BOSTON (CBS) – Connor O’Reilly has been a cyclist for a long time. He has biked for fun, for exercise, and as a means of transportation when his addictions cost him his driver’s license.
Right now, he is biking to prove that when he stops putting limits on himself, and steps outside his comfort zone, he can achieve almost anything.
He is also biking for a cause he believes in.
O’Reilly is cycling across the country—from Falmouth, Massachusetts to Santa Monica, California—to raise money for WellStrong Fitness & Wellness Center. Its mission is to create sober, active communities for people recovering from addiction.
He has embarked on the cross-country adventure alone.
There is no support van trailing him over the span of 4500 miles; no “pit crew” fixing flat tires and providing food and water.
He is traveling with everything he needs on his bicycle. The challenge is both daunting and exhilarating.
“It’s been a leap of faith for me to take this on—to put my life aside back home and…take a big leap of faith to do this,” said O’Reilly. “I’ve just proven to myself that in putting one foot in front of the other, everything falls into place if you are trying to do the right thing. There are so many parallels to early recovery.”
He cites the kindness of strangers—like the physical therapist who gave him a collapsible foam roller for stretching in Amarillo, Texas—as a blessing that has become a hallmark of the journey.”
O’Reilly loves to travel.
“As a gift of recovery, I’ve been able to travel to different places around the world. In doing that, it’s enriched my recovery,” he explained from his campsite in New Mexico.
His wanderlust during the pandemic and the inability to travel out of the country sparked the idea to ride from coast-to-coast.
The inspiration for the journey, he says, came from an experience he had in Egypt. He met two men who rode their bikes across Europe before flying to Egypt and embarking on a bike trip to Nairobi, Kenya.
O’Reilly began researching cross-country bike trips on YouTube. And after repeatedly seeing the same bicycle—outfitted with saddlebags for traveling—in the produce section of a grocery store, he bought a bike online and committed to the trip.
Then, he considered how to make it even more meaningful.
“How could I do this for more than myself? How could I raise some money?” O’Reilly asked himself. “I put it out on the internet, and, 24 hours later, WellStrong reached out to me. Two and a half weeks later, I was on my way.”
O’Reilly pulled away from WellStrong and a crowd of cheering supporters on September 1. He smiles when he describes the sense of community he feels.
“The support from WellStrong, the people who have reached out to me on social media and the people I’ve met, without their support I don’t think I would have been able to get through the obstacles I have overcome so far.”
He also marked a proud milestone on the road—five years of recovery. He celebrated via Facebook Live with the WellStrong community. A sobriety coin was shipped out to him and he received letters and small gifts.
“That was pretty cool,” he says, smiling.
O’Reilly’s ride is dedicated to power and potential of living sober.
The biggest “wildcard” on the trip is the weather. Biking an average of 65 miles a day, he has pedaled through 25 mph headwinds, extreme cold, and back pain. He says he has doubted himself many times but, not unlike his early days of sobriety, he says he has faced scary, uncomfortable situations on the road and grown more comfortable over time.
His message to other people who are wrestling with their own challenges?
“You can not only survive through hard times in life, but you can actually thrive,” said O’Reilly. “And after recovering from whatever you recover from…you can do extraordinary things.”
Among O’Reilly’s favorite spots so far are New Mexico, the rolling hills of Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri and Joplin, Missouri, where he picked up Route 66.
He will stop riding where the iconic route ends.
He plans to celebrate by jumping into the Pacific Ocean at the Santa Monica Pier sometime between November 14-22.