A Springfield resident and recovering addict recently completed a 3,300-mile bicycle ride across the United States to raise awareness about drug overdoses and addiction.
Tim Derr, 51, began his journey along the bay of the Atlantic Ocean in Baltimore on Aug. 8. A little more than three months later, Derr dove into the ocean at the Santa Monica Pier in California on Nov. 16. Along the way, Derr would stop in different towns, attend recovery meetings and encourage others by telling his sobriety, he said.
“It was one of the most amazing and spiritually fulfilling things I’ve ever done in my whole life,” Derr said.
Derr spent 27 years in prison in both Ohio and California for various offenses, he said. He was released from prison in March of 2013 and immediately came back to Springfield.
He had been clean for six years, but when he returned to Springfield, he started drinking and using drugs again, he said.
“I went back to what was familiar and I didn’t understand I was an addict,” he said.
In December of 2014, Derr hit rock bottom when he found himself sleeping in his car. On Jan. 1, 2015, Derr began treatment at McKinley Hall and has been sober ever since. He’ll celebrate three years of sobriety on Monday, he said.
“Recovery gave me absolute absolute freedom back,” he said. “I just wanted to give back to the recovery community.”
He began raising money for a cross country ride earlier this year, where he purchased his bike, Betty. Multiple local businesses also donated items for a fundraiser, he said. He rode 20 to 30 miles per day in preparation, but wasn’t prepared for the West Virginia mountains, he said.
“They were brutal,” Derr said. “They were very unforgiving.”
Initially, Derr wanted to follow a rigid schedule, but decided it was more about the journey than the destination, he said.
“In trying to keep with that, I was really going to miss out on the journey itself,” Derr said.
He connected with hundreds of people, he said, including one man in Winchester, Va., who he stayed with for a week. While there, the man asked him to connect with another man also staying there who had recently gotten out of prison and was struggling with his recovery.
“His words were, ‘He needs some of the juice you got, some of that freedom and peace’,” Derr said.
The man is now celebrating five months clean, Derr said. He was able to stay connected through Facebook.
“It was awesome to see him get it, so to speak,” he said.
Derr doubled his Facebook friends from about 2,200 before the trip to about 4,400 friends afterwards, he said. The total journey was about 2,700 miles, but he rode an extra 600 miles in towns and cities across America.
“My legs are in awesome shape,” Derr said. “It hurts to even look (at my bike) sometimes.”
One of the greatest things about the ride was that he was able to accept who he was, including his faults, he said.
“I spent so many years of my life being unkind,” Derr said. “Violence was a huge part of my life. I just don’t have room in my heart today to be unkind, to not be understanding and empathetic to people who are struggling.”
While he was on the ride, Derr lost close friends to the opioid crisis, he said.
“It takes people losing people close to them to hit their bottom,” Derr said. “Everyone has to hit a bottom before they can climb their way out of it. … It gives me more incentive to want to give back and try to help people. All I can do is carry a message and tell my story and hopefully someone can learn from that.”
Derr is going to dedicate his life to nutrition, exercise and mentorship for people in recovery, he said. He plans to begin working with the Families of Addicts group in Springfield to work with other recovering addicts in the community.
“(Nutrition and exercise) has been an essential part of my recovery,” Derr said. “To be able to mentor others and feel I’m worthy of that today, it’s really big. I want to help in any way that I can.”
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and drug problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.