It’s 4 a.m., and I’m in the bathroom of Roper Lake State Park, outside of Stafford in eastern Arizona, sheltered from the cool desert night, taking what little comfort is available from the lukewarm showers here. I’ve got a cup of hot coffee beside me, in the same stainless steel cup I had at Legacy. I was a client there from February to June of 2016. Next week it will be Thanksgiving 2017, eighteen months later. I couldn’t sleep, raccoons kept coming into my campsite, trying to get at the food in my panniers. I’ve been on a bike tour for the last two and a half weeks. I’m living the adventurous life that legacy helped inspire me to live, but it’s not all warm showers and hot coffee.
It’s a long, slow road I’m on, one that often gets lonely. Slow and steady wins the race, I told myself as I pedaled two days ago up route 77, seven miles up 3,000 feet of elevation with 100 pounds on the back of my bike. What race? What victory? It’s hard not to feel deflated and defeated, to feel like a failure in life, to wonder about the futility of your own individual existence, when you wake up at midnight after three hours of sleep to the sound of raccoons scavenging through your food, and you spend ten minutes yelling yourself hoarse at said raccoons, which seem to be totally unafraid and go right on gnawing at the bag of instant rice you neglected to put away, thinking not even the coons would go for that, and now four hours later after being unable to fall back asleep, you take solace in the State Park bathroom, take a lukewarm and soap-less shower, and dry your hair under the hand drying machine, dreaming of sinking deeply into a plush comfy chair beside a wood stove fire and next to a bookshelf with hundreds of books, sipping hot tea and reading of some faraway arctic adventure as you sit in your comfortable home by the blazing fire with your steady, well-paying job and your loving and lovely wife and your sweet and adorable children. Instead, you are alone, a twenty-six year old man without a steady occupation, without a significant other, without a significant sense of your own self, leading a roving existence on the road to nowhere.
But no, every road leads somewhere. The dead end road leads to the wilderness that is the beginning of life. I’m on the road, craving this morning before dawn no longer for the temporary warmth of alcohol, my old and unforgiving mistress, but for the more permanent warmth and comfort of some place I can call my own, that I can call home. I say more permanent, for of course nothing is completely permanent. I’m on the road to recovery, and this road doesn’t end. It’s the road to rest and serenity, the road home. Home must be earned. Recovery is the victory that makes sense of this gnawing sense of defeat. Feeling like a failure precedes the success that comes when you recognize that to fail does not mean to die. You fail, and yet you live. One breath feels like a miracle, the next like your last gasp. And yet you live, and you fail, and you continue down the road.
For the last few nights, no matter how long or far I’ve pedaled, I haven’t slept well. I can’t find rest. I keep waking up, many times each night, wanting the sun to be up, wanting to be on my way. I’ve been averaging around 70 miles a day, between six and seven hours on the bike, at least a couple thousand feet of climbing, and yet I cannot sleep more than five hours a night.
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” wrote Saint Augustine. Indeed. Rest in whom? “Via con dios,” said a Mexican-American from Stockton, California who I met at the Bylas rest area on the Apache reservation. Go with God. “You’ve got angels behind you on both shoulders,” he told me. In a couple hours, light will come, and I will go. With the wind at my back or in my face, with angels on my two shoulders or alone and feeling like the most forlorn wanderer east of the Colorado and west of the Mississippi. I’ll get on my bike and go east towards the New Mexican border. My plan is to go east until I smell that salty sea water again, in the swamps of Florida. And then what? I started this trip a few miles inland from the Pacific, biked seven miles and close to 3,000 feet up route 9, and then down again back to sea level into Santa Cruz. From there I biked down the coast of California, riding through the strawberry country between Santa Cruz and Monterey, climbing high above the cliffs of Big Sur, riding under the palm trees along the sunny coast in Santa Barbara and L.A, and pedaling down past San Diego until I was a few miles away from Mexico. I decided against crossing the border and went east instead, climbing out of the San Diego area, away from the sea, up to around 4,000 feet, and then plummeting back down into the low Sonoran desert, riding beside seguaro cacti, feeling the desert sun hot on my back. From the low desert I climbed again to the high desert, and I’ll do some more climbing once I get into New Mexico. Then I’ll have the confront the gigantic mass of land that is Texas.
There is much more country to see. I love the southwest, but for now I’m heading east, with all I need on the back of my bike. I may want more than I have, may crave all I don’t have, but in truth I lack nothing. Save the truth that will set me free? No, that is there too. That is here, too, and I’m on the road to find it.
“I think whoever I see must be happy,” writes Walt Whitman in Song of the Open Road. May I sing my song as I ride the open road. May I smell the happiness of juniper trees. May I take hold of this life and make it mine. My road, my life, my heart. I must find my heart, find where it sings and soars, where it weeps and groans, before I can give my heart away. I moan for man like Jack Kerouac. I weep for beauty like Everett Ruess. I’m clean and sober and learning to sing like the wind that brings me home, and I’m riding, yes I’m rolling, on down the open road.