The last day of a long bike ride is always a strange day. Not that any of the previous five days were similar to the others, but this day was especially different. As is the case with many journeys, on the last day two things happen.
First, the specifics, the details such as route decisions, stop locations, timing, daily milage and the like all sort of gradually drift out of my mind. In its place come grander thoughts about the trip as a whole, the accomplishments, the disappointments, the lessons learned, and everything else that has been going through my mind.
The second thing that happens is reality starts to set in. For six days, July 5th, the day I would go back to work, and return to my “normal life”, may as well not have existed. It did not cross my mind once. It’s like my mind suddenly re-realized that this day was coming and that, in less than 24 hours I’d be on a plane heading home, and within 48 hours I’d be back to regular old work.
Another thing that made this day different than the first five days is that we had two additional riders join us. Riding with a group, and riding significantly less miles (67 today as opposed to over 100 most other days) made the ride take on a significantly different feel.
We entered Maine only about seven miles into the ride. I guess the previous day I pretty much rode across the entire state of New Hampshire. And, I got my sign! The one I had been hoping for the last two times (last two days) I crossed a state line.
The first part of the ride was nice, with a wide shoulder along state highway 113, following the Saco River. After riding on a few back roads, and a little bit of time on a trail that was half paved and half rocky, we found ourselves headed into the Portland area. The roads got significantly busier. In fact, these were the busiest roads I had ridden on for the entire trip. In some parts of the route, the shoulders all but disappeared, making these the kinds of roads I would not normally chose to ride on.
We rode through the surprisingly hilly downtown area of Portland, and after the final seven miles along state highway 77, arrived, in the early afternoon, at our final destination for the trip, Cape Elizabeth.
When we arrived at the Atlantic Coast, at Two Lights State Park, the day started to get emotional.
This was, by far, the biggest bike trip I had ever been on, and may still prove to be my life’s longest bicycle journey. But, for Clay, it was the culmination of a three year long effort to bike across the country. In 2014, he biked from Denver to Chicago. Last summer, from the Oregon Coast to Denver. This year, from Chicago to Maine. In three segments, he biked across the country. Many members of his family made the journey to Maine to see him triumphantly enter the Atlantic Ocean, having biked across the continent, and, as a side note, also basically proven that you do not have to be some incredibly rich or extremely lucky person to do so. He did it all while holding the same steady job!
Of course, it is easier to be emotional when exhausted, and this picture sums up exactly how I felt the first fifteen minutes after completing the ride. It was an odd combination of emotions that came over me. Most of them were good, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for being able to play a small part in this whole mission by joining Clay, for three days last year in Montana and Wyoming, and for six this year.
In the afternoon I got the meal I knew I had wanted upon completion of my ride; Lobster. I love lobster, but I live in Denver. When in Maine, well, really there was no other logical choice. In fact, when biking over the last hill of the day, despite being tired, I actually increased my speed and simply yelled, “this is the last hill in the way between me and lobster”!
We ate at a place called the Lobster Shack Restaurant, which, on that day, had a 40 minute wait for service, as it is a popular destination where patrons can eat while overlooking the Ocean!
It got even more emotional after that. That evening my main goal was to hang out with my friends, Clay and Liz, as much as possible. They are in fact, leaving for a year long adventure, to go out and see many other parts of the world! These adventures will be catalogued on their WordPress site. I knew I would likely not see them for a while.
I also could not help but think about all of the things this bike journey taught me, whether it be specifically from the experience, or things that ran through my mind over the course of the long hours I spent on my bike.
Over the course of the week, I saw kindness everywhere I went. Clay was raising money for charity. His family volunteered to help with the ride. Many of the people we met along the way were friendly. I realized that, despite the amount of physical pain I put myself through, I felt happy the entire time, significantly happier than under normal circumstances. Maybe the whole world would be happier if we all acted this way towards one another. The most I can do, going forward, is strive to be the kind of person that gives more than I take, and do my part.
Having experienced being on mile 27 of a 100+ mile day multiple times reminded me not to become too obsessed with the destination. This ride was about more than me laying on a beach in Maine and then eating lobster. It was all of the places I saw while traveling from Niagara Falls across Upstate New York, through the Adirondacks and then Northern New England. The rest of my life is not exactly where I hope it will end up at this point in time, but I can be much better off if I learn to obsess less over the destination and enjoy the journey, as I did this week.
The social media era has turned us all into avatars. By that I mean we all have some kind of image of ourselves that we present to others, based on who we think they want us to be. This week, I simply couldn’t continue to be my avatar. On trips like this, our concerns shift, from the concerns of urban 21st century American life, such as getting a promotion or getting likes on social media, to more basic concerns, for food, water, and shelter. I couldn’t put on a show for others, but I got by, and even thrived. The others on the trip seemed to enjoy having me around. So, I need to stop trying to be the person I think others want me to be.
Also, on the flight to Buffalo-Niagara, I was reading a book called The Happiness Project, about a woman who undertakes various initiatives aimed at improving life satisfaction and reports on the results. She introduced me to the concept of “fog happiness”. This is when the happiness related to an activity is not necessarily concentrated at the time of the activity itself, but spread out over a longer time period, both before and after the actual activitiy. Once I determined I was going to make this bike trip, for the first time in my life, I thought of myself as a legitimate bike tourist. For the first time, I felt the right to interject in a conversation about bike touring, and have legitimate opinions. Essentially, I had added something to my list of activities and enriched my life. We all should be more thoughtful when choosing activities, and, specifically avoid missing out on opportunities to create more of this “fog happiness”.
Obviously, anytime anyone completes an activity that requires a great amount of physical exertion, it is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to overcome fatigue. This lesson applies to other areas of life too, but a journey like this can often be the best reminder that some of the most challenging tasks are the ones with the greatest reward.
Personally speaking, the most important lesson I have taken from this ride relates to something I have struggled with for nearly my entire life. I seek significance in life. I want to do things that matter and feel like I matter to others. While with most of it my intensions are good, there is a dark side. At times, when I feel insignificant and powerless, I succumb to anger, depression and other negative emotions.
This week, while a significant ride, and a series of significant experiences and accomplishments for myself, I was not the center of it all. As previously mentioned, it was Clay’s ride. He rode longer, harder, and raised money for charity. Yet, I did not feel insignificant, as I have a tendency to feel in many day-to-day activities. I realized, and this is important, that: You Don’t Have to be the Center of Attention to Matter. I cannot stress this, to others but most importantly to myself, enough!
As I flew home, I drifted off to sleep, as Bon Jovi’s inspirational 2000 song Save The World played on my headphones. Flying through moderate turbulence, I felt the plane gently shift, both upwards and downwards. Running through my head, was an image of myself, from above, pedaling over hills, through the woods. Nothing else was happening, I was just pedaling.