HWY 96, MM 21

Nearly 5 weeks have passed since I was run off the road in the Rockies.  I am currently recovering in Nashville, as Doctors confirmed it could be months before my knee is strong enough to ride safely in the mountains.  The day before leaving Colorado, we drove down Hwy 96 and found my crash site: Highway 96, Mile Marker 21.  Even after three weeks and rainfall, my tire tracks were still embedded in the sand.  Being there was eerie and frustrating and sad, but I choose to smile anyway because I am grateful and fortunate to be alive.  This isn’t the first time death has tipped its hat at me, and thankfully I got to wink back once again.

As I ran my fingertips along the indentations, I realized: If I hadn’t been watching my mirror or had done anything differently, I might not be here.  I picked a flower growing by my tire marks, which will serve as a reminder that Spring will indeed bring me back to this very spot.  I will be seeing #HWY96MM21 in my rearview mirror.  And I WILL finish what I started.

That evening John and I had a final cigar, reminisced about the trip thus far, and of course made a few last minute jokes at each other’s expense while we had the chance.  I had been saving my Java Mint cigar to enjoy at the highest point on the route.  The Monarch Pass Summit, which reaches an altitude of over 11,300 feet, was only a 3 day ride away.  I was so close…

I stayed with Ruth in Wetmore that night. She’s an EMT who was working nearby with Team Rubicon the day my accident occurred.  Ruth actually heard the driver’s tires screech as they swerved around me from their worksite that day and had been checking in on me since.  It’s been truly eye-opening, the amount of generosity I’ve encountered.  ‘Thankful’ doesn’t even make a dent in defining it…

Well, no more prolonging the inevitable.  It was time to head to Denver and fly back to Nashville.  It was a tough goodbye, but my heart is genuinely happy that my ‘Partner in Climb’ has decided to continue this incredible journey.  I will be sharing all of his updates on the A Vicious Cycle FB Page as they come in.  Happy Tailwinds, Marine.  Don’t be too rough on those poor Rockies…  #DOERS

On September 11th, I flew Southeast to Nashville on Southwest Airlines.  All remaining gear arrived shortly after my plane landed.  Spending the day unloading an impeccably fine-tuned loadout from cardboard boxes and padded envelopes was a bummer.  After washing and drying my sun-bleached clothing, I smelled each shirt in search of a specific ‘scent’, but it was now gone.  It’s not a bad smell or a good one – not even a human one.  It’s this distinct scent from being on the road.  From being ‘out there’…  I miss ending each day having breathed air I’d never breathed before.  I miss sleeping in a new place each night and waking up not knowing where I’ll end up.

My Kona Sutra was delivered safely via Fed Ex.  Tom was awesome and was all about our selfie, haha…  After having a private moment with my bicycle, I opened the box to check out the packing job.  Wow, Great Divide Bike Shop does not mess around with their quality – inside the box looked like the most successful game of Tetris ever played.  So impressive, and not a single scratch anywhere!  Many thanks again to Lee & his staff!!

I immediately took my disassembled bicycle to Halcyon Bike Shop.  We had all grown pretty close in the months leading up to this journey and I was looking forward to seeing them.  I hadn’t even ridden a bicycle since middle school, so this was all new to me.  Halcyon taught me just about everything I know about my Kona – they are a solid shop.

They rebuilt my bike on the spot, then the amazing Stephannie did a full tune up and got him ready to (as she says), “Get back into the wild”. It was a bit surreal being back at the shop before completing my journey, but this will be an awesome place to come and reminisce with other cyclists during this hiatus.  It’s pretty great now that I have all this literal street cred under my belt too, lol.  Nashville cyclists, seriously: Halcyon Bike Shop.

Operating a car felt brand new at first but came back quickly. “Just like riding a bike”, ha, I wish…  Some days, I’ll take my car through the country roads of northern Nashville, which are a lot like the roads were on route.  When there are no cars around, I’ll slow down to 15-18 mph, put all 4 windows down, and use my imagination.  It reminds me of riding, just a little.  Just enough.  There are also many spots downtown that few people know about; and they can be peaceful, even in a big city environment.  Nashville is very easy to love.

