I have found the best form of therapy: cycling across the country. Although I am generally a pretty happy guy, all of my fears, insecurities, and worries are washed away by the gentle breeze blowing on my face as I begin each day, listening to the peaceful morning songs from the birds and the rhythmic beating of my heart. With each rotation of the pedal, I am transformed into a better me: a me that only sees the good in people, the harmony of nature, and the miracle of our very existence.
Morning sunlight slowly enveloped my tent, seven miles north of Dove Creek at the Sun Canyon Ranch. I had found a quiet piece of land to pitch my tent, surrounded by mountain views in all directions: LaSals to the North, Abahos to the West, Sleeping Ute to the South, and the Lucca Chuccas to the Southwest. It was the Wild West in its purest form: vast, unspoiled, and spectacular.
The view made me forget the struggle of pushing my heavy bike up the 7 mile dirt road the night before, and the lack of energy gained from the meager can of soup I warmed with my camping stove for dinner.
As the sun continued to rise, I filled my water bottles from a rusty spigot and packed my tent and belongings back onto my bike. I made my way back down the dirt road towards Dove Creek, stopping first at the Dove Creek Dinner Bell for breakfast, ready for some serious calories. Their breakfast menu was the typical diner fare with one exceptional choice: "the plate of crap," which I nearly ordered just for the sake of humor, but decided ultimately to get a smothered breakfast burrito. I had finally arrived back in the land of things smothered in green chile. My travels thus far taught me an important culinary observation that green chile, made with pork like a gravy, must certainly be a Colorado thing, and my nostalgic affinity for the stuff left me practically licking the plate clean. I was back in my home state!
The ride towards Dolores was tranquil, filled with dense green mountainous pastures that went on for miles, speckled with grazing horses and lots of roadside stands selling mostly beans. I passed a large bean packing plant, which curiously also happened to sell teepees. After eating all those beans, I suppose it might come in handy to have a dwelling designed for good air flow.
After a long steady climb, I glided down a canyon alongside a lake where I found teenage girls in bikinis lying out on the "beach" watching muscle-bound guys showing off on their jetskis. I rolled through Dolores, a quaint town located in the middle of another canyon, and passed its small shops, restaurants, and taverns.
I was calmed by the roaring rapids of the Dolores river which flowed along my right side, its relaxing sound echoing off the magnificent rock cliffs on my left. I arrived at Dolores River Campground where I met
the easygoing owners Lainey and Billy, who had a Grateful Dead Colorado flag streaming from the building, a sign to me that I would be met with warmth and hospitality. They were so inspired by my fundraising efforts that they donated a riverside campsite to me for the night.
Somewhat stunned by this random act of kindness, I had failed to listen when Lainy told me where my campsite was, so I stood in the parking lot staring at the map trying to figure it out. An 11-year-old kid rode up on some kind big wheel and exclaimed, "hey bro, I'm Skylar. I'll show you where to go, I am the only other person camping out here."
Although I found it a little strange to follow a kid on a big wheel, he was so friendly and insistent that I decided to let him lead me past dozens of RVs to the campsite next to the river where I found his mom, Stephanie, and her boyfriend, Jake. I thanked them for Skylar's help and told them that I was riding across the country to raise money for a new addiction recovery home for youth and young adults in Denver. Jake explained that he had spent some years homeless himself, and commended me for my efforts. I asked him if I could film him for my documentary, and after pondering the question for a moment, he politely declined. While I was setting up my tent, Skylar invited me over to hang out, which led to Jake opening up about the real reason that they were there: he had brought Stephanie to the tranquil campground to wean her off of heroin. She was on her third day clean, and was very "dope sick." After some casual conversation, I eased the camera from my bag and she somewhat reluctantly agreed to allow me to film her telling her story.
Stephanie and Jake spent their childhoods getting abused. They were both abandoned and tossed around through the foster system until Stephanie married a man who abused her just like the men from her childhood had. About two years ago, she found out that her husband had been raping her little girls. She buried the guilt and pain with a spoon and needle, finding herself hopelessly addicted to heroin.
Jake was on a mission to save her, although he had been battling his own alcoholism. Over a year ago, after five years of sobriety, he watched the house he had built with his bare hands go up in flames, burning his wife to death. He was not sure whether the fire was started by his wife accidentally or on purpose, but the event led him into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse. He had been drinking ever since. Tears rolled down both of their faces as they told me about all the tragedy of the last several years and about how they had found each other to get through it all.
