Monthly Archives: June 2016

Taking it to Another Level

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I must be insane!  The same thoughts have kept popping up into my head about my upcoming trip ever since I planned it roughly six weeks ago.  I am so conflicted.  On one hand, what I am doing is significantly outside the realm of what “normal people do”.  On the other hand, compared to most long-distance cyclists, my plan is actually rather tame.

My upcoming trip involves cycling (or attempting to, we’ll see how it goes) 600 miles over the course of six days, starting at Niagara Falls, New York, and ending on the East Coast at Portland, Maine.  I am actually joining my friend Clay for half of his 1250 mile journey, which he started in Chicago.  So, while I am taking this cycling thing to a whole new level, I can’t help but think about the fact that there are plenty who do trips that are way more elaborate than mine.

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This map represents an approximation of the route that I will be taking.  There are a few things that are still up in the air, and we may improvise a bit.  But we are certainly planning to head northeast through the Adirondack Mountains as opposed to taking the most direct route through Saratoga Springs.  It will add a few miles to the trip, but we will get to see places like Old Forge, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid.

Last year, I joined my friend for one of his journeys, but chose a much shorter segment, from Bozeman, MT to Jackson, WY.  This 230 mile bike ride took me through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, and at this point is still the longest and most exhausting bike ride I have ever done.

This year, I took on a much longer ride for reasons that are somewhat personal.  I grew up on Long Island, just outside of New York City.  However, I moved away when I was only eleven years old.  Still, at face value, it always seems odd to people when they hear that I am from New York and have never been to Niagra Falls, as well as countless other places in the region.  In fact, there are nine states I have never been to, and Vermont is one of them.  In about a week’s time, my number of remaining states to visit will be down to eight!

I can’t fault myself for having not been to these places.  After all, it takes many people until nearly the age of eleven to start developing an individual identity, and for many it takes even longer to develop an appreciation for travel to places of natural beauty.  I remember taking the ferry from Orient Point on Long Island to New London, Connecticut several times as a child.  While I remember the smell of the salt water, I do not remember appreciating the scenic coastal town in front of me.

After months of what still doesn’t feel like enough training, I am ready to take on the longest bike ride of my life, and see many of the places I “should have” seen as a “New Yorker”.

I feel anxious.  Will I make it?  Did I train enough?  Will it rain?  Will it get windy?  Will some other hazard emerge?  Or, will the lower elevation and relatively easier terrain (for the first half of the ride along the Erie Canal) make it feel easier than my normal cycling around Colorado’s Front Range?

Whenever I plan to do something major like this, there is also always this tug of war that goes on inside my head.  Maybe this is normal.  I don’t know.  On the surface, I understand what it means to go outside of one’s comfort zone, and do something unique.  There is a greater risk and a greater reward than sticking to activities that are easy and familiar.

Sometimes, particularly when doing something major, a part of me gets this nagging feeling of guilt inside my head, like I am skipping out on some kind of responsibility.  It’s strange, and I don’t know why it occurs.  In a way, it bums me out that this feeling occurs at all.  I know that life was meant to be lived, and the world was meant to be explored.  Yet,  in the back of my mind this feeling just occurs, making me feel like I should be doing something boring, like work, or house cleaning.

I wonder if others get that feeling too.  I wonder if we’ve been conditioned in some way to feel guilty about taking extended periods of time to do something for ourselves.  I’m glad I’ve learned to work through this feeling, preventing it from costing me countless opportunities over the years.  Still it would be nice to silence it altogether.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves, or be pushed, to truly figure out who we are.  Perhaps this requires the right level of insanity.  Last weekend, I attended two weddings, one in Breckenridge, CO, and one in Chicago, IL.  They were on back-to-back days.  This is, in some ways insane.  Yet, I did not do anything out of control, that could land me in jail or on a hospital bed.  Perhaps I have already found this proper level of insane!

