Every morning (and night for that matter) when I come into the kitchen my cat stands by her food and water dishes and meow screams at me. “GIVE!” “GIVE”! “I NEED!” “I AM STARVING” “HEEEEYYYYYYYYY” (things I imagine her saying as her tiny face is screaming at me). Hearing the demand, I look down at her situation and 9.5 times out of 10 she has a bowl of food at least half full, a clean looking bowl of water and a nice little plot of cat wheat grass; everything a kitty could need.
So, I think to myself: she doesn’t need food and water, so she must want attention. So I proceed to talk to the cat. “Hello squeaks! I love you! How was your day today? Did you pretend to apathetically play with any toys? Did you nap in the sun? My day was alright…” (I was an only child so I am very skilled in carrying on single-sided conversations.) As she continues to squeak at me I say “I hear you squeaks. You don’t need anything. Stop squeaking” — and the like. The point being to let her know that I hear her, and to give her the fifth element she may be lacking (love). (Not seeing dead people. That’s the sixth element.)
9.5 times out of 10 she will continue squeaking relentlessly (which is actually more like cat yelling). After trying to just ignore her for a while I give her an ice cube. Marley (my cat’s real name; we just call her squeaks because she yells and squeaks so much) loves ice cubes. 9.5 times out of 10 this makes her happy. She merrily drinks the water with the ice in it and forgets about how discontent she is for about 15 minutes.
This scenario happens to me daily, in a number of configurations. Sometimes it’s the morning, sometimes it’s night, sometimes I appease her by picking up her bowl and spinning around and setting the bowl back down again. Sometimes I pick her up and snuggle her and tell her I love her a hundred times, sometimes I pick her up and toss her out of the room. There must be a rubiks cube worth of me-versus-my-spoiled-cat options.
So, what did I learn from this rigmarole today?
Three things, actually:
1) My cat is spoiled. And it’s probably (entirely) my fault. There are many things my cat has taught me about raising children; this is one of them. (The lesson, in brief: Don’t spoil your children or you end up with Veruca from The Chocolate Factory.)
2) I am my cat’s slave bitch. She says SQUEAK! I say Ice Cube, M’Lady? Snuggles? How may I serve you?
3) “Cats and dogs often absorb our vibes and after a while begin to act, obsess, relax, and even look like us.”
See, my cat’s problem is that she is infinitely discontent with what she currently has. She doesn’t even know what she wants, she just wants something that is not what she currently has.
Never mind that she has everything she needs and more — food, water, shelter, a plethora of toys she’s not interested in, WHEAT GRASS, fresh water with ice cubes, two humans who regularly contort themselves in bed so that they don’t disturb her tiny sleeping body that takes up a less-than-tiny amount of bed space, infinite snuggles and love, no dogs to bite her, expensive prescription food, and a spot in the sun where she sleeps all day long in perfect silence. Never mind all that luxury. My cat has a bad case of first-world perspective disorder. IE: “what I have will never be what I want” disorder, also sometimes referred to as “the grass is always greener on the other side” syndrome in folk songs.
It’s actually really sad.
So what did I learn from my cat?
I don’t want to be like my cat.
I can’t give my cat perspective, because she is a cat, but she has given me a world of perspective.
While I’d say that I don’t have perspective disorder as bad as my cat (I don’t wake up every day screaming; not literally, at least) I do find myself squeaking at the world more often than I’d like to admit. Staring at my half-full proverbial food bowl wishing it was filled with something else. Squeaking entitled demands; “I know I have everything I need but if only I had that — then I would be happy! Whhhhyyyyyy! Squeeeeaaakkkkk! Serve me, world!”
I (and my cat) need to be more humble and less entitled.
It’s funny because I don’t even know exactly what I want … and I fear sometimes I am asking the world simply to pick up my food bowl, spin around, and set it right back where it was, exactly the same amount full.
My world is filled with so much wheat grass but it doesn’t consistently bring me joy because I am too busy begging for an ice cube (or for my food bowl to be picked up and spun around and set right back in the same place).
Insight Leads to Action
Here are my takeaways from all of this: Before I start screaming for something new — or something else — I need to take a look at what’s already on my plate right in front of my face. Take an inventory of what I already have; spend a moment in gratitude — in recognition — before seeking anything else.
I respect my cat’s diligence, and refusal to give up hope. (You can’t win the lottery unless you play, right?) And that is actually a lesson within a lesson I take from this — the power of persistently seeking what you want — but my prayer for myself is that I may find an eloquent balance between striving and presencing in my life. And that I may find the wisdom to scream for change — rather than just screaming to have my food bowl picked up, spun around, and set down in exactly the same place as it was before.
