Appreciate where you are.

First, before I get started, I want to say thank you to everyone who has been commenting, emailing, sending private messages or texting. I cannot possibly get back to you all but I wanted to say how much I appreciate it. I am able to read them all, to be sure. Thanks a ton. Keep them coming.

Today started off exactly as planned. Topped off the tank and met my friend whom I haven’t spent more than 10 minutes of time with in 14 years. It’s odd but I can’t describe the feelings I had when we were back together. I spent some time thinking about it today and I decided that I just felt safe. I didn’t need to worry at all how he felt, what he thought of me or even if I could trust him. He knows me. Even 14 years later. It was nice. Thanks Sapper.

Regarding my title for the day.

I had quite a few moments today where I was anxious about all that I still had ahead of me. I found myself obsessing over cities and waypoints. Things I wanted to see. Then I’d snap myself back. Look where I am! It was an amazing day. Sure, there were some sections of road that I wouldn’t do again, but still, I was seeing new terrain. New places that I had never been. I just needed to relax and appreciate exactly where I was. Tomorrow will come. Tomorrow. I don’t need it here today. I want to be in today for all it’s worth. Otherwise I’ll get to the end and I’ll have missed it all.

I first taught myself this mantra when I was taking mountain bike too seriously. Meaning I was “training” and taking all of the fun out of it. The mantra is “Stop. Breathe. Look.” I just needed to enjoy what was around me and I couldn’t do that riding with an agenda. No agendas. At some point on the trail, maybe when it’s most inconvenient, just stop. Get your breathing in check. Look up. Look around. It’s an amazing world. Try to see it.

Anyway. I’ve been working on that today.

So far I’ve done 510 miles. I’m sitting in a little cafĂ© in Alpine Arizona because they have internet. I’ll continue about another 23 miles because apparently there’s free camping ahead. I guess I’ll find out. Local time is 5:57 and that’s a good enough day.

The next section of road is called the Devils Highway. It used to be designated 666. Now people say it’s haunted. Quite a bit of lore about it. Lots of twists and turns and it should be fun. Then I’ll make it down to Tombstone where I’ll probably just stop for the day to explore.

Thanks for following along.

Pics are from the Petrified Forest National park.

Lee’s Ferry crossing, cool history.

Sapper J.

Quick update:

I did 528.2 miles yesterday. I found the most amazing campsite and it was free! If every night is like this, I’ll have it made.

The beginning.

I’m taking off today at 8am my time. I won’t post a lot right now.

Just a picture of my route for the day, and most likely some of tomorrow.

Nervous anticipation.

Little details and friends

It’s the day before the big trip and as such, my mind is being overloaded. It has been for about 24 hours now. I’m not in panic mode because I’ve been preparing for over a month. That doesn’t mean I’m not anxious or worried.

I had a few things to take care of today. I tested out the helmet I finally decided on (a 3/4 with a removable faceshield that I’ll bring for the eventual rain. It also is able to connect to Ox for phone calls and navigation), I picked up a new phone cord to connect to the bike, got a hair cut, some new t shirts and some other odds and ends I needed to wrap up.

The wife keeps adding on some honey do’s and all I want to do is take a nap. That’s normal though.

I still need to wash Ox, organize my clothing and pack my luggage. That may only take a minute but it’s still hanging over my head.

It’s the kids first day of summer and the house is crazy. Not my idea of a good time. I tend to isolate myself and get angry quick. I need to be careful. I just yelled at my daughter for interrupting a conversation, in front of her friend. I need to chill out but that’s something I really don’t know how to do.

Am I missing something? I’m positive that I am but I’ve convinced myself that I’m not. I’m sure I’ll find out over the next few days. After it may be too late.

Today while riding around, I got three phone calls. One from a Wounded Warrior Project mentor, making sure I’m doing ok. These are the types of conversations where vets with PTSD (can I speak for all of us here?) will blow smoke up your ass. What’s the right answer? Do you really want to know how I’m doing? Do I really want to get into it? If I told you that last night was really hard and that I wished I’d just die in my sleep, would you report me and lock me up again? This is why you get a vague answer. This is why when friends see me, I look ok. Because I don’t want to get into it and it’s easier to pretend. So that call went well. He’ll call back in two weeks and I’ll give him the exact same answer. Everything is fine.

I also got a call from the local Combat Vets Motorcycle Association leader guy. Technically he’s the “commander” but I’m so over military crap that I can’t say that. Anyway. Super nice guy. He’s pulling for me he says and wants to make sure my family knows they have someone to reach out to. This is why I still, in some way, want to be part of a vet community. I may say I hate it and I may be reluctant, but they do care. Genuinely.

Case in point, and the third phone call. A guy I don’t even know. Never spoken to him before and may never again. He’s a vet as well and he unfortunately had many of the same experiences I have. He’s struggled but found some type of peace. He’s trying to move on and help others. He just wanted to let me know that my story hit home with him and that he’s pulling for me.

