Day 52 +2: Reflections on the Journey

I’m giving myself a week to close out the blog; there is a lot on my mind and putting it down “on paper” is a helpful discipline to structure and archive thoughts.   This is Part I.   I’ll finish on the flight home to Singapore.

I should start by again thanking my wife Jenny for allowing me to take the trip.   With the pre- and post- trip time, I’ve been away 2 months, and she has had some challenges while I’ve been gone that it would have been better if I was around to help with.

I get a few hundred visits to every blog post; I deeply appreciate the support that everyone has provided through engaging and commenting on the blog.

Ole once again captured in a few words some ideas that had been swirling around in my head — we started out thinking this trip was about the destination, but it turned out to be much more about the journey.   And the journey was more about people than it was the physical challenges of the trip — talking, laughing, supporting, challenging and learning from each other.   52 days with 10 others who I had never met before and now will never forget.

If I go back to the question Ole posed in the first few days, “what do I know now that I didn’t know then?”   Really a difficult question; frankly a lot of the “learnings” are “re-learning something I had forgotten”.

  • I have renewed confidence in my ability to navigate the “unknown unknowns.”   Most people are risk averse;  a consequence is that they stop trying new things and get stuck in a rut.   As my friend Ravi put it this morning, they mistake uncertainty for risk.  They avoid situations where they are not certain of success.   They stick to people they know (and can predict) so that they avoid the risk of rejection.
  • We start out life with no responsibilities (in fact someone takes care of us); then over time we assume full responsibility for ourselves (does this make us an adult?).   Then, as adults, we start assuming responsibility for others — it might be employees, our spouse, our children, our parents, our patients (if we are doctors), etc.   These responsibilities explode, they provide us with deep satisfaction and meaning, but they also wear at us.   The trip was a temporary shift to a “selfish state” where I was primarily responsible for myself.   There  is more time for reflection and less stress, but of course, it ultimately involves avoiding many adult responsibilities.
  • The US is a massive, highly diverse country.   Of course, I only scratched the surface, but one can see the immense social challenges facing the US in most of the towns we visited.   It does not feel like we have a political system that is really grappling with these challenges in the systematic and rational way that I see the Singapore government undertaking.   The biggest challenge I see is that the Republicans are taking a populist route while the Democrats are more focused on criticizing what the Republicans are doing (and how they are doing it) versus proposing well-thought out, practical alternatives.   If I had to choose between Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, I am really not sure which way I would go.
  • Pretty much anyone could do the cross-country challenge with six months of training.   Of course there will be pain; there was pain even for our fittest, strongest riders.   There will be hard climbs, flat tires, unfailing headwinds, hot sun, rain (and maybe snow), angry drivers, broken derailleurs, potholes, dead possums, kids who throw rocks, fog, traffic, gravel and bad food, but anyone can do this if they are willing to turn pedals for 7-10 hours a day.
  • We need to set challenges for ourselves to find our boundaries, to break routines, to develop new skills, to meet new people, to learn new skills, to have fun in a different way.   Life is not a dress rehearsal

Reflecting on my original objectives, I feel great:

  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?  When I started, I thought the main challenge was the distance and climbing.   Turns out the challenges were more varied:   headwinds, heat, rain and bad roads were as important as distance and climbing.   But all were surmountable.
  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.  We’re 91% of the way there — $191,373 has been committed — WOW!  I’m sure we’ll pass the 200k mark in the next week.   Thank you.
  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.   There is no doubt this is one of the best memories of my already memorable life.
  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.  I’m feeling quite energized and invigorated by this trip, but I will approach consulting work with a renewed emphasis on my clients really challenging themselves to accomplish things they are not sure are possible.
  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.    I have more questions than answers at this stage.
  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.   My knee is sore, but I don’t think any worse for wear.   Will try physical rehabilitation before I go to any surgery.
  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.  Achieved.
  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.   My next goal is to be more self-reliant as a mechanic — go to a 2-3 day workshop on the basics, doing all of the basic maintenance.   I need to do more hill training; maybe go to a climbing camp in Europe.      
  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.   A real highlight — the full group, our small group of four that rode pretty much every mile from Indianapolis to Portsmouth together (Roadkill and the Fillies) and a number of pretty deep conversations with Father John.   These are my best memories.
  10. To not fall off of my bicycle.   52 days, no accidents!   Surprised myself 🙂

What is next?   I don’t plan another big adventure like this for a few years.   I do want to do a lot of 1-2 week trips, similar to my Dad’s fishing trips — Sicily, Corsica, Croatia, Japan, Cambodia/Laos, Dolomites…   I’d like to do something for the UWCSEA scholarship program every year, maybe organize an annual SE Asia group trip and ask each participant to raise a little money.   I’d like to get my daughter riding, so that we can do trips together.   But I’ll leave climbing Everest and crossing Antarctica to others.



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