Three books and a bike: Cancer survivor sells everything to cycle across the country

Daniel Gottliebson reacts to a passerby asking about his wooden necklace, which doubles as a fire-starting survival tool. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Over the course of his 57 years, Daniel Gottliebson has survived a suicide attempt at age 17, aggressive late-stage smooth muscle cancer, a direct collision with a F-150 truck at age 40, and 31 years of former alcoholism.

Gottliebson, who can often be found reading at Jobot Coffee and Diner until closing, now plans to spend over one year on the road after selling everything he owns down to the bones of survival and three books.

His new motto is “Live Free and Have Fun,” and he feels bicycle tours take him there.

“A bike allows you to experience things on a 100 percent emotional level,” Gottliebson said. “You feel the wind, you smell the air, you can smell the rain coming in before it comes … and you come to realize that you’re awake. You see things as they are.”

The books he plans to bring with him are “Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers” by Leonard Koren, “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner, Lester R. Brown, and James Hillman, and “Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival” by Dave Canterbury.

This isn’t the first time Gottliebson has embarked on a long-term biking trip. In May of 2016, he traveled from Arizona to Missoula, Montana, down the Oregon coast, and through part of California, spending about three months on his bike. As soon as “the universe lets (him),” Gottliebson will set off on his second trip. He has planned for a year on the road, but he feels it will probably be longer.

Biking is a relatively new lifestyle for Gottliebson, and it took a long series of trials for him to reach it.

Daniel Gottliebson's left arm shows the scar from aggressive late-stage smooth muscle cancer. (Nicole Neri/DD)
Daniel Gottliebson’s left arm shows the scar from aggressive late-stage smooth muscle cancer. (Nicole Neri/DD)

“I shouldn’t’ve woken up in that hospital. I shouldn’t’ve survived the cancer. No way should I have survived that car smacking into me. There’s just so many things that have kept me around. I’ve always felt like there’s a reason and a purpose,” said Gottliebson, “Now I don’t want to ever go through life thinking ‘what if I would’ve done this?’”

Thomas Tomczyk, owner of Tempe bicycle shop The Bicycle Cellar, sponsors Gottliebson’s nomadic adventures. He said that Gottliebson has visited his shop for at least the past three years.

“He really wasn’t a bicyclist when he came in,” said Tomczyk. “He had just gotten a cheap, beat-up old road bike that was way too big for him and didn’t know anything about bikes, he became a bicyclist, a whole transformation. You really don’t see that a lot.”

Gottliebson was inspired to cycle across the country by Erick Cedeño, owner of Bicycle Nomad coffee shop, who has collectively spent over nine years on bike tours. Cedeño said his social media has inspired several people to take up the bicycle nomad lifestyle.

“I know what it has done for me, for my life, how it has changed me to travel around the country by bicycle, so if some other people can benefit from that, I’m all for it, you know?” said Cedeño. “It’s difficult to travel by bike…but there’s a lot of beauty.”

Daniel Gottliebson wears a bracelet of skulls carved from ox bone, a traditional Buddhist reminder that we all must face death. (Nicole Neri/DD)
Daniel Gottliebson wears a bracelet of skulls carved from ox bone, a traditional Buddhist reminder that we all must face death. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Gottliebson, Cedeño and Tomczyk all stressed freedom and the experience of the mountains. Gottliebson said that when he reached the top of every mountain on the Grand Canyon Connector Route, “It’s like a big gateway to total freedom.”

At the top of one of the peaks on this route, Gottliebson said he finally realized that “I was living free again.”

Gottliebson stressed he always takes what he is given, a lesson that he learned from his years working as a gardener at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix and from his zen teachers.

“When you go to your grave and you die, you’re not just being laid down into the ground, but the ghosts of all your dreams and and all your aspirations in your life are going to confront you and say something simple like “why did you let us die?” Gottliebson said. “I never want that to happen.”

As soon as he can, Gottliebson plans to leave, with no set plan and no set return date, on his new bike named Stewball after the Peter, Paul and Mary song (“Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine/ He never drank water, he always drank wine.”)

Daniel Gottliebson rides away from Roosevelt Row. (Nicole Neri/DD)
Daniel Gottliebson rides away from Roosevelt Row. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Sometime after May 28, over the course of his upcoming journey, Gottliebson will stop by his parents’ graves in Missouri to drop off his nine-year Alcoholics Anonymous chip, as a way to thank them for raising him.

Gottliebson said that on the road, “you start discovering the greatest gift this country has. It’s us, it’s the people. The gratitude that I’ve learned the universe has for you is overwhelming, it’s incredible.”

His journey can be followed on Facebook, his website, and Instagram.

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  1. AS Daniel’s roommate, or whatever you call our living arrangement. I often want to kill him him! But I would not trade him for the world. What I see is a motivation to inspire a person to start living. Quote for today:
    We don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply. Live Free have fun