After bringing my bike home from the shop, I set up my Bike Trainer.  It allows me to mount and suspend my actual steel frame bicycle and uses a magnetic wheel, making the resistance of the different gears feel realistic.  The trainer is set up inside, so I can use it all winter long.  It’s truly the best possible way to safely strengthen my knee and properly prepare for this spring.   I’m so grateful…

There is a noticeable improvement in my knee and I’m very close to walking with no limp at all.  The inflammation has officially gone down just enough to get an MRI.  It was good to be back at my assigned VA in Murfreesboro, just south of Nashville.  My PAC team genuinely goes above and beyond.  My physician ordered the MRI and it was completed the same day.  Sometime between now and Monday, Sep. 25th, I will finally know the exact details of my knee injury!

I began this journey with 11 paper maps, 100 lbs in bike and gear, and absolutely zero cycling experience whatsoever.  So far, I’ve pedaled 2,200 miles, in spite of 14 years of daily chronic neck pain, despite a major recent surgery and two bad knees.  My personal limits have been either rediscovered or redefined, both physically and mentally.  It’s about pushing back when the odds are against you.  Falling then standing back up, and taking a stand against your own limitations and the limitations others put on you.  I’ll be counting the days until I continue, and you can count on me to fight and finish.  I was really on to something out there, and whatever it is, it’s still waiting for me…  #HWY96MM21 #FinishWhatYouStart


Exit Wounds

The last two weeks have been riddled with hope, frustration, realization, and finally – an extremely difficult decision.  Brief recap: On Aug. 20th, I was forced off HWY 96 near Wetmore, CO by a large truck, then almost run over by the car behind it.  I am fortunate to be alive.  My left knee took the full force of a 250+ pound impact.  I was transported to Colorado Springs, seen by the Denver VA, and have been taken excellent care of by both a generous cycling host and the members of a Veteran Organization called Team Rubicon. I’ve been trying to recover and rehab my knee injury ever since.

My original visit to the Denver VA on August 22nd included a brief exam and concluded in Dr. Tyler S. profoundly stating to, “Stay off it for a few days”.  I knew this was a hasty and dismissive diagnosis based on my level of discomfort and he wouldn’t give me a solid timeframe or an MRI.  Just a bunch of hydrocodone.  After the first week, the urge to get back out there began noticeably gnawing away at me. This journey had finally provided me with a renewed sense of purpose after nearly a decade, and days were once again passing me by.

After 9 days of rest, I went to Planet Fitness and used the stationary bike to safely reintroduce my knee to the pedaling motion.  It was painful at first, but there were some pops and cracks of relief, and I could feel it loosening up with each rotation.  I knew this wasn’t comparable to my steel frame Kona with full gear, but it was a start.  Gaging the current status of my knee was crutial.

After the second visit, the cycling stats improved from 35 RPM for 2 miles up to 60 RPM for 6 miles.  Excitement certainly set in as improvement felt obvious.  I went ahead and purchased a cane to help with some short rehab walks. #CaneTellMeNothin #CaneStopWontStop #iLiterallyCaneEven

Desperately needing nature, I visited Garden of the Gods after my second rehab session.  This is a visually obscure and equally alluring array of disc shaped boulders that seemed as though they were spiked into the ground after a heated game of Greek God ultimate frisbee.  An easy walk up to an overlook provided what felt like a small victory in my recovery.

Now at the two week mark, I’m able to put weight on my knee painlessly.  Lifting my leg and twisting my foot, however, is still very difficult, making the back half of the rotation needed for riding feel weak and unstable.  On the 13th day, I decided to dust off my Brooks saddle and helmet and take my Kona Sutra out for a ride.  One mile, flat ground, no weight – testing my knee as responsibly as possible.  Pedalling and smiling, a sense of relief came over me as I felt at home again on my saddle… Based on pain levels and weakness, I didn’t know if I could do this.  But I did!

