He’s Back Like He Never Left

Today marks the one-year anniversary of what was the worst day of my life so far. My best friend and biggest support was hit by a semi-truck doing something he loved, something that gives him life. Simply riding his bike. If you don’t know about this, you can read about it here, but it’s more likely you have not only heard about it, but have also been praying, asking, calling, texting and checking in for the past year and for that I cannot thank you enough.

Most of you know it’s been a rough year, but it’s been through all this that I have seen the true character, grit, strength, patience and determination that makes up the man I married almost 30 years ago. I don’t know how he does it. I only have like, maybe TWO of those things.

He will no doubt hate this post as he is a private man with more humility than anyone I have ever met. He doesn’t like the limelight, or kudos (unless it’s on Strava – ha!), or pity, or special treatment. I think this is what I admire most about him. He’s just humble. He always looks to build others up and has never held his accomplishments over anyone…ever.

I wanted to celebrate this one-year mark with all of you and let you know that, in the words of Macklemore, John “is back, like [he] never left... [he’s] Got a chance to start again. [He] was born for this..it’s who [he is]. [He] made it through the darkest part of night…[and now is feeling glorious].”  ‘Glorious’ might be too strong a word, tbh, but when this song comes on my playlist, my heart soars, my eyes tear up and I feel such a fierce gratitude and awe at what it took for John to get back to where he is today. Hit play if you wanna feel it with me…

As our own private commemoration last week, John entered his first bike race since the accident and finished second in a photo finish. You have no idea how significant that was to both of us. In an emotional moment after the race, he said, “It’s just a small race and I know it doesn’t really mean anything, but it means something to me.”  Yeah, John….me too. It means something to me too. It means you are a fighter. It means you conquered your fears. It means you are physically and mentally back to a place where you can compete. It means that all those hours of therapy, exercises, prescriptions and treatment were not wasted. It means that you showed me and, more importantly, our kids how to never give up, how to pursue doing things you love no matter how hard it might be and how much sacrifice it takes.  And it means that we get to pursue our epic adventure together and I tell you this – there is not a person on this planet I would rather have at my side.

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Lessons in the Desert

I am learning so much about myself through this process, I can’t even tell you. Good things. Bad things. And yep, ugly things. The lessons continued on our recent bikepacking trip to the desert around Phoenix that we planned as a dry run – a ‘dress rehearsal’ of sorts for the real deal in Uganda coming at breakneck speed in just two months. Gulp. I was very aware of every lesson the desert had to teach me and thought I might share some of those lessons with you…

Lesson #1: Planning for the worst case scenario weighs too much 

John warned me and warned me…you’re not going to want to carry all that weight. My pride would wield its ugly head and insist to carry my own weight. I don’t know if it was the compact mirror that I brought just in case I needed to care what I looked like out on the trail, or the speaker/flashlight/power bank all-in-one that I insisted on taking in case we wanted to have a dance party in the desert. Both dumb. Honestly, I think that I get wrapped up in what I see as cool on Instagram when I see the heavy loads that everyone else can carry on their bikes and I want to be that person. I’m not that person. Instead, I’m the person who sees a hill and starts the negative self-talk about how I am going to get my butt up to the top and how I can manage the pain. I’m the person who stands next to John’s bike in pictures so that people might mistake his load for mine. I’m the person who needs more training. I’m the person who cries out all drama-queenish, “John! Where are you? Wait for me!” between dramatic gasps for air. I was even annoyed with myself. It didn’t take long before I was practically forcing my extra stuff into John’s panniers and re-evaluating EVERYTHING I had to carry. It’s a fine and dangerous balance. You want to have things in case you need them – things like water and Neosporin. But it’s frustrating when you haul water up and over passes anticipating a scarcity of water and then have to push your overloaded bike through three rivers. And I didn’t need my Neosporin even though I fell twice. 

Lesson #2: Make your own way – you’ll enjoy it more

The route we had planned is called ‘The Fool’s Loop’ on BIKEPACKING.com. Well, they got the name right! It is rated as a 6/10 for difficulty and I really need to start paying attention to who is doing these ratings. The man who rated this one lives in a van, works for MEC, bikes to work every day and is probably in his 20’s. Lesson learned. I was so overly concerned about following the route perfectly that I lost sight of the beauty around me, had a hard time embracing the unexpected (unless it was a Dunkin’ Donuts – I embraced that), and just lost the opportunity to enjoy myself while training. It turns out we rode 243 miles, a few more than the proposed loop, and still managed to have one night in a motel and a day to explore Phoenix on bikes. Although we didn’t follow the exact route and avoided some single track, it was a beautiful time of year to be in the desert and it helped John and I build teamwork. Not too shabby.  Just another reminder to stay in my lane.

