SOUTHERN UTAH – Gary Madison Mark was born in Vancouver, Washington, and has lived many places – but now, the open road is his home.
“I just really enjoy traveling,” Mark said. “I just meet some of the greatest people.”
To watch videocast, click play arrow in center of image at top of this story
Mark, 60 years old and a Vietnam-era veteran, is currently on a bicycle ride across the United States. Friday, he was heading up state Route 59 in Washington County on a bicycle he purchased from Wal-Mart – equipped with a few upgrades he’s added over time. The bike is packed with Mark’s gear and decorated with signs that read “Riding for Jesus” and “I am a witness for Jesus. The name above all names. Jesus is Lord. Donations accepted.”
Mark, who classifies himself as a nondenominational Christian, said he began living life on a bike three years ago, driven to the open road by some personal tragedies.
“I couldn’t talk about it or even think about it for a long time,” he said. “It was very emotional for me.”
During one year, Mark said, his youngest brother died and then his wife and daughter were killed in an accident.
“When you start losing all your family, you wonder how come you keep surviving,” he said.
Chewing up the miles in an outward display of his Christian faith is one way Mark has dealt with the pain of loss.
Mark’s religious outlook is simple. He said he feels God has good people everywhere and blesses them all. He said he’s met wonderful people of all faiths during his travels.
“I think most of the people I run into feel the same way. Everyone has some basic faith,” he said.
In addition to outwardly displaying his beliefs, Mark’s current journey – planned to eventually carry him to the Carolinas and the East Coast, he said – is an exploration of places he and his wife once traveled together as well as an investigation into his roots.
“I decided just to check out where my family came from,” he said.
“I’m kinda living a simple life like a lot of the pioneers did,” he added.
Mark said his parents, who are divorced but still living, have lived in areas of Southern Utah and northern Arizona, where he’s currently traveling. At one point, his mother lived in Kanab, he said.
Good people have helped him all along his two-wheeled journey, Mark said. Thursday night, a couple in the St. George area gave him some elk meat, which he cooked up for breakfast Friday morning. Some women recently hooked him up with an ice cream sundae from Dairy Queen, he said, and two kids in a St. George park approached him to ask if he needed food. He was even offered a ride by some Arizona officials.
Mark said he was spared the hazard of pedaling through the Virgin River Gorge when workers from the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Department of Public Safety stopped to give him a ride, telling him the Gorge was too dangerous to pedal a bike through.
“They let me out right there where the new parkway goes over to River Road (in St. George),” Mark said.
Mark, who has a disc disease, said the bike travel is not only nourishing for the soul but seems to be good for his back, as well.
“I’m in extremely good health, and I think I’m getting healthier and stronger as I travel,” he said.
In addition to gaining treasures of wellness on the open road, Mark also collects lost treasures on the side of the road as he rolls along. He said he’s found things like tools, jewelry, clothing; he even found a woman’s Rolex watch once. He’s been able to pawn some of the items to help fund his continuous journey.
Mark said one of his favorite aspects of traveling is encouraging others. He said he routinely gives people a thumbs-up as he passes by.
“I am an optimist,” he said. “I think that Americans are really blessed, and they should appreciate their families and the freedoms that they have.”
As he keeps on trucking – or, in his case, biking – Mark said he’s taking his time, being safe and enjoying the journey.
“I give way to the traffic,” he said. “I’m not in a big hurry.”
He said his mom, who lives in the Phoenix area now, worries about him as he’s out on the road, but this faithful traveler said he’s not concerned for his safety.
“The Lord takes care of me,” he said. “I really believe that.”
Videocast by St. George News videographer Leanna Bergeron.
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