Day 27: San Antonio to San Marcos, Texas

Eight years ago yesterday, I woke up in a holding cell in the Black Hawk County Jail in Waterloo, Iowa. I had been arrested for drunk driving for the second time in less than a year. What happened after that day was a sort of forced reinvention, starting with court-ordered substance abuse treatment and a short jail sentence, then moving out West to Montana, where I eventually made my way into the mountains to see what was up there.

After a couple years, which were at first depressing and sad, and awkward, I found something else to do with my time besides sit on a barstool and act like I knew something about life because I had just drunk eight beers. I dug into the mountains, learning how to backpack, and climb, ski in the backcountry, rig rappel lines and assess avalanche potential. I started to spend weekends climbing, sitting by myself on tiny ledges paying out rope for my climbing partner, not talking to anybody, watching wind blow through pine trees and birds fly by. I found a new identity.

And then, my pal Nick bought me a bike.  And that’s changed my daily life, since summer 2006. And if it wasn’t for that bike, I wouldn’t be here, sitting in a hotel room in San Marcos, Texas, after a “short” 50-mile day that puts us a little over halfway across America. Tomorrow, we head into Austin, and after that, we start counting down the miles we have left.

Sometimes I have little moments in which everything crystallizes for just a second, and I can’t believe this is my life, and I get to do all this crazy stuff — whether it’s sitting in the parking lot of Devils Tower with Nick absolutely wrung out from 11 nonstop hours, or jumping back over the rail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon after climbing Mount Hayden with Mick feeling like we just got away with something, or walking behind my girlfriend on a lonely trail in southern Arizona as the sun goes down, not even feeling the heavy pack on my back. I’ve had several moments like that on this trip, and I remember how lucky I am. I also have to remind myself that the guy pedaling his bike behind his pal Tony for thousands of miles is that same loser who used to get drunk enough to put cigarettes out on himself and pass out on the kitchen floor.

I believe in bicycles. I could write a million love stories about my bike, and how it put me in touch with some of my favorite people in the world, and how I don’t know how much I like riding my bike but I know how much I hate not riding my bike, and the Breakfast Ride, and the time I spend thinking late at night riding by myself, and all that. I can tell you the fastest bike, the best bike in the world, is the one I’m on right now, whatever it is. It makes smiles and creates peace and saves the planet, and for two months, it’s helping inner-city kids get a chance to find out something about themselves in the mountains, like I did.

There is a story about this bike ride, probably several of them, maybe about America’s small towns, maybe about old friends, maybe about two kids who grew up in a small town and want to prove something to someone, but some days I like to think about the self-congratulatory one: How I could still be sitting on that barstool, burning another Camel Light and drinking more whiskey, wondering what it would be like to bicycle across America — and then ordering another drink and forgetting about it, again. But I got lucky, and one day an old pal asked me if I would, realistically, like to try it.

Today, my liver and I are celebrating eight years of sobriety. I don’t know too much, but I know if you can go every single day for eight years without drinking a single cold beer, other things seem less scary. Like getting on your bike and mashing out 60 miles  every day until you hit the other ocean.


37 responses to “Day 27: San Antonio to San Marcos, Texas

  1. Wow! What a moving blog! You’re making me jealous…my bike is sitting up against the wall in the basement under a window just wondering “does she still love me?” I need to act fast and get back in the saddle. Thanks for the wonderful message!

  2. Congratulations on your 8 years. I have never met you personally but this was the most inspiring and profound statement of personal growth I have ever read. I Love it when a young person actually “Gets it!” Hang on to that bike and those friends ~ your Life will be Blessed in ways you can only Imagine.

  3. Great post Brendan! Happy 8th Anniversary! I remember those times before and after the drunk-driving incidents. I also remember how hard it was to leave you in Missoula, with virtually no one and not even a driver’s license or even a car for that matter. Some unreal accomplishments since then.
    What you and Tony are doing for the kids and for yourselves is amazing. Makes me Proud! I hope everyone checks out the bought me a bike link.

  4. So admirable, Brendan! You are a living inspiration to the inner city kids you work with and many others! Congratulations on your eight years! Thanks for the awesome message.

  5. Brendan … that was very, very cool. From one sober guy to another, that’s the best damn thing I’ve read in a long, long time. Thanks for sharing, it was really moving and really spoke to me and I’m sure a lot of others. Take care and enjoy the “countdown!”

  6. It should feel good to know that you have walked this life longer sober than you ever did drunk. I spent many nights with you on stool, but I always enjoyed the soberish ones better.

    It feels good to know that you are in a happy place and there is no reason to mourn the loss of a drinking buddy, but celebrate the life of a great writer and cyclist. Every day I talk to Curt we long to be on that ride with you two and see what you are seeing. I envy you two and wish you the best of luck below the Mason Dixon line.

    Sure hope Skinny enjoyed that Shiner, it looks like someone did.

  7. Tears…(proud, happy and inspired tears)

  8. You are inspiring and have obviously come a long way to be where you are today. Congratulations on all you have achieved and the road you have placed before you.

  9. Congrats, Brendan. Thinking of you guys daily.

  10. Proud of you bro and even prouder to be your friend for America!


  11. Brendan, you’ve inspired me since the day I met you just a little more than 7 months ago, and you continue to do it today though you’re more than a thousand miles away. Thank you. Congratulations. We’re incredibly proud of you.