She told me about Skylar and the cancer that had taken most of his arm, and she cried for her girls that she was failing to protect, and despite the depths of her despair, she began to speak about hope. As she wiped away tears she gasped, "I want to cross the Brooklyn Bridge with you, sober, and feel the accomplishment with you. I don't quite get why you showed up here, but I know it was for a reason, and I know I can make it now. I am going to stay sober, I am going to get my girls back."
She retired to the tent, undoubtedly fighting the illness of her withdrawal. Skylar and I found sticks in the surrounding forest to build a fire. We grilled pork chops over the spitting embers as the sun set behind the pillows of campfire smoke. I watched Jake teach Skylar martial arts moves, rolling around in the dirt, both glowing with excitement. Before I left my new friends and returned to my tent, we told stories and sang songs while the fire blazed, eating hunks of smoky meat like cave men, using rocks as plates. I was reminded of camping with my dad and brothers as a boy, and fell asleep with a smile on my face, listening to the river beside me, dreaming about what it would feel like if Stephanie somehow actually showed up in Brooklyn, sober, and working towards her recovery. These are the very people I was riding for each day: the abused and abandoned, the desperate and hopeless. This is one example of the miraculous encounters that I had not expected on this trip, but continue to find, and that remind me of my purpose.
As I wheeled my bike out of the campground the next day, I saw Stephanie and Skylar smiling on a porch swing near the campground office. Stephanie whispered, "I feel much better today. Thanks for believing in me." I left her with words of encouragement and I swung my leg over the bundle of bags on my bike and clipped my shoes into the pedals. She stared at me with a look of courage and absolute certainty and murmured, "See you in Brooklyn."
The day started with a horrendous climb that left me shedding all my layers. I passed an organic farm that stretched for several miles before descending into the town of Mancos, a small farming and ranching community near Mesa Verde that has grown to become somewhat of an artist colony. I had known several hippie types who had lived there over the years, mixing with the ranchers and farmers to create a uniquely decorated town. The climb out of Mancos seemed to last forever. In the distance, each bend in the road appeared to promise an end to the burning in my legs, but would reveal more and more climbing. I recognized that it was not really the climbing that was bothering me. Instead, it was a strange combination of feelings emerging as Durango grew nearer.
Durango and I had quite a past. I spent two vastly different periods of my life in the town, which is why my journey brought me such mixed emotions of excitement and unease. I first moved to Durango when I was 18 and spent the next four years attending Fort Lewis College. I studied hard and played hard and have fond memories of learning from amazing professors, camping, snowboarding, and mountain biking. My drinking had begun to show signs of becoming a problem, and although there is no doubt that I partied a little too hard, I always managed to keep it together enough to keep my grades up. I even graduated in 2003 with a degree in sociology. This was the Durango, and the friends, that I was eager to revisit.
I had another period in Durango that made me uneasy to revisit. In my mid twenties, after my addictions had progressed, I had returned to Durango on a Greyhound with 8 staples in my head after being assaulted with a brick by a gang of Crips near Colfax in Denver. Without going into the details, I can assure you that drugs, alcohol, and plenty of stupid choices were involved. After escaping death, I figured I could get sober back in my old college town, and accepted the invitation from a friend to stay on a futon in her garage while I tried to clean up. For several weeks, I went to meetings before finding myself drunk again night after night. Her lease ended, and I moved into a tent in the woods. For several years, I floated between sleeping in the woods, weekly motels, friends' couches, and the homeless shelter. I remember somehow deciding that the only path ahead of me was to drink myself to death. I had lost all hope, and the upward battle towards a chance at a regular life, a sober life, seemed absolutely impossible, I didn't even know where to begin.
Although I had healed so much in the last seven years of sobriety, in large part due to the help of Providence Network, this too was the Durango that lay ahead, rapidly approaching. It was the Durango that I knew I needed to face. I made it to the summit and began a breezy, high-traffic decent into town. I realized for the first time on a conscious level that I had designed my route pass through town hoping to gain some closure to that chapter, although I knew it wouldn't be an easy process.
The familiar city approached, and I was flooded with memories: some great, some bad, and some absolutely terrifying. It was these terrifying moments that reminded me of the purpose of this trip and the kids I might prevent from going down a similar path to my own, lost and alone in the woods with a bottle, hoping that I would fail to wake up in the morning, crippled with shame and unable to see a way out.
This ride is to build a new model of recovery home that to my knowledge had never really been tried. I was riding for the first recovery home that would create a family environment with Christian live-in staff specifically for kids after they reach 18. This is the age when the funding dries up and so many are abandoned by the system only to turn to their "families" on the streets. This is when they find pipes, or needles, or bottles — and eventually grave sites or jail cells. Thanks for reading, sharing, and donating. Your help can improve the lives of kids that will be forever be transformed by this home.