Hong Kong: It’s been nearly two weeks since I completed this transcontinental journey, and I am still basking in the “halo effect” of this enriching and empowering experience. Here are some of the things I learned while cycling from sea to shining sea. This ride across America is definitely a life altering experience, but I am not quite sure exactly how it will impact me long-term. So far this is what I learned:
Live in the moment. Life’s not a race. My need for speed evolved on this trip. In the early days of the journey I was more focused on getting to the day’s destination somewhat quickly; by the very end of the trip I was deliberately among the last to finish each day. My mantra “Are we there yet?” evolved to “What’s the rush?” What changed? My desire to enjoy the journey, and frequently stop along the way to get a sense of the place I was traveling through. These “slow” days were among my most favourite. I think this can be an important lesson for life.
Conquer big challenges through small tasks. When looking at a map I still have difficulty getting my head around the fact that I cycled across the country. This journey is a powerful demonstration that any challenge can be broken down into a series of doable tasks. I feel I can now do anything I really set my mind to, by breaking down any future challenge into a series of small daily steps.
America. It’s a big, beautiful country. I already knew that. What was surprising is the extent to which the world’s largest economy is still an agricultural-based economy, and particularly how much corn the country grows. What especially struck me, coming from one of the most densely populated places on the planet, is how vacant the Western US is. The first four states I cycles accross — Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota — have a combined population less than Hong Kong. I found the regional specialties and passions, from the corn palace to the bologna capital, really charming. But the political, socio-economic and “mindset” fissures I observed are really scary. One motivation for this trip was to reconnect to America, but strangely, in much of the middle of the U.S., I felt more distant than ever to my home country.
Keep pedaling. The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s top English newspaper, wrote in June about my ride that I will be a cycling “addict or over it.” After 3,700 miles I am definitely an addict. More than ever I love cycling as a sport, as a mode of transport, as a way of seeing a place. There was never a day on the trip when I woke up and wished that I were not cycling. I became a better cyclist with hopefully better safety habits. And after watching 79-year-old Howard spin, I realized that cycling can be a sport for life and I yearn for the next long distance ride.
Boy Scouts have it right. Like a good boy scout, I was prepared for this ride. I trained hard for months and this paid off. On balance, this trip was much easier than I thought. About the half the time I felt like I could comfortably keep going. There were only two truly hard days — days where I was tired to the bone — and on one of those days I suffered a migraine.
60 is the new 40. The majority of riders on this trip were over 50, with about half over 60. I was the fifth youngest rider on this trip, and I’m definitely no spring chicken. The seven week time commitment makes it difficult for middle-aged professionals to participate. I was truly inspired by the older riders, who have amazing stamina and endurance levels, and I now appreciate how cycling can help carry good fitness throughout life.
Junk Foodie. I am surprised by how quickly I lost control over my good nutrition habits, and by my overindulgence. I ate alot of junk food because I could afford to eat alot of junk food. Around the middle of the trip I became obsessed with food – the quantity, definitely not the quality – due to my body’s high metabolic rate. Some days I just couldn’t eat quickly enough to satiate my appetite; it was very common for me to have two lunches. On this blog I also exuded this food obsession by writing alot about what I ate, because when you’re surrounded by miles and miles of cornfields, there’s just not much else to write about. My eating habits definitely fall into the category of’ ‘what happens on the road stays on the road.’