“Momentum begets momentum, and the best way to start is to start.”
Last week’s theme was about How To Set The Right Goals. And this week I am here to share a personal story of the adventure which taught me how to do this.
Buckle up, and let’s ride.
What do you do when your world falls apart?
When my business and housing situation collapsed in early 2020, I decided rather than lament the change, I’d embrace it.
Everything in my world shifted so fast, and like so many others, I had no idea what I was going to do at first.
All I knew was I wanted to deepen my connection with Nature, and I ultimately wanted to move somewhere outside of San Francisco. And these had been my desires for quite some time.
So I trusted I would unequivocally know when the right idea blossomed, and tried to use my time off in constructive ways while the world was on pause.
I spent the early days of the shutdown walking or riding my bicycle all around San Francisco. Feelings of fear and freedom danced together in the Ocean’s mist, and I wasn’t the only one who tasted them.
The collective energy was stiff and intense, yet everyone in the City still seemed to be enjoying their unplanned time off outside as much as they could.
One day I got tired of dodging groups of speeding cyclists on the bustling Great Highway, so I decided to have a sit on a dune down at Ocean Beach.
I sat, breathed, and laughed with Tucker’s Great Spirit.
“You sure got out at the right time, buddy. It got kind of wild out here. Nothing feels real to me any more, and I’m not sure what I am supposed to do”, I told him.
I sat in peace and watched the ocean wave for a few minutes. And then the grandest aspiration I’d ever imagined for myself nonchalantly whispered from my heart.
“I should ride my bike to New York City.”
My head felt like a gong. And as those words reverberated off of my skull, I felt an electric rod of light straighten my spine with a new purpose. It was as if I had just received a message directly from God. The first real feeling I had felt in a long time.
The hair on my arms and legs stood at attention. I faced the Sun, and in an instant I knew exactly what I had to do. So I breathed in my purpose and stood there for a few moments.
I remember casually telling myself, “if none of this is real anyway, you might as well go and do the craziest thing you could possibly do right now. There’s never been a better opportunity than this for this. What do you have to lose that you haven’t already lost?”
And so right there on the dune, I told myself out loud, “ok then. I will ride my bicycle to New York. That’s the plan.”
With a new purpose, I turned back up the hill and walked toward my house. And almost immediately, the first wave of fearful questions began to form in my mind. I cringed inwardly to shield myself from them, but I couldn’t get away.
“You don’t really think you could actually make it, do you? You’ve never done anything this big.”
But what if you fail? What if you don’t make it? What will they think if you quit?
“This was a crazy idea, dude. Maybe you should just move to Oregon instead.”
“What if this happens though… what if that happens though?”
I knew those questions would only serve to hold me back if I gave them rent-free space in my mind. So I quickly decided I would need to place my focus on why I felt I could accomplish my new goal, rather than the fears that would cripple me before even starting.
The first thing I did was focus on all the things about myself which made me believe I could succeed.
I was a bike mechanic who could handle my own tour rig build and on-road repair work. And on top of that, I already had a working Steel Framed Touring Bicycle to get started with.
I had been successfully working for myself up to the shutdown and had money in the bank to fund the trip without the worry of running out.
I had been riding long mile days on my bicycle like a fiend since mid-2019 and was prepared for the physical challenge.
Tucker Passed in Fall 2019, and I had no more caretaking responsibility. It was my turn to become the caretaker of myself, and to fulfill the promise I made him to Live Harder. I knew my mission to plant his ashes along my route would protect me but it still scared me.
If any of my clients were to re-open and need my services, I could do the entirety of my job remotely.
I had been wanting to launch a career in writing and didn’t know how to get started. And writing about adventure excited my Spirit.
I had a strong feeling within that if I firmly made up my mind and decided I was going to go for it, I would not fail. And I knew I’d have to give it everything I had to make that path my reality.
And with those observations made about myself, I drew a trepid breath and finalized my decision.
“I’m doing this. I’m riding to New York. What the……”
The First Checkpoint - Build the bike, and set the plan
Once I decided I was going for it, I had to quickly start learning how to trust myself.
I knew that my success hinged on my ability to visualize myself actually making it all the way, but thinking of the end goal while standing in my cluttered SF in-law did nothing but freak me out.
So I decided the first thing I would need to focus on in order to cross the Hudson on my bike would be to build my bike strong enough to make it across the States to the Hudson in the first place.
That was something I felt more than comfortable doing, so I put my energy into that project, focusing on creating my first success of the trip.
First I made a list of all the gear I thought I would need, and immediately started buying items and checking them off.
I bought quality parts, had handmade wheels built with a generator to charge batteries as I rode, and made sure to get top end camping gear that would last for years beyond the trip.
“Do it once, the right way, and you will be happy you did”, I told myself. “Cut corners now, and you’ll regret it on the road.”
My bike came together over the span of a month and a half as the parts came in, and thankfully my landlords were gracious enough to allow me to exit on my time.
As I worked on the bike, I also worked out how I was going to route myself across the country on the trip.
