Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Things that matter, things that don't

Approximate days until departure: 21
I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.
Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap

In the past few weeks I sometimes feel I’ve been granted the temporary clarity one only supposedly gets towards the end of their life. My last day at work was almost a month ago now. Since then, I’ve done a spectrum of things and had a rollercoaster of emotions. I visited a friend from college in Seattle, made new friends there, spoke to old professors, came back, made fancy dinner for a girl, promptly got sick (I assume from the Seattle airport and not the dinner), went dancing, went bowling, applied for plastic money containers with no foreign transaction fees, bought things with my plastic money containers, slept too little, worried too much, moved to Minneapolis, and now here I am.

I wish I could say in this flurry of activity the clarity I’ve been granted was that I should go bike around the world, but it would be more accurate to say that I should spend time with the people I love. In the endless frenetic hustle of my past few days -- on the day I moved to Minneapolis I woke up at 7 and didn’t get to bed until 2 AM -- my realization was that loving and being loved matter more than any thing I bought or rented for this trip and any trip I could possibly go on.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering, what if my password gets stolen? What if my pot isn’t big enough? What if my tent breaks? Those aren’t bad questions, but the answer to all of them is the same: it’ll work out. The closer the date draws, the more it becomes evident there are more important questions: What if the girl I love isn’t single when I get back? What if Casey never makes me tea again?

I thought for a few days that I had allowed myself too much downtime between quitting Epic and leaving Madison. My mind had too much time to wander; was I just bored? But now I find the days are catching up to me, even sweeping me along, as I hold with clueless aplomb the idea of nothing changing, of always having time for one more museum with Casey or one more bike ride with Adam. A friend told me, “Let’s hang out every day -- this is the last week!” and I didn’t hit me at the moment, but it opened the pores for the realization to permeate, the realization that life as I know it is about to go on hiatus. I’ve spent the past few days worrying about waterproofing my tent and if I can get this credit card without being employed; I should have spent the past few days worrying about what I’m going to cook for dinner for this girl I have a crush on. I should have been worrying about an impromptu dance party with that friend I promised a dance to, or when I can get another beer with Alex, another coffee with Brianna.

A month ago at work, one of my customers said to me: this isn’t goodbye. I will see most of these people again (assuming I don’t get hit by a truck). They will have changed, and I will have changed. But still, we will love each other. It is with a calm, inner peace that I packed up my things. I’d rather be spending my time at karaoke with Mandy or eating tapas with Dubby, but those times will come. This isn’t goodbye.

At the end of this life, there are few things that really matter: how deeply we loved, how compassionately we lived, and how gracefully we let go. I like to think I’m getting points for the first one by ignoring the third -- there are people in Madison I love deeply that I don’t think I will ever let go of. I know I am doing this trip for the right reasons: to love and be compassionate towards others. I just hope, desperately, that I am not passing on my only chance to be with the people I love. I hope they will be there when (if?) I get back. This was never an issue when applying to colleges or choosing a job; perhaps the sentience of adulthood and perspicuity of conscious choice is having its way with me. In the past month I’ve come to realize how wholly my heart has settled in Madison, having never felt at home in Minneapolis or Seattle. I find myself contemplating how rare that is, if it will be waiting for me when I get back, if I can find it somewhere else, or if maybe the adventure of a lifetime I’m about to embark on isn’t worth the risk of losing it.

Time will tell.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Video Time!

I haven't yet decided if I am going to do a vlog of the trip; in the meantime, my creative side can't help but do a video to summarize the project. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 9, 2017


The three most common responses I get to “I am biking around the world” are:
1. What are you going to do about the oceans? / Will you build a pedal-powered raft to get across the oceans? / Will you ride a stationary bike on a boat to say you “pedaled” across the oceans? (answered here)
2. That's amazing!
3. I could never do that.
I want to talk today about response #3 – “I could never do that.” This is, of course, an entirely fair response: uprooting your entire life for 1-5 years so you can see the world is quite a commitment. I am leaving behind friends, family, a stable job, a girl I can see myself falling for, and the knowledge of where I'm going to sleep every night. I'm putting a hold on the American dream, that golden brick road supposedly pre-paved for all of us willing to work hard enough, tried and true and definitely something I could easily do, to do my dream. I am trying to have faith that I will be happier and more fulfilled if I do this other thing that hardly anybody does than if I do what is implicitly expected of everyone in America.

It is, to say the least, terrifying. The closest analogy I can draw to my feelings over the past few months, and in particular, the past few days, is being in a plane going up to go skydiving. I spent 30 minutes on the ground, paying money, signing my life away, promising not to sue if I die (because I could), getting suited up, and figuring out what to do about my glasses. I asked and answered the logistical questions and the silly questions and at some point, I walked out to the plane, didn't say goodbye to the ground quite as thoroughly as I probably should have, and climbed on board.

When I went skydiving, it was a small plane crammed full of people sitting on the floor. Closest to the front of the plane was the last jumper, facing backwards. In their lap was the second-to-last jumper, in their lap someone else, and so on all the way up to the door. I was in the lap of my tandem, and someone was in my lap. There was little room to move, and if I didn't jump, the person behind me couldn't jump.

I was committed.

The plane took off and we climbed. That was me putting my notice in to work, more than three months ago now. We climbed, as I handed off my customers. We climbed, as I bought a bicycle frame. As my last day at work came and went. As I sold my first postcard. We climb, and my tandem holds his altimeter up so I can see how far we've come.

We climb.

[Listen to this quote here, it’s better than reading it]

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit? Yes. Settle? Not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Carl Sagan

Some people say they could never do this. There is nothing wrong with that. Me, I watch the news and skim social media and see the ignorance and fear and animosity in the world, I see the injustices we put on each other, and I could never see that and not be moved. I could never not do something, even if that something was just feeling hurt. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t self-righteousness (can you be self-righteous about something some would call foolish?). We all have our own paths to follow, our own things to do. This is my path.

I am compelled to do this trip. To try and make the world a little more kinder, a little more open, by making myself vulnerable to it, and sharing the results of that experiment. I could never not do that.

There are all sorts of reasons I shouldn’t do this trip. I won’t go into them here, as I’ve already thought many of them through. Despite the possible negative consequences, I have faith that it will work out. More than work out: I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome. Adventure, to me, is often worth the risk.

The plane is still climbing. I have yet to put my belongings in storage. I have yet to take the first pedal stroke. But at some point we'll reach jumping height. The door will open, and despite the pit in my stomach, despite the part of my brain that says jumping is stupid, humans can't do this, you could die! Don't do this! – despite that, I will scoot forward to the door, look out at the world I've yet to see, lean out once for momentum, rock back in, lean out a second time, rock back in, and then?

I'll jump.