• Richie Crowley

I Lost My Mind In The Middle Of Missouri

The funny thing about calling this ride The Wellness Ride is that in the process of delivering wellness to over 2,000 people, I lost mine.

I don’t count calories, gym gains, or my weight, but I keep myself in what I like to call “Life Shape.” If a friend invites me to hike, I know my body can, if I’m invited to Kayak the ocean, I know I can, and if I decide to ride my bike across America, I know I’ll be able to.

Life shape.

Prior to the ride, I was pretty consistent with my daily practices. I slept for 8–9 hours, I ate plants, I moved naturally, and I meditated each morning. Knowing how great I felt when my day was built on this foundation, I made a daily check-list for the ride in the notes app on my iPhone.

Wake up, Meditate, 5 Minute Yoga, Hydrate, Snack, Check-Bike, Ride.

As minimal as I could go while still touching all the pieces I felt necessary.

By the time I reached New Jersey, at the beginning of week 2, one of these was already forgotten. I had lost my meditation practice. I sit on the same pillow, in the same corner of the same room each day for my practice, and finding comfort in new places, and the confidence to practice in public was uncomfortable. I didn’t have the discipline to keep this practice despite my awareness of its benefits. I deleted Meditate from my morning list.

Later that week, I deleted 5 Minute Yoga. I justified this by explaining to myself that if I used riding a stationary bike to warm-up for exercises in a gym, then why don’t I just use the first few miles of each day’s ride to warm up and get into my body, it will save me time. I must have forgotten my two herniated discs that the morning yoga helped alleviate pain from.

Sleep and my diet came next, though I forget in which order. I found myself glued to my phone until my eyes closed and checking it first thing in the morning. Not only did this affect the length and quality of my sleep, but it created a dependency and interfered with my ability to process the ride. I became obsessed with engagement. How many views did a video get, how many reads on my latest writing, how many liked my Instagram post or responded to my story that day? It was unhealthy and dishonest. I lied to myself, claiming my compulsive social stat checking was important because a larger audience would drive more donations, but that was an afterthought. I was checking on behalf of my ego.

As for food, I started the ride carrying and consuming bananas, apples, nut butter, and dates, restocking at grocery stores when I came across them. I kept the dates in a Tupperware container strapped onto the rear of my bike facing the sun. The sun would heat them all day, making for a gooey dessert when dipped into the nut butter. For dining, Mexican restaurants became a safe zone, ordering off their sides menu: beans, rice, veggies, and guacamole.

Somewhere in Middle America though, the grocery stores were less frequent and the Mexican restaurants gone, taking my willingness to search with them. I was now riding through intersections of Gas Stations and Dollar Generals. When I wasn’t replacing my meals with Subway vegetable footlongs, extra veggies, and filling my water bottles with on tap Vitamin Water, I’d snack on potato chips and other “vegan” treats from these gas stations. Despite the lack of nutritional value, I was keeping my promise of riding across America as a vegan.

That is until Kansas.

What Kansas is not, is flat. What Kansas is, is gorgeous rolling hills. What Kansas has for healthy dinner options when riding US-24W is limited.

I completed another 100-mile day when I checked into a smoke scented non-smoking room in Hill City, Kansas. I showered and googled any dining options in the town. The local gas station is a top choice. But so was Pizza Hut. I didn’t hold back. I ordered garlic bread and a veggie lovers pizza. Sure, I could have asked my server to hold the cheese but at this point, I was so hungry and so tired, that my education and commitment were suppressed, and I just wanted a fucking pizza.

I ate it all.

This action subconsciously gave me permission, so by the time I was riding the deserts of Utah, Nevada, and eastern California, at most gas stations, I’d destroy 1–2 Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches to soothe my dry throat, even when ice cold water was free and feet away.

I am proud that I finished the ride, physically unharmed, but this ride exposed that even those so committed and educated on the benefits or dangers of food can, under certain circumstances, actively choose to consume food that harms them. Consider someone less invested, less educated, less incentivized?

Ice cream cookie sandwiches and a Kansas Pizza Hut, themselves, did not strip me of my wellness. They were, however, contributing to what was already growing. I had removed Meditation and 5 Minute Yoga from my morning routine and encroached on my preferred diet, all before crossing the halfway point.

Despite the compromises I made with myself, these first 2000 miles taught me something. I learned is that my body is resilient, years of training it has made it that way, but my mind is not.

I began to crack during my 4 days on the Katy Trail in Missouri… riding in thunderstorms.

