AUSTIN — He’s had a soda can thrown at him, a logging truck try to run him off the road and a man warning him he might get shot if he rode his bike at night in the town of Sanderson, about 280 miles west of Austin.
Matthew Jarrett, a 31-year-old Iraqi war veteran, survived the perils of cross-country biking and made it to Austin last month as part of a tour to raise awareness about suicide in the military. The Colorado native, who had never pedaled a bike 10 miles before starting his tour April 19 in Yorktown, Va., has now ridden more than 8,000 miles in 14 states.
“I’m not raising money. I’m just trying to spread a message,” Jarrett said while sitting at an Austin Whole Foods store on a sunny December day.
“Twenty-two veterans commit suicide daily,” he continued. “That makes me feel disturbed and uncomfortable and we need to be doing something about it.”
He said veterans who return from war can take years to readjust to civilian life. Jarrett, a U.S. Army veteran, declined to discuss whether he had trouble readjusting after he served in Iraq in 2003-04.
A Department of Veterans Affairs study found that about 8,000 veterans killed themselves in 2010, an average of 22 veterans per day. A separate review by the Austin American-Statesman in 2012 identified 266 Texas veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who died after coming home; 1 in 6 died from suicide.
Throughout his journey, Jarrett said, he has talked to people in convenience stores and coffee shops. Some people have walked away saying they intend to call and check on a veteran they know, Jarrett said. He said he tries to keep the conversations from getting too heavy.
“I’m riding across the U.S. to support life,” he said.
Jarrett said for every bad experience he’s had while riding, such as drivers throwing soda cans at him, he’s had three times as many good experiences, including meeting Austin bicycle riders Jim Hinkel and Brian Rawson in Arizona. The riders met in September when they all pulled up to the same McDonald’s in Three Way, Ariz.
Hinkel and Rawson were riding West and Jarrett was riding East, but they had a brief conversation in which Hinkel invited Jarrett to stay with him when he reached Austin. “We just clicked,” said Hinkel. “He had a sense of humor and a good attitude and was level-headed.”
Jarrett said one of the most enjoyable parts of his bike ride through Texas was in the alpine country from Van Horn to Del Rio.
“People had told me West Texas was a barren wasteland, but I had the opposite experience. I loved its wild feeling and that there were 70 miles between towns,” he said.
Jarrett said his ride will end in St. Augustine, Fla., at the end of January. His Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/vetrideforlife.