss. I was going to miss having her cheerful spirit riding with me, but knew she was needed at Providence House, doing God's work. I was truly touched and encouraged that she took the time out of her life to come support me with this dream.
After over a month of missing her and wishing I was by her side, my girlfriend Brandi showed up to my house with her twin boys, Corde and Bannor. I was so excited to get to spend a few days spending time with her. My friends Rod and Julie had us over to their house for a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, sides, homemade ice cream, and a variety of desserts. The boys and I swam in the pool and had water gun fights until the sun faded behind the horizon.
Since there had been no telling exactly when I would ride into town on Friday, the community pretended that I was coming in Saturday so that others could join me through main street as I rode in. I met at a gas station on the North end of town and was astonished by the amount of people that began congregating to ride with me, many of them kids.
The police closed down main street and I rode behind a police escort with dozens of people riding behind me of all ages. We slowly coasted through downtown Lamar, passing friends and community members cheering and holding signs. It was one of the best moments of my life. I found myself tearing up under my sunglasses as I waved at all the people that supported me. My dream of riding across America to save others from addictions had come true, and so many people believed and supported what I was trying to accomplish.
We pulled into the park by the swimming pool and dozens of kids signed custom Colorado license plates for my bike, while I snapped pictures with kids that were inspired by my ride. One girl told me that I was her 4H project and she snapped photos with me and my bike. I got to catch up with my friends from the Prowers Medical Center while families lined up at the pool for a free glow in the dark themed swim party.
My brother Ryan came down from Denver with our family friend Judy, who had been like an aunt to me growing up. With my parents and my friends Rod and Julie, we left the event at the park and headed over to the local Thai restaurant for dinner and to celebrate each other's company.
The next morning, I spoke to all three services at Lamar Christian Church, giving a brief testimony and explaining the purpose of my journey. I also gave an hour-long presentation in the fellowship hall showing pictures and telling stories about the trip so far. I was approached by several families who told me stories about their loved ones impacted by addiction. An elder at the church handed me an envelope so full of checks and cash that I could barely fit it into my pocket saying, "that is from the first service, there are two more coming." The generosity and encouragement from the congregation was absolutely unbelievable.
In the evening I gave a slide show presentation to Grace Fellowship church, a small but mighty congregation of passionate believers that met downtown at the Brew Unto Others coffee shop. I was again approached by several people after the presentation to talk about addictions and was handed an enormously generous envelope full of checks from the congregation. Lamar may be a small town, but its generosity toward my goal to raise $100,000 for Providence Network was massive.
The next day my former coworkers at Prowers Medical Center held a potluck luncheon in my honor. The room was decorated with signs of support, and I stayed for a couple hours eating and catching up with old friends. It was a remarkable place to work, and I was honored that they took the time out of their schedules to support my dream.
I spent the next couple of days in Lamar working on some of the behind the scenes details of the trip and documentary, hanging out with my beautiful girlfriend Brandi. It was so hard to have to leave her again for two months, and I found myself mixed with so many emotions as the morning of my departure grew nearer. She had sacrificed so much to support this dream of mine, and I was sad to have to say goodbye once again.
I set off for Garden City, which was a little over 100 miles from my house — I had decided to do a century ride out of town because I figured I would be well-rested. Brandi had been contacted by an 11-year-old girl named Kynnadigh who had been inspired by my ride and wanted to ride out of town with me. Her mother was in prison, but she hoped that my efforts might help her mom when she got out. I met Kynnadigh and her sister Londyn in the Wal-Mart parking lot, accompanied by their cousin. They joined me as I rode out, stopping at the nearest turnoff to part ways. I gave them both high fives and their eyes lit up and their smiles became wide. I was so touched that they had come out to support my ride, and I pray that their mother gets the help that she needs.
I reached the Kansas border by midday and left my beloved home state of Colorado. Almost immediately after crossing the border, a major headwind came in that tried to stop me in my tracks. I dropped into an easier gear, and began fighting with all my might. My speedometer displayed a mere 7 miles per hour, I had almost 70 miles to go. After fighting the heat and wind for hours, I arrived in Garden City, absolutely exhausted. I found a motel since I had no energy to find a place to camp. I stopped next door at a Sonic and started talking to a truck driver about my trip, and he asked the carhop to give me the change from his dinner, which more than bought my meal. As my tired body hit the bed, I reveled in the kindness and generosity that had been showered upon me the prior week. Thanks for reading and all the thoughts, prayers, donations, shares, and likes. I truly appreciate all the love and support.