I remember the feeling of disappointment the first time I met someone who had done a cross-country bike ride. I was only a few days into my own DC-LA ride, and there I was camping with someone who had done it all before. I knew on an intellectual level that I was not the first person to ride across the US, but before I met this man (I have forgotten his name) I was able to keep that knowledge at bay. I felt like an adventurer, like Lewis and Clark or Magellan, it felt like I was doing something revolutionary. The sense of newness, of exploration, was one of the things that motivated me, but that soon deflated.
The truth is, basically everything has been done before. Humans are naturally adventerous, curious explorers. We see a mountain and want to climb it. We see an ocean and want to dive into it. We see a new planet and want to visit it. We wonder how far we can get into space before parachuting to the ground. We build supercomputers and try to beat them at games. This drive to be the first helps move our species forward, we continue to look for new frontiers to explore. And, as is often the case, when we start exploring a new frontier we discover we were not the first.
Since starting my current bike ride I’ve met someone doing the exact same thing (visiting each of the lower 48 states by bike) and many others who are doing cross-country tours or living on the road. Thanks to the power of the internet I’ve connected with people who are on world tours and who have visited hundreds of countries by bicycle. If I try to compare myself to these people I feel a bit like a slacker. Is it really impressive to spend four years in the US when people are biking from Alaska to Argentina?
Yes, yes it is. Because my measure of success has nothing to do with what other people are doing or have done. I am no longer in this to be the first person to do something, I am doing it because I am the first me to do it. It may sound selfish, but I’m in this for myself. I want to know what it feels like to spend all day climbing up a steep road to watch the sunset over the Montana mountains. I want to see the stars in the deserts of Arizona a hundred miles from any city. I want to check state after state off my list as I bike across borders.
And, someday, I will do more things that have been done before. We are talking about biking around Australia. I want to skydive over every continent. I want to sail around the world. I want to have a farm with chickens and goats and a pig. I want to write a book about my adventures. I want to explore sex more. I want to climb mountains. I want to hike trails. I want to live in cities and countries around the world.
The frontiers for humanity are currently out of reach for people unless they are very specialized (though, this may change when we start sending people into space for tourism and colonization), but the frontiers for the individual are literally endless. There are uncountable things I haven’t done yet… places I haven’t been, words I haven’t written, experiences I haven’t had, people I haven’t been intimate with, businesses I haven’t started, drugs I haven’t tried, lifestyles I haven’t lived, sports I haven’t played, etc etc etc.
Damn, I am excited to make a small dent in those “nevers”. Even if I’m not the first person, my experience will still be unique.