FARMINGTON — Former Farmington resident John Padoven has seen the United States and its people like few have — on a bike.
From May to September 2012, he traveled 4,400 miles from Neah Bay, Wash., to Key West, Fla., eight years after suffering a stroke that left him struggling to speak or write.
The trip began as a personal challenge. The mission: complete a solo bike ride cutting a diagonal across the nation from north-west to south-east while sleeping in a one person tent along the way.
It rained until the earth soaked through during those first days of May, he said. The shadow of rain clung to the hills, to the gnarled, mossy forest, to his skin, and Padoven found himself picking mushrooms in a marsh on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
The day had not started well. A flat tire cost him precious time and the drizzle was not letting up. He stopped to rest at the side of the road when a car sped past, skidded to a stop and raced back. An elderly Hungarian woman stepped out. Soon he found himself helping her gather mushrooms.
Padoven, 66, cherished experiences like that as he made his way across the west.
“Everywhere I went, people always smiled,” he said. “They always wished me well.”
By late May, he reached Montana and a frozen spring.
“I left Bozeman behind early this morning ... I encountered high winds and continued snow,” he said in a May 26 journal entry. “My toes and fingers were so frozen I couldn’t feel them. Springtime in Montana.”
Although the journey began as a personal challenge, it soon took on a far greater meaning. He started off wanting to see the county and ended up reclaiming himself.
“My days run together, Saturday or Sunday I don’t seem to care,” he wrote on June 3. “Truth be told I’m not really interested in days anymore, they all seem to flow together endlessly, one no more or less important than the other. What I see and do has taken precedence over time.”
Progress was steady until he reached St. Louis on July 3.
“It was so hot I had to stop,” he said. “Missouri got hit hard by the drought. All the crops were dead in the fields.”
He headed back to Santa Fe for a month and a half to ride out the heat.
Padoven’s journey began after he suffered a stroke in 2004 while living in Shanghai, China.
“It wasn’t minor,” he said. “I had to relearn how to speak and write. After the stroke, I noticed that everyone was treating me with kid gloves.”
In 2006, Padoven retired to Santa Fe with his wife, Kara.
“I had a lot of time on my hands, and I decided I wanted to do something,” he said. “(Sitting around) wasn’t the way I wanted to end my life.”
Although he lives in Santa Fe, John Padoven’s youth was spent in San Juan County. He was born in Leadville, Colo. His family moved to Farmington in 1957 and he graduated from Farmington High School in 1964.
“Everybody came from somewhere else,” John Padoven said. “Those were the boom years of the oil and gas industry in the 50s and 60s. Everything was new. Farmington in those days was almost like ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ I can’t think of another town I’d rather have grown up in.”
John Padoven attended school with Franklin Roberts, Mayor Tommy Roberts’ older brother. His little league baseball coach was Les Roberts, the mayor’s father.
“John was a pretty good athlete,” Tommy Roberts said. “He was always a doer and a leader.”
John Padoven’s athleticism has not diminished with age. After months of pedaling through long hours of solitude, John Padoven finally reached Key West on Sept. 26, his 66th birthday.
The sun rose over the quiet Atlantic and John Padoven could only think of what adventure would come next.