I figured I’d go all in on the theme of trust, and rather than buying any specific ACA Route Maps, my plan became to use the mapping app on my phone each day to set new waypoints.
I wanted to create my route as I went, using my heart and anyone I might meet along the way as my guide to see what my fate had in store for me.
All I knew for sure was I wanted to take a Northern route across the States with hopes of avoiding the wind as much as possible. The jet stream should have been flowing eastward, I had been told.
So my plan became:
1. Finish Building Old Trusty to go the distance
2. Catch a ride to Oregon to see Kasey and his family.
3. Depart for NYC from Kasey’s house in Southern Oregon.
The Second Checkpoint - Don’t Die on the first day!
My buddy Cevan drove me up to Oregon, and we spent the day in the car talking about life. I wondered if I’d succeed in my quest, and so did he.
Then, after a day in Oregon spent white water rafting with Kasey, I knew it was time to ride.
Standing in the garage, I clamped my clammy hands anxiously, sweating through my teeth. My vision focused to a pin point and hot flashes of fear consumed me.
“Holy shit. What have I gotten myself into”, was all I could think as the reality of my decisions stared me in the face. “You have to do this, you can’t back out now.”
Kasey sensed my trepidation and connected his phone to a nearby speaker. Seconds later I heard the first riff of “Eye of the Tiger” swell, and Kasey started pumping his fists in the air.
He danced around with playful energy, and together with the song, got my blood pumping. Suddenly my vision widened, and I was back on earth again, in the garage.
“Come on Sean, you can do it. Let’s get it. You GOT THIS, let’s GO", he cheered as his mother and her significant other came out to join the party.
I told myself if I could make it up the first hill of their driveway and on to the road without putting my foot down, I would easily make up the Cascades. So I got rolling and they cheered me on.
As soon as I began pedaling around the property though, my bike began to wobble violently. I had no idea how much stuff I would need out on the road, so I overpacked, and never quite figured out how to balance all the weight for a smooth ride.
I figured I would work on the issue as I rode, so I cranked my overstuffed rig a few pedal strokes up the steep incline of the driveway, and my rear wheel’s locking quick release came loose, immediately dislodging the wheel and stopping me.
Everyone nervously laughed with the bike mechanic who didn’t securely tighten his wheel. I sheepishly corrected the issue, repacked the rear end of my bike, and saddled up to say my final goodbye.
Kasey’s sweet mother, Katherine, gave one final piece of advice.
“Be sure you take as much water as you can, it’s going to be over 100 degrees out there later today”, she told me. “If you get into any trouble, please do not hesitate to call us, as much as you probably won’t want to.”
“Thank you so much. I love you guys, and I appreciate you”, I told her and the crew. And with one final hug, I was flying.
On the Road Again
My heart buzzed as I rode with my fear along the first shaded miles of the day which would change my life forever. I had no idea what was coming for me later up the road, and I did not care. At that point I felt freer than I ever had before—completely unconfined and ungovernable.
Every cell in my body vibrated with purpose, lifting my awareness into the clouds. I felt like a bird gliding 5,000 feet above the Earth, and I did not want to ever come back down. Yet, at the same time, I was more scared than I had ever been.
“This is what being ALIVE FEELS LIKE”, I shouted into the wind as I zoomed downhill through rows of pine trees on wobbly wheels. “AHHHWOOOOOOOOO MAMA!”
With electric energy I cranked through the first 10 miles of the day, and the intensity of The Sun swelled along with my mood.
And during those miles, I quickly deduced that Trusty would need to be balanced as quickly as possible. The wobble was a serious problem and it would hurt me down the road if I didn’t deal with it.
It was stressful enough trying to stay upright at low speed on the heaviest bike ever built, and I didn’t want to challenge the upcoming Cascade Mountains with anything less than full confidence.
At virtually any speed, my normally rock-solid bike felt like it had a pivot point in the center of the frame, and while riding, the front and rear wheels wanted to wiggle independently of each other.
Pushing my overloaded 250 pound touring bike across Central Oregon during a record-breaking heat wave didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but after 25 miles, my 3 water bottles were completely empty, and I was looking for reprieve anywhere I could find it.
I found a small park, put some peanut butter and raisins on a tortilla, and munched on that snack while trying to find a working fountain to fill my bottles. But the problem was, due to the pandemic, no public fountains worked anywhere.
I fumbled around for a while, and re-distributed some items. And after test riding around the park, I was feeling confident I had gotten the wobbles at least partly under control, so I set back off again, looking for water.
The mountains morphed into rolling farm lands, and I got my first taste of two-lane highway riding. And with no shade coverage to protect me, the heat of the day hammered my fair skin, emptied my water bottles again, and deflated my Spirit.
As the countryside steered me back into the mountains, I stopped at a small cafe and general store in a small town called Shady Cove, and was elated to find a deli where I could chug cold water, fill my bottles, and order a sandwich.
Wolfing down the first half, I sat out front under the water misters on the porch, and collected my half-cooked self.
