Inspired

While on the bike ride we get approached by curious people a lot. These people tend to fall into two categories, either they tell us they wish that they had done something like this while they were younger or they are in the process of doing something like us. To be honest, it is sometimes hard to be generous to people in the former category. While it is true that our bodies age and time passes us by, it seems like a weak excuse to say “well, if only I were younger”. I am all for people taking advantage of their youth, but that age doesn’t mean you are forced out of an active life. In fact, being active is key to living a longer and healthier life. Just ask Charles Eugster or check out the Blue Zones research.

The latter group, the people who we talk to who are doing things similar to us, are the ones that inspire me. They are rarely young, wealthy, or particularly fit, but they are pursuing their dreams. Just yesterday we ran into a group of veterans who are doing a cross-country charity ride and many of these veterans have physical handicaps. One of them only had the use of one arm and she was peddling across the country on a hand bike… with one arm. Another was riding a tandem bike with his son who has Down Syndrome.

Inspirational figures are not limited to physical feats. There are people bucking the system and doing life their own way, just look at the participants of Praxis. The greatest limit on accomplishing our dreams is our own mind. We are capable of accomplishing, overcoming, creating, and exploring so much in this world, if only we give ourselves permission to be great. It is easy in today’s world to be comfortable, but comfort doesn’t bring fulfillment. You won’t be on your deathbed looking back at your life and think “Wow, I’m really glad I was comfortable” but you can look back and say “Damn, that mountain was tough to climb but it was totally worth it” or maybe “Ugh, I spent a year writing that book but what a feeling to see it finished”. We have an eternal capacity for love, creation, and exploration, if only we let our selves accomplish it.

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No Plans

When we left Mobile, Alabama this morning we didn’t know where we were going to be sleeping tonight. This is fairly common for us. I have an Excel document with our route plans and some notes, but more often than not in the “Sleeping” column it just says “Off Road”. Which basically means “fuck if I know, I’m sure something will work out”. Tonight, like 99.9% of the time, something worked out.

As dusk was approaching we biked past a woman who was walking on the same trail as us. She was probably in her 60’s or so. She flagged us down and asked about our ride and, after a little bit of small talk, she said that we could camp on her land. Her father just died and she is in the process of selling all of his belongings and preparing the house for someone else to live in. We chatted with her a bit before she left us alone with the house, giving us free reign to shower, power our things, use the kitchen, and sleep.

If we decided to plan every moment of our ride we would miss out on these serendipitous moments. If we stayed in hotels or reserved camping spots, then our rides would be about travel instead of adventure. Our decision not to worry about little things like where we are going to sleep or how we are going to get where we want to go have allowed us to live fuller, richer lives filled with interesting people. And, I like to think, by living a little unconventionally we add something to other people’s lives as well. Life cannot, and should not, be planned too strictly. Sometimes it is best to just walk out the front door and see where your feet take you.

Towards Physical Potential

During the last couple of days I’ve been giving a lot of thought towards my post from Saturday. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how I was slightly dishonest in my original post. I talked a lot about wanting to be healthy and seeing what my body’s potential is at this time in life. Those things are true, as someone who thinks science will allow us to conquer death I need to be healthy enough to get to that point, and someday I won’t have an unaltered body and I think it’d be cool to see what she can do before robotics and computers start fusing with my biological shell.

Those two reasons aren’t the full truth, part of it is my desire to be considered more conventionally attractive and sexy. It is superficial, but it is true. I also realize my own discomfort with my body plays a part in that. I think that is partly why I will be taking and sharing nude photos during this experiment, hopefully seeing some photographic changes will encourage me to keep going and continue down my path to accept and love my body. And maybe it will also help someone else. When I share these photos on my blog I will put a content warning at the top and they will be at the very bottom of the post, just in case someone wants to read my updates but do not want to see me naked.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how this would work and when I will start. It is tempting to wait until after the bike ride to start. To have a fresh point in which it begins without other things going on in my life. That is really a pipe dream, there will always be a reason to push it off another day, week, month, or year. The time will never be perfect to get things moving. So, I’m leaning towards starting this sooner rather than later, now I just got to figure out how I’m going to go about this experiment.

Measuring inputs and outputs to gather data (because gathering data makes me happy) is gong to be one of the major challenges when I do this from the road. Taking photos and doing measurements at least once a week is easy enough. Weighing myself on a scale is pretty difficult, but weight isn’t a measurement anyway. Internal vitals (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc) are nearly impossible to do right now. I hate to start off without a baseline or any system in place to measure these things along the way, but maybe that type of in depth analysis will need to wait. It is also easy enough to get some measurements for how my physical strength has improved by taking an Army APFT every month or two to see how my push-ups, sit-ups, and 2-mile run has improved. I’ll probably throw pull-up in there for good measure.

