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Sobriety, Mental Health, Resilience, and a Cross-Country Bike Ride

Updated: Jun 1

This month, we bring you the story and journey of Mike Bowen: a brave, dedicated, and determined individual who has embarked on a cross-country cycling trip – not just as a physical challenge, but as a profound voyage of personal growth intertwined with a powerful story of sobriety; mental health healing and empowerment; a non-life-threatening, but incurable diagnosis; and choice. Mike's story is a testament to the power of resilience, self-compassion, and the pursuit of one's true self.

Beginning the Journey: Preparing for the Adventure

Setting out on a bike tour across the United States is no small feat. It’s a journey that requires physical endurance, mental strength, an unwavering determination to push through challenges, and A LOT of preparation! 

The roots of Mike’s journey trace back to two significant milestones in his life in the last years.

In the Fall of 2022, Mike was diagnosed with an inherited retina disease named Retinitis Pigmentosa. He was having strange symptoms such as light flashes, starry vision, and trouble tracking. He eventually learned that the disease stems from a mutation in one single gene called cep78. There is no known treatment for the disease, and the disease will slowly continue to degrade the rod and cone cells in his retina, resulting in loss of sight someday.

Secondly, on July 4, 2023, Mike decided to get sober. For about ten years, Mike had been affected by alcoholism, anxiety and depression. “I was in a negative cycle of mental health challenges and drinking alcohol every night,” he shares candidly. “For a lot of those years,” Mike goes on, “I knew I could have and should have been making different choices and feeling a lot better, and I even tried to tell people about my anxiety, but on some level, I just thought it was my normal, and nothing really stuck with anyone else, either. I experienced a loss of a lot of life and a lot of joy during those years. Since quitting alcohol, my anxiety and depression symptoms have completely disappeared.”

After the diagnosis and about four months of being sober, and the sobriety helping him get his “brain back” and feel better overall, Mike shares: “I experienced this clarity and realization that for years and years, a more adventurous spirit had been welling up within my heart.” And it is this adventurous spirit within that inspired him to ride his bike across the country on what’s called the TransAmerica Bike Route – from Yorktown, Virginia back to his homebase right here in Bend, Oregon (about 4,200 miles).

So in November 2023, Mike began his rigorous preparation – trail running, biking, training on Pilot Butte, and yoga sessions at Namaspa. He also read a lot of books, and in his words, “did anything I felt was difficult, in order to build resiliency – including 6:00am Power Flow!”Mike goes on: "Namaspa was a chance to show up for myself, and the yoga sessions, massages, and Reiki treatments my girlfriend and parents arranged for me and gifted me played a crucial role in my training.” One of Mike’s particularly transformative experiences at NYC was holding frog pose for several minutes, which led to a big emotional release. "I laid and wept on my mat for a long time," Mike recounted. "It was a wonderful emotional release that I'll never forget for my entire life.” Mike wants to express his gratitude for the teachers and staff who supported him that day, as well as for all of the teachers and staff who were and are so warm and welcoming. He’s a huge advocate for NYC, now, and wanted to make sure it received ample credit in this post!

On May 12, Mike flew from Portland to Richmond, Virginia, and he set out on his bike with trailer-in-tow on May 14. Our conversation with Mike happened on May 29, on his last day biking in Virginia, just before he set out on the day’s planned route: a 50-mile ride with nearly 6000 ft. of climbing! 

Lessons from Off & On the Road … So Far

When we asked Mike about the lessons he’s learned so far on his journey both since learning about his diagnosis and getting sober, as well as in his first 16 days on the road, he talked about self-compassion, managing expectations, the beauty of human kindness, and overcoming challenges.Mike shares that one of the things that he feels kept him in the 10-year cycle of alcoholism, anxiety and depression was a lack of self-compassion. Now, through his journey, he’s learned and continues to learn about and deepen into self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-affirmation. Mike doesn’t like his own handwriting very much, so to remind himself of this crucial lesson, he got a tattoo of the word "compassion" on his right wrist, in his own handwriting – a symbol of embracing his imperfections. 

Another lesson Mike has learned is managing expectations. While the idea of letting go of expectations sounds simple, Mike is discovering how much intentionality and effort it requires. "It takes work to actually change your expectations, let alone erase them," he shares. This insight has been crucial in helping Mike navigate the challenges of his journey, both on and off the bike. 

