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Davis to Placerville, California

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.

My new friends Bill and Stu from the Davis Bike Club

My new friends Bill and Stu from the Davis Bike Club

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.

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Fairfield to Davis, California

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!"

Gretchen, my inspiring cousin-once-removed

Gretchen, my inspiring cousin-once-removed

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.

Barbara, my new friend from Davis Bike Club in Davis, CA

Barbara, my new friend from Davis Bike Club in Davis, CA

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.

My new friend Sheila

My new friend Sheila

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. 

 

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The Journey Begins- Golden Gate Bridge

It is hard to recall the exact moment when this dream began.  To strap the bare essentials on a bicycle and see America, one pedal stroke at a time.  I spent so many years chasing death, and now It is time to chase life. I have finally started my journey from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge.

This journey is for all the people out there that feel like I did, trapped in the misery of their addictions. There is abundant life in this world, full of adventures that can take you to realms of consciousness that no drink or drug will ever offer. This trip is for you, may you find light where there is only darkness.  For hope is a miraculous thing.

I stood with my eyes closed in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with my new friend, Steve, as he prayed for my journey. I felt like crying, or laughing, or maybe hollering with excitement. When I opened my eyes, a fog had rolled around the bridge and it became increasingly less visible. Much like my ugly past, it disappeared with time, while the sun welcomed me from the other direction as if to say, "Let go — there is a whole country to discover on these two wheels." My new friend, Steve, watched me roll off into the unknown as tears formed in his eyes.

I made my way along the coastline of San Francisco, stopping to take part in the tradition of dipping my bike wheels in the tide of the Pacific.  I summoned a random stranger to film me heaving the weight of my bicycle Into the ocean, noticing that he was reading a book about recovery.  It was a reminder that perhaps, there are no random strangers on this journey.

Despite all the advice I had received to be sure and train extensively with weight on the bike, this was my first time riding a loaded touring bike. It took all my strength to balance as the weight pulled and swayed me in random directions while I weaved through San Francisco traffic. I could hear my heart pounding as I pedaled up the hills in my lowest gear towards Fairfield, cursing the heat and my heavy load.

I stopped to check my map. Just as I realized that I had missed a turn, my double kickstand snapped beneath my behemoth of a bicycle, knocking me to the ground and cutting my ankle. I decided to try Google Maps, which lead me miles in the wrong direction to the end of a dirt road with a "beware of dog" sign. I was losing daylight. I knew I would reach my breaking point on this trip, but didn't think it would be on my first day.

A giant neon "Budweiser" sign in the distance enabled me to place myself on the map and find my way in to Fairfield. Funny, even when lost in the middle of farmland, there's always going to be a reminder to drink, and a feeling of accomplishment each day I resist. The sunset filled the sky with pinks and oranges over the lush vineyards. The air smelled sweet as I pedaled in for the night at dusk. I was at peace.

I was unsure of my motel choice when I pulled up to drug dealers eying my bicycle as I checked in through a bullet proof glass window.  As soon as I got my key, a fidgety girl covered in sores asked me if she could stay in my room, I respectfully declined.  "You'll be on the third floor," exclaimed the clerk to my dismay, as my bike is too heavy to lift without untying each bag, but I had made it, and could not have been more grateful for the warm shower and comfortable bed. Next stop, Davis.

Thanks so much to Steve Babuljak for the great photos, and for helping me start the first day of the trip.

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