The inputs are easier to track. It just takes some discipline to record what I do each hour, how much time I spend sitting, biking, meditating, exercising, what foods I eat, how much water I drink, etc. Ideally I’d record it all on my computer as I do it, but that could get cumbersome so I’ll probably use a notepad and enter it later into Cronometer.com and a shared excel document.

My food plan is pretty basic. I’m going to use the information from The Blue Zones solution to plot my meals. I am also limited to being vegan because of my ethics and being on the bike ride means I don’t have access to cooking or refrigeration. I’m basically stuck with produce, bread products, and canned goods. Luckily, that is all fairly healthy as long as I avoid junk food. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so that won’t be a huge problem. I’m not going to stick to a strict calorie limit, instead I will eat when I’m hungry and try to be aware of portions. Portioning is difficult for me, particularly on the bike ride. I end up being ravenous after biking and devour more food than my body needs. I like the idea of meditative eating where you focus on the act of eating and eat slowly, in my experience I enjoy food more when I do it this way and I don’t mindlessly snack or eat.

Here is a rough idea what my ideal daily schedule will look like, based on how I generally live on the bike ride:

  • 0700 hours: Wake, eat first meal (Bowl of oatmeal, piece of fruit, handful of almonds, coffee), 10 minutes of Sun Salutations, 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation, write blog post, pack up camp
  • 0900 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1000 hours: Hummus wrap with lots of veggies, piece of fruit
  • 1045 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1145 hours: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 30 minutes exercise
  • 1245 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1345 hours:  Handful of almonds or energy bar, work for a couple hours, coffee
  • 1600 hours: Hummus wrap with lots of veggies
  • 1615 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1715 hours: Handful of almonds, 30 minutes of exercise
  • 1800 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1900 hours: Half a can of beans, lentils, or soup, hummus wrap with lots of veggies, set up camp, 10 minutes of yoga, push ups, plank

Now, I have the challenge of setting up an excel document to track everything. The big worry here is becoming a slave to the system and feeling like a failure if I miss a day or make a mistake or whatever. We will see how it goes, but I’m excited. I figure even if I only reach 50% of my input goals I will be moving in the right direction and that the project will be a success.

My photos will be shared here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B-wiz3LAg756THI2dEs5S1BQQW8&usp=sharing

The excel document tracking everything is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-wiz3LAg756RnBCN1RrRUpERU0/view?usp=sharing

It’s all in my head

It’s been a shitty two days.

Yesterday, it basically rained all day. That is no good on a bike tour, it creates a snowball effect of suck that beats down on my mood and motivation. First, the rain turns roads into mush, particularly unpaved bike paths. The wet debris from these roads get in our gears and messes with the shifting. Then, the rain starts to screw with my phone, which I need to navigate. Add that to being cold and wet and knowing that our tent is going to be miserable to sleep in and it just gets me down. Also, it pisses Higgins off and he gets really uncomfortable, and when he gets uncomfortable he whines non-stop. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dog whining behind you for three hours but it is a terrible sound. It is annoying and frustrating to know that you can’t help someone you love feel comfortable.

We had planned on sleeping at a campground but due to the rain (and closed roads and everything) we were running behind, we called one campground and they didn’t allow dogs. We called a second campground and they only had one spot left that they wouldn’t reserve for us. I knew it was unlikely the spot would still be free when we arrived around 2 hours later so we just decided to find a stealth camping spot on the side of the road.

Well, do you know what terrain is difficult to find a good camping spot in? Yep, swamps. And Louisiana is filled with swamps. We ended up biking around for way too long looking for a spot before we finally found something that would work underneath an interstate overpass about 20 miles from New Orleans. By time we arrived and set up the moisture from the rain and humidity had destroyed the battery on my phone. We were safe though, which I guess is something to be thankful for.

In fact, we had a lot to be thankful for. At some point today I was able to meditate a bit on my situation and turn my mood around. I was reminded again that my mood is under my control, even when a thousand things are not. I can’t control the rain, Higgins mood, the crazy drivers on the road, the construction on the bike path, or the shitty no dog or no reservations policies at campgrounds. But I can control my mood.

So, I took some deep breaths and recited over and over the words that always seem to calm me: This is the situation I am in. I can’t change the past but I can change the present.

