Hometown: Lake Forest, California
Occupation: Assistant manager at Rock N Road Cyclery
Time Cycling: 30 years
Reason for Cycling: For sobriety
When I was 26, my dad went missing. We were supposed to pick him up for dinner, but he wasn’t answering the phone. My brother and I went over to his house in southern California, and there was an eviction notice on his door. His car, his keys, his passport—they were all there. The only thing we couldn’t find was his gun.
The police searched for weeks, and the bloodhounds tracked his scent all the way up to Whiting Ranch State Park, but lost it. There are a lot of mountain lions in that area, so there was some speculation about what happened. But we never found a body, and there was no communication, so no closure. He just flat-out disappeared.
To cope with my father going missing, I started drinking nonstop. I couldn’t find any way to maintain happiness. I went on like that for two or three years, and I was let go from my job—I was a bike fitter at a bike shop—for drinking while working.
Once when I was coming off a binge, and I hadn’t had a drink for maybe 18 hours, I started violently convulsing; I had a grand mal seizure. I knew at that point that I was physically addicted and needed medical help. I met with a doctor who diagnosed me with severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My family helped check me into a three-month recovery program, and after that, I moved into a sober-living house.
I didn’t have a driver’s license, so I bought a blue fixie to ride to my job washing and waxing boats at Dana Point Harbor in Dana Point, California. I would ride it all the way from the house near Angels Stadium to the train station, and from the station to the harbor, and back again at night. I’d always loved riding bikes, as did my brother and dad, so these rides brought me a sliver of peace while everything else in my life felt out of control.
But still, it was a real challenge living with 12 grown men who were also recovering alcoholics and drug addicts; the draw of that lifestyle is so strong. I would be sober for six months, and then go binge.
If I could stop drinking, I knew the physical addiction would subside after a few weeks, but the mental addiction would be the hardest to overcome. The things I did on a daily basis had to change. When I have free time, what do I do with it? I had to find something to occupy my time.
I moved out of the sober living house and onto a boat, because it was cheaper than an apartment. I still had that blue bike, and I started riding it to fill the hours, pedaling down the Santa Ana River Trail for 20 or 30 miles. As I got stronger, my confidence grew. After two or three months, the miles just kept adding up, which made me happy. And I didn’t stop riding.
While I was still working at Dana Point Harbor, a cycling friend let me know about a job at a little bike shop called the OC Bike Garage. The owners were building a home in Costa Rica, and they needed someone to manage the store while they were gone. I confided in them about my dad and told them my story, and they were non-judgemental and super accepting. They trusted me with the keys, the cash register, and the credit card.
The last time I drank was when I was working for them. I was depressed, and I went on a binge, missing a couple weeks of work. But when I returned, they took me back. The respect, friendship, and responsibility the owners gave me was what I needed to create momentum.
Ever since then, I just kept getting better. I went to a bike race for OC Bike Garage as a neutral mechanic, and I reconnected with the guys at the shop I’d been fired from years earlier. They saw that I was healthy and back in the industry—and after a year or two, they offered me my old job back. When old friends and coworkers saw me again, and saw I was fit and happy, I could tell they were genuinely excited to engage with me. It validated that I had made a comeback, and I was back on my feet. It was empowering.
I continued riding almost every day, and volunteered as much as I could to lead shop rides to stay busy. I knew at this point I wanted to find a career in cycling. Because I’ve experienced the bike’s therapeutic benefits, I have more to offer than just an analysis of the speed, weight, and price of a bike, and I wanted to pass that on.
I’ve been sober for four years now, and I still have that blue fixie. It’s been through a lot, and every original component has been replaced with something cleaner, prettier, better-functioning. The frame is really the only part that’s still there. It’s beat up, rusty, and chipped, but I can’t get rid of it for the life of me—we’re just too similar.
When you go through experiences like the ones I’ve had, it puts things in perspective. What brings me happiness is simple. I used to drink to feel warm and happy inside. Now, I use a fixed gear.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Follow along with Parker’s adventures on Instagram.
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