I awoke in a trashy motel in Southern Indiana just North of Louisville, KY. It was a planned rest day, so I took a city bus over the bridge and into Louisville to explore the city, marveling at the historical architecture and decorative parks, but I soon found myself beginning to feel a little bit sick.
Unsure if it was something I ate or the heat, I got on a bus that I thought was taking me back to my motel until the bus driver told me that I had reached the end of the line, further explaining that I had to get off. Now feeling even worse, I stepped off the bus to the dizzying heat and heard the thumping of rap music. I took a look around — there was a gang of teenagers staring at me from across the street dressed almost entirely in red. I looked down to my neon blue running shoes as I made my way over to the corner that was supposed to be a bus stop, and began to worry.
For thirty minutes I waited for the bus while shiny rimmed cars bumping rap rolled past me, slowing at the sight of me, staring at what I assumed would be the pair of shoes I would be buried in. I am no stranger to being in rough neighborhoods, and have developed the ability to differentiate between feeling out of place and genuinely being in danger. My surroundings grew increasingly more worrisome and I began to panic, doubting that the bus was ever going to come. A shiny, tricked-out car slowed next to me and the tinted window drifted downward as my life flashed before my eyes. A face emerged and began to jokingly bark at me like a dog, scaring me so badly that I shook while his friends laughed in the back seat.
Now too under the weather to stand, I sat down on the curb, trying to hide my shoes with my body, while attempting to think of a solution. I remembered that I had downloaded the Uber app, a car service that costs less then a taxi. How else would a middle class suburban white guy get himself out of a threatening urban situation then with the use of technology? Marveling at my stereotypical, but potentially lifesaving suburban ingenuity, I pushed a button and sent out for a driver. Twenty minutes later, I was safely being driven back to my motel to rest and recuperate.
Feeling sick is not fun, but feeling sick in the swampy summer heat while accidentally wandering into a Bloods neighborhood wearing blue shoes took me to a level of discomfort I have never experienced. Under the circumstances, my grungy Motel 6 room might as well have been the presidential suite at the Ritz. I cranked the air conditioning, guzzled about a gallon of water, and fell into an afternoon slumber that lasted until the morning.
After lots of fluids and rest, I awoke feeling better and got back onto my bike and into the heat. It felt good to leave the sprawl of the city and return to the quiet green farmland and small town safety. I passed a giant coal plant that was tucked along the riverside, billowing smoke clouds alongside me until I arrived in Madison, Indiana rolling through the charming downtown with well decorated shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
I turned away from town and navigated along a walkway next to the Ohio River. I came to the bridge that would take me back into Kentucky toward the campground where I had planned to stay. The bridge started about two blocks above me, and I noticed a pedestrian ramp that would save me from riding two blocks up to the bridge entrance. The ramp had a large "NO BICYCLES" sign, but I was losing daylight and started to push my bike upwards until I became startled by the sound of a person yelling at me from a large house at the top of the hill. "Seriously?," I thought, as I figured the yelling must be some worked-up Ramp Nazi trying to prevent me from taking the shortcut.
Then I noticed the figure waving me towards him, motioning with his palms together next to his tilted head: the universal sign for sleep. I left the ramp and started to push my bike up the steep grass towards what I could now see was two men. They met me halfway, introduced themselves, and offered me a place to stay. I enthusiastically accepted. Bob was the owner of the luxurious house at the top of the hill, and James was a touring cyclist that Bob was also hosting for the night. It took strength from all three of us to heave my fully-loaded bike up the hill and to his house.
Bob blew up an air mattress, handed me a towel, and showed me the shower before taking off to a church group with his wife Charlotte, leaving James and I to get better acquainted and get cleaned up. After showering, we walked into town and ate dinner and then stopped for ice cream cones, which we enjoyed while walking along the river next the the setting sun, swapping stories about our adventures. James had also traveled from San Francisco, but had taken an entirely different route than me. He had just graduated from college and was planning to join the Peace Corps and was full of interesting stories.
When we returned to the house, we got a chance to hear some of Bob and Charlotte's stories about their own bike tours, including their own adventure across America over 20 years ago. They explained that they remembered how emotionally and physically trying it was to cross the country on their bicycles, so they always tried to offer a place to stay to fully-loaded cyclists they happened to spot.
