After a failed attempt to treat ourselves to a final continental breakfast as a foursome, we departed Gainesville, Fl following a twenty mile bike trail through some of the hilliest and windiest terrain we had seen in the past thousand miles. The bike trail allowed us to ride side by side and added some needed variability from the weeks of straight, flat, road riding that had been accompanied by a persistent east wind.
After the trail, we spotted our first gators in a roadside swamp. I led the draft line for the next forty miles and received my first flat tire since Silver City, NM. Despite a calloused ass, and an increased level of fitness the rusty staple that punctured my tire and the prevailing headwind reminded me that the many new found perquisites of traveling by bike don’t come without a toll. I signaled to Kyle that I could use someone’s wheel to pull me through the current. Kyle led us through the last twenty miles and I could sense his anticipation through his cadence. I have ridden hundreds of miles inches behind Kyle’s rear wheel and we all have grown accustomed to his predictable trajectory and strong steady pace. This day, however, for these last twenty miles before completing a coast to coast to coast bike ride, Kyle’s tempo surged intermittently while his bike swayed fifteen degrees to the left and right of vertical as he pulled on the opposite side of each downward pedal stroke.
Upon arrival of St. Augustine Beach Kyle led a screaming charge, champagne bottle in hand, past bewildered bystanders straight into the Atlantic. We all high fived as many times as we dove back into the ocean as if the first four wouldn’t count. The champagne coming through my nose after celebratory swigs in between the dousing of my friends almost went unnoticed amongst the jubilee. After a half hour of body surfing in the turbulent atlantic on this blustery day, we were given a chance to reflect on our journey and accomplishment while poaching the hot tub of an adjacent beachfront hotel. The celebration continued into the night until we crept into the shadows of the Castillo de San Marcos, adding a National Historic Monument to our list of weird places slept at.
The following day I couldn’t help but reminisce on the early events of the trip while riding solo into Jacksonville, Fl. Our goodbye had consisted of overindulgent group hugs and high fives and we had avoided the emotional confessions of disbanding through jokes and sarcasm. I took the “don’t leave us Patrick” and fake sobs with multiple people clinging to my extremities as sincere goodbyes. I knew that I wanted to candidly discuss every incredible attribute of each individual and how each of them made the trip so memorable. I knew I wanted to confess that I couldn’t ask for a more amazing group of guys to spend ten weeks with while touring the country. I knew that I had had the experience of a lifetime because of these guys and I wanted to thank them. I also knew that they were thinking similar things but partaking in that kind of bromance just wasn’t our style. Instead, I laughed and said, “Have fun in Miami guys, see you in Missoula” then rode away.
While I was packing my bike up in Jacksonville, I couldn’t believe it was over. A dream of mine had become reality and a strong sense of accomplishment came over me. I remembered the first talk I had with Kyle about the trip almost a year before while in Missoula, Mt. The initial plan was to finish our seasonal summer jobs and ride across the country. This is an easy claim to make while jobless and drinking a beer in the dark depths of Charlie B’s on a cold winter night but as the months went on I always knew Kyle was definitely in. Three other people expressed interest 6 months before the trip but I wasn’t convinced that there would be more than two of us until Max and Vince both blew their first summer paychecks on new touring bikes. The new plan was more detailed, we would all finish our summer jobs, go to Kyle’s house in early October, ride the pacific coast and take a left to Florida and the Atlantic coast. There was virtually no correspondence between us while we all worked our sumer jobs but it only took a bike and one “I’m in” from each person to seal a commitment to this adventure. Everyone knew that jobs, money, girlfriends or other commitments couldn’t supersede that verbal agreement. As friends we simply wouldn’t let each other back out if one chose to try. As I traveled bike less through Jacksonville I was so happy I and everyone else had done what we had set out to do months before.
That afternoon I experienced one of the most radical changes of emotion I have and most likely will ever feel. I felt like I was standing on top of the world, beneath me were mountains of accomplishments and memories, laughter and stories, and an experience that could never be recreated. The two sentences, “Kyle got hit. It doesn’t look good.” blurred my vision and stole my breath as the world crashed down leaving me trembling and completely lost. After several hours of feeling entirely helpless while anxiously awaiting phone calls, Kyle’s situation remained very scary but showed signs of improvement. From what I understand, Kyle received a serious head trauma and a bruised lung. Surprisingly, no broken bones resulted from Kyle getting hit from behind by a fast moving van. The swelling in Kyle’s head remained low and manageable during the critical first 72 hours succeeding a head injury. Although heavily sedated and unconscious, Kyle’s vitals have stayed strong. The doctors at Halifax hospital in Daytona, Fl are planning on keeping Kyle under at least through Christmas weekend. The hope is that by keeping him sedated, his brain will remain inactive and have a chance to heal. The extent of Kyle’s brain damage is yet to be determined until the doctors start trying to wake him up.
After our first week of the trip and five hundred miles under our belts, we pulled out the maps for the rest of the Pacific coast and the Southern tier of the United States. The remaining states, miles and passes ahead of us were too overwhelming to see, it seemed to far and too difficult when looked at all at once. From then on, we would only look at one map or a few days in advance at the most. By making small goals and achieving them, collectively our ultimate goal became more attainable. It is too early to tell how long Kyle’s road to recovery will be but I am confident that his predictable trajectory and strong steady pace will get him to his ultimate goal, even if he has to tackle one mountain pass or map at a time. Along Kyle’s road to recovery it is likely that he will need someone’s wheel to pull him through the current and Max, Vince and I are committed to helping him and his family through whatever obstacles come his way just as he allowed us to draft behind him through difficult times while riding across the country.