Unfortunately, less than an hour later, my knee was noticeably swollen. The inflamation and instability felt like day one. I immediately iced and elevated, hoping this was just a short term reaction.  The next morning, I could barely straighten my leg, it had become so inflamed.  After only one unweighted, flat ride.  For only one mile.  Staring down the barrel of reality can feel pretty defeating and reduce you to a fraction of yourself.  Everything I’ve been viciously cycling away from has been slowly catching back up to me the last two weeks.  Idle time for an active mind can be a Veteran’s worst enemy – or anyone’s.  I really needed to heal fast and ride again soon.  Instead, it’s back to the Denver VA.  It’s been two weeks – this isn’t right.  It should be getting better.  …still trying to stay optimistic.

On Sep. 3rd, we drove back to the Denver VA Hospital and had a very different experience.  The ER Doctor (Lauren A.) is a fellow cyclist who has had a knee injury in the past.  She spent over an hour examining my knee and calling orthopedic specialists for second opinions.  Dr. Lauren made it clear that she didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, however, she stated, “After examining your knee, reading the CT Scan, and talking to the specialists, it could be months before you can safely ride your bike again.”  …and she had personal experience to back up her time frame.  In this moment, reality hit me harder than highway pavement.  I’m going to have to go home and heal.  I cannot allow myself to follow this wreck with recklessness – this injury is worse than I was originally told and will unfortunately take more time.  With winter nipping at my buds, I will now have to wait until Spring to complete my journey.

After digesting this less than appetizing diagnosis, sanity made me switch gears.  Just out of reach, I’ve been longing to formally introduce myself to the Rocky Mountains and fantasizing daily about all the memories I’d make with them.  Emotional and physcial peaks and valleys.  Maybe its pinnacles would pull me in close and we would laugh together over how the Appalachians seemed like molehills now, or cry tears of victory together on its summits after 20 mile long, 10% grade, 4 hour climbs.  Now I can only speculate and salivate until Springtime…

For 2.5 weeks, I’ve admired Pikes Peak from a distance.  I needed to go and at least say hello.  The indescribable beauty of the drive up to 14,114 feet kept my eyes wide and my jaw dropped.  We reached the summit, took in the views and experienced some snow.  An unforgettable afternoon replaced the disappointments of yesterday with wonder and renewed willpower. 

The Rockies are easily one of the most magestic and powerful landscapes imaginable.  This is the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on them up close and in person.  Their dominance is mesmerizing and the intricacies of their beauty seem to unveil themselves in endless ways no matter where you look.  Sometimes, it’s overehelming, just how many reasons there are to repeatedly fall in love with our Country…

Driving up these mountains is one thing, but powering up these passes with 80 lbs in bike and gear underneath will evoke an entirely different set of perspectives and appreciation.  I cannot wait to know them in this way and properly describe them to you.  For now, photos will have to do.  For now…

Tuesday, I took my Kona Sutra back to the Great Divide Bicycle Shop in Pueblo, CO.  Lee, the owner, had become a friend, a big support, and a wealth of knowledge when we passed through late last month.  He sensed my enthusiasm and was sad to learn of the accident and injury.  He graciously offered to box up my bike free of charge and is seeing that it’s safely shipped home to Nashville.  I have ridden over 2,200 miles on my Kona from Yorktown, VA to Wetmore, CO.  This is so weird – it just doesn’t make sense yet.

Yesterday, I packed up my panniers and gear and got everything ready to ship.  It was a very somber process.  This journey was about healing.  Not more pain.  I stared at my gear, all packed away.  It belonged on my bike.  Not in a box.  I belong on my bike.  Not in a bed.

Revised Game Plan
Early next week, I will return to Nashville and dive full force into my recovery and knee rehab.  The VA has helped set up Orthopedic Specialists and physical therapy and my “Partner in Climb”, John, treated me to an awesome at home cycling trainer.  It allows for my Kona Sutra to rest suspended on a frame, enabling me to regain my strength while training on my actual bicycle.  It is the most thoughtful and helpful possible gift.  And I didn’t cycle over 2,200 miles to give up or get weak now!

