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  • Jeremy Raeszler

Feeling the feels

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. - Hal Borland

As a young man, long before my spinal cord injury, I was always fearful that I wasn’t good enough. Instant gratification wasn’t just the norm but my way of life. By this I mean, I was always fearful of the approval of everyone around me and if I got what I wanted or needed right of way I didn't have to deal with what others thought about me.....or about what it was I wanted or needed.  I constantly tried to be different, so I didn’t have to be myself. Mostly because I thought and believed I wasn’t good enough.

I am now 50 years old and I was injured over 16 years ago now. Because I lost focus on the journey and was trying to be someone other than myself I am paralyzed from the waist down today. My spinal cord injury grounded me.  My spinal cord injury forced me to take a long look around and really think about the lives that were impacted because of my selfishness. Since my accident, I’ve slowly started to understand the importance of being myself.

I’ve learned throughout my journey to becoming a better cyclist, and a better person, that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.  That patience with progress provides the best outcome and that persistence is the key to successfully overcoming obstacles.

I recently was able to experience bikepacking as a paraplegic on an upright, acoustic bike in Nevada’s little piece of the Grand Canyon. With the support of the cycling communty I set out to start my way up the backcountry byway known as Gold Butte Road to accomplish something that, as far as I am aware, has never been done on this route.  I was going to be the first bikepacking cyclist, paralyzed from the waist down, on an upright human-powered bike to ride this backcountry byway.  I tackled rolling hills, steep inclines, intensily strong desert winds, and unmaintained roads and took in the jaw dropping views of windswept red sandstone rock sculptures that nature provided.

As I started out on my bike, loaded with the gear and supplies I needed to sustain myself for an overnight trip into some of the most remote landscapes of southern Nevada, I was immediately reminded how nature has an extraordinary way of reminding us of our place in the world.  It humbled and inspired me, and I was taught me a valuable lesson along the way.  While I was struggling to get to the top of a rise,  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the resilience of the plants and the animals that live in these remote landscapes.  How the importance of patience, the power of persistence, and the incredible ability nature has to heal itself. And what I can learn from it.

As I struggled to pedal or hike my bike up the steep inclines of the rollers with the wind howling around me I caught myself fantasizing about the harmonious sounds of the wind as it whirled through the canyons.  I was getting a free lesson from nature…all I had to do was simply listen.

A little over halfway through day 1 of my journey I was starting to lose focus.  This was turning out to be one of the hardest challenges I have ever taken on, both physically and mentally.  I was dehydrated, I was hungry, I was tired, my lips and face were chapped and windburnt, and all I could seem to remember was I was crippled. Losing focus of the reason why I was here made it difficult for me to overcome the physical challenges.   I kept tuning out nature and telling myself that it was ok if I quit because I had a spinal cord injury.

Before I continue I think I should share a little background about how bikepacking even came about for me.  In August 2023, Jay Petervary, an ultra-endurance cycling legend, had set out on a ride with the intent to raise funds for the Be Good Foundation and other bike non-profits to fund bikepack scholarships.  He was once again going to tackle the Great Divide and he called this ride the Great Divide Ride, Unearthed.  His mission, “To inspire others to use the bicycle to benefit their physical and mental health; to pursue their dreams; to do challenging things; to think outside the box and follow a passion….” But, over 2000 miles into is FKT attempt he was hit from behind by a driver in a motor vehicle. Jay was still able to raise enough donations for bikepack scholarships, one of which I applied for and was granted.  I was able to connect with him over video conferences, texts, and emails as I prepared for my journey.  Jay was always supportive, encouraging and willing to offer his expertise to ensure I had every chance of success.

Back to my story, a little over halfway through day 1 I was ready to throw in the towel, set up camp, lay down and try not to focus on what I didn’t do but be proud of what I was able to do.  Just as I was trying to pick out a spot in the not to far off distance to set up camp the arrival of my “Carolina Wren” came into sight.  At first glance, it was just another cyclist wanting to become one with nature, but as he turned his bike towards me I noticed the distinct goatee of Jay Petervary.  The arrival of JayP was like a shot of adrenaline. As we shook hands and made introductions I was no longer willing to give up, but rather set my sights on achieving my original goal of reaching the red sandstone rocks near Whitney Pocket.  Shortly after visiting and a quick intro to JayP on how I needed assistance getting rolling we were off and riding again.  The sights grew even more picturesque the further we went.  We visited as we rode, took pictures, and cheered each other on.  We finally had summited the first pass and had a nice long downhill, with a tailwind!  Lake Mead was now in sight off in the distance glistening in the sunlight.

As we reached the area we wanted to set up camp I just had to stand there and reflect on what JayP and nature had done for me just a short time ago.  It's so easy to lose sight of the journey.  Just like a Wren doesn’t need a manual, classes, or a formal education to build its nest and relies on instinct, willingness, and hard work….JayP was unintentionally able to remind me of why I was here at this very moment.  I am humbled by the lessons I learned from listening to and observing him, and I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life as I continue my journey.

Nature once again revealed its power and magic.  It highlights the profound impact it has on our lives and the valuable lessons if offers.  Nature’s universal language transcends barriers, providing us with endless knowledge and inspiration.

As I conclude my reflection on my bikepacking experience I am filled with so much “Gravitude” for the lessons bestowed upon me by nature and my Carolina Wren.  This journey taught me about dedication, instinct, and the power of persistence.  Nature’s influence on our lives is immeasurable.  May we all have the opportunity to find comfort, internal peace, and endless inspiration in all that nature freely gives us.

Thank you Jaime and Jay for being an important part of my journey.

-Jeremy "Razzleberry" Raeszler


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