  12. Proud to know you Sir Brendan of Leonard. You are an inspiration and definitely livin’ the life.

    You and Tony are heros.

  13. Stirring the heart strings on this post…! Half way there and you don’t even sound tired. I see a new branch of BCM – Biking for Someone…

  14. Congratulations Brendan. Given what you’ve overcome I can’t imagine the flatlands of the Gulf Coast giving you much trouble.

    Thanks for sharing your journeys with us.

  15. Hey Brendan, congrats on 8 years of sobriety. I enjoyed reading your post….very moving and humbling. Ain’t life in America great!? We are the luckiest people on the planet!! Ride safe. We are all so very proud of you. Uncle Dan

  16. Honored to know you, your story, and to be able to follow you on this journey. Thank you for sharing your heart and your history, and for reminding we who are reading that this is so much more than just another bike ride.

  17. I am so thrilled for you!! and so happy to hear what you are doing. I used to work with your mom in Red Oak (This means I remember you when you were little, of course.), and I think of your folks so often. She and I were great buddies…
    Congratulations on your great accomplishment and the work you are doing. Best wishes for your future!

  18. Congratulations on your eight years Brendan. I remember Tony telling us about the time he stopped out to visit you, he said you guys had an awesome time. Tony said you guys went out for ice cream, and as you were sitting there you guys lookeed at each other and said, who would of ever thought we would be going out for ice cream instead of a beer. I am very proud of both of you. You are doing this amazing bike ride and having a GREAT time, at the same time raising money for others. You guys are two very special people. Love you lots!!!

  19. Angela (the other Mom :)

    Steph’s right – tears. I made it through today’s story with smiles, amazement and joy. Then I started reading everyone’s posts and the tears started rolling down my cheeks about as fast as your wheels are rolling. Knowing you, I’m sure you never realized how opening your heart to all of us as we follow your daily journey would move us. It’s one of the 1st things I do every morning. Congrats to both you and Tony on all your amazing accomplishment both on and off the rode.

  20. You don’t know me but I’m following your blog every day and by far today’s was the best one. Congratulations on the sobriety and thanks for sharing your story.

  21. you have a gift for presenting your experiences in a naked, honest light and it is inspiring to hear your journey from the barstool to the bike seat. miles can not measure that distance.
    congrats on 8 years and counting!
    you two keep riding and and inspiring!

  22. Congratulations on the 8 years B. A Fantastic post. Reading your posts over the past 27 days, and especially this one, have me wanting to make sure I take extra advantage of the summer, once this overbearing winter is over. For the extra activities I plan to do with my wife and kids, for the extra miles I’ll put on my bike, for the tri I’m going to make sure I do this year…Thank You

  23. You are “checking a box” that we can only dream about. Congratulations to you and Tony! And isn’t it great viewing life through a clear and not clouded mind! Congratulations on your 8 years of sobriety. Life is Good, keep on enjoying it…. one mile at a time.

    Wish we could cheer you into St. Augustine. Keep up the fun descriptive blog for us and safe travel to the end.

  24. Nice work Leonard….nice work man.

  25. Yep, tears for me too. You are awesome, Brendan. There’s just no other way to put it. I’ve met quite a few former drunks in my life, and you are one of the most inspirational and by far the best at telling your story.

    I can’t wait to see your novel at a bookstore and tell people I knew you when. Best of luck with the rest of your journey!

  26. Will Handsfield

    Slap on the back from me. When you have some time we’ll have to catch up. You’ll like what I’m working on these days.

  27. Congratulations, Uncle B! In a few years, you can teach me about the finer things in life – biking and cinnamon rolls. Can’t wait to meet you. We’re all proud of you.
    Chad, Meg, Mary, And Max

  28. Never stop writing – never stop riding. I know your story well but still read this post about 5 times.

  29. I’m pretty sure you’re the coolest guy I know. No, I’m positive.

  30. rock star!

  31. Brendan, you’re an amazing writer and even better person. I’m privaleged to know you. Keep inspiring youth, adults and be good to yourself. Hope to see you in the next few years.

  32. For your next gift, I will give you a canoe, with which you will someday row across an ocean with.

  33. Wow Brendan….I am in awe. I love that you would share your story with all of your followers/supporters….I sit here and try to take it and your strength in. You and Tony are doing an amazing thing for others….and for yourselves. Keep up the posts….it is great to read about the day’s adventures, who you have encountered and where you are headed. Take care, be safe!

  34. Hi Brendan,
    Congratulations on 8 years of sobriety! You are an amazing person. Good luck with the rest of your journey and stay safe.
    Aunt Tricia

  35. Congrats Brendan, thats an amazing acomplishment. I kick myself everyday I read the blog for not getting on your bike. I promise I will log a few miles on it next time you ride through AZ!

  36. Hey Brendan,

    Congratulations on eight years of sobriety! You are awesome and as my granddaughters would say, I think you are beautiful and a Rock Star too! Be safe and have fun at Aunt Nora’s.

    Love, Aunt Sheila

  37. Aaron & Krista

    Words to live by, and to inspire others to live life if they haven’t already figured out how to. You both are truly inspirations to us all.

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