In January of 2015, I was deep into planning for a Spring departure for my ride across the country… and then all of a sudden it was May 15 - the day I flew out. I’d put in a ton of miles training, packed and repacked my bags ninety times and felt ready to go.
The only hard part was the thought of leaving my wife - after all, we were just married on April 17 and I was heading out for three months. But then I thought back to when I brought up the idea of the ride with her almost a year earlier. As soon as I shared my desire, she put all my hesitations to rest by immediately saying, “All the fulfillment you get from it, you’ll bring back to the relationship… so do it… you have to!” Who was I to argue?
That day I left, I double-checked with the bike shop in Williamsburg, Virginia to ensure they got my bike and put it back together, I re-checked that hotel was booked, investigated where to buy fuel canisters for cooking and pepper spray for the dogs of Kentucky (I eventually went through one and a half canisters), and I was ready to go… minus the thought of leaving LaVonne.
When she dropped me off at the airport for my 10 pm. redeye to Norfolk via Philly, I was feeling bittersweet excitement. I was super ready to ride, but not ready to leave her. So I went to the bar, had a shot and a beer, and boarded my flight.
As my grandpa used to say, “You don’t buy beer, you just rent it a while,” which had me headed for the lavatory on the plane before we left the gate. When I exited the Lav, I thought I was hallucinating when I saw my wife sitting in an aisle seat ready to fly.
She told me that there was no way she was going to let me take off on this journey with no one to see me off. So she decided she would surprise me, spend the day with me preparing in Williamsburg, then see me off in grand fashion - she had a big banner designed to be held up as I pedaled away.
Nobody had ever done anything like that for me before, and when I pedaled away that morning, I felt her with me, as I did for the rest of the trip.
My first miles of the journey took me through the streets of Old Williamsburg and onto the Colonial Trail, a bike only trail that wove 40 miles through the Jamestown settlement, Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, and a zillion cemeteries. It seemed like every family had their own cemetery in their front yard… I wasn’t in Seattle anymore.
Ten or so miles in, about 40 school children were on the path and made way for me to ease by. When they asked where I was going and I told them, they cheered loudly, which made me feel like I was literally floating. Between that incredible adulation and the emotional farewell, I forgot to drink water the entire day.
And that’s why about 50 miles into a 70 mile day, my legs cramped so badly that the pain literally threw me off the bike onto the roadside. I quickly downed both my water bottles and started draining my 3 liter hydration pack. After righting myself, I made it to a motel and drank and ate until I passed out.
Between that first day experience, and the day-in-day-out slow pace that comes with crossing the country with 75 pounds of gear, my entire perspective changed. Bike touring makes you feel like you’re in a bubble with cars and the rest of the world zipping by. Everything slows down. It gives you time to think without the barrage of input daily living thrusts upon us.
From that day on, I began striving to be more deliberate in everything I do. I better think through my decisions - and what comes out of my mouth. And I’m especially aware of what impact whatever I do has on others… which is pretty easy to do if you just take a little time to think about it.
I’m by far a work in progress, but that’s pretty much what being a lifelong learner is all about.
I didn't know it at the time, but the lessons I started to experience helped me form what's slowly becoming my life's work.
Today, as I continue to build curriculum around the “Engagement” part of my “Stay fit, active and engaged into your eighties and nineties,” coaching offer, every research article I read points toward curiosity and lifelong learning as the key to healthy cognitive function. Yes, Sudoku and other such puzzles can’t hurt and may provide some value toward promoting cognitive health, but they really don’t help a lot, especially when it comes to warding off Dementia.
When you become passionately curious, you open the door to lifelong learning and put yourself in a position to figure out how to leverage your passion into something that may also benefit others… which can lead to more social interaction and increased community involvement… which has been proven to have great mental and physical health benefits. And to do so, it helps not to be in a hurry.
Ponder this: Life moves fast. The years fly by. But you can actually have some control over how you perceive it. So slow down… and your perception of aging will too.