Monday, November 12, 2012

"I Know What It Means To Be On My Own"

Both of our mothers have offered (and at times almost insisted!) to spend 3 months of their lives leap-frogging us as we ride across America from town-to-town, making sure we stay safe, have vehicular support if we need it, and tossing snacks and cold water at us as we pedal along. Think what you will about us wanting to take on America by bicycle on our own, but this is how we’re going to do it, and I think you’ll see below that we have some pretty compelling reasons for doing so. We love our moms all the more for offering their support, and appreciate and understand their concern for us 100%, but honestly, this trip wouldn’t be the same if we accepted their help. Here’s why:

1. No excuses. This trip is going to be difficult. There are going to be days when we want to quit. We will inevitably be so sore we can hardly walk, get scraped up when we tip over on our fully-loaded bikes, have such miserable headwinds that we could probably walk faster than we can pedal, or spend our days in misery with 100 degree heat and humidity and mosquitos. But alone, we have no choice but to suck it up, push past the pain, and get it done. No excuses. Some days we’ll fail, but that’s part of the journey. We don’t ever want to even have the option of calling it in and getting a ride to a hotel for a night. This adventure is meant to be difficult and test us, and test us it will.

2. Trail angels. This might be a foreign concept to most, but anyone who has taken on some long journey like this knows who these people are. They take many forms, and help in many differing but amazing ways. On the Appalachian Trail, these Trail Angels will do things like leave coolers full of ice cold water where the trail crosses a road, as a pick-me-up for weary hikers. On the TransAm, they may offer you a lift if you have a bike issue you can’t solve, wait for you at a rest stop to offer a cold drink, pay for your meal anonymously at a diner, or let you camp in their yard for the night. We don’t want to be insulated from these experiences and meeting these people simply because we have an easier solution waiting just around the bend for us.

3. Isolation and solitude. There’s something to be said for being out in the middle of nowhere, with no one you know for hundreds of miles around. Yes, we’ll have each other, so it won’t be total solitude, but the feeling won’t be that different. There’s that small sense of fear that no one will be there to help if you need it. There’s a sense of missing family and friends, and wondering what’s going on in their lives while you aren’t physically present in them. You create your own sense of community when you enter a restaurant or store or hotel and people ask where you’re from, and where you’re headed. You feel independent, strong, and incredibly insignificant and lonely all at the same time. There’s nothing like it.

Almost 5 years ago now, I took a solo (if you don’t count the dog) road trip from Indianapolis to San Diego and back. I stood with strangers at the entrance to the Painted Desert National Park as we all experienced one of those achingly beautiful sunsets that only the Southwest can provide. I saw a lone wolf in California, who stopped to watch me pull up next to him, and then met my gaze for over 10 minutes before trotting off, unimpressed with my presence in his domain. I drove through Joshua Tree National Park late at night, my headlights the only light for miles around, low on gas, and frankly terrified of spending the darkest of nights in total isolation if I had run out of gas. That trip and those feelings and experiences left such an impression on me, and changed my life in so many unexplainable ways. We expect nothing less from our Looking Out Across America adventure.

4. Making connections. We want to get to know the people that support us, and can make it out to say “hi” on this trip. Not that we couldn’t do that with our mothers in tow, but (and I think this may be a little true of everyone), we’re both slightly different people when around our parents. Even though we both have arrived at that point in life where we consider our parents friends in addition to parents, there are just different dynamics in play when socializing with anyone when your parents are present. We want to make our connections with people on our own terms, exactly as we are.

5. The Fight the Fear Campaign. The people we’ll be helping with half of the funds we raise on this adventure will learn the skills and confidence they need to overcome fear and doubt in life. We’ll have to do the same, both before the trip, and along the way – probably (hopefully) not because we’ll encounter any truly malicious human beings, but we will have to confront chasing dogs, stand up for our equal right to the road while some rude and ignorant driver loudly protests that we have no such right, and remain aware of our surroundings to keep ourselves safe in a wide variety of scenarios. We want to rely on our skills and confidence to experience personally the invaluable lessons taught as part of Fight the Fear, and hopefully act as inspiration to those who step up to face their fears as part of the campaign.

6. This is a very personal test. Looking Out Across America will test us in many ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It’ll test our commitment to doing something for the greater good versus personal gain. It’ll test our bodies, and we’ll be all the stronger for it when we get to Seattle. It’ll test our patience. It’ll test our capacity for empathizing with humanity when it isn’t particularly empathetic towards us. These tests are intensely personal to us, both individually and as a couple, and we selfishly want to keep it that way. These experiences will be ours, and ours alone. We have tentative plans for a few different special “guest” riders to join us for a day or so here and there, but other than those few days, it’ll be all us. We have to plan ahead and make sure we carry enough water and food to get us to the next gas station or restaurant. We have to watch the weather and make sure we aren’t caught in any dangerous situations. When we arrive in Seattle in September of 2013, we want to look back and know that we made it across America, on bicycles, pedaling over 4,400 miles, and that we did that of our own power, will, and determination.

Hopefully that clarifies our desire to take on America by bicycle without any real safety net. It isn’t because we are reckless, or wouldn’t love to spend all that time with our mothers – it’s about the things we’d miss out on if we accepted this kind of assistance on our journey. We have to do it alone – it wouldn’t be the same any other way.