I left St. Louis after an event on a Saturday around 4 pm and found the Katy Trail. I was already a bit emotional. Earlier that day, my laptop broke. I rushed to the Apple store where I was informed that my warranty had expired 5 weeks prior, and my options were to either spend $550 to have my laptop’s logic board fixed or, purchase a new one. I was told that if I chose to fix it, Apple could return it within 2 weeks. I’d be somewhere in the Rocky Mountains by then. I purchased a new one. A bold, possibly irrational decision, considering I suffer with extreme financial stress in general AND was already $450 over budget for the ride. But, the sun was setting, social media needed me to edit a video that evening, and I needed to edit the next day’s newsletter. I processed all of this in a matter of minutes, but you can now see how my deletion of meditation and clouded relationship with social media positioned me to believe I needed a new laptop that instant.

I stayed at a stranger’s house that evening and woke up the next day energized. I can’t change the past, but I can choose how I react to it. I was going to have a great day. By the time my 3 miles of “warm-ups” were through, the clouds had arrived and began to empty. I rode 56 miles in thunderstorms and mud that day before I had enough. The next day was the same, pulled from the trails that afternoon by Tornado Sirens in Jefferson City. The next 2 days, more of the same: soaking wet, covered in mud, pedaling in what felt like quicksand. For 4 days, I was dry only when I slept. On each of these 4 days, I knew the conditions before riding. Still, staring directly at the sky, aware of the amount of misery and suffering I would meet on that day’s ride, I opted in. I volunteered to be defeated. I kept thinking, if Einstein’s loose definition of insanity “doing something over and over again, and expecting a different result” is true, then is what I’m doing a version of this? Was this insanity?

Maybe, but I didn’t see any other options. I wasn’t going to slow down and shack up for a day or two because I was now more than $1,000 over budget, I wasn’t going to hitchhike or take a bus because it would ruin the integrity of biking across the country, and I wasn’t going to quit. The only option I had was forward. I felt trapped.

So trapped, that on that third day in Missouri, and this is the first time I’ve shared this, I looked into the woods and wondered how long it would take for them to find me. If I found a vine strong enough, a tree high enough and jumped, could I disappear? Could I escape this ride?

My mind was that weak.

I also knew I wasn’t brave enough to follow through on this, thus narrowing my options even more. The only option I had was forward. Forward into the suck.

I was too proud to ask for help. Too weak to handle the ride. I had found my capacity. And by not dealing with this, returning to a practice that I know would help, I allowed the darkness to ferment.

So much that by the time I reached Denver, despite having the opportunity to recharge, return to my practices, and write a new story for the final weeks, I did nothing. Too lazy. Too stubborn. Too blind to see that everything was not alright.

That’s the thing with an ill mind. We feel it, and hear its thoughts, but we don’t recognize that they are out of the ordinary. We have too intimate a relationship with ourselves that we don’t respond to the signals alerting us of danger.

Others usually notice this for us. I was alone.

Leaving Denver, frustration came quickly when I met surprise climbs, flat tires, and eventually, in Utah, the wind. In Las Vegas, 4 days before finishing the ride, I wrote that the wind completely broke me, and for the first time I feared that I had done permanent damage to myself. I was rejecting those that cared for me, those that cheered for me and retreating. Each hand that reached for me, I slapped away. 4 days later, on September 23rd, the ride did end, and almost overnight I returned to myself.

I returned to that same pillow in that same corner of my room, I returned to my diet, I returned to my sleep. So, it wasn’t until writing this, months after the finish, that I was able to reflect honestly and accurately. Sure, I got my daily dose of Vitamin D, and I was moving my body naturally, but I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well, or living well. I didn’t speak to myself kindly, I didn’t manage stress, and I didn’t keep my community or compassion.

I rode my bicycle across America to bring wellness to communities with individuals currently less fortunate than I, and in that process, I completely lost mine. The ride was challenging, mentally more than physically, and I think that no matter how difficult it got, my capacity to suffer was not going to let it defeat me, even when I wish it had.

I chose to share this intimate experience of the ride as an apology, to those that interacted with a different me during the ride, and not to ask for forgiveness, but for compassion. Compassion, not only for myself and the person I transformed into during this ride but compassion for all beings.

Each of us endures tragedy, and our hardships are non-competitive with each other. This ride exposed that extreme conditions such as thirst, hunger, exhaustion, or even lack of knowing where one will sleep can lead to temporary alternate mental states or even cause permanent damage.

Each day, we interact with countless beings. Whether it is through direct verbal communication, our body language in public spaces, or eye contact, or lack thereof, each of these is an opportunity to embrace compassion.

Mental Illness is a disease that no one is immune too. Compassion is an expression that no one is immune to as well.

Choose to soften. Choose love.

Richie. Human.


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