After a peaceful night of sleep, I awoke to hot coffee, farm fresh eggs, toast, and fruit. As if the shower, bed, and food was not enough, Bob and Charlotte wrote a very generous check towards Providence Network for the cause. It was hard to believe how kind, generous, and thoughtful people have been to me on this trip, and this was a prime example. James was riding at a much faster pace, so I set off across the bridge on my own, crossing back into Kentucky.
I stopped at General Butler State Park to have a reflective moment, as I had visited the park during a summer vacation about twenty years ago. My brain was flooded with memories of playing mini golf and riding my mountain bike around the surrounding trails at the age of 14 while on a road trip with my family. I remember waiting in the lobby of a motel for the coast to be clear to buy my first pack of cigarettes out of a vending machine, and then riding my skateboard all night under the lamp lights, crouching under a porch at the lodge to smoke, looking over my shoulder as I was afraid of getting caught. Looking back, I have come to believe that this was a turning point in my life that snowballed towards my eventual self destruction.
Now twenty years later, I stared at the familiar park that I had visited many times in my memories. I thought of how much had transpired in 20 years. This trip has provided so much time for deep and meaningful introspection, and I found myself resting for a moment, wandering through my memories, trying to figure out how I ended up nearly dying at the hands of drugs and alcohol.
I thought back to that curious 14 year old boy, sneaking a cigarette in this park roughly 20 years ago. He would soon start smoking pot, then try cocaine and meth, and even heroin. He would put needles in his arms and smoke crack, getting beaten nearly to death by drug dealers on multiple occasions. He would wake up in hospitals, jail cells, and homeless shelters. He would learn to sleep on couches, in the woods, and on the streets. In time, he would more or less abandon the drugs for his preferred, cheaper, and more easily-available tool for escape: alcohol. He would spend his mornings nauseated and shaking, unable to function without booze. He would lose everything and everyone that he knew and loved. He would miss his family so badly it hurt, and eventually accept his pending death, an acceptance that strengthened with each failed attempt to quit on his own.
Then he would get some serious help—lasting help—and he would rebuild his life through the guidance and support of Providence Network, and have a unique opportunity to help others by riding his bike across the country. If I could talk to my younger self as he snuck a cigarette in this park some 20 years ago, I might take his cigarette out of his mouth and talk some sense into him. I thought some more about my life today. I could see the reflection of my gaze through the ripples in the lake, and liked the guy I saw standing there with his bike—a bike that had just traveled over 3000 miles.
I recognized that I would never appreciate a moment as perfect as this if it wasn't for that stupid kid that wanted to experience it all by taking dangerous shortcuts. I decided that if I could talk to my younger self, I actually wouldn't say anything to change my course. There would be no way to stop my curiosity anyway. I had to make those mistakes, and live through all those scary, lonely nights. It took a lot of illness, hunger, black eyes, handcuffs, and staples in my skull to find myself ready to escape the desperation to arrive at this place of indescribable appreciation for my existence. I took one last look at the mini golf course and winding mountain bike trails that seemed to symbolize the youth that was somewhat stolen away from me by my addictions and poor choices, and began coasting away with a feeling of complete acceptance for what had become of it all. I felt joyful.
I arrived in Dry Ridge in the early evening and booked a cheap motel. Dry Ridge didn't seem like much of a town, more an exit to a highway that had some motels and restaurants. I left in the morning, following google bicycle maps which lead me through some hilly poverty stricken back roads.
I found myself in a bit of a disheartened mood after my fourth wave and smile to a passing local received its fourth lack of response and dirty look. It was hot, humid, and the roads were steep, and I continued to get pushed unsafely towards the side of the road by rednecks in clunky Confederate flag-clad trucks, which left a stream of black exhaust in front of my face as I gasped for air. Passing cyclists had warned me about the dogs in Kentucky for several weeks to the point where I attached mace to my bike on a holster. One of the cyclists had told a story about a guy that had to end his trip after a dog took a chunk out of his leg and he had to be flown out from a local hospital.
They say owners tend to look like their dogs, which would indicate that this part of Kentucky was full of starving, angry, vicious pit bull mutt looking people, because I spent most of the day clasping my mace and being chased by attack dogs. In the course of the day, I counted 14 dogs that chased me, each attempting to gnaw a nice chunk out of my tires, or worse yet, legs. I was able to yell at most of them to keep them from locking their jaws around my skin, but had to blast one in the face with mace — I could tell he was not going to stop until he feasted on my flesh.
To make matters worse, on several occasions, the owners sat in their lawns encouraging their dogs to attack. I was so ready to be out of this hillbilly nightmare. I have many friends that are proud rednecks and I enjoy the "Duck Dynasty" type of culture: faithful, family-oriented, hard working, and the type of people who would give you the shirt off their backs. This was something different: distrustful, poor, angry people.
