We are on day 14 of our great journey across America and are getting a rest day on the 4th of July in Jackson, WY. What a great place to get caught up on a little rest and enjoy a good old fashioned American tradition, the local 4th of July parade. It was a full blown small town red white and blue parade with cowboys, indians, horses, politicians, little kids and a lot of local businesses. Having a day off the bike not only gave us time to enjoy the local festivities but it’s also given me time to think about our adventure so far and reflect on some of the things we have seen and done. Chris has done an amazing job chronicling our journey so far so I thought I’d share some of my observations and reflections.
1) Gratitude. As we are riding across the country – I feel so fortunate to have the support from my family, friends, clients, and business partners as well as the good health and resources to do this. A few weeks before leaving on the trip, I was attending the 40th gala event for one of my clients, NatureBridge. NatureBridge is a non-profit that provides environmental education for children (A great organization to support by the way). While there, they showed a video clip done by film maker Louie Shwartzberg on gratitude. This came at a time when I was stressing big time about all the remaining preparations for the trip and it really struck me that it is important to step back and be grateful for the simple things in life and all that we have. Now that I’m on the trip, I feel grateful every day for the opportunity I have to do this and to share it with so many people. I thought some of you might like to see the Louie Schartzberg video so I’ve included a link to the clip on YouTube.
2) America the beautiful doesn’t begin to explain it. In our first 1,000 miles, we have covered the western part of the U.S. and I continued to be awed by it’s beauty. San Francisco, the American River by the bike trail, the gold country in the Sierra Foothills, and Lake Tahoe started us of and they all brought breathtaking beauty. While we were very concerned about the Nevada Desert, it too had it’s own unique beauty, particularly in the early morning or evening light. Idaho’s agriculture and green fields were a welcome site after a few days in the desert and it’s simply remarkable what you can do to a barren sage brush landscape with a little water from the Snake river (That’s right, the same river where you can catch Salmon 700 miles from the coast!) As we entered the Swan Valley and ultimately Teton mountain range, the majesty and grandeur of the rivers, meadows, ranches and snow capped peaks, combined with the spectacular weather and favorable winds has almost brought me to tears. To see these spectacular areas in almost perfect circumstances has just been amazing. I often wonder why i have been so fortunate to experience such things in my life but in the end I find I can only feel humbled and grateful
3) Americans are a hard working bunch. As we crossed Nevada and we’ve been in the farming towns of Idaho, these are places where people work extremely hard to scratch out a life and provide for their families. While in Battle Mountain, NV, we found that their local coffee shop opened at 4:30 am so they could support the local miners as they left for work. I thought 5:30 am was early for the local StarBucks in the Bay Area. Gold, Silver, Copper and Phosphorous mines are really all that support many of the small communities in Nevada. Workers arrive at the coffee shop by 4:30 or 5:00 am so they can get on the shuttle for an hour to two hour ride to the mine, they work all day and then come home. The farmers in Idaho have a different occupation but a similar work ethic as they manage their crops or livestock. The men and women of these communities have a self-reliance and steel to them that is noticeable. Hard work is simply one of the requirements of surviving in these kinds of communities
4) The 4th of July is a big deal. As we left California, fireworks stands began popping up everywhere. Every small town has had multiple stands and it brought back great memories of being a 10 year old kid and getting to set off your own fireworks in the neighborhood with other families. Yes, the big fireworks displays are nice but there was nothing better than getting together with neighbors in the evening and setting things a blaze! To be young again and able to set off small explosives, what a life. In the San Francisco Bay Area, personal fireworks are pretty much a thing of the past so seeing this on our trip has brought back some great childhood memories.
5) Harley Davidson is America. It seems that no matter where you are in the west, no matter how small the town, there will be Harley’s in town and a local bar to support them. Now people say 50 year old guys look funny in their spandex and on their bicycles and I will not disagree. But the Harley crowd has an even stronger culture and clear wardrobe choices. While in Lava Hot Springs, ID, we saw a variety of Harley’s all parked neatly in front of the Blue Moon bar and grill and yes, their appears to be some kind of Harley parking etiquette. Back wheels to the curb and front wheels all turned in the same direction. Also, I would say your average Harley rider is similar in age to your average adult bike rider in Danville, Mid forties to late 50’s. Instead of spandex, they go with the black leather boots, jeans, black leather chaps, and jeans vest with a big patch on the back along with a nice do rag on the head. Saw several women wearing shorts under the leather chaps and tank tops, nice. I also noticed that Harley riders appear to be a lot less concerned than cyclists about body fat % and high glycemic index food. Note to self, don’t go into the biker bar and ask for a salad with dressing on the side. Simply enjoy the fries and tater tots that likely accompany all menu items. I’m not judging, just noticing and admiring the desire to be part of the Harley team. While we saw this in Lava Hot Springs, we have found the same thing in almost every town we’ve visited.