John will be continuing the journey to San Francisco with my full blessing.  He has already waited patiently for nearly three weeks in hopes we could continue together.  I cannot in good conscience have him wait any longer – this is his journey, too.  Traveling with him has been very special and I wish more than anything that we could dip our tires in the Pacific Ocean together as planned…  But as I told him; I’d much rather be sad than selfish.  I will be living vicariously through his posts until returning to Colorado to finish what I started.  Thank you for everything, John.  It’s been an absolute honor, on so many levels.
The moment the Colorado spring season allows, the Rockies and I will meet face to face on a much more intimate playing field.  I will be back on two wheels and they will be patiently waiting.  And until then, I will be starving for a true taste of their grandor.

During the upcoming months, I will be documenting my recovery and will fine tune a “continuation start date” for the spring.  So long as I’m breathing, I will always fight to finish what I start.  I am grateful my accident wasn’t fatal and that recovering, then continuing, is even an option.  Now it’s time to start healing my knee so I can return to Colorado and get back to healing my mind.  Dear Rocky Mountains, hold on to my heart til I get back, please.  Thnx.  <3

#FinishWhatYouStart #ArmyStrong


Bump in the Road

On Sunday, August 20th, I was involved in an accident on State Highway 96, five miles west of Wetmore, CO.  I felt it very important to wait and announce this until all the details and information were concrete.  I am ok, resting, and able to finally formulate a post.

The Accident
At approximately 11am, I was forced off of the road by a Ford F-350 Truck hauling a large trailer.  I saw the truck in my rear view mirror and made sure I was riding right of the white line, giving him extra room to pass me.  As he approached however, he drifted behind me onto the white line and there was no longer a shoulder.  My tires sank off the road into sand and slid right, causing me to fall left back onto the highway, landing full force on my left knee.  I landed directly in front of a car who was following very closely behind the truck.  I threw my arm up, and the car saw me just in time to swerve and avoid running over my upper body.  I will never forget the sound of those tires screeching behind my head.  EVER.

The truck never slowed down or stopped and the car pulled off for a few seconds, then drove away.  I got up, propped my bike up, and flagged down a truck going back toward Wetmore.  The concerned and generous couple loaded me up and took me to Wetmore Community Center, where a Veteran’s Organization called Team Rubicon was currently deployed to help with a natural disaster in the area.  We took the following photo that morning before the accident.  These guys are INCREDIBLE.  Military family is everywhere.

Rory (Navy Vet) and Ruth, both EMTs, examined me on the spot and made me comfortable while they finished their TR Op.  Rory told me that the group actually heard the tire screech from their job site and wondered what the heck that was. “That was me not getting run over,” I half-smiled.

Jeremy (Army Vet), loaded me and John into his truck, along with our bikes and gear, and drove us to Colorado Springs for the night.  Rory and his wife Ellie had us into their home for dinner and to relax.  Rory helped sterilize my knee and got me elevated and set up with bandages.

Denver VA Hospital
On Tuesday, Jeremy drove us over an hour to the ER at the Denver VA Hospital.  The Colorado Springs VA Clinic told me that I need to go to Denver in order to be seen, for some reason…  I was VERY anxious to learn the extent of my injuries.  The drive there was absolutely beautiful, at least.

Within an hour, I was admitted, triaged, and sent up to the radiology department for X-rays.  We met with Dr. Tyler Schmidt, who confirmed that there was NOT a fracture.  After explaining again that I am positive there is a problem internally, he ordered a CT Scan for a clearer picture.  Linda, the CT technician and a fellow cyclist, actually gave me her personal cell and offered her home to me if I needed a place to stay while in Denver.  The CT Scan came back clear of fractures (not even a hair line), but the Doctor concluded that I do have a moderate Medial Ligamental Sprain with possible micro-tearing.  I waited patiently for my IBUProfen prescription; and although there’s nothing sexy about a giant knee brace, I still gave it a solid try.  Hey, laugh now, cry later.