A balance and wisdom that allows me to:
- Be aware of what I currently have
- Live in gratitude for what’s already on my proverbial plate
- Not be afraid to ask, but ask thoughtfully; asking the world to please, please, please pick up my bowl and spin around and put it right back in the same place doesn’t make much sense
It’s been a month (to the day!) since Dustin and I finished our cross-country tour in Bar Harbor, Maine. After spending three days in Acadia National Park, and seven days with family in Atlanta, we’re back home in our rental nearish the beach in Ventura, California. We’re both back to work. Our bicycles have arrived on our porch in pieces and since been put back together. My cat is starting to not hate me again. The security deposit has been paid to the subleassors. Our long underwear has been replaced by shorts as the brisk fall of Maine has been shockingly replaced by a raging California heat wave.
We’re back home.
And it’s weird.
It’s like everything is the same. But we are different.
It’s funny; so many times on this tour we found ourselves facing discomfort — whether it was mosquito hell in Montana, waking up soaking wet with sweat in….every state up until the fall happened somewhere around Michigan, or grimacing through the burn of a mountain climb that feels as shitty as the elevation profile has suggested. Some days were just uncomfortable.
Now, being home, waking up in a bed, eating from a refrigerator, taking showers every day, we’re finding ourselves facing a whole new kind of discomfort.
We understand living the life of a travelling bike hobo isn’t a sustainable option with our bank accounts looking as barron as they currently do, so our immediate task at hand is one we’ve always struggled with: fighting funk and finding balance.
I’ll admit, I’m in kind of a funk right now. My Western Lizard Brain is in full effect and I am having a hard time not feeling sorry for myself for no reason. So I am writing this blog post.
Here are three things I’ve found that really get me into a funk:
1) Putting things off.
“I’ll do that in an hour!”
No you won’t. Do it now. In an hour you’ll say another hour. And then you won’t do it. Ever.
2) Thinking about how green the grass is on the other side.
“If only I was in Portland! Then I could grow an amazing food forest!”
You can grow an amazing food forest here. Right now. Seriously. Just go outside and do it. There and That are not the answer. Setting down your cat, getting off your ass, and carpe’ing some diem is the answer. Being anywhere else other than where you are now is not going to magically create results; being active with what you have a la Picasso in his blue period is going to create results. The past and the future are both illusions; now is the time.
Another iteration of this experience looks like this:
While at home: “I want to be on a bike tour!” While on bike tour: “I want to be wake up in a room I can stand in!”
What an excellent lesson in learning to be happy just where you are when you’re there for however long you happen to be there.
“I’m an introvert. I don’t feel like being around people right now.” An hour later… “I am lonely. But I still don’t want to be around anyone.”
In response to these identified funk factors…
Here are five things I am working on to create more funk-free balance in my life:
1) Do Not: Isolate
Do: Build community! It’s like jumping in a pool; once you’re in it’s fine. Don’t think so much about jumping in… just start running and let gravity do it’s job.
Another way to think about this: Show up! That’s how I accomplished my bike tour; I just showed up every day and put one foot in front of the other. Show up to be a part of the community; go to a yoga class; meet a friend for coffee; just do something.
2) Do Not: Consume like a maniac
Do: Find abundance in the things you have and actively work on wanting less, despite abundant resources abound
Just because there are two Targets within three miles of your house and they’re both open until 11pm (oh, sweet sweet Target…) that does not mean you need to go to either of them. Spend that time in the community (or your garden!) (or on your bike!) instead.
3) Do Not: Find yourself overwhelmed by options and, in response, take no action
Do: Be decisive about how to spend your time. Make weekly commitments and stick to them.
4) Do Not: Get depressed missing life on the road.
Do: Live in gratitude for the time you had on the road; spend time planning your next adventure; make time for small adventures.
5) Do Not: Let your bike collect dust.
Do: Ride that bitch. The best ideas come from movement, so move [that bike].
Expect more [less emo] posts like this post-tour
I know this post isn’t like the posts I usually write, but I actually feel better having crapped it out. So, thanks for reading anonymous stranger out in Internet land. And thanks to my 35 loyal followers, who, I will not resent if you decide to un-follow me post bike tour as my posts begin to expand in focus (expect more posts on gardening and life off tour between miles).
Thanks for the creepy blog hug, guys. I needed that.
