Lost and Found

In the Great Basin, the concept of “distance” exists solely as an optical illusion. The lack of moisture in the dry desert air results in crystal clear scenery that throws off your frame of reference completely. Upcoming ranges that appear to be within just a couple miles are 20-30 miles away in actuality. Its relentless trickery is both frustrating and fascinating as you pedal for what seems like an eternity toward the horizon. However, the horizon out here isn’t all that bad…

I met a wonderful woman named Karen at a market in Milford, UT just before crossing into Nevada. After talking for a few minutes, I went out and bungeed my groceries onto my bike. My plan was to set up camp in their city park under a pavilion. She came outside and surprised me by offering up their entire rental house in town! What an unexpected treat… The front yard was lined with these hilarious yet beautifully painted toilets. Karen is an incredibly talented artist in nearly every medium, and porcelain is no exception. 🙂

Karen’s husband, Mike, is a Vietnam Veteran and we got to spend some very special time together the next day in Baker, NV. We chatted and laughed together as I set up my camp for the night. Upon leaving, they paid me an ultimate compliment by saying that if they’d had a daughter, they would have wanted her to be just like me. I texted them this photo as they pulled away.

As I approached the outskirts of Ely, NV, I ran across a group of bikers at a bar / restaurant in Major’s Junction. They were in the middle of their 16th annual ride that had turned into a memorial ride in honor of a brother they had lost, and had stopped for drinks. Loads of veterans were participating and of course, we quickly figured out who we were and started in on each other.  🙂

They asked my plans and when I explained they involved tent camping behind the restaurant for the night, they said, “Ummm, no. Actually you’re coming with us.” I was grossly outnumbered and thought it best not to argue, haha. So off we went to Ely for one of the most incredible and unique experiences of my journey.

They treated me to dinner and drinks all night.  I felt like part of the club – we had a special and meaningful connection.  I stayed with Keena and Darin, brother and sister-in-law of the man they were riding in memory of.  It was a crazy and unforgettable night.  Needless to say, I took the next day off riding, haha…

About halfway between Austin and Fallon is a little oasis called Middlegate Station. The heat had me convinced this was surely a mirage, but to my relief, there it was. Restaurant, cabins, amazing people, live music. It was heaven. I opened the door and walked into the most eccentric variety of décor I may have ever seen in my life. Amazing.

Middlegate Station is family owned and we grew close during my stay. Especially with Travis, a Navy Veteran who served alongside the Seals in northern Iraq around the same time I was over there. We bonded bigtime. I was excited to add my 1st Infantry Division Combat Patch to their wall. The ‘Big Red One’ is now represented alongside hundreds of other service patches.

The next day, the guys took me off-roading up the desert mountains in a Wolverine, then shooting with a 7mm bolt action rifle that had a kick like a Clydesdale. I could have stayed there forever.  ‘Murrica.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Bleed the Stone, a metal band that had stopped there for gas while on a tour, but ended up staying and performing two nights in a row. The lead singer, Michael Beck, hand wrote his lyrics from their hit song on a napkin for me and the band signed it. One of the staff at the restaurant hand sketched this skull in a matter of minutes. So impressive, all of it…

Off I go, back into the sandy, salty abyss… The Nevada terrain is simple and predictable; crossing a basin then cresting a range, crossing a basin then cresting a range. The width of Nevada is mainly made up of these two elements: vast open spaces cut vertically by mountains. There can be beauty in simplicity and substance hidden in emptiness. Clipped in and zoned out…

While VFWs were scarce on my route, I have been very fortunate to have gotten to meet with other Veterans in nearly every single town. Little did I know, Fallon, Nevada was about to curb my VFW craving. At Post 1002, walking through their door means you are family. It was like having a giant blanket of badassery wrapped around my exhausted, weathered cyclist self.

I cannot speak highly enough of this Post. VFWs are a safe haven for us, both to cut up and break down. Veterans, I am telling you… GO to your local VFW and experience the closeness. Make the first move – start a conversation and let the commeraderie alleviate your alienation. “No One Does More For Veterans.” – their motto is spot on. The Commander (Mac – Navy Vet), Quartermaster (Jim – Army Vet), and their members treated me like total royalty.

Mac, the Commander of VFW Post 1002, took me out to the Naval Air Station for a tour. We looked through the aircraft and memorials, and saw the tower where the famous “fly by” scene in Top Gun was filmed.

In Stagecoach, NV, I met an incredible woman named Elise at a restaurant called Maddy’s Place. It was named after her daughter. Her children are Veterans, including a daughter who is a Marine, and part of the illustrious Marine One. I ate a delicious sandwich and talked to Elise and my new friend Rudy for quite some time, then Rudy treated me to my meal!  Elise set up an impromptu interview with Denise, a journalist from the Dayton, NV Dispatch newspaper, then paid a kindness to me that I never ever saw coming…

Elise’s surprise would rejuvenate me in every single way… She made arrangements for me to stay in a King Spa Suite at the Gold Dust Casino Hotel in Carson City for two nights – free of charge. I soaked my tired and tattered body for hours and hours in the jetted tub. It was a gift that refilled my sails – my morale is at an all time high. Thank you so much, sweet friend…

Inside everybody you know, there is someone you’ve never met. Take the time and make the effort to understand one other. Vulnerability is the key to connection. Kindness bridges the gaps in unity. Effort paves the paths toward happiness. Don’t compare – relate. And remember: Let no one steal your smile. Onward and upward – the Sierra Nevada summits await. My final climbs. There is now So Much in my rear view mirror…  🙂

I have a very Smokey date with my tenth and FINAL state. California, I am so excited to experience you and take in what you will teach me. Only 243 miles to my finish line: the Golden Gate Bridge. I am rolling slow and allowing this last wave of healing to sink in before it is all over. Of two things, I am now certain… Treading water no longer works for me and drowning is no longer an option.

My journey; a mission of post-war healing, of uniting my fellow Veterans, of honoring our fallen family’s ultimate sacrifice, of shedding light on our issues and becoming vocal about my own ~ soon, I will be seeing it through to completion. The Golden Gate is in my crosshairs. Crossing bridges. New beginnings. Just as I had hoped. I am so grateful. So humbled… I CAN’T WAIT TO FINALLY ANNOUNCE MY NEXT CHAPTER!!!

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