What a weird and wild ride it was and has been, both on the bicycle and in my life. Twenty years ago I rode across America from an island north of Seattle (San Juan Island) to an island south of Miami (Key West). I didn’t do much planning, didn’t expect to finish, and yet I got there. Friends convinced me to write a book about it. (Just Keep Pedaling) I didn’t plan it, didn’t know if I could finish, did finish, and that led to a journey that has been unexpected. I try to guess what’s ahead, because that’s what we humans do. I also know the world doesn’t work that way. That’s okay. The journey continues.
For those who are just now finding my story, here’s a synopsis: retired at 38, had poor body image without knowing it, decided to lose weight via weeks of low-impact aerobics with stretching and a restricted diet, decided bicycling in laps around my neighborhood would be boring, started riding from the northwest corner of the lower 48, aimed at the southeast corner of the lower 48, eventually got there, spent $15,000 in the process, didn’t lose any weight or percentage body fat or waist size, and yet must have been in good enough shape because I managed to diagonally ride across the continent without crossing borders. Oh yeah, and along the way I learned a lot about me, people, the country, culture – and accidentally wrote about America before and after 9/11. Like I said, plans and guesses get laughed at.
I write this to celebrate that.
The book is my best seller, but it is not a best seller; yet it continues to sell after twenty years. It may be my best seller, but it was also my first book so don’t be surprised that my subsequent books are much better written. It added ‘writer’ and ‘author’ to my resume. Being an author led to public speaking, coaching others about self-publishing, led to selling photographs, learning about social media before it had the name, and consulting others about many of those aspects.
The bicycle survives. I do, too. Both of us have signs of wear, use, and embody more stories than fit into books or images or words. In many ways, time and age mean both of us have parts that can’t be repaired or replaced – and yet we continue.
That book led to the start of my Twelve Month series, first as narratives of lakes in the Washington Cascades, later as photo essays of Whidbey Island.
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the ride, I walked across Scotland in 2010. (Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland)
To celebrate the ten year anniversary of the Scotland walk and the twenty year anniversary of the American bicycle ride, I hoped to do something similar in 2020.
So much for that plan.
But, maybe that will work out, too.
I am a marathoner in many ways. I ran a few. But I also tend to take on long projects with uncertain outcomes that few others do. I climbed Mt. Rainier in a year when about 8,000 tried and 4,000 summited. That same year, I estimated that only a few hundred rode across the North American continent. A commentator covering a marathon said something like; “These people are having the time of their lives.” (Insert raspberry, thumb to nose, or similarly obnoxious response.) As I said in the book, “I can’t say that it was fun, but I’m glad I did it.”
My life certainly has not followed any conscious plan. I am a minimalist, have a higher risk tolerance than many but not as high as true adventurers, and am more likely to set a goal with a sketch of a plan that is written in pencil. Somehow I get through, but that hasn’t been a given. Doubts have been part of every endeavor.
And here I sit, typing, and wondering how to commemorate something as simple as a bicycle ride that slowly, dramatically changed and redefined my life. One plan was to ride my bicycle from Mexico to Canada, from Brownsville, Texas to Winnipeg, Canada. (No mountain ranges involved.) Another was to return to Stranraer, Scotland and walk to Dover, England; or take the Stranraer ferry to Ireland and walk around the island. Maybe try some other human-powered journey like rowing or hiking, but I don’t have a boat or experience cruising, and hiking would involve lots of resupply. Besides, 2020.
Maybe the challenge this time is to do something similarly extended but close to home, within a reduced budget, that can somehow weave into my real estate career.
Maybe I can win the lottery jackpot and do whatever I want, or nothing at all.
Nothing at all is not an option. After writing one book, I wrote five more, and am currently working on three (sci-fi, tea, and a personal finance story that is a rollercoaster ride through America’s wealth classes.) I’m busy.
This is 2020. A pandemic, climate change, social injustice, an unstable economy, an unstable political situation, wildfires, and only 2/3 of the way through the year.
Maybe the best journey will be inwards, something no one can witness, experiencing things that defy explanation, that costs little and can be done from home or wherever. Maybe this is the end of my decadal epics because the next one would happen when I am 70. And even that could be a sailing voyage – assuming the planet hasn’t coughed us up by then.
For a change, maybe my next journey won’t be chronicled. But, I didn’t plan to write Just Keep Pedaling. As I said, I was talked into it. I didn’t plan to my other book that sells well, Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. That was true until I experienced a moment of joy that arrived without a cause. How could I ignore that? I now know at a deep level how close joy is, as well as how easily our economic system can enable layers of anxieties that make joy a bit more distant.
What comes next? Dinner with friends, chasing emails in a crazy real estate market (I’m a broker, and didn’t see that coming either), finding ways to visit wilderness safely, while retiring anxieties, and adapting, adapting, adapting.
The journey continues. I can’t say it’s always been fun, but I’m glad I am doing it. What journey awaits any of us that starts with a crank of the pedals, a single step, or a few words?