 

Lesson #3: There is literally nothing that a little junk food can’t fix

I have never ridden so hard for McDonald’s in my life. Don’t judge me. After a day of heat exhaustion, lots of climbing, terribly bumpy roads, saddle sores, dust, and lack of water, I had just about had it. We thought there might be a McDonald’s up the highway about 4 miles out of the way from where we were so we took a chance and it paid off in a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large fries. The fact that I was even willing to ride one single mile more than I had to is testament to my craving for salt and fat. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The great thing about biking is that it feels like you can eat whatever you want and it doesn’t matter. In fact, John says he bikes “strictly for the treats.” We lamented that in Uganda we will not just stumble upon a Dunkin’ Donuts or a McDonald’s so we will have to find our own special treats to keep motivated…maybe watermelon and pineapple. That sounds a little healthier!

 

Lesson #4: Rules are made to be broken

On our first day, because of my obsession with the route (see Lesson #2) and a late start, we were rolling into Brown’s Ranch at sunset later than anticipated. Brown’s Ranch is a day park for bikers, hikers and horses that is open from dawn to dusk with formidable bars that slowly shut when the sun goes down to keep cars and people locked in or out. People were rushing out after a day on the trails and a man stopped to help us by telling us all the other places we could camp, the closest one being about 10 miles away. Yeah, no way I’m riding any more today. John and I were both thinking the same thing, “I wish this guy would leave so we could sneak into the park and find a place to stealth camp for the night before it gets so dark we have to turn on our headlamps.”  He finally left, wishing us the best of luck. We quickly and quietly snuck into the cactus and found a relatively flat place hidden from the trail and pitched our tent. Between the repetitive massive leg cramps, shivering cold and sweaty bodies (how does that happen?) and the sound of gunfire, the first night on the trail was pretty rough and we hoped we had our worst night out of the way. Turns out we were right. 

Lesson #5: Everyone needs a Gary

Gary, I know you will never read this and you and your dog, Oscar, are out there somewhere enjoying life, but thank you, brother!  I met Gary when I had just pushed my bike up a long hill and was feeling a bit faint. I had a small meltdown where I remember saying something along the lines of, “John, why did you let me decide to do this?!  I am so stupid to think I could do this trip, let alone bike for 50 days in Uganda. I am so screwed. I can’t do this! I should have thought this through more.” And, if you know me, there were probably a few other choice words (ahem) thrown in there for affect. So as I’m sprawled on my back crying in the dirt, along comes Gary. He pulls over in his 4×4, like many others did along this route, to check to see if everything was ok and if we needed water, etc. John just has a polite conversation with him as I wipe the tears away, hiding behind John’s bike so Gary can’t see me cry. He tells us he is just scouting the area and will be coming back our way soon if we need anything. Great – thanks for stopping, Gary. We pedal on and then John has a great idea for me to get a ride from Gary for a few miles when he comes back around. You would think that with all my self-defence training, my first thought would be of my safety and whether or not that was a good idea. NOPE! Gary and Oscar gave me a ride for about 4 miles – up the steepest and most rugged terrain of the entire trip. I was surprised to find my bike still intact after being thrown around in the back of his truck but even more shocked to see John pedalling up the “road” like a boss that even Gary’s truck had issues with (more about John later). What I learned from Gary is that I cannot do things alone. Sometimes I need to swallow my pride and get in the damn truck. 

Lesson #6: Mountains sometimes appear bigger than they actually are and sometimes they really are just that big

You know when you are riding a bike or hiking and you see a dreaded incline coming up?  Sometimes, when you actually get to these mountains, they seem more like hills and aren’t as steep as you thought they would be. And then sometimes they are exactly how steep they look and they slow you down, make you rest, re-evaluate your progress and look forward to the downhill that’s coming soon. There was a lot of climbing on this route. A LOT of climbing. Sometimes my legs had it and sometimes they didn’t. It made me think of some people in my life going through some hard times and how big their mountains must feel…how much THEY need a Gary to come along and offer water and a ride. It gave me perspective on my privilege to have the freedom to ride a bike, to travel to Uganda to engage with the culture and how I can make the mountains before me seem smaller by keeping the right perspective. I hope I can remember this lesson when I’m faced with the bigger mountains this summer and truly appreciate those little bits of relief that seem to come at exactly the right time.

 

Lesson #7: Miracles do happen

Besides using this trip to test out our gear, we also wanted to see how we would do physically, especially after John’s accident and hard recovery. As the person who has watched John every day since April 24 last year as he navigated a new normal, some new limitations, endless hours of therapy, and a concerted effort to face fear and get back on the bike, let me be the first one to tell you that I have never been more proud of anyone. I do not know what this man in made of that he can do the things he does after what happened to him less than a year ago. He absolutely crushed this ride in every way, shape and form. He rode up terrain that seemed impossible to me. He was able to sleep on the ground for 6 days straight without major issues in his back and neck and in a highly emotional moment for both of us, he rode on the Interstate with semi-trucks flying past us at 75 mph. His strength is something I depend on without question and I’m so thankful to have a man in my life who will carry my weight, plan a route that suites me, give me treats, break the rules to keep me safe, encourage me to rely on the Garys, and push me up those mountains. I would say that our dress rehearsal taught me exactly what I need to know to carry on. 