“I need to figure out where I’m stopping today”, I decided. So I pulled out my phone and found a campsite in a place called Joseph Stewart Park, less than 14 miles up the highway from where I stood.
What concerned me though, was my map told me there would be over 1,000 feet of climbing on that stretch of road to get there.
I knew I was going to have to challenge the Cascades early in the trip, but didn’t realize it would be on the first day, and I was concerned about running out of water in the heat, and where I would sleep if I didn’t make it to the campsite.
I was already tired, and had ridden more than enough for my first day, but I made my mind up, and wanted to camp near the lake. So without thinking too much about it, I set off, determined to make my first camp of the trip.
When Death calls your name
The road moved up and down, but it was manageable. And I kept wondering to myself when the real climbing was going to start as I got closer to the end point on my map.
Fearing dehydration, I sipped my water gingerly, but due to the heat, I still went through the first two bottles rather quickly.
I was completely gassed and stopped at a roadside park called, Casey Recreation Area, just 7 miles shy of camp, desperately hoping to find water.
In hindsight, based on how I felt, I should have packed it up for the day and pitched a tent there. But the park’s sign said it was for day use only, and I had no idea how to camp alone on the road. I had no idea how to do anything except how to pedal and fix my bike.
I had only ever been camping in a vehicle in the past, and I was terrified of losing my exposed bike or gear on the first day. And on top of that, I was already down to just a half water bottle left again, and none of the fountains at the park worked.
Not feeling well at all, I was profusely pouring sweat and a strange white film from every pore in my body, and my instincts insisted I stay put. But I didn’t listen. I had set my mind on what I wanted, and could no longer see any other options.
“You’ve got about 7 miles to go, Sean. You can’t sleep here, there’s no water. It looks like it’s gonna be straight uphill from this point forward, but you can probably do it…”
And so I turned up the hill, and the hill quickly morphed into a scorching gorge, sprawling up toward The Sun. I could not remember ever riding a grade that steep, and on top of that I was on the heaviest bike I’d ever pedaled, and was already more severely dehydrated than I understood at the time.
It was so hot, and the road was so steep, no amount of training could have prepared me for what I experienced as I tried to climb that mountain.
I cranked so slowly my wireless GPS didn’t even register my movement. Climbing at a snail’s pace, every inch felt like a mile. Every excruciating pedal stroke became more and more painful, and the visual world around me twisted and contorted.
No longer able to ride, I got off the bike and started pushing, stepping like molasses. I couldn’t tell if my feet or the ground felt sticky, or if they had actually started melting together.
I could see heat rising in waves off the freshly paved blacktop, and the rocky walls of the gorge cut the powder blue sky like jagged teeth, above. I felt like I was pushing my bicycle inside a convection oven up the Highway to Hell.
And I sincerely thought my life was ending.
Reality became too surreal to handle for a moment. My fear and the gravity of my situation overcame me, and I stopped, gripping my brake levers so my bicycle would not roll back down the mountain behind me.
My sweat had all dried up—I had no water left in my body to cry even if I wanted to. So I stood, encrusted in salt, at a sharp angle, gripping my brakes for dear life. And in that moment, my mind cracked wide open and my fear fully consumed me.
“Ohhhhhhh wow, what have I done? How the fuck did I get here, and how am I going to survive this? I am going to die today, aren’t I? This is how it ends for me? On Day 1?”
My dehydrated legs wobbled, and my view of the world faded slightly for a split second. I had to sit down so I didn’t collapse into traffic, so I rested my bike on its side, and placed my head in my hands.
Cars zoomed by me at high speeds up the mountain, the drivers probably wondering what that kook on the side of the road was doing in that heat. My vision blurred again and the sharp rocks started to look fuzzy.
“God, I wish I had some water”, I thought to myself as I squeezed the last droplet from my bottle. “Great, my cell phone has no service either, so I can’t even tell anyone I’m dying.”
I remember how hot the pavement felt on my rear end, yet at the same time I was barely phased by it. What did it matter anyway, since I was going to die.
“I” became a passenger in my body at that point, and my body was shutting down whether I wanted it to or not. I felt powerless, and at that point I had no fight left in me to care.
“I really don’t want to die today”, I whimpered to myself with my head in my hands. “I thought I could do it…”
And then the world turned black, and I was gone.
Coming Next Week…
Do you want to know what happened next, and how I ultimately survived to tell you the tale?
In next week’s Paid Subscriber Exclusive, I will finish this story to tell you how I skirted death’s grasp to learn about momentum.
Sign up now for a Paid Subscription Tier which works for your budget, and next week we’ll bring this story home together.
And if you can’t afford to pay and still want to read along, send me an email with no questions asked and I’ll comp you for a year.
This year I will be sharing many more Tour Stories exclusively for our Paid Audience, and trust me when I tell you, you will laugh out loud and you will cry as you read along.
Life is a tremendous gift, and I feel so incredibly honored to share mine with you.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for caring for yourself.
See you next week with the conclusion to this storyline.