"It's not dying I'm talking about, it's living."
-- Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove
These are the words that inspired Parkdale resident Gary Spaulding as he set out on his bicycle last April, attempting to ride from Brownsville, Texas, along the Mexican border, to Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana -- a total of 3,123 miles in four months.
Even before he had his colon removed in 1994, Spaulding had dreamed of following the Western Cattle Trail he read about in Larry McMurtry's timeless novel, Lonesome Dove. It wasn't until after the operation that he decided it was something he must do.
"I did it as a tribute to all the people who supported me throughout my ordeal," he said. "Plus, I wanted to see if I had enough moxie to finish another long journey."
Spaulding, 48, is no stranger to long, grueling bike rides. He rode around the world in 1989 and like another American cycling hero -- Lance Armstrong, who recently won his third straight Tour de France -- Spaulding wasn't going to let a nagging health condition prevent him from realizing his dreams.
The degenerative condition is ulcerative colitis -- the same disorder that recently ended the football career of Arizona Cardinals tight end Chris Gedney -- which weakens the entire digestive system and usually requires colon removal.
Spaulding has proven that one can live without a colon, but its absence also means his body can't absorb moisture. Water in typically means water out.
He battled heat exhaustion and dehydration the entire journey as he slogged his way through the Texas heat, riding as much as 80 miles a day.
"I thought about quitting a couple times," he said. "The heat was almost unbearable, but I was driven by what I read about in Lonesome Dove. That book is my bible."
Spaulding was determined to see for himself the many rivers, railroads and historical landmarks described in the novel. He also wanted to find out if this adventurous tale of grit and courage was merely a legend or based in truth.
Much to his surprise, McMurtÿry was spot on in his description of the Western Cattle Trail, and Spaulding couldn't have been more pleased. He witnessed every railroad depot, slaughterhouse and saloon described in the novel.
"This was by far the best experience of my life," he said. "It was more work than fun, but this trip gave me closure. Now I can put my adventurous nature to rest with no regrets.
"When I'm on my death bed, I'll look back on this with a true sense of accomplishment."
To Gary Spaulding, his epic cycling journey from Texas to Montana was just another chapter in a long list of life triumphs.
To the rest of us, the monumental achievement of living a life dream is a true inspiration.