Day -27: Why ride across America?

One of the first questions I am always asked is “why are you riding across America?”   Let me use a metaphor of bicycling to explain.

It is incredibly difficult to balance a bicycle if you are not moving forward.  Stasis leads to falling over.   I believe life is that way — if you are not moving forward toward something, something meaningful to you (or multiple things), then you are not just missing an opportunity, you are falling over.   Focus drifts to petty problems and small grievances.

Since my “hit and run” accident in 1976 in Guadalajara Mexico, my life has been one set of goals after another that others either did not embrace or felt were too difficult.   Too often people set goals for others based on constraints they themselves feel.   “Why are you doing that” can be code for “I wouldn’t do that.”   My Dad was dead-set against me going to Dartmouth College — and probably right to do so.   I wasn’t the greatest high school student and the cost was enormous.   But I desperately wanted to get out of Indiana; I loved living in Mexico and knew I wanted to work internationally.   I wanted to ski and hike and be challenged by a tough academic environment.   When I asked the head of Bain & Company Tom Tierney to let me move to Singapore to set up an office (I was still three years from partner), he thought I was beyond crazy (but he let me go anyway).

Here is my best cut at the top ten reasons for riding across America:

  1. I am not sure I can do it.   Isn’t that the nature of a real challenge?   Am I in good enough physical condition?   Will I get hit by a truck?   Do I have the mental stamina when I’m climbing 8,000 feet in a hard, cold rain? 8 100 mile plus days?   Are there any people in that part of Nevada?
  2. To raise awareness of the UWCSEA scholar program and begin raising money for a new endowed scholarship.   Every one of these kids has a story; most have come from very difficult situations.   To give them the gift of a UWCSEA IB education is life-changing.
  3. To have another great memory.  My transition from high school to college was marked by a bicycle trip from Mexico to Canada on the California coast.   It was one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken — two good friends, a map of the Pacific Coast Highway (route 101) and a rusty old bike that broke at least 5 spokes on the trip.
  4. To mark a transition to in my working life.   My father hiked the Appalachian trail when he turned 55; I turned 55 this year.   He retired that year;  I need to think about the next stage at Bain — focusing full time on being a coach and mentor to the next generation rather than taking the hills from the front
  5. To see America.   I have lived in Asia now for 27 years;   it feels important to reconnect with the US that I only hold now as images — San Francisco, the Sierra Madres, the Utah and Nevada desert, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plaines, Indianapolis, the Appalachian Mountains, the New Hampshire coast.
  6. To put my knee injury behind me.   After I shattered my patella (kneecap) in college, I never thought I could do a long bike trip again.   I tried training for a triathlon and had to give up — I haven’t run since.   Overcoming that injury is a major hurdle
  7. To re-learn what it takes to achieve a tough physical challenge.  Tackling a tough physical goal that requires a very different kind of discipline and approach to achievement.   I have never been a great athlete — I was on a team led by a terrific coach (Chuck Koeppen) that won 7 straight Indiana state championships in cross country running.   But let’s be clear, I never made it to varsity.   It was a really important experience to know my best was not good enough.
  8. To become a better cyclist.   On my last race (the D2R2 in Massachusetts/Vermont/New York), which was a 145 kilometer mountain race (some trail, some dirt road, some paved road  with almost 10,000 feet of climbing) I barely made it, and my old cycling mates couldn’t believe how pathetic my condition was.   I had to walk part of several hills.
  9. To make some new friends.  Many people ask “who are you riding with?”   The honest answer is I don’t know.   I just found a group on the internet that organizes tours and signed up.   They seem very professional.   About 12 people are going.
  10. To not fall off of my bicycle

Sunday 6 May Training Program.   Sunday is my rest day.   45 minutes of “Yu-en Yoga”.   On a later blog I will go through my post-ride stretching routine.

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