When I’ve told people of my intent, and now once I’m underway, reactions tend to fall into two camps: either “Cool! What a great adventure!” or “Huh? I can’t even imagine….”
Friend Baz insists that I need to articulate the why. I’ve been thinking about this not only for the past few years but now, more clearly, as I ride along country roads all to myself. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
1. To be outdoors. I’m an outdoor person who was trapped in more than 40 years of office work! I need to spend more time outside, rain or shine.
2. To have a significant physical challenge. I’m not one to sit on the sofa watching soap operas (reading a book, maybe, but I digress). I need to be active, and I seek challenging outdoor experiences – not extreme or dangerous exploits, but ones that give me good exercise and keep me healthy. Ambitious yet achievable. I would die on a cruise ship.
3. Go big or go home. If you’re going to challenge yourself, it is better to propose a significant hurdle, not something too tame. It’s better to set an aspirational goal that is hard to achieve as opposed to being too meek. My opinion, anyway.
4. To explore our environment(s). Nothing like a bicycle to appreciate the subtleties of terrain! Especially loaded down like I am, every slight up-slope seeks a down-shift, and every down enjoys a chance to coast. Riding in a car, one doesn’t sense this at all. And at this pace, I can appreciate all the local habitats as I ride along. Which is important to my desire to explore the ecosystems across this great continent.
5. To be IN our environment. Again, there is nothing like a bicycle (or hiking) to experience the weather in intimate detail! We tend to be too removed from our day-to-day environment outside of our insular homes/cars/buildings. Doing a long trip in the outdoors exposes you to all the elements all the time. Sometimes harsh, occasionally pleasant, this is a true experience of what’s going on around us!
6. To explore at the right pace. Cars drive too fast to appreciate the subtleties of what’s around. Walking is O.K.for short distances and even long, such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail, but is slow across country. A bicycle is the right balance: faster than walking, yet slow enough to enjoy the moment and appreciate every turn and new vista, to say “good morning ” to locals, as well as to appreciate the immensity of this continent.
7. To listen and observe as I go along. As part of pace, I hope to employ my listening skills, as well as what I see from the handlebars, to pay attention to the birds and other wildlife I’m briefly communing with as I travel. I’ve been a birder since I was nine-years-old, so this part of the trip is part of my DNA. I’m keeping a list of what I see and hear on a separate page.
8. To create a defined transition. I retired on April 22, 2016, after more than 40 years of continuous work. I hope to use this journey to help in my transition to the next chapter in my life. I’ve got lots of time ahead, alone, to think about “what next?”
9. To fulfill a bucket list item. When I was fighting colon cancer six years ago, including six months of chemo, I dreamed of this trip as part of “what I would do if I live to do it.” I’m not much for bucket lists as a check-off approach, but I’m totally O.K. with using bucket lists as a way to organize one’s priorities regarding potential experiences. It’s the experience, after all, not the “check off” of the item from the list, that is important to me. I’ve launched on this adventure with an aspirational goal to reach the far edge of Maine. If I don’t make it for whatever reason, is that a failure? Absolutely not: I will enjoy all of the experiences along the way, as far as I get. That is what life is all about: sure, set goals and try to achieve them, but, more importantly, appreciate the value of the experience along the way in case you don’t get to the top.
10. To give Mary Sue some space. I retired early (at age 63) because I want to do this kind of physical exertion while my body is still able, especially after surviving cancer. My very supportive spouse, Mary Sue, is still working, for at least another year. It might be useful to give her some space at the houseboat without me smiling too much and wondering what I’m going to do the next day! (BTW, Mary Sue does a lot of bicycling including week-long, 500-mile trips, but she says that is her limit, that she is not interested in the long haul of a full cross-country trip. I wouldn’t want to impose it on her if she wasn’t interested – one has to want to do this kind of crazy trip, not get dragged along!)
11. To have time to meditate. The cadence of the peddles along a rural country road allows me to fall into deep meditation. For hours at a time. This solo trip is a chance to reflect, to be in the moment, and to lower my stress level significantly. It is good karma for me. As an introvert and someone comfortable in my own skin, I’m totally O.K. spending days by myself, listening to my own internal commentary and not worried about a lack of conversation. That doesn’t mean that external contacts are not important, only the balance and the fact that I will appreciate them more over distance.
12. To provide a ‘NAMASTE’ moment of good karma whenever I can. If I can contribute to positive interactions among us, all the better. Especially when away from my immediate cluster of friends and acquaintances. It’s the positive, “hi, how-ya-doing?” moments along the way among folks who would not normally be interacting that are important.
13. To seek America. Bernie Sanders stole one of my favorite Simon and Garfunkle songs, “Search for America.” I hear it in my head as I cycle along, and hope that my journey will give me sufficient interactions with folks to reaffirm my faith in America. I have already experienced the goodness of folks, including encouragement for my trip as well as “road angels” who have helped me out specifically. These interactions are essential to my quest: to get a sense of how my fellow Americans are ticking at the moment, and to reaffirm my sense of the inherent goodness of Americans regardless of political stripe.
14. To listen to America. In this polarized election year, it is important for me to talk with folks who don’t think the same as I do, and who don’t agree with my politics. I’m curious how someone like Trump could get the R nomination. I hope to hear different opinions without getting into fights, and to have a greater appreciation for the range of opinions across this great country.
15. To see the inherent goodness in people. As already mentioned, I hope this journey will affirm my belief in the inherent goodness of folks regardless of political or economic condition. It’s a test of this assumption, but coming from an optimist like me, the criteria are not high to confirm. So far, so good: I’ve experienced way more positive reactions and conditions than negative. I hope this trip will reaffirm my sense of the inherent goodness of Americans regardless of political stripe. Time and distance will tell!
I will dwell on these “why’s” while I’m peddling along on the roads ahead, and may amend them as I think more about what is really motivating me to do this trip. Your thoughts, challenges and inspiration are not only welcomed, but encouraged. After all, we’re all on this journey called “life.” What is is all about? Should we reach for all the gusto, or not? What is it to be “in” life, not just along for the ride? I’m curious as to your thoughts on this topic as I slowly peddle east.