I recite this chant a dozen or so times and my mood calms. I’m not happy, but I’m at peace. I start to focus on the amazing world we live in. The beauty of the natural world… the mountains in the background, the flowers in the sidewalk cracks, the birds chirping all around. The awe that comes from seeing what man can create… a plane flying high overhead, a building taller than every tree in the area, the levee I’m on holding the mighty Mississippi at bay.

The world is all around for us to be in awe of, if we allow ourselves. I fail daily to really appreciate what this world has to offer, and I am the one to suffer because of my limited ability to appreciate.

It’s All Been Done Before

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.

Perception

People tend to see what they expect to see.

When we travel through towns we are an oddity, particularly down here in the south. When people see us they make a lot of assumptions based on our appearance, and those assumptions can vary widely depending on where we are and what time of year it is. The assumptions are always wrong, the life we are living is something completely unknown to the vast majority of people. We are exploring a new paradigm of work and leisure and vacation that has only been possible for a small amount of people until the last 10 years or so, and it is still inaccessible (sadly) to most people.

Most people put us in one of three categories: vacationers, trust-fund babies, or unintionally homeless.

Vacationers: We haven’t had this one in a while due to the season. During the summer, particularly up north where cyclists are more common, people assumed we were on some sort of short term bike tour. They figured we had saved up some money to take a month off work and cycle across the country. While we are somewhat “vacationing”, we are also working each week and don’t have an end date like vacations do.

Trust-Fund Babies: This is a common assumption if people see our computers or recognize our bikes, and hear that we are travelling for a few years. They assume we have parents that are just covering our expenses and we are slacker millenials who won’t just accept their lot in life and get a fucking job. Unfortunately, we are not that at all. I come from a large family and have had a job since I was 13. The GI Bill (not my parents) helped pay for my college, but I still have a buttload of student loan debt. Anna is debt free right now her parents are in no way supporting her now. We are financially independent.

Unintentionally Homeless: We’ve been getting this one a lot lately. I think people in the south (well, at least in Texas and Louisiana) connect bike riding with transient homeless. I guess that kind of describes us, but it gets awkward when people try to give us money or food. We don’t need the support, but we generally accept it and just pay it forward down the road, accepting a gift is a good thing to do (see video below). I guess technically we are homeless, but our transient nature is an adventure and not out of financial necessity.

One of the big lessons from this bike ride has been to not judge a book by its cover. We are individuals whose lives are complex and deep, just looking at two people on bikes who haven’t showered in a week doesn’t give you the whole story. I am trying to take this lesson to heart, I am just as guilty of it as anyone else. All too often I will see someone driving a big RV or wearing a police uniform or some other surface attribute and I make assumptions about their lives and character. I need to change.

Change of Pace

After about six months of biking across a good chunk of the country my partner and I are taking two months off in Dallas. This wasn’t part of our original plan, but plans are meant to be broken. As we used to say about mission plans in the Army, “The enemy gets a vote”. In our situation the “enemy” is weather, the holiday season, the environment, and our own mental and physical power.

After taking everything into consideration it made sense for us to stay in one place for a few months and ride out the holiday season, and luckily our dear friends have offered to let us stay in their spare bedroom during this time. This should give us an opportunity to get some work done to earn some money, travel to see our families for the holidays, and just mentally relax from life on the road. It’ll be really nice to be able to cook healthy meals and change up the exercise routine.

Though, the exercise routine is probably my biggest concern. It is super easy for me to get fat and lazy when exercise isn’t a necessary part of my life. I do plan on using P90X while here, which has been successful for me in the past. I had recently plateaued with my fitness from cycling and had implemented some more work outs into my day, but I think a real change of pace is needed. I’ll still get some cardio but I won’t be in the bike saddle for 4-6 hours a day anymore, though I will occasionally hit up the bike trail near the house which is 26 miles round trip (I think).

I’m really excited about the opportunity to cook. Our diets are healthy enough but they kind of lack variety. You can only do so much with “cooking” while biking without a stove or the ability to really keep things cold. We are able to stay vegan pretty easy and we get all the vitamins, minerals, and calories we need, but the meals are basically the same each day. Being in an actual home for a while will let us cook more and experiment and face some fun challenges. My friend has celiac disease so we will be cooking vegan and gluten-free. It’ll be a blast.

Anyway, we are excited to explore Dallas for a bit and change up our life. The plan now is to leave in January and head down to Houston and Austin before heading east. After that we are biking up the east coast in the spring and summer of 2016… but who knows? Maybe life will change our plans again and put us on a new adventure.