On the Road with the Cavalry!

The Cavalry is a group of AA members from California, England, Florida, Oklahoma, Washington, and other places who have traveled the world, for fun and for free, to share their enthusiasm for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Over the past several years, we’ve gone to meetings and conferences in places ranging from London, England to California’s Soledad State Prison. We’ve even been able to start a few things along the way.

One of the best parts of all this has been that it shows anyone can do it, regardless of how long you’ve been sober or where you live.

Whether it’s getting people together to travel to a meeting or finding enthusiastic speakers to come to a conference, all it takes is some desperation and enthusiasm. As we sometimes say, “The only requirement is to get in the car!”

Here are some of the things we’ve been up to:

The Adventure Group

The Adventure Group is where every Monday night, several of us from the San Francisco Bay Area go to a randomly selected meeting within 120 miles. It’s something you can do anywhere.

Since we started more than seven years ago, we’ve been everywhere from Pacific Grove, which is near California’s coast, to Sacramento, which is in the state’s Central Valley. We’ve often been greeted with cheerful disbelief that people have been willing to come so far for an AA meeting.

It all started in January 2009, when several of us went to a conference in Redding, California, where we saw our friend Ben W., from Oklahoma City. Ben told us about something he’d started in Oklahoma called the Adventure Group. We thought it sounded like a fun way to do more in AA, so we decided to do it in the Bay Area. Each Monday night, we get to have the experience of sharing our enthusiasm and getting more relief the more we inconvenience ourselves.

Many people have asked us, “How do you decide which meetings you’re going to?” The answer is simple: We don’t decide. Instead, the names and locations of all the meetings within 120 miles of us are on small slips of paper that we keep in a bag. Each Monday night, whoever we meet that has the least amount of time sober grabs a piece of paper from the bag. Whatever is on that piece of paper is the meeting we go to the next week.

We have a Google group site – groups.google.com/group/adventuregroupaa – where we post the meeting each week. People can sign up on the website and get one email each week that tells them where we’re going next.

We’re always looking for new people to join us. We even go to people’s houses to pick them up.

Over the years, we’ve been to some meetings with rooms full of people, as well as some that have just been a handful of AA members sitting around a table. We’ve had as many as 34 people travel with us, and new Adventure Groups have even sprung up.

Holiday group

Each major holiday, we take a meeting in to a homeless shelter in San Jose, California. The format is simple: We say the serenity prayer, then open up the meeting for an hour of sharing.

The meetings are open to everyone, and it’s been a great way to carry the message to people who often have no place to go on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays. The same format has also been used at detox centers and homeless shelters in cities like Stockton, California, and Atlanta, Georgia.

Conferences

In February 2010, we held the Gratitude in Action conference in San Francisco. The one-day gathering included a Big Book meeting, a 4th step workshop, and speakers. Over the years, the conferences have expanded to three days, but the simple format has remained. We invite enthusiastic speakers from local groups as well as other cities, have meetings where we pick something out of the Big Book to discuss, and hold 4th step workshops where a facilitator shows people how to do an inventory, just like it’s laid out in the Big Book.

Like the Adventure Group, putting together a conference is something anyone can do. We’ve put on the Honesdale Happening in Honesdale, Pennsylvania in October 2012; the Frontline on the Fourth conference in Portland, Oregon and the Uncommon Sense conference in San Jose, California in July 2014; and the Make it Happen conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida in April 2016.  We even trekked to Los Angeles for a day in February 2014 when one of us was asked to speak at an hour-long speaker/discussion meeting there.

All of these experiences helped lead to AA history being made: having a three-day AA conference inside the walls of a state prison.

 From Oklahoma to Soledad

In December 2013, many of us went to Oklahoma City to help Ben celebrate his birthday. At the end of the trip, he said, “Let’s do something that’s impossible!” We immediately got to work starting a conference in a city where none of us had never been, and where we knew no one. Gallup, New Mexico, which is just about half way between California and Oklahoma, was selected as the spot.

A few months later, in October 2014, the first-ever Gallup Gathering was launched. We didn’t know it before our first trip to Gallup, but the city is known as “Drunktown U.S.A.” People there were dying from this disease, but there was little help for them. It quickly became clear how important it was to make ourselves available to help other alcoholics and show other people how to continue carrying the message.

One of our members who attended the Gallup Gathering is from London, England. The excitement for AA he saw at the Gallup conference sparked him to do more, and he started the London Calling conference in October 2015.

And that helped serve as a new chapter for people involved with AA in Soledad State Prison.  

A couple of the people who’d gone to Gallup, London, and many of the other trips have a hospitals and institutions commitment in Soledad, and they shared their experiences from those journeys with the prison’s inmates.

One of the inmates told them he wanted to start a conference in the prison.

No one had ever heard of such a thing before, and immediately, people began telling him it couldn’t be done.

But in January 2016, 200 inmates and 21 outsiders came together at the prison for three days of meetings and speakers, and a 4th step workshop. Many inmates who’ve been incarcerated for years told us that they forgot they were inside the walls of a prison.

For at least one inmate, the Soledad conference was his first experience with AA. He encouraged others to organize similar gatherings.

You don’t know who you might get “to come out of their comfort zone to pursue their sobriety,” he told us. “That’s what it’s doing to me right now. I’m hooked. I want this.”

The conference generated a lot of enthusiasm inside Soledad, and new meetings have started. One example is the Sunday night Big Book study, where more than 50 inmates gather every week. There have also been several 12-step workshops, including one in Spanish, and more are planned.

In January 2017, we had the second annual AA conference inside Soledad, and planning for the 2018 conference is underway!

The inmates even created a newsletter called “The Point Is…” so they could share message even more.

The Road to Detroit

Several of us have traveled to the international AA conferences held every five years, including the 2010 convention in San Antonio, Texas and the 2015 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

What it feels like to get together with 60,000 other alcoholics from around the world is something that’s hard to describe, so it’s an experience that we’re encouraging other people – newcomers and oldtimers alike – to have themselves and bring others along.

The trip to Atlanta helped inspire the Road to Detroit. We want to build enthusiasm and attendance for the 2020 international convention in Detroit, Michigan, so each year leading up to that, there’s going to be a conference in a different city.

People’s response to the first conference – held in July 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana – was incredible. More than 225 people came for enthusiastic speakers from around the country, meetings, and a 4th step workshop. After the conference, we were able to make a contribution to New Orleans Central Office and supply seed money for the 2017 conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the next stop on the Road to Detroit.

After Oklahoma City, we’ll be heading to St. Louis, Missouri, in 2018; Akron, Ohio, in 2019; and Detroit in 2020.

Whether it’s at a meeting down the street or somewhere on the way to Detroit, we hope to see you as we trudge the road! We’re happy to help however we can. Contact us at roadtodetroit2020@gmail.com any time.