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 feel 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. 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, which I refused.  After the first week, the urge to get back out there was 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.

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 inflammation 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 sometimes.  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 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 physical 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 majestic 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 wherever you look.  Sometimes, it’s overwhelming, just how many ways 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 I passed through late last month.  He sensed my enthusiasm and was sad to learn of the accident and injury.  Lee 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.  I didn’t cycle over 2,200 miles to give up or get weak now!

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 grandeur.

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 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 into his truck, along with my bike and gear, and we drove to Colorado Springs for the night.  Rory and his wife Ellie had invited me 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 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 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 couple weeks, icing and elevating.  Then I can slowly re-introduce my knee to the pedaling motion.  Clipping and unclipping 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.

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 majestic 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 area 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.

#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 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.

Photos by Max Whittaker

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.

Photos by Max Whittaker

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…

Photos by Max Whittaker

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.

Photos by Max Whittaker

It was a VERY hilly 100° day, but luckily that night, I found some cover behind a small church in Ozora, MO (population of 183), complete with working outdoor ceiling fans!  Unheard of…

Photos by Max Whittaker

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

Photos by Max Whittaker

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 I’m almost halfway across the United States. Far too many new milestones are quickly approaching for me to slow down now…



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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1,000 Miles

With the Appalachians in my rear view, I’ve been making some serious tracks and hitting some major milestones.  Last week, Eastern Time turned into Central as I entered into the second time zone of four.  July 2nd marked exactly 1,000 miles into my 4,300 mile journey. Today, I bid a fond farewell to Kentucky and cross the Ohio River into Illinois via Ferry, entering my 3rd out of 10 total states.

The rolling hills of Kentucky have been beautiful and graceful.  Although they aren’t nearly as high or steep, the long flat stretches and head winds between the hills require constant pedaling, making the milder inclines feel much more challenging than I’d assumed.

Meeting other cyclists along the way has been fun and inspiring. We were honored to say “Hi!” in passing to Evan Deutsch, who finished 1st place and set a new speed record in the 2017 Trans Am Bike Race.  We got to talk with Jon Lester (who finished 2nd place), met an awesome father / daughter racing team, and other cyclists like us who are touring cross country.

Yesterday, as I was cresting the rolling hills, it dawned on me that I’m really going to miss the declines.  Letting my legs rest while the breeze hits my face and uses the sweat that I shed on the way up to cool me on the way down.  Gravity graciously alotting me just enough recovery time to take on the next incline.  I’ll never forget.  Those Blue Ridge climbs killed me and brought me back to life every time.  Breaking, then building me.  Breathing in cadence with the pedals, anxious to receive my visual reward at each mountain top…  Making my body switch to auto pilot, as inclines are very much a MENTAL endeavor.  It was a whole system that I had figured out pretty well, and even grew to love and embrace.  I honestly look forward to the Rockies…  Until we meet again, mountains!

I’ve met some seriously incredible Veterans and civilians alike throughout this state, including Navy Veteran John Briody, who served aboard the actual USS Intrepid!!  The Intrepid is now a Sea, Air and Space Museum, located at Pier 86 in NYC.  He shared some incredible stories with me – I could’ve listened all day!!

In Berea, KY, I had the opportunity to talk with a Marine named Russ Carson.  What a solid human being…  Served in the Marine Corps for 8 years, continued his service as a Contractor overseas, coaches kids’ sports, and plays semi-pro football for the Kentucky Patriots on the side.  Plus, he’s laid back, fun to be around, and also helped support my journey!  He treated us to Gold Star Chili, which is a 5-way chili chain similar to Skyline, which we have in my home state of Ohio.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tara and her two sons (ages 10 and 7), who are cycling across the country on a 3 person Tandem Bicycle.  Unbelievable.  Imagine the experience they will gain at such a young age!  They’re acquiring invaluable skills and overcoming challenges that most people won’t be introduced to until adulthood, if ever!  Huge kudos to Tara – a brave, brilliant, and loving Mom.  We got to spend two nights together, including sharing a small cabin at Alice Lloyd College to hide from a massive storm and flash flooding.

Another highlight was running across Rick and Theresa and getting to stay in their 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom vacation home.  Seriously, the kindness and generosity of people never ceases to amaze me…  Cyclists!!  Check out City Gone Country Inn, located near Sand Gap, KY.  They will pick up you and your bicycles and make you feel like royalty!  What a TREAT…

Whelp, as it turns out, my “no flat tire” luck has finally run out, haha…  I had THREE flat tires in the span of 5 days recently, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Stephannie and the staff at Halcyon Bike Shop in Nashville, TN for the maintenance and repair class they gave me before beginning.  Each flat was quickly and successfully patched and I’m still using my original tubes!

On Tuesday, June 27th, the most amazing early birthday present in the world was awaiting me at the Brook’s Café in the tiny town of Sonora, KY.  My PARENTS!!!  My amazing, wonderful, loving parents.  My biggest fans.  My heart.  I was completely taken by surprise!!

My parents mean everything to me.  They’re exceptionally kind and warm to everyone they meet.  They raised me to be selfless and empathetic, encouraged my individuality and creativity, and taught me how love should feel and be shown. They’ve believed in and supported every single one of my dreams.  All I want for this lifetime is to continue to make them proud and all they want is for me to be happy and at peace.  <3

We spent a couple days together in Falls of Rough, KY and enjoyed a cozy cabin, putt putt golf, good food, and made plenty of memories.

……followed, of course, by a “Kniffin Goodbye”, which are notoriously the longest goodbyes in the history of goodbyes.  <3

Thank you all so much for the birthday wishes!!  I celebrated my 34th birthday on July 1st (Saturday), and the week has been full of surprises!!  I spent the day cycling 43 miles from Falls of Rough, KY into a town called Utica, KY, then slept at a Volunteer Fire Station.

This journey seems surreal some days.  There’s no quick fix to any method of sustainable self help.  Consciously taking small steps in the right direction will slowly create a divide between you and your demons.  A calm begins to build inside, accompanied by subtle results that might go unnoticed at first.  There’ll be exciting little realizations throughout the process that feel almost like a dream.  As I look at the beauty around me, listen to my tires tread the pavement, feel my legs burn and the sun hit my back, I realize this is actually happening.  I didn’t just talk about it…  It’s really my reality!  🙂  I’m being patient and trusting the process, but I’m anxious to feel the real healing begin.  Maybe it already has…

July 2nd in Dixon, KY marks the 1,000 mile mark…  As the elevation flattens, I can’t wait to discover and tackle the new challenges that await.  I believe taking the inclines out of the equation will allow for more energy to explore my mind while cycling.  Get lost in my own thoughts.  I’ll be honest.  The most treacherous terrain I’ve traveled through is my own mind, but it’s time to get unguarded and let this journey do it’s job.


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