In 2003, Pierce resident Matthew Jarrett got the idea to take a cross-country tour of the United States on a bicycle.
It was admittedly an odd time and place to conjure such a demanding undertaking.
Jarrett, 30, does not come from a hard-core biking background. He also was a world away when first struck by the idea, serving with the U.S. Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Ten years later life circumstances provided Jarrett the opportunity to jump onto the saddle, and on April 19 the military veteran set out from Yorktown, Va., en route to Astoria, Ore., a 4,300-mile journey he allotted 100-120 days to complete.
“It’s kind of been a long time coming because I first thought about this 10 years ago,” Jarrett said. “I wasn’t waiting for the right time or moment, I just decided last year it was time to ride.”
Although Jarrett was attracted to the challenge a two-wheel, cross-country ride would present, being a veteran he wanted to attach a purpose to his quest.
Calling his journey the Transamerica Ride for Life, Jarrett is riding to raise awareness for veteran suicide, a largely unknown issue among non-military citizens, but a significant problem nonetheless.
Everyday the United States loses, on average, 22 veterans across all war eras to suicide.
“Most people I meet are amazed by the trip, and more so when I tell them I have no biking experience, but most of all they’re inspired by the cause,” Jarrett said. “People just don’t know about veteran suicide.
“It’s been amazing because people will tell me, ‘my nephew was in the military’ or ‘a good friend was in the military and I haven’t spoken to them in a while. Maybe I should give them a call.’”
On Wednesday the Colorado native rolled through Frisco on what’s been a temporary homecoming. Although he’s received great feedback from veterans and everyday residents, the ride has presented some challenges — namely the weather.
Jarrett was in eastern Kentucky a few weeks ago when tornadoes began ripping through the Midwest. He battled high crosswinds, rain and hail nearly all the way through Kansas.
“I didn’t find myself in the path of any tornadoes, but it definitely felt like I was dodging them because I was riding through the same cells,” he said. “That’s been the toughest part, jumping on a bike knowing it’s not only a long distance to the next town, but seeing a storm looming on the horizon. It caused a lot of stress.”
But at the end of the day Jarrett said the weather can only dampen a man’s spirits to a point.
In addition to the changing people’s perspectives about veteran health or inspiring those he meets to reach out to their service friends and family members, Jarrett said he’s getting a surprising amount of satisfaction out of the ride — a special kind of peaceful serenity only those who have experienced a long-distance trek can understand.
“One of the high points has been seeing this country, and I’ve seen a lot of it before, just never from a bike,” he said. “It’s a little surprising, but I’m really enjoying being on the road by myself, staying in the moment, figuring things out as I go and just rolling with it.”
To follow Jarrett the rest of the way to Astoria, Ore., like his Facebook page Transamerica Ride for Life.