He made me think and I expressed as much to him. I am doing this blog for myself. I’ve said that. It’s really hard for me to put all of this out there where people can see it. It exposes me. I really have a hard time with that. I guess I am doing it though so that maybe others who are struggling can find something in common with my struggle. Maybe my pain can lighten yours. If I can, if I do, that’s a nice bonus.

I am hoping to make friends on this journey. Either virtually or in real life. If you feel you get to know me through this blog, or we get to chat on a forum or over the phone, then I’d hope we can be friends. If you get the chance to come out and ride along with me for a few miles, then shake my hand and share a bit about yourself. Those are the reasons I need to be doing this.

Just so you know, my wife says I make bad first impressions. I will absolutely blame that on the PTSD. I used to be so open and easy going. I liked to be the star in the room and I liked having others around me. Unfortunately I’ve been burned by too many people. I’ve had everything taken away from me by those I trusted. I’ve had friends turn out to be fair weather pals who walked away from me the moment I was inconvenient. So I’m sorry if I’m stand offish when we meet. I may not open up right away. I may even glare at you a bit. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m working on it.

I’ve had great friends who have stuck with me even though I truly tested our relationship. Like I’ve said, I tend to isolate myself in dark times and if I sense any kind of slight towards me, I am very quick to cut ties and walk away. There are some bridges I’ve had to mend.

And finally, yesterday I was fortunate enough to find a good old friend who was going my way. At least for the first few hundred miles. They say that the friendships formed during combat are the strongest. It really is a brotherhood. I would die for those friends. Well, this friend just happened to be my squad leader during my first tour. We went through a lot together. Things we have never talked about since. That’s probably a bad thing. We’ve both struggled. Tomorrow when I leave, he’ll have already ridden a couple hundred miles in order to ride with me. We’ll eventually part ways as he continues on to New Mexico where one of our brothers in arms is buried. He wants to spend memorial day where it matters most, in the company of one who gave his life in the service and protection of others.

It feels like a big day. I think I’m ready.

Tomorrow it gets real.

Family matters

My family will tell you that I am not the most family oriented person. I’ve never been one of those adults who needs to live near his parents. I got married at a relatively young age and never looked back.

I’m probably not the best husband. I try though.

I’m definitely not the best father. I lose my patience quickly. I do love my kids though and try as hard as I can to attend all of their events. They are also all amazing mountain bikers which I could consider my greatest achievement.

Today I am a proud father.

My oldest son is graduating from high school. He’s a quiet kid and very kind. He’s never in trouble and is a good worker. Sure. There’s things we have issues with but I couldn’t have asked for a better first born. He’s made it pretty easy on us.

I may be leaving for a few months but it sure isn’t to get away from my family. I need to rediscover myself so that I can take care of them better.

If my family can’t motivate me to be a better person, nothing can.

Love your families, without them, you truly have nothing. No one will ever love you as much as your family does.

Getting on with it

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along so far. It’s been tedious, trying to give a bit of background as to why I’m doing this crazy trip. I appreciate you sticking with me.

Now that I’ve got some explanation of myself laid out there, I can move on.

Let’s talk about this trip!

I honestly can’t pinpoint the moment I decided to do this. It was even before I bought my motorcycle. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that every motorcyclist dreams of taking off and just riding wherever they want. Leaving everything behind them for awhile. Unfortunately not many of us get that opportunity. We have jobs, families, civic responsibilities and a bunch of other crap that tells us that leaving for a few months is perhaps not the responsible thing to do.

Well, just my luck. I don’t have a job. My wife is very understanding. I got rid of most of my responsibilities and the ones I still have I don’t care about. I’m smiling to myself right now. Sometimes being nuts has its advantages.

I bought the bike and that set in motion my plan. My plan? I don’t really have one. That’s pretty much my overarching goal for this trip. No plans. At least as much as I can help it.

I have have a brother in San Antonio. A cousin in Pensacola. A brother in Charleston and a cousin and sister in law near D.C. I’ve made my route based on an attempt to link their locations together.

Soon after I bought my motorcycle, Harley Davidson sent me an atlas in the mail. Now, being an Army guy, I can completely geek out over maps. The coolest thing is that HD went ahead and highlighted scenic routes for motorcycles in all of the States. I sat down one day and spent hours drawing lines and linking up all of the scenic routes that I could. I’m avoiding highways as much as possible. The downside, if there is one, is that it’s going to take me forever to get anywhere. I may even be going the wrong direction a few times. Honestly though, is there a wrong direction? I don’t think so.

The bottom line is that my route is taking me counterclockwise around the perimeter of the U.S. There are couple times I take a detour through the interior, and I’m avoiding the N.E beyond Philadelphia. I can’t exactly put my finger on why. I just am. Maybe that’ll change. Nothing is set in stone and that’s the point.