I arrived at my campground on the Ohio river, which was a large RV park with a full restaurant and bar, almost like its own little city. The manager of the campground and her friend pitched in to donate my campsite fees toward the cause. This twelve dollar donation completely refreshed and renewed my dampened spirits that the day riding through Kentucky had left me with. I set up my tent as the sun painted the river with pinks and oranges. I listened to the peaceful rhythmic buzzing and chirping of insects as I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning I packed my bike and cooked oatmeal with my camp stove, then rode north toward the ferry to cross over into Ohio. As I entered the tiny ferry town on the Kentucky border, a kid approached me on his bike and said, "Is that a ten speed?" I explained that it was a 27 speed and he said, "I am going to get a 10 speed, or 27 speed someday, want to race?" We raced for a block through town, and despite my 27 speed, he "somehow" won, then followed me the several blocks down towards the ferry port and explained, "The ferry is closed today, you'll just have to stay with me and my mom tonight. It's not open until tomorrow, but we can ride our bikes around here all day." I noticed the ferry coming back from the Ohio side and confirmed with a local woman working in her garden that it was indeed running. I chuckled and wished him well, then crossed into Ohio, my 9th state.
The day consisted of more steep climbs but not a single unleashed dog — I was so happy to be in Ohio! I arrived in Milford and texted Joe and Amanda, a couple that had offered to put me up for the night near Cincinnati. Amanda was the niece of one of my mom's friends in Phoenix, and they treated me to an amazing evening. Amanda did my laundry and Joe cooked a gigantic steak with grilled veggies, while I got cleaned up from the days ride. After dinner, we strolled around their hip, yet historic neighborhood and they treated me to ice cream at Aglamesis Bro's, a local favorite.
It was nice to be around funny, intelligent, like-minded, young professionals after a week of feeling so out of place in Kentucky. We returned to the house and Joe, who is an occupational therapist, gave me a resistance band and showed me some excercises to help with the arm and back tension that I had been experiencing. They even gave me parting gifts of athletic socks, beef jerky, and trail mix. In the morning, Amanda drove me back to Milford and I set off on the Miami Scenic River Trail for one of the most pleasant days of the entire trip.
It was glorious: the entire day was on a bike trail which was not only beautiful and shady, but allowed me the luxury of not having to think about navigating through traffic. I escaped into so many amazing places in my mind, a joyous change from the war zone of attack dogs and angry drivers in Kentucky. The path followed a gently trickling river for most of the day under the shady cover of trees and was decorated with wildflowers, butterflies, blue birds, cardinals, squirrels, deer, and other wildlife. I arrived in Xenia in the evening with a peaceful spirit as I had been calmed by the nature and shade from the trail and the friendly conversations I had had with local cyclists out on day rides. I took a planned rest day in Xenia to work on the documentary I am filming during this trip.
The next day, I got back on the bike trail after fueling up on biscuits and gravy at a local diner. I stopped in Yellow Springs to visit Antioch, the college that my Great Aunt and cousins attended. I rode around the college, which I had visited as a kid, and then circled around the town on the off chance that I would run into one of my favorite comedians, Dave Chapelle, as he lives in town, and I had heard that he is often out and about. After realizing this was not only stalker-creepy, but also kind of a lost cause, I continued on my way.
I stopped to help two cyclists on the trail with a flat tire, and after lending them my tools to help and talking to them for a while, I discovered that they were both in early sobriety and were living in a recovery home. One of the guys preferred to remain anonymous to prevent any issues with job seeking, but the other, Shawn, allowed me to film him talk about his story. Shawn had recently relapsed on heroin after around 9 months of sobriety, but was determined to make it this time. I shared with them my own issues at each of their stages of recovery and encouraged them to fight through the difficulties, emphasizing the abundant, adventurous life that they had ahead if they could hang on. After helping to fix the flat, I left them with some encouraging words and was again reminded of my purpose. I couldn't help but feel that this encounter was not a coincidence, and I hope that they heard something that helps them make it towards long term sobriety.
I arrived in Xenia and set my tent up at a city campground under a tree next to a classical music concert that was taking place in the park. It was so peaceful to hear an orchestra version of "God Bless America," as I fell asleep in my tent next to other vacationing families. Thanks for reading and all the comments, prayers, shares, donations, and support for my ride. I truly appreciate all the love.