A Mental Health Day

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I feel like I have over 100 things on my mind, all vying for space, all wearing me out.  All the changes I see around me.  The shocks, the craziness, the idiocy.  The selfishness.  My personal shortcomings, recent mistakes, how my life’s path ended up where it is and what to do about it.  How do we find a balance between order and chaos?  All the ways in which the people around me have let me down.  All the ways I let the people around me down.  How do I keep the benefits of having a smart phone (like being able to take pictures like this, after 28 miles of bicycling, which would have been tough carrying a heavier device) but avoid the pitfalls of mindless scrolling on weekdays when bored?  What is my future,  and how do I find my niche?   What is the future of our society?  The mindless violence followed by the sometimes equally idiotic responses to it.  Globalization.  Trump, Brexit, and the backlash to globalization.  But, most of all, the disappointments when experiences do not match expectations.

Simply put, I needed a mental health day.  I think we all do from time to time.  A day where we get away from jobs, computers, social media, day-to-day responsibilities, pretty much everything that causes us stress, and do something that we enjoy.  This, of course is something different for everybody, and it is not up to me to judge what any one person does for their mental health days.  Well, unless of course it is something morally reprehensible like murder or theft.

I have a firm belief in, and also a unique take on, the connection between mind, body, and spirit.  Over the course of my life, and in observing others, it is almost impossible not to observe the connection between the three.  I remember winters in Chicago, and other times when lack of exercise would in turn weigh on my mind and spirit.  Overall, improvements in one of the three realms often force improvements in the other two.  Likewise, a deterioration in one of the three realms can negatively impact the other two, like the person who develops an eating disorder after a rough breakup.

So, I decided to make my mental health day also a physical health day, with a bike ride to Roxborough State Park.  This is a ride I did two years ago.  The basic gist is that it is 28 miles each way, goes by Chattfield Reservoir, and is a significant climb over the last five or six miles.

Wednesday’s ride was even more exhausting, as temperatures soared into the 90s and a Southerly wind developed making the last several miles of climbing in harder.  Needless to say, I arrived at Roxborough exhausted.  In fact, I had to sit inside for about 15 minutes to cool off when I got there.

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Still, I decided to do some hiking.  Knowing that my legs were exhausted, I decided to stick to moderate trails, but ones where I can still view the essence of the park and what makes it geologically unique.

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It was after roughly 1.5 miles of hiking that the ideas suddenly started popping into my head.  Ideas about things I could be doing with my life just entered my mind.  I could do this, and present it to these people, and achieve fulfillment in this manner.  They just kept pouring in, and, for some reason, felt so simplistic to me.  Like, the only thing I need to do is just go out and do these things.

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These are all things that frustrate the hell out of me day and night.  Maybe it is because all of the physical exertion caused my mind to slow down enough for my brain to stop over-thinking things.  Maybe it is the freedom from all of the distractions of daily life.  It’s strange what I was contemplating.  Whenever I am in front of a computer, at an office, in a cube, or in some kind of work-like setting all of the ideas I have seem almost impossible, like a daunting challenge that would take years to attempt and would likely not result in any meaningful success.  In a way, there, I feel stuck.  Here, not so much.  Here, the same exact ideas seem quite possible.

It is here that the conspiracy theorist in me gets activated, so please bare with me, as I am the kind of person that just likes to entertain theories, even if I am not necessarily going to conclude that they are true.  I wonder if cubicles, offices, sedentary days and the like are the way “the system” maintains itself.  By “the system” I mean what I am observing around me.  A whole generation of highly educated people going to work at jobs that are well beneath the skill level they develop through college, and increasingly, post-granulate, education.  A whole generation of people submitting to rules, such as a strict 9-5 schedules and dress codes, that are no longer relevant for the kind of work that now predominates in a service sector economy.  Is the reason people continue down this path the manner in which a whole day of sitting at a computer connected to the internet and all of its distractions make them feel?

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People visit Roxborough State Park, and the geologically similar and more well-known Garden of the Gods, because they are unique.  If this place looked like every other place on Earth, people would not make a specific point of coming here.  So, maybe the key to being the kind of person people seek after, is to be unique.  After all, the person you meet at the party that is exactly like everyone else, is the person you don’t remember.  Sorry to be harsh.  But, it’s when someone does something unique, or interesting, that you remember that person.  Strangely, though, the world of school, and subsequently work, encourages conformity.  It encourages people to follow the worn out path and do things the way they are always done.  Maybe overcoming that conditioning and doing things our own way is the key to life, both in terms of success and happiness.