The Verdict
I AM able to continue my journey and am extremely relieved.  I had already told myself if there wasn’t a fracture and surgery wasn’t necessary, that I AM pressing on, no matter what.  Doctor’s recommendation:  Stay off my knee for a solid week, icing and elevating.  Then I can slowly re-introduce my knee to the pedaling motion.  Clipping my shoe into the left pedal is no longer an option, which is fine.  I went down to prosthetics and was fitted for a hinged knee brace as well as a knee sleeve for added support.

I am currently in Colorado Springs and am in very good hands.  The Veterans here have been taking me out for meals, and after quickly gauging how hard headed I can be, are making sure I don’t ‘overdo’ it.  My riding partner, John, has been my right hand man, taking on the role of human cane and literally supporting every step I’ve had to take.

A local cycling host named Jeffrey took me into his home for a comfortable and quiet recovery, completely free of charge.  Turns out, he spent a lot of his youth in my tiny hometown of Norwalk, OH.  His Grandpa was a pastor at the church where I attended pre-school, and also where my Dad took me sledding every single winter…  He still has his Grandpa’s commemorative plate with the Lutheran Church engraved, seen below.  This is INSANELY uncanny – almost scary.  🙂

Overall, I am fortunate and grateful.  This could have been significantly worse and I couldn’t have hand picked a better group of people to be surrounded by.  Now, to brainstorm my plan of attack for the magestic and massive Rocky Mountains as well as the rest of my journey…

Game Plan
~ Shed any and all weight off my gear that is not absolutely essential for survival
~ Plan a less steep route back into the Rocky Mountains, still maintaining 4,000+ total miles
~ Begin carefully cycling with no gear around the Colorado Springs neighborhood by early next week
~ Add gear back to my bike and cycle locally by late next week and be back on route by next Sunday

I will still make my Kansas / great plains post soon, but wanted to keep you all in the loop with this very unexpected plot twist.  Before this journey began, I made a promise to myself that it would take a true worst case scenario for my ride to end.  This is not that.  Not even close.
#FinishWhatYouStart #ArmyStrong


New York Times

On July 11th, New York Times Reporter and Pulitzer Prize Winner Dave Philipps and Award Winning Photographer Max Whittaker drove to Chester, IL to meet with me and John to discuss A Vicious Cycle.

It was an honor and privilege to be included at the tail end of what is most certainly one powerful beast of an article.  I am very excited to announce that Dave’s moving story, “Finding Some Peace After War” was printed and distributed in the Wed, August 2nd publication of the New York Times.  Read Article

Photos by Max Whittaker

Dave and Max made what could have been a rather intimidating process feel fun and even easy.  VFW Kaskaskia, IL (Post 3553) President and Marine “Paco” welcomed us inside and gave us free reign of the building for our interview portion.  We then set out into the Ozarks for our last ride in the state of Illinois, then crossed the mighty Mississippi into Missouri.

It was good to be able to explain to Dave that I want my journey to honor my fallen Brothers and Sisters in Arms who gave their lives for us.

Part of my journey is connecting with other Combat Veterans who may feel at war with themselves like I do, and to give voice to our issues by being more vocal about my own.  I also need to prove to myself that I not only WANT to be here, but DESERVE to be here…

Max did an incredible job of capturing our lifestyle on the road.  Down to every last detail, he depicted our personalities and our journey both mindfully and creatively.

We toughed out a hilly 100° day, but lucked out that night by finding some cover behind a small church in Ozora, MO (population 183), complete with working outdoor ceiling fans!  Unheard of…

The next morning, we broke down our camp, boiled water for oatmeal, hydrated, then hit the road.  Max and Dave followed us by car to get some action shots, then waved us goodbye and disappeared into the hills.

What a wonderfully surreal couple of days that was…  I want to thank everyone who has encouraged, supported, and believed in me throughout this intensely grueling, yet deeply gratifying journey.  It’s hard to believe we’re almost halfway across the United States. Far too many new milestones are quickly approaching for me to slow down now…