Tuesday, May 9, 2006

I Guess I’m Ready

Training for a bike tour across the country is an interesting experience. You never quite know if you’re ready or not, you just get to the point where you say, “I guess I’m ready enough.”

The idea to ride my bike across the country came to me one day in one of those rare connections with the divine. I had been struggling furiously with individuals and situations that for whatever reason had made me utterly miserable. Sometimes picking up and completely changing your direction is the hardest decision to come to grips with. And sometimes it is the only option to put you back on the right path.

I needed a change, and an ordinary, practical change just wasn’t going to do it. And then one day, I was sitting outside reading a book by a female Buddhist monk who was talking about how and why she travels by bicycle. She described her connection with the sights and sounds around her, the exhilaration of cutting through the wind, the physical exertion of pedaling, the sunlight dancing through the tree limbs overhead, her thoughts as she rode. And at that very instant I knew, with a confidence and a peace that I’ve felt very few times in my life, that the next stretch of my life was going to involve a bike ride.

Invariably, a few days later you start thinking about how crazy and impractical such an idea will be to pull off. It’s easy to imagine what your friends, family and colleagues will say. “Why would you want to do such a thing?” “How are you going to do it?” “Where are you going to sleep?” “What if something bad happens?” As I pondered how I might give answer to these questions, a small grin spread across my face. I knew that I must be onto something good. Some seeds are just going to grow no matter how rocky the soil or unfamiliar the territory upon which they’ve landed.

The challenges of carrying out an impractical adventure are pretty straightforward. Financial challenges probably tops the list. There are a few lucky souls out there that always have the means if they just have the will, but I’m not one of those. You learn to appreciate such struggles, as you discover that the will often creates the means, whereas it rarely works the other way around.

You have to have the time, and that means not a lot of commitments. I’m single which makes a huge difference, but I’ve always gone from job to job with school in between. I wasn’t sure anymore where my most recent decisions were taking me, and so the commitment I was ready to make was to a new way of thinking, a new set of priorities, a focused spiritual journey if you will.

The physical requirements of hitting the pavement day after day were initially a big concern. Ultimately, the physical aspect is by far the most fun to prepare for. I started training on my clunky but reliable mountain bike, beginning nice and easy traveling about 8-10 miles at a time, then building to twenty, twenty-five, thirty, then finally thirty-five miles in a day, increasing increments every two weeks or so. Then I started adding weight. On a bike tour you are easily carrying 40-50 pounds of extra weight in the form of tents, sleeping bags, cookware, clothes, maps, camera, and in my case a 5 pound laptop.

So the next question is where do you go? It’s a big country, and a big world for that matter. Ambitiously, I’ve set my sites on a coast to coast, Atlantic to Pacific, Virginia to California trip; though I may head north for Oregon if the desert proves too blistering. This route was chosen for two simple reasons. It is one of the most established biking routes in the country and therefore expertly mapped. This makes natives more accustomed to seeing bicyclist, and hopefully less likely to pepper you with beer bottles and insults. Secondly, Virginia to California crosses the country. There is a big difference between saying I rode my bike “across” the country and saying I rode my bike up the eastern seaboard. A coast to coast trip sounds epic; a north-south trip sounds quaint. Lewis and Clark knew daring and it didn’t include staying within sight of one ocean.

Interestingly, it is the “why” of the trip that has required the closest examination. No one sets their sights on an impractical and unconventional journey without asking themselves over and over and over again, “What’s it for?” I knew that I was searching for personal growth, but there was something much larger than that I felt compelled toward. I wanted to really gain a deeper understanding of America and share it with family, friends and passerby.

I have always had a deep respect and appreciation for the individuals and the land that grows our food. After all, our bodies are physically made of the food we eat, and this food can only be produced by careful cultivation of the land. I have seen first hand how easy it is for entire communities to lose sight of the value and importance of our farmlands. In the process, the importance of eating healthy, locally produced foods gives way to a greater and greater dependence on processed foods produced further and further away. What better way to see America than by attempting to observe and capture the heart of our country’s farmland. What sort of efforts are different individuals, communities, and states taking to preserve farming for future generations?

And so with a somewhat clear purpose, a bicycle and some gear, a physically eager body, and an excited spirit, we set out to see if we’re “ready enough” to see America.

Falls at Watson Mill Bridge State Park

This entry was posted on 5/9/2006 1:31 PM

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