by Charles J. March III / January 3rd, 2021
The somewhat mind-expanding origins of this story started on April 19th, otherwise known as “Bicycle Day.” It was on that date in 1943 when Albert Hoffman first discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD and, this year—the year of perfect vision—is when my roommate, Paul, discovered an ad by a philanthropic-based bike shop in San Juan Capistrano, CA, called Buy My Bikes, which is owned and operated by a friendly hippie named Jim. Once he saw it, he had an epiphany on how he could best help hundreds of people, including his family, friends, coworkers, and “clients” (patients) of the addiction/mental health treatment facility he started a handful of years ago called A Better Life Recovery, where I’ve been an employee since the early days of its inception. He figured buying a myriad of bikes for as many people as possible to get out and enjoy the great outdoors in this current quarantine culture was the best thing he could do—and it’s exactly what he did.
Paul decided to start this quasi-biker gang after seeing the impact that COVID-19 was having on our clients. Many of them were getting overly stir-crazy and, sadly, some of them began leaving against medical advice.
Most of them come to us under paranoid, hostile, suicidal, etc., circumstances as it is, and lockdown has only been exacerbating these presentations to an exponential degree. Traditionally, we regularly take the clients to the beach for experiential therapy purposes: fresh air, vitamin D, exercise, etc., but due to Orange County’s beaches being closed, opened, and closed again, Paul knew that was out of the question (especially due to the droves of non-social distancing people that showed up during the heatwave a couple weeks ago). Rather than work himself into a tizzy and protest with the rest of the disgruntled residents, he decided to take the road(s) less traveled: those being the local bike paths, horse trails, creek beds, mountain ridges, and other such bike conducive byways.
I saw him in his hyper-focused element a few weeks ago in his room on Google Maps, printing out and plotting all kinds possible courses to take in the area. It was like watching Einstein draw up equations on a blackboard in a military command and control tower.
Even after living and working in the area myself for the last five years, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised at the glorious mini-ecosystems and such that we’ve been discovering on our excursions the last few weeks. The flora and fauna are absolutely breathtaking. The smell of the flowers, the sound of birds chirping, the feel of the sun, dirt, sand and aqua on our skin all work to create an ongoing visceral experience of nature as we pass from one tucked away community microcosm to the next. Needless to say, the overall effect has been tremendous for the mental health of all involved, especially for the clients, many of whom have never been to California. One of them said the other day with wonder while gazing about during a water break, “I can’t believe this is where I live now. I didn’t realize there was so much more to life than where and how I was living. ”
It’s also been awesome to see all the graffiti and outsider art installations and such along the way that have been obscured by time and dilapidation. The clients have been getting really inspired by it, and we’ve commenced to do our own impromptu art therapy projects as we go.
The clients have been so moved by Paul’s MC efforts that they have started referring to him as “General,” especially in regards to when he leads the charge through streams. Their growing confidence is palpable every time they plunge through another torrent, laughing and splashing as they go with child-like joy and abandon.
And it’s not just the bike adventure blessings that Paul has recently been bestowing upon the community…
We are very fortunate to live on a property that is owned by a botanical-garden business woman who went full Johnny Appleseed status a number of years ago by planting umpteen amounts of fruit trees, which left us with an ever producing selection of backyard produce. We usually donate the excess to Second Harvest Food Bank, but since they’re not taking individual donations right now due to COVID-19, we’ve had to improvise, adapt, and overcome in regards to alternative distribution methods.
The other day, Paul barged into my room with what was basically a fruit picker basket pole battering ram and said, “C’mon, give me a hand. There are people to feed.”
Besides giving the fruit to anyone we figure may be in need in the community, we load up bushels of it to take on our caravans and hand them out to any passerby we can (while taking the best possible precautions, of course), including the many mom & pop Mexican immigrant and Native American farms along the way to help further the community distribution. We also go to goat yoga pens and such to feed man and beast alike, to foster a happy-go-lucky pseudo-petting zoo experience, however we can. Paul makes sure to give each person on the journey an equal amount of fruit, so we can all have the experience of feeling like we’re giving back and making a difference.
This is all in-line with his original divine inspiration start-up mission he had years ago before establishing the rehab. There were many obstacles along the way, and for a while it seemed like his calling to help others via his education and personal experience of overcoming addiction might not come to fruition, but his desire to serve never wavered, and he’s since helped thousands of people from all over the country to resume or begin happy and healthy lives, myself included.
P.S. Paul has had an especially open-door policy as of late, offering asylum under “scholarship” circumstances to anyone who might need it, regardless of their financial/insurance situation, because—everyone deserves a better life.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.