I’m leaving on Friday. That’s my only time I’m planning on hitting. I’m not expected anywhere at anytime. I’m trying to keep it that way. No expectations.

As far as logistics…the big one is that I’ll be roughing it, aka camping, as much as possible. I’ll accept a couch or carpet to sleep on if it’s offered but I’m not planning on it. If I get stuck in a storm for a day, I may get a cheap room. We’ll see. I have a nice, lightweight, two person tent (really a one person). A nice sleep pad, an inflatable pillow (yep). A tiny folding chair. A sleeping bag and a camp blanket.

I have all of the clothing I am bringing in a luggage bag that straps to the back seat. I’m going minimal on clothes and will buy packages of underwear and tshirts as needed to replace dirty ones. It’s easier than doing laundry. Maybe more than you wanted to know but I’ve actually put some thought into that part so you get to hear it. I’m also bring a pair of shorts that will do double duty as a swim suit because, well, swimming.

All of this fits nicely and compact on my bike. Tried and tested. Several times. Really the only thing I’m waiting on is a rain suit which should arrive tomorrow. Reviews say it’s a bit bulky so I may have to do some rearranging.

Packing and logistics are the things that really get in your head before a trip. Constantly worrying if I’ve forgotten anything. Fortunately I’ll never be far from somewhere and I can always get or replace what I need.

The motorcycle (I call her Ox) just had her 5,000 mile tune up yesterday. All new fluids. Brakes were adjusted. The belt was tightened. One of my new pipes was a bit loose. Tires were checked for wear. I feel good about Ox. She rolls nice and is comfortable for the amount of time I’ll spend on her each day.

Oh, speaking of time. I plan to ride each day until I’m tired, bored or it gets dark. I really have no desire to wear myself out or make it a chore to keep going. I like stopping at historical markers and cool little towns. I also like good food which could be my undoing.

Now I feel like I’m rambling. It’s amazing how lost I can get, so quickly.

It’s getting close.

Therapy

I said we’d get back to this and it’s unsettlingly appropriate for today.

First, let me get today off of my chest.

I set an appointment over a week ago to meet with my Psychiatrist. This is a guy I’ve been seeing for about two years. It has been hit or miss. When I do see him he seems happy and concerned/interested. He appears to at least remember who I am amongst all of his other patients. That’s a plus.

Today however was the THIRD time his office has called me to cancel my appointment because he is out sick. Do I just have insanely bad luck? That really should be a rhetorical question because yes, yes I do. That doesn’t include the TWO times I have sat in the VA waiting room for over an hour after my appointed time. A little sign on the counter says to notify staff if you are there 15 minutes past your appointment. I do, each time, and each time he doesn’t respond to them. So I wait for an hour and then leave. My due diligence.

If you’re keeping count, that’s five times this guy has not seen me. At what point do I give up? Today I needed my meds refilled for my upcoming trip. It’s down to the wire and I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately a staff nurse took care of it and they are being over nighted via brown Santa.

Let me go back to the beginning.

In 2008 I had been forced to go to an “anger management” course for a week while in country. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t have anger management issues. I went anyway, mostly because I was ordered to. It just made me angry. At that time I didn’t understand PTSD or any of its symptoms. It was never discussed and as leaders, we were never taught what to watch out for. Things are very different now, but not for me.

I got home in May of that year and immediately began seeing a young doctor at the Salt Lake VA. She had just graduated from college and couldn’t find a job anywhere else. Her words. Basically my issues were a first for both of us. She gave me a few good insights but mostly just workbooks. I called it quits with her and pretended to be better.

This was a tough time for us and I’m really not sure how we survived it.

Years passed.

Finally in about 2012 I started seeing a new therapist through a Vet Clinic. This guy knew what he was doing and we made some progress. My understanding grew and I was able to function in society while drawing very little attention to my PTSD. I would venture to say that most people thought I was fine. The things they don’t know…

And then he moved. To Washington D.C.

And then my work fired me for PTSD related symptoms that I could no longer control.

Which led to suicide attempt number 2.

I was then locked up, yes, locked up, at a behavioral health clinic for military personnel, run by civilians.

Talk about a month of hell.

Let me say this real quickly. My wife is amazing. She is my safe place and the one person who I always need. Isolating me away from her is never good therapy.

I hate people. I hate people more who I don’t know. Don’t take that wrong, it just means I really don’t want to be around people and I generally loathe other people’s problems. As I’m laying mine out there. Irony? Anyway.

Here I was, in close, monitored contact with other people I didn’t know who had major problems. Great situation for my mental health. Oh, and group therapy. My favorite (drips with sarcasm).