Logan Square: A Place That Still Feels Like Home

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In some ways, it feels as if I never left.  I go about my business from instinct.  I do not need to look up where things are, think too hard about how to get there, and fret about to expect from the people around me.  It is all still very familiar, fresh in my memory.  Things like how the streets are laid out, where the traffic lights are, or where and how to board busses and trains are still like second nature to me.  It is what makes a place feel like “home”.  It is what many people miss after a couple of months moving to a new town, as, for most, it takes time to become truly acquainted with a city, the customs, the energy, mannerisms and the like.

It’s now been nearly four years since I moved away from this neighborhood of Chicago, situated several miles northwest of downtown, near the halfway point between downtown and O’Hare International Airport.  Four years has always been a fascinating length of time for me.  I was a teenager when I first observed the significance of this length of time – four years.  I’ve always been fascinated with observing people, what makes them the way they are and how that changes over time.  I’d think about people, including myself, who they were, what kind of life they are living, what activities they are taking part in, and what their expectations are.  These things were likely to be quite similar one year to the next, but after a four year time frame, significant differences would be observed in most people.

This may be cultural, as we are trained from a young age to break our lives down into four year increments (high school, college, etc.).  But, I noticed something else too.  It felt as if four years was how long certain unintentional transitions took to manifest.  It’s how long a person can passively absorb a new culture (by passively I mean neither actively embracing nor resisting it) before starting to also reflect it.  It is how long one can go without talking to someone before it really does start to become awkward to meet again.

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It’s not like everything is exactly the way it was four years ago. No place really works like that.  Over the course of time, things change: A store goes out of business, a new one pops up, a few places renovate their buildings, new signage comes in, etc.  We are accustomed to this gradual change.  In the place where we live, we do not even notice it.  It’s kind of a seamless flow.  However, after several years, the cumulative effect of all the new development becomes noticeable.  This Logan Square, the one I returned to in June 2016 is not different enough to feel foreign to me.  It feels more like when a best friend gets a different haircut, or when a house gets one room remodeled.  It’s still the same person.  It’s still the same house.  It’s still the same Logan Square, just with a couple of new features.

Logan Square is also a neighborhood in transition.  It has been for a long time.  At the turn of the century, when the renewed interest in urban living following the crime reductions that took place in many major cities during the 1990s was still a new thing, Logan Square was still run down, and kind of edgy.  It would take a few more years and several thousand more young people searching for the new urban life.  However, Logan Square was destined to become a destination for young urban professionals.  The CTA blue line runs right through the heart of the neighborhood, giving residents easy access to both downtown and O’Hare airport.  Logan Square is somewhat of a hybrid neighborhood in this sense. It is possible to live here car free. But, car ownership is not the burden it is closer to downtown, where monthly parking can get quite pricey.  Most residents pay something like $100 a year (I’m not sure what it is exactly now- not something I keep up with) for a neighborhood city sticker.

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The Logan Square I came back to was a Logan Square with somewhat more energy than it had several years ago.  There were more people walking around.  There was more nightlife.  There were more buildings, and a lot of new restaurants, bars, shops, just places to go in general.  This should not be surprising.  It is just a continuation of the trend that I had once been a part of.  Logan Square felt more energetic and more alive, but it definitely maintained most of its individual character.  It felt like home- just a slightly livelier home.

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The weekend was fast-paced, and full of events, taking me from one side of the city to the other.  Due to time constraints, I took far too many Uber rides, as it would have taken longer to take trains and busses everywhere.  I recall going up and down the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, passing from one side of town to another over and over again.  This is the part of a busy weekend, which is mostly about scrambling around to as many events, and seeing as many people as possible, that fades into kind of a blur.  It’s just a blur of nighttime expressway riding, going through Hubbard’s Canyon and riding by the new Whirlyball building a whole bunch of times.

Trips back to Chicago always feel like a whirlwind for me.  Trying to spend time with family friends, etc., see as many people as possible.  But, there is more to it than that.  Everything around me seems to happen faster here.  There is something about dense urban environments that make me, and probably others around me as well, walk faster, move faster, live faster.  Events happen and plans come together much quicker.  It’s like there is something in the air, or something about seeing a lot of buildings, people, and just stuff going on all around us that makes us want to pick up the pace.  If there is one thing I truly miss about Chicago and my life there, it is that.