City Cycles is now under new ownership. It’s hard to believe that I’ve had a hand in that, and even harder to believe that my life in Tulsa county is real.
Almost three years ago, I found a bike in a pile of trash. I despised my life and its circumstances, both of which were largely dictated by the fact that I was seventeen. I'd dropped out of high school, and the stress of COVID had broken me in two. Our society allows little autonomy to those who are not a legal adult, and I couldn’t find any work. I was suicidal daily, ready to call it quits.
There was no law, however, standing between myself and a dream to see America in a very intimate and personal way, in a fashion that was fully and totally propelled by my own effort. A journey totally originated from the power of my own body and its mind’s will, not by gasoline drilled by a massive oil and gas company while inside an air-conditioned cabin behind a pane of glass.
I wanted to authentically see and feel America and the world at large, give it an honest chance. I also needed to prove to myself that I didn’t need to adhere to the machinations of modern society, and that I instead chose to.
And off I went, spinning down Route 66, from my small town in Michigan. The simplicity and inexpensive nature of my journey was both liberating and punishing. I had no tent, only a painter's tarp. I draped an old military hip-pack across my handlebars and almost exclusively ate apples, peanut butter, and tortillas, with the occasional packet of instant oatmeal.
My goal was to average about 60 miles a day and I almost always made good on that goal. Westward across Michigan, out to the coast of Lake Michigan, across Indiana and into downtown Chicago (that was a 150 mile day) to touch the iconic sign commencing the beginning of Route 66 and race through the South Side at 2 AM, then through the plains of Illinois, some days with the corn bowing in the direction I was heading and other days the wind pushing against me.
I encountered helpful and generous strangers all along the way. Some fed me, some slipped me a couple bucks, others a few words of honest advice or a brief prayer.
By the time I passed under the St. Louis Arch, I was running out of money, energy, and out of willpower. I sat underneath it. It had been yet another late-night passing through a sketchy part of the city, the East-side. I had earned my passage across the mighty Mississippi by weaving through filthy industrial areas, beneath dark bridges and through overgrown and unkempt parks, all of which were decorated with broken glass and the occasional needle.
I looked up at the Arch as I lit a cigarillo I’d found on the side of the road back in Lincoln, Illinois.
I was excited for what was to come, but totally exhausted.
The daily dose of 4-5000 feet of elevation gain I had to endure thereafter was brutal, especially on a 60-70 pound bike.
The state eventually broke me when I snagged some rolls out of a Lil-Debbie shop’s dumpster and mixed it with canned corn and some cold instant gravy that I had gotten at half-off from a grocery store for dinner. I woke up beneath the call-box of a football field at 3 AM that I had posted up at for the night and puked all over the field’s pristine astro-turf.
The next day I took a violent, acidic shit every 35 minutes and shakily pedaled down the highway. Definitely a low point. There were corn kernels scattered all along the side of the road to remind me of my dietary error.
I’ll never forget the feeling across the Kansas border. As I approached it, the air felt cleaner, the land naturally leveled out and gently settled into rolling plains and my spirit sail’s again protruding outward and forward, filled with the wind of relief.
Success often doesn’t bring a rush. It is almost never a good feeling, just an absence of tension, mere relief. Relief that the burden of a dream, a goal, or a vision can be let go and pushed off into the lake of existence, out of your mind and into reality, free from your hand and responsibility.
By the time I reached Oklahoma I felt satisfied and very capable. I had recovered from my bout of Missouri misery, and was looking squarely towards what I really wanted to get out of the trip.
How could this trip become bigger than my selfish desire to see the world a bit more clearly?
I wondered. And then I asked the sky, god, or whatever had been watching over me as I rolled along by leaving a twenty dollar bill on the side of the road for me, encouraging a stranger to lend a hand, or leave a nice baseball dugout to bed down in for the night just as it was getting dark; “I want this to be bigger than myself. How can that happen?”
I bedded down for the night in Chelsea, OK. The rolling cow pastures had made for an easy day of riding, and the pink and purple sunset eased my mind as I sat beneath the shelter of another baseball dugout.
The next morning, I headed straight for Tulsa, the halfway point of Route 66. I couldn’t believe I had made it all that way with my own legs.
I flatted in Catoosa, OK. A large lag screw had punctured my tire. I was vlogging that day and documented the happening. A man I had met in Pontiac, IL had been following my journey and saw that I had encountered some trouble. He joined the Tulsa Cycling Facebook page and told the community that I was rolling through town. I had no idea.
The next 36 hours were an avalanche of kindness and blessings. I rolled through Tulsa with one brake on my bike, 400 dollars and 10 friends.
Two days later, I left with two brakes on my bike, two-thousand dollars, a hundred friends and as an honorary member of a road cycling team called Team Suicide Prevention. The team was planning on riding across the country in Race Across America in another year. They rode to raise awareness and create discussion around mental health.
I was on the news three times, I think.
My bike was given its second brake (and several other improvements) at a shop called City Cycles. The bill was picked up by several generous community members.
The rest of that trip to the Pacific Ocean is a story for another time.
What a life. 3 years ago, I was going to kill myself. I found a bike in the trash and started pedaling. Now I live in Tulsa, OK and have ownership in the place that brought me wholeness. I just crossed the Ironman Triathalon finishline right where I rode through downtown Tulsa on that summer day several years ago.
The bike that cruised down old Route 66 now sits in the shop. To me, it's a testament to the power of dreams and the freedom to pursue them, community and grit.
For me, life on a bike is better, richer, and infinitely more vast than without one. I hope I get to share that experience with everyone who walks through the doors of this shop. And make sure they know they're family.
I’m writing this blog at the Kitchen Table in City Cycles. It’s a Friday morning and I should be wrenching, ordering, or buying and selling. I love to write, but I haven’t in nearly 3 years. I figured this would be a worthy excuse to cut out a few hours.
At the end of the day, just ride your bike a long way, an awful lot, and with others. Things go well when you do.