I very quickly learned that in order to get out of there, I was going to have to fake it. And I did. Very well. Getting out in 30 days was a record. Honestly the only thing this place taught me was how screwed up I am and that getting better was well beyond my reach. Yay.

A week after they released me, my wife and I got in a huge fight.

Queue suicide attempt number 3. Well not exactly. Just ideation. Not the first time, nor the last.

My mistake was telling an Army Captain psychologist about it. This was our first time meeting and he didn’t know me from Adam. He took me seriously and asked if he could get a second person to talk to me. Sure.

We drove cordially up to the SL VA where he tried to have me committed. I started threatening people. They brought in a cop. I threatened him. A lot. They eventually put me in cuffs, stuffed in the back of a police car and drove me over to the psych ward. There, they took everything except my underwear and gave me some hospital jammies. They then locked me in a room and forgot about me for 2.5 days. Seriously. No food. No new clothing. No phone calls. Nothing. In the middle of the third day they brought me before a room full of VA personnel and asked how I was doing. Can you imagine that? Imagine the explosion that followed. Words were exchanged. Not kind words. They let me out the next day. That’s VA intervention for you.

Since then, I’ve had 7 other therapists. Either they move on or they piss me off. I live 45 minutes from the VA clinic. I’m always on time. I’ve had two different therapists cancel appointments on me 15 minutes before our scheduled time. Want to guess where I was when they canceled? I don’t think I’m overly harsh for moving on.

My last therapist has been awesome. She and I have seen each other for almost two years now. It’s really helped having someone stable and who cares. She even let me bring my wife a few times.

Two months ago she told me that the VA was bringing on another therapist to help lighten the workload and that the new person would be taking the patients at the back of the alphabet.

I’m done. I am tired of starting over. Right when I get to where I’m getting help, it ends.

I need therapy but it can no longer be a person. It can’t be someone who I have to rely on.

Mountain biking has always been there and is great therapy but it has run its course. I might shock some friends if I told them I was burned out. The joy isn’t there anymore. Maybe because I made it a job. A job can ruin anything. Maybe I just need something new.

Maybe a motorcycle.

My PTSD is not your PTSD.

All I mean by that is that PTSD is different for everyone who suffers from it. There isn’t a PTSD cookie cutter that makes it easily identifiable or treatable. My therapists tell me that all of the time. Each approach is different.

I did two tours in Iraq. The first in early 2003 to mid 2004 and the second from 2007 to 2008. About 30 months total. My first tour I did my job. I was a combat engineer. Think infantry with explosives. We did spend an inordinate amount of time in trucks though. My second tour was all volunteer. We were a security forces company made up of Soldiers from every unit in the State. That’s perhaps enough detail.

My first tour was much more combat oriented than my second. My squad and I were in several engagements. I dealt with it. I was trained for that. I did my job. There were things going on that were building issues within me but I suppressed them. Just like most people do. I was fine. I had nightmares. Headaches. I was on edge. Who cared?

My second tour was interesting. Convoy security. Missions of our size and scope were usually led by officers. The other convoy security companies were all led by officers. We had a lot of responsibility. Missions were generally dull. Unfortunately we had toxic leadership. The culture in our unit was screwed up. Games were played. Even I find myself apologizing to my Soldiers for that time. Things happened. It opened the flood gates.

My first therapist explained that we all have a mental cup and it can only hold so much. We all have the ability to deal with life’s challenges, as long as it stays within our cup. My second tour overflowed my cup. Once it starts overflowing, it doesn’t matter if there were things you could previously handle. Now you can’t.

So here I am. I have PTSD. I have serious anger issues. Depression. Anxiety. I isolate myself. I don’t trust people. I can be violent. I can go on and on. Each sufferer is different. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been to a few Wounded Warrior Project trips. I have a hard time with these. Therapists say that vets like to hang out with their own kind because they understand. Nope. I typically hate being around other vets. I absolutely hate hearing their BS stories. I shut down. We go to meetings and they think I’m a dick. I’m the ornery guy in the corner. It takes awhile to crack that shell and even then, it’s on my terms.

On my last WWP outing, the guy leading the discussion had the audacity to mention that PTSD isn’t permanent. Really? So please tell me why the VA rates my PTSD as “permanent and total”. Their exact rating. I’m so far gone that there isn’t any hope. Yes, for all those therapists out there, I’m talking in absolutes. That’s a big no no. I unfortunately understand the nuances of therapy, I’ve been doing it long enough. I know all of the buttons to push.

My rational brain knows that I can be fixed. That there may still be time. My PTSD brain overrides all of that. That’s probably the biggest symptom. You give up. There’s no hope. You only see and feel negative. Why try? And of course these are the thoughts that compound each other until the only way out is suicide. Everything can be perfect but I don’t see it. I can’t. I have these thoughts daily. Yep. Daily. Some days are worse than others.

I am desperate to make it stop.