Sometimes it’s hour 6.5 of your riding day, you’re climbing up a mountain going 3mph, it’s too hot to wear a jacket but too cold not to wear one, you smell like five-day old socks and at least one — if not both — of your knees hurt. Sometimes it rains for days and you live inside rain clothes that feel like glorified sauna suits. Sometimes your whole body is sore and you think about how far you’ve come and strongly consider all the reasons why it would be ok to just rent a car and drive home to your cat. Sometimes you just want to sleep in a freaking bed and not have to do planks and yoga poses to get dressed in your three-foot tall nylons shelter sheet of a house. Sometimes, believe it or not, you are tired of seeing wheat fields that expand as far as the eye can see east, west, behind and ahead. Sometimes you just want to go somewhere where everyone knows your name Cheers-style and you can’t because you live in the middle of nowhere 89% of the time and the other 11% no one knows who you are (not to mention 5 of those 11% they are not glad you came).
Sometimes you want to punch bike touring in the face (at least as many times as your bike seat is punching you in the crotch) then……
Just when you need it, at the top of that steep miserable hill, you see the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen and you remember why you’re doing this tour; why you love moving slowly; how “it’s about the journey not the destination” finally really, truly means something to you; why you’re grateful not miserable.
Sometimes it’s the sun peeking through the clouds
Or a field of cows even more beautiful than the last 289 fields of cows before
And suddenly you wouldn’t trade all the bus rides, hot showers and memory foam beds in the world for the peddle-power moment you’re having right that second.
The Moral Of The Story….
Bike touring is incredible and expansive and it builds you up and stretches your mind and your body and breaks you down and rebuilds you into a new, stronger mettle-filled, mountain-climbing, problem-solving, silver-lining-seeking, vulture appreciating love beast that reads Thoreau and finally really gets it.
But it requires a lot; it requires you to leave behind your creature comforts, redefine your boundaries and adjust the way you live. It truly brings out the best and the worst in you and forces you to come face to face with both head on.
So, when that time on your tour comes when you hate your tent and the ACA and elevation and you just want to go home, I encourage you to push just a little farther, get your eyes off the pavement and remember that you get back what you put in ten-fold so something spectacular is just around the bend.
Today I took about an hour in the post office. See, I’ve had this growing hobo-santa-esque grocery bag of hobo-esque goods intended for the post office tied precariously to my back rack for about a week now and I’ve tried to go to the post office several times but irregular small town hours and bad planning have had me just missing the office hours for a few weeks now. So, today when I was at the post office…. let’s just say I had a lot to do.
Why does this matter?
Because after I was done taking an absurdly long time in the post office, I came outside to meet Dustin — who had been waiting (baking) patiently in the sun for me outside with the bikes — and we were just about to ride away when a gentleman was walking into the post office just as we were rolling our bikes toward the next 10 miles. He asked where we were going and where we had been and where we were planning too stay tonight. We told him about our there’s and our then’s and our plans for the night: to stay in the Hayward KOA and go tubing/canoeing on the river. Then he told us that we were welcomed to stay at the KOA… or — for free — we could just stay at his house on the river right behind the KOA in one of his four extra rooms.
It was like the sky parted and magic rained down upon us. A bed in a real house? With a warm shower? And tubing on the river? Right down the street? For free?
It was an amazing let go and let God moment for me.
See, the only reason Dustin and I are even in Hayward, WI — a town about 25 miles off the ACA route — is because we tried to go canoeing in Interstate State Park three days ago and got rained out, then we tried to go swimming in a lake in Cumberland, WI and arrived too late in the evening, and then we tried to go swimming at the lake in Edgewater (the next 200ish-person town over) and that lake was so green with ectoplasm-colored……who knows what…. we couldn’t bear to slim ourselves with it, so, having been canoe/lake swimming-foiled THREE TIMES we decided that we needed a lake day and the Hayward KOA was just the answer. So we travelled 25 miles out of our way to stay at the KOA. Which lead us right to Kris and his warm bed, magic filled house behind the KOA.
And now, here I am, sitting in an incredibly beautiful — incredibly inspiring — house. All because we got lake foiled three really frustrating times; and all because I took at least an hour trying to figure out which overpriced USPS bubble mailer to send my Afrian Porcupine quills home in (yes, I have those), and all because Kris — the nicest politican you’ll ever meet — happened to be wandering into the post office at exactly the time that I was happening to almost be rolling away.
It’s just one of those everything fits together just as it should moments. A let go and let God moment, as I’ve taken to calling them.