Girl, Be Brave

These are my words for this year. Girl, Be Brave. I will repeat them over and over again to myself as I tackle both small things (like entering a room of strangers or biking in bear country), or big things (like asking for support and riding my bicycle in a foreign land). I wonder if it will work – this self talk. This attempt to muster courage that I’m not so sure is there.

If you know me, you know I can talk a big game, but as the time for our departure draws closer, I can sense my fears and doubts beginning to muster like so many soldiers for a full-on attack against my hope. The more people we talk to, the more we are told about things to be afraid of. We try to laugh them off and make jokes, because the objects of the fear seem so foreign and ridiculous to us. We swing back and forth between, “We got this!” to “Oh, man. This is too much. What are we doing?!?”

We recently met a Ugandan man living in Alberta who told us to hire policemen daily to accompany us to protect us from thieves and bandits, who would not only take our stuff, but also possibly kidnap us for ransom. We have been told by a few African friends that we are crazy because of cannibals in Uganda. Although this IS actually still practiced in Uganda, it IS illegal – good to know. This threat in particular has us joking a lot with our kids and friends, because it’s terrifying unless we can face it with laughter. We have been warned about animals such as elephants, black mambas, cape buffalos, and of course, the dengue fever and malaria-carrying mosquitos. We ARE taking precautions against everything in our control, such as buying Ex-Officio Bugsaway pants with built in bug repellent, bringing a Garmin In-Reach with us to text and reach out in the case of an emergency and allow anyone who wants to, to follow us in real time. But I have no insight into fighting off the Big Five, cannibals or bandits. We will have bear spray, dog spray and I plan to sleep with those close at hand and my new Opinel knife under my pillow (thanks for the gift, Hannah!).

This post is not a cry for kudos, advice, comments about our courage or anything of the sort. It’s me getting it out there so people can pray against these things and against the fear that could be debilitating. It’s me voicing the reality of the risk. (Yes, we are updating our will before we go). But, we are choosing to take on these risks for the reward that we are hoping for – the adventure of a lifetime, interacting with beautiful people, seeing sights we could not see by any other means than by bikes, working together for a common goal and showing ourselves and others that age is just a number. And for the reward we have already received – getting a number of children off the streets and sending them to school through the generosity of family and friends like you. What has become increasingly clear to us this past year is that there is NOTHING that gives us the right to not suffer in this lifetime.

Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” I’m here to testify that the fear is there. Now, it’s time to resist and master it. 

John’s Comeback

Hey everyone…. John here.

Well, it’s been over 6 months now since I found myself on the hood of a semi-truck going down the highway at 60 mph north of Reno, NV. I have learned a lot through this experience, but most of all I was reminded of how important family and friends are.  So I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your generous support and provide an update as you have been critical in walking out this journey with Stacy and me.

I have tried to maintain a good attitude in hopes that it will speed recovery and so when my patience with life and recovery fades, I simply blame the head injury. The doctors and specialists have tried to warn me that my body will never return to ‘normal,’ but as you might imagine, I somehow think they are simply mistaken. So some days I feel like I am getting stronger and will soon be back to normal and other days I wake up feeling like I just aged 10 years.

It is hard not to lose hope in the slowness of recovery but I try to stay focused on the process as an educational experience.  I recognize that all of us are on a journey that is filled with a variety of struggles.  It is these types of events that fill in the story of our lives and many people are facing struggles much greater than mine.  How blessed I was to escape with manageable injuries while others are not so fortunate.  I can appreciate the pain that others are experiencing in a deeper way and have a new level of empathy for others that I never would have had without the accident.  So while some days can be difficult for me personally, they do have meaning and there is a purpose to this.

I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to play in the NFL.  And so now that I have a sore neck, weak shoulder, and forgetful brain, I am glad I stuck to basketball.  As for a quick update on the body… My teeth and facial bones are still sore.  My ribs are feeling much better, although I still attend regular therapy to unlock the scar tissue in the intercostal muscles and to disconnect the lung membrane which remains somewhat fused to my rib cage and heart lining. Every evening I do an hour of stretching and rubber band work to strengthen my shoulder.  I have worked my way up to lifting a 2 lbs dumb bell (wow).  The nerve impingement under the clavicle is slowing subsiding and being released in my forearm.  My biggest hassle is the damage to the discs of my neck.  The whiplash was significant enough to stack the vertebrae in the wrong direction so it remains difficult to turn my head and as a result, I can be somewhat dangerous when driving, especially navigating a parking lot.  I still see a physical therapist who specializes in nerve damage as well as a CranioSacral acupuncturist to alleviate the pain. I also continue to see my chiropractor and an athletic therapist on a weekly basis. Your generous gifts and GoFundMe Campaign have allowed me to keep booking these critical appointments as we are unable to pursue legal action due to a lack of witnesses. So, Stacy and I really wanted to THANK YOU again for your support.