6) People on the wagon trains of the 1800’s were crazy – After having traveled much of the California and Oregon trails on our trip and visiting the California Trail Interpretive center, just west of Elko, NV, I’ve come to the conclusion that those early settlers that came west were simply crazy. I thought our bike trip on paved roads was going to be difficult. I spent hours worrying about the heat, the roads and how we would handle the support from our SAG driver. After learning about the hardships endured by early settlers who had to cross the Rocky Mountains, to be greeted by the great Utah/Nevada basin only to then be faced with getting over the Sierras (hello Donner party), I felt like a complete wuss for worrying how hard it might be to cross the Nevada desert on a super light carbon fiber bicycle with 22 gears on paved roads and with multiple options for places to stay and eat. I found myself wondering what some of the conversations must have been like among the families crossing the country in their covered wagons. Daddy, do you think we can still make it to California even though the last horse pulling our wagon died today from lack of food, water and heat exhaustion? Or as they were heading over the passes of the mighty Sierra, Daddy, it looks like it might snow, do you think we should turn around and go back to Reno rather than make camp with the Donner’s, they look kind of hungry?
7) Eastward I go by force; but west I go free – Henry David Thoreau… I saw this quote at the California Trail Museum in Elko and remembered that my dad used to say this quote when he was a docent at the High Desert Museum in Bend Oregon when leading discussions about Lewis and Clark and the Oregon trail. I thought it ironic that I was now traveling east with tail winds at my back and a thirst to visit the roots of our country. I understand that when we get to Nebraska and Iowa, we are likely to face headwinds coming from the east. It seems that the winds in our country keep trying to keep us in the middle. I thought it a little ironic that this appears to be in opposition to the political landscape of the country that seems to push everything to the east and west (left or right to be more literal) Just an observation – nuff said
8) Sustainability – As we are riding our bikes across the country and trying to cover 4,000 miles in 60 days and at the same time enjoy and appreciate the sights, people and experiences along the way, we have to approach the endeavor with a level of purpose and intensity that is sustainable over a long time both physically and emotionally. We have to combine the right amount of physical effort, the right amount and timing of nutrition, hydration and rest in order to maintain our pace over the whole 60 days. While this seems perfectly obvious, I’ve noticed that both Chris and I have to remind each other periodically to stop and take a picture, see some local sight or just take a moment to rest so we don’t burn ourselves out two days from now. When riding, the difference in effort to go 19 MPH vs 21 MPH is huge and the additional effort required for 2 more MPH is simply unsustainable without significant aid like a great tail wind (Think Barry Bonds and Steroids). We’ve found that our sustainable pace is somewhere between 17 & 18 MPH where we can make great progress, enjoy the ride and still feel a sense of accomplishment. I’ve been thinking about this more broadly in life as we are pedaling across the country. Weather it’s in the way I manage my work life, family life and maintain friendships, I often times find myself trying to operate at 21 MPH all the time and wonder why I can’t maintain the pace without running out of gas. I think sometimes I have to remind myself that life is not a race to the end. It’s a journey to be valued, appreciated and to share with other people in a way that makes their life better because you were apart of it. Going fast is great, but I want to make sure I can still smell the roses when I pass by.
9) Laughing makes everything better – When stuff goes wrong, and it inevitably does, people can either react with anger, frustration or laughter. After 12 days, over 30,000 feet of climbing and over 1,000 miles, it’s clear that both Chris and I, along with our SAG support crews choose to laugh and it makes all the difference.
10) Going First – Whenever Chris and I have entered a new town, stopped at a new restaurant, gone to a new museum, or stopped by a new site, we have been very intentional about introducing ourselves and sharing our story with local people. It has been simply remarkable how positively people respond when we make the effort to go first in introducing ourselves. It puts people at ease and without exception they are very interested in what we are doing and often times want to share their stories. Americans can often be cautious and suspicious of people they don’t know so it’s been a lot of fun to see people bring their guard down and get truly interested and excited about what we are doing.
11) Necessity and survival breed strange combinations – When my dad rode his bike across the country, I remember him telling me about some of the strange combo stores he found in small towns. The one I remember most vividly from his trip was the combo beauty parlor-bike shop. Not sure how these get put together but the memory stuck with me and was raised again today. While in Jackson, we decided to get some ice cream and shakes at a local shop right by the town square. As I was waiting in line, I noticed that in addition to selling ice cream, that had quite a selection of air soft and paint ball guns for sale. Again, I’m not sure how ice cream and guns go together but it’s amazing to see small town entrepreneurs put their ideas to work.