That bad frustraing stuff? Yeah… it’s frustrating and bad. But if the post office wasn’t closed three times, you wouldn’t ever be at the fourth post office where the magic is going to happen! It’s like a magic eye. You can’t see the big picture when you’re in it; when it’s happening; when you’re at the third post office getting rejected by an awkward 7-1:37pm open hours sign; when you’re too close. It’s when you relax your eyes and stop trying and slowly step back from it all that that big beautiful pirate ship I like to call grateful clarity and perspective really pops out at ya. Or, God’s plan if you prefer to go that route — which, these days, I do. (You can choose what you call the pirate ship; just make sure your eyes are open or you’ll miss it.)
The point is that I just feel really grateful.
Greateful to be here. Greateful for all the hospitality — for all the humanity — I’ve seen from total strangers on this route.
I met a guy (Donn Olson) in Dalbo, MN who turned his 100-year-old barn (and a wheat silo!) into a bunkhouse for travelling bicyclists. He turned his whole barn (and a wheat silo!) into a bunkhouse! Just so cyclists could have a place to sleep for the night.Don Olson doesn’t cycle; he just really appreciates the adventure and is happy to offer a haven for weary bums in the middle of nowhere. He stocks the bunkhouse with eggs and bread and homemade jam (homemade) and offers it as a free gift. He has a coffee maker and a toaster and he built a shower and an outhouse that he cleans himself, just because he knows you — a total stranger on a bike — need a break.
Moving slowly seeing the country on County roads named only with letters, seeing unjaded animals as interested in us as we are in them, and meeting people like Don Olson, and Kris, and Chuck (a fellow who gave us a bed and a shower in Whitefish, MT), and Scott (an excellent cohert who offered us a futon and a shower in Twisp, WA) — people who have opened their homes to us, cooked us meals, and trusted us alone with their laptops and their irreplaceable relics — it becomes hard not to feel an overwhelming gratitude to a power greater than yourself every day.
My friend Amanda says her parents go for a run every Sunday morning and call it church. She says they take that time to connect with the universe; to be grateful for the day; to coalesce with their higher power as they understand Him. I like that a lot.
That is how I feel on this bike ride.
Every day I try my best to be open; to be connected; to tackle what I face (and who knows what I’ll face) the best I can; and to remember that no matter how bad it is it can’t be worse than the mosquitoes in Eastern Montana, that this too will pass, and that whatever craptastic failblog of a canoe-day disaster is happening, it’s all part God’s big-picture plan.
Some God Pics:
T-minus 2.5 days until Dustin and I start our cycle sabbatical with a train ride up the Pacific coast to Seattle. Let’s just say shit’s getting real. (And let’s also say, in advance, sorry to Dustin’s mom and my dear friend and co-worker Paula Allen who will have to endure a small amount of swearing throughout this travel log. Swearing is better than lying and I would be lying if I promised I was not going to swear in this blog… or in real life… for the duration of my 4,200-mile bicycle adventure).
Physically – I think we have everything we need. It’s like that scene in Happy Gilmore. His bags are packed…just send him home..! Just tap it in!
[Now would also be a good time to give you fair warning that there are going to be a superfluous amount of Wayne’s World, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and Dumb and Dumber references throughout this blog. I don’t condone it…. But. It’s happening.]
At this point, all we have to do now is just take the first step; leave the house; peddle the first mile; just tap it in if you want to go on this metaphorical golf journey with me.
It’s so close!! And so exciting! ….but also a little scary.
Dustin and I have been planning this journey for a year now (!). We know all of the people who work at REI and their stories (and they know ours. Oh boy, so they know ours…), we’ve done training rides, I rode my bike from Ventura to Simi Valley at least 52 times, I’ve mapped out my daily goals and contacted a bunch of straw bale builders we want to meet across the states…. Now………..we just have to do it.
I’ve never done anything like this before (nothing of this magnitude). I haven’t been unemployed for 20 weeks since 2005 (and even then I had a job. It was just a much, much better job learning about English Literature and Art History for a $0 per hour wage). I’ve never attempted to ride my bike 5 days a week for 16 weeks in a row, and I sure have never walked up to a stranger’s house to ask them if I could pitch a tent on their front yard (double entendre intended) (Sorry again, Dustin’s mom. We’re going to get to know a lot about each other in this blog, aren’t we?). So I really don’t know what to expect. It’s all new.
Shannon Hoon would be proud of all the changing we’re doing, I think. I feel pretty good about it, at least.
So, 2.5 days from leaving…. The world is my oyster.
I’m excited to spend 20 weeks exploring the northern tier of the US slowly. (oh so slowly.) I’m excited to be a part of it all (no a passer by). I’m excited about our sabbatical! About making this trip an opportunity to flesh out opportunities and move a step closer to living the life we want to live (in a magic straw bale house surrounded by food we grow and eat). I am excited that we made a commitment to take this dream adventure and that we’re actually making it happen.
