Ups and Downs

Entering Illinois was exciting.  It was via ferry, across the beautiful Ohio River.  Because it was my third state, it really felt like I was finally making a dent in my journey.

I was born in Ohio, living more than 20 years of my life west of Cleveland, and have crossed the Ohio river again and again.  But having peddled over 1,300 miles, then crossing it…  It was completely different, seeing the same sight through more appreciative eyes.  I’ve climbed a lot of trees, hiked many trails, and gotten purposely lost in nature countless times in my life… But this was, thus far, the longest and hardest I have ever worked to enjoy such serenity…

The first town and my stop for the night happened to be home to a mysterious natural wonder called “Cave In Rock”.  The cave’s opening is a striking 55 feet in width, and was formed by powerful winds, water erosion, and by the cataclysmic effects of a massive earthquake back in 1812.  It was truly awesome.

Well, as it turns out, the Ozarks exist…  The mountain range that I can only refer to as the Appalachian’s evil twin.  Was I so geographically challenged that I assumed after Kentucky, the terrain would suddenly bow down to my accrual of climbing accomplishments?  How foolish of me…  Silver lining:  More downhills!!

The heat swept in like some blistering pendulum, forcing me to finally adjust my bed time and sleep schedule.  Early mornings are my current ally, and riding west with the rising sun at my back has been a big advantage.

During my ride on July 16th, at my 21st mile, I stopped and had a few moments of silence to reflect upon and mourn the loss of Army Veteran and dear friend, Eric Ward.  It would have been his 21st birthday…  I’ve known Eric since he was a young boy.  His parents, Kendra and Brian, are two of my closest friends.  Bringing awareness to the 22 Veterans we are losing each day to suicide is an important part of my bicycle journey across America.  It’s been surprising to learn how many aren’t aware of this unfortunate fact…

Meeting other Combat Veterans throughout this journey has been eye opening.  I’ve stayed silent for well over a decade as to not be a burden, to avoid having to funnel my thoughts down into words.  Isolating and internalizing…   But listening to and opening up with other Veterans, particularly Vietnam Veterans, has been overwhelmingly enlightening.  The unspoken bond that exists among service members transcends generation, branch, or circumstance.  We fit in together so effortlessly, like pieces in the most formidable and obscure puzzle ever designed.  These have been real moments, riddled with deep connections, discussing real monsters.  Mouths that smile, but eyes that scream.  Never comparing – only relating.  I believe the ones who are best equipped to help us – ARE us.

As I announced earlier, I received a message from Dave Philipps, a reporter from The New York Times.  He said he would like to include me in his upcoming story, and I was honored and thrilled – and nervous.  However.  No more hiding.  If I’m going to be vocal about my issues and this journey, and if I am being given the opportunity to do so via the largest newspaper in the world, it is NOT the time to be shy.

He and Photographer Max Whittaker made the process comfortable.  We met at the VFW in Chester, IL for an interview, then took some photos and video.  It just so happened they met us the day we crossed the mighty Mississippi River into Missouri – state number 4 of 10!

The people of Missouri have already outdone themselves in friendliness.  Almost every oncoming car waves at me and Bicycle Route 76 is very well marked.  The drivers have been courteous and allow me plenty of room as they go around.   And of course, I’m still scooping up and naming all the little creatures along the way.

The lodging available for cyclists throughout the state is impressive.  One of the overnight highlights was an old prison converted into a Cyclist Hostel called Al’s Place, located in Farmington.  The décor is spectacular and amenities include a kitchen, showers, beds, bike storage, and laundry.   After a long, exhausting day, walking through those doors was a dream come true, quite honestly.

Meeting and getting to know locals as well as other cyclists on the TransAm is a continued treat I thoroughly enjoy…  It’s encouraging and heartwarming how genuinely interested others have been in my journey, A Vicious Cycle.

A beautiful truth has been unfolding itself since the start of this journey: My military family is far larger than I could have ever imagined.  Our talks have been intense.  Veterans from every war we’ve had have been synonymous in their sentiments and struggles.  We miss it every day.  The camaraderie, the significance of service, being actively engulfed in what we believe was our one true calling.  The military is the only thing that’s ever made complete sense and now a hole remains that nothing can seem to fill.  There’s another war going on; a silent war we fight, a secret war that time can’t tick away.  Part of me was hoping I was the only one.  That it was just me and I could fix this myself.  That the storms in my mind that disrupt my day to day and interrupt my nights, would eventually dissipate on their own.  It’s tough to learn they won’t.  However, an even larger part of me is relieved I’m not alone.  That even the strongest mountains are being eaten away by the same stream of thoughts.

Off I go into the flat lands of Kansas, celebrating my first day of level land with a delicious 60 miler in just over 4 hours.  Much like the upcoming route depicts, my pounding heart will slow and steady on this terrain and finally allow my mind to race.

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