By John Jericiau
As I watch my sons continue on their educational journey, one in kindergarten and the other in his last year of preschool, it conjures up all kinds of memories from my own life. How did I get where I am today? What was an experience of mine that “changed my life”, and was I pushed or did I jump at that experience? If I was pushed, then by whom? If I jumped, then from where did my drive and self-motivation come? I want to be there for my boys and help them along their path to great memories, but I don’t want to force them down that path.
Way up at the top of my list is my bicycle trip from my birthplace (New York) to San Diego when I was 22. If there was a time in my life that I was at that so-called crossroads, it was then. My life plan at this time was twofold. Number one, I was three years deep into a very serious relationship with my college sweetheart, who was slated to accompany me on this epic bike trip so we could travel to California and get married. And number two, I was contemplating which medical schools to apply to the following fall.
I wanted no part of either of these plans, but felt trapped and helpless to change the course of my life! The momentum of the relationship pushed us to this very point, cheered on by her seven successful and athletic brothers and sisters along with her father (neurosurgeon) and mother (nurse), all of whom I adored and loved, maybe even slightly more than my girlfriend. We were so compatible; we were both captains of our respective college track team and we were both lifeguards, for example. I just knew in my gut that as awesome as she was, she wasn’t a he.
As luck or fate or whatever you want to call it would have it, a farewell party at a friend’s house (one week before the bike trip) provided me with the out I needed. Just before last call for alcohol, I walked in on my girlfriend with another track star. I calmly closed the bedroom door as quickly as I had opened it, and could barely wipe the smile off my face as I left the party and that life forever. I remember thinking, as I walked further and further away from the blaring music and the screaming of my name from the front door, that this is where things change. From this point forward, I’m living my life on my terms.
My parents were horrified that I was heading west on my two-wheeler alone, but they could sense that there was no changing my mind. I wasn’t 100% confident that I would have success. Although a generous local bike shop gave me a great touring bike and all necessary accessories for the 5500-mile trek that I hoped to complete in two months (yes, that’s an average of 91 miles of cycling per day), I wasn’t even sure if I could change a flat tire. (It turns out that didn’t matter – I never had a single tire go flat.)
The weather was on my side too. Every single day I awoke to beautiful sunny weather. Every single day was at least 80 degrees except for one day – day number 18 – when I biked through four hours’ of very light drizzle in Canada. (I traveled over the Great Lakes through Canada before returning to the USA.) Financially, things were also bright during my trip. I had very little money to spend, having left everything, including furniture, a car, and bank accounts in my college town for my girlfriend to do whatever with. However, due to the fact that I slept in city parks and schoolyards and churchyards and behind billboards and in the woods on the side of the road, I spent none of my own money on accomodations. And due to the fact that the random people I crossed paths with were extremely generous and giving people who fed me, cleaned my clothes, gave me a shower, let me sleep in their home, and packed a lunch for my next day’s journey, I was really able to cut expenses. Total cost of the trip: $227.
I had plenty of time to think and plan a life strategy during these two months. I had never spent so much quality time with myself. I was both pleasantly surprised at and extremely happy about some of the brave thoughts coming out of my head. I almost didn’t recognize myself until I would see my reflection as I zoomed by mirrored storefront windows in the town center of Anywhere, USA and think to myself “You’re doing it, John! You’re really doing it!”
And I really did it. I rolled into San Diego on the 60th day of this insane adventure, a markedly different person from the one who rolled out of New York. In San Diego I lived with my belongings camouflaged in a park for three days until I found a job in a clinic for physical therapy, a degree in which I later obtained (four years later) at USC. I found an apartment with a (gay) roommate across from the beach, and to this day any place I’ve lived in has been within a mile of the ocean. And the first chance I had, I flew back to New York and came out to my family, who cried a very light drizzle for four hours and then were supportive for ever more.
I think somehow I knew that I had to complete this bicycle trip. If you think about it, when you’re riding a bike, there’s no reverse. There’s no going back.
You’re just moving forward and looking ahead.