And I am a little scared of all the unknows.
But a little fear never hurt anyone.
I feel like this – in my introspective pre-trip ramble – is a great time and place to also mention grateful and truly blessed I am to have had so many people come out of the woodworks over the last weeks and months to show me how truly, deeply loved and appreciated I am. And – it’s also a great time to tell those people how truly madly deeply loved and appreciated they are as well.
As a (not) recovering introvert, it can be easy to fall into a routine of isolation; to feel – by no one’s fault other than my own – that I am utterly alone in the world at times. That no one would come if you had a giant BBQ in your honor. Putting my plans to take this trip into the world has forced me to shatter all of those existential falsities I subconsciously and secretly harbor. PEOPLE SHOWED UP TO MY BBQ! People – YOU! – donated $10 (or sometimes much more!) to my bike fundraising efforts! It’s frikkin amazing! And really, really special.
I feel so loved and ready to share that love with the Northern Tier of the United States.
I have one more post about sparkle Grittering the crap out of my helmet that I want to share before we leave, but after that……. I’ll talk to ya’ll in Seattle! And then…. Onward! In Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine (…and possible all those other Atlantic Coast states between Maine and North Carolina).
Keep on dreaming boy cause when you stop dreaming it’s time to die.
I’ve been thinking about this blog about as long as I’ve been thinking about our cross-country cycle trip, but, while I’ve made significant steps towards actualizing the latter, the former (this blog…) has largely been a stagnant idea in the back of my mind until right….. about now.
See, I work in online marketing. I write in a blog for a living. I get paid to create editorial calendars. I live in WordPress. People pay an hourly rate to talk to me about blogging.
You’d think all of those qualifying factors would make starting this blog all the easier, but, instead, I’ve found all that knowledge to be a real barrier to entry. Instead of just making a blog, I want to make THE PERFECT WEBSITE. (I WANT ALL THE THINGZ.)
Which has resulting in a lot of time thinking, more time over-thinking, and zero time actually writing in the blog.
Well, today standing in a laundry mat, I am deciding to forget all that.
All of that thinking has been making this blog no fun before it even starts.
It’s funny, really. I guess It’s just like anything else; like having kids, or changing jobs, or riding your bike cross country. If you’re not careful you can end up spinning your wheels forever trying to get everything just perfect before jumping in, when in reality, all of that overthinking is just causing you to miss the forest for the trees.
So why am I wasting your time writing a blog post about my own blog feet dragging experience?
I am writing this post for two reasons:
1) Mostly for myself, to kick start this M-effer blog. To get the ball moving. To cannonball into the deep end. To commit! To take the Facebook engineering route and make a “done is better than perfect” resolution.
I think a large part of what’s kept me from starting this blog is a feeling that I need to start from the beginning; like the first posts need to naturally be an explanation of why we’re taking this trip, where we plan to go; how we got here and all of that. Like the blog should read like a book with a natural beginning. Sounds nice, but, the idea of cataloging all of that has me feeling exhausted and overwhelmed so, instead, I am to keep it simple by kicking it off with this ice breaker post and then letting this beast evolve on its own – with its own personality and its own style and its own organization (or lack of organization!) — from here on out.
In general you can expect this blog to be filled with gear reviews/feedback (we’ve be trying out all kinds of gear in preparation of our trip); coverage of our adventures day-to-day both on our trip, and as we train; other random cycling-related business; and probably many more random posts like this as we come across beautiful things that are worth talking about. We might also write in here periodically about permaculture, natural building (cob/straw bale) and other things that are of interest to us, and the life we’re working to build one day at a time.
2) Because I feel like there’s a life lesson that is directly applicable to our bike ride tied up in all this blog feet-dragging. The lesson? Don’t overthink the things you want to do or you may end up with nothing.
I’ve been trying to over-think the crap out of this blog, when, really, I just need to keep it simple. I need to pull up in a laundry mat and just do it (in the least Nike way possible).
The same goes for this cross-country bike trip. If I want to ride my bike across the country I need to ride my bike; not get caught up in whether I have the right shoes or if I’m fit enough. I need to stop spinning (my brain wheels), and start spinning (my bike wheels).
Wit that — if this blog is a giant metaphor for the huge 5,000+ mile bike ride I am about to undertake in 2.5 months, think of this stream of consciousness post like my first 3-mile bike ride on my Craig’slist bike. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and every journey starts with one single step – not with thousands of hours trying to plan your launch so perfectly that you never end up leaving the house.
Today I resolve to live a life with less planning and more doing.
And with that – off to the races! Thanks for reading this far. Hope you stick around for the ride!