Although Mike is still only in the first days of his three-month ride, he has already been and continues to be deeply moved by the kindness of strangers. From offers of cold water and snacks to encouraging conversations, the generosity of people he has met on the road has been a source of joy and inspiration. "The kindness of total strangers has been amazing. People on the side of the road have offered me so much support.” This kindness has not only bolstered Mike's spirits, but has also reaffirmed his belief in the goodness of people – a much-needed reminder both when biking cross-country mostly alone, as well as in the context of the challenges of today’s world.

Mike has nicknamed one of his experiences of overcoming a first big challenge on his trip so far ‘the flat tire metaphor.’ On the second or third day of riding, he realized he had been riding with a flat tire on his bike trailer, making the journey exponentially harder than it needed to be. "I got through everything, but it could have been a lot easier if I had just known it was flat and then stopped to fix the tire," Mike reflected.

He shares how this experience mirrors his decade-long struggle with drinking, anxiety, and depression. Just as fixing the flat trailer tire made his ride smoother, facing and seeking support for his addiction and mental health challenges could and would have made his life more manageable and joyful.

Finally, while on the road, Mike is also navigating his vision impairment ,and certain moments and parts of his trip are already being shaped by it. For example, Mike has a blind spot in his central vision, and so sometimes he just doesn’t notice certain things. He had a phone-holder on his handlebars, and at one point, he looked down and thought it was properly secured, but then he hit a bump, and it was not. His phone hit the asphalt, sending his credit card, ID, and a photo of him and his girlfriend scattered on the road. Thankfully, it just scratched the screen, but broke his case, which is where he has kept his credit card and ID for years – sort of a ‘mental system’ he’s had to change. He admits: “It was definitely my first moment of wanting to just throw my bike in a creek and find a flight home; but then I returned to finding compassion for myself and my eyesight, and kept going.”

Reflections on Personal Transformation

Mike's journey is so clearly more than a physical adventure; it is a profound personal quest rooted in transformation, determination, and creating a new life. Reflecting on his journey for this blog, Mike offers three pieces of wisdom and advice that are at the core of what has helped him revitalize his life and transform into a new and vibrant person. These pieces of wisdom are for anyone on a journey of personal growth and transformation, as well as anyone who’s feeling stuck or struggling with addiction, anxiety, depression, and/or other mental health challenges.

  1. Get sober and choose sobriety each day;

  2. Get fit and break through limitations, which cultivates strength and resilience;

  3. Be(come) your truest, most authentic self, which includes pursuing your dreams and living a life that is unique and fulfilling to you.

For Mike, his condition of retinitis pigmentosa, as well as the fact that nobody lives forever, serve as reminders of the urgency to choose and do the three things above immediately and with passion! "My diagnosis gave me a sense of urgency that the time is now, because my life will be different, eventually, with the full loss of my eyesight," he shares. “And even if someone isn’t facing something like loss of their vision, we all pass away. It doesn't matter what creed, color, financial background, credentials, etc. We all pass away, and so we're all on a timeline. In my situation, it was a big thing to realize I was the one keeping myself from pursuing my dreams. I realized I was just coasting through life. I had these dreams – these big, epic trips I wanted to do – and it finally became clear that the time was now to do them.”

The Power of Community Support

A touching and powerful aspect of Mike's journey is the support he’s received through his GoFundMe campaign – which was set up by a friend of Mike’s in support of him and his dreams. This support has not only helped Mike financially, but has also provided emotional encouragement, reinforcing his sense of self-worth and determination. "The GoFundMe has renewed my belief that I'm worthy of love," Mike says.

When you visit the campaign page and see that Mike has surpassed his goal, don’t click away! On one hand, his trip so far has already been more expensive than he budgeted for, and secondly, this TransAmerica bike ride is the first of three epic trips Mike will be doing over the next three years! Your support will help him not only for the next three months on this frist trip, but will help him prepare and keep going over the coming months and years.

We are so grateful for Mike’s inspiration to choose Namaspa as the place to practice yoga and receive massage and Reiki during his training phase, and also grateful that we can now share his story with our community in this way. His story serves as an important reminder that there is tremendous power in bringing addiction and mental health into the foreground and into honest conversations within families and community, and that we are not alone in our struggles. The support of loved ones, the kindness of strangers, and the generosity of community can make a profound difference in our lives.

As Mike pedals onward, we are reminded that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – or in Mike's case, a single pedal stroke. And with each turn of his wheels, he moves deeper into the life of fulfillment, joy, and true self-discovery he’s always dreamed of and hoped for.

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