While you’re out on the road, there is an unreal amount of time to think through almost every part of your life. Through the suffering in the hardest parts of the race and the euphoria in the most rewarding parts of the race, it’s safe to say that everyone will learn something new along the way. I rode my bike for 4,251 miles to get across this country. It took me 336 hours of riding to do this, and I climbed uphill for 188,366 feet (equivalent to 35.6 miles). And here’s what I learned along the way…
**Just to be upfront with you, the first two have a personal religious tie. If you are not interested in this in any way, please feel free to skip to #3, you won’t offend me at all. If you are interested or even slightly interested, please start with #1!
#1: Pray differently?
I don’t mean to start off with a negative, but one of the hardest parts of the trip was dealing with bad weather. I rode in crazy thunderstorms and hailstorms almost weekly. I remember the lightning in some storms would strike right behind me and light up the reflectors on the road in front of me. Thunder would crack right over my head that made me feel like I was shaking. And the worst was the hail. One particular hail storm had hail that was probably ¼ inch in diameter with a 30 mile an hour wind. The hail hit my legs so hard that it left welts on my legs for 2 hours after the storm. It was as if I had been shot by an air soft gun hundreds of times. My face, arms, and legs felt numb from the impact. I found myself praying so intently for it just to be over. I wanted to be out of the misery and back to a comfortable riding situation. Unfortunately, the storm didn’t just end. It continued for a few more minutes as tears slowly started to fill up from the pain. At some point in this storm, I realized the storm wasn’t going to end, and so I started to pray for strength to get through the storm. I knew I had to press on down the road, and I would be in the storm whether I laid down and cried or pushed on with a new prayer. I ended up riding out of if with a sore body, but I made it. Don’t get me wrong, I never ever want to ride in that situation again, but I think we can relate it to normal life. We often find ourselves in really crappy situations. You know what yours are, and I know what mine are. I can’t speak for you, but I know I often ask God for things to just get better without suffering. And it seems like it never works because the situation seems to drag on and cause more and more pain. But perhaps we should sometimes try a new prayer. Maybe we have to realize the storm won’t end for a while, so strength is what we really need. I’m not saying both prayers aren’t valuable, but maybe we ask for the wrong thing when we find ourselves in a storm. In Joshua 1:9, God doesn’t tell Joshua to ask for a better situation when life gets tough. He commands him to be “strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
#2: God loves us! Cheesy, I know, but so true.
The beauty of this country is insane. I saw some of the most raw, beautiful areas of the country from both coasts, forests, deserts, the Rocky Mountains, Ozark Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, and everything in between. All of them had their own beauty designed in them. And then there were the animals. I saw deer, pronghorns, elk, bison, foxes, and lots of other smaller creatures. All of them serving their own purpose in the wild. What’s crazy to me is that God made all of this for us. If you’re a beach person, he made some crazy places for you to check out. If you’re a mountains person, there are some crazier places for you to check out. He created all of these amazing places for us to enjoy as our jaws drop and we say “WOW!” This is only one country, and I only got to see the smallest part of it! The thing that amazes me here is I found myself looking at scenery so beautiful that it would sometimes bring tears to my wide eyes. But for those who are with God, He still promises us Heaven. I just can’t imagine. All of this is down here, and it’s stunning! What will it be like up there? It really makes me want to make sure I get life right while I’m here and be sure to give thanks for all that there is for us to enjoy.
#3: Just be nice.
I met some of the most amazing people on my journey. In places where you wouldn’t expect anything to happen, the nicest people came out to share some love with me. In one town, my bike broke down and I needed to get to a town 40 miles away to get to a bike shop. One man I met in the local restaurant was willing to bring me with him on his drive, and he wouldn’t accept any compensation. His instructions were to simply do something nice for someone else. In that town, a woman and her son made many phone calls and had many conversations to get help since the bike shop was closed that day. The next morning, that same woman and her husband drove me back the same 40 miles to put me at the same spot on the route. Once again, no compensation was expected or taken. After an incredibly challenging day of riding, a couple outside of a bar/restaurant invited me to their house to shower and camp in their fenced in yard, safe from the animals. A woman who ran a small convenience store gave me a free soda and water because she felt like it. Another one gave me a free sandwich and drink because she didn’t have a credit card reader and I had just spent all of my cash. A friend from home sacrificed an hour out of her morning to have coffee with me before I climbed up to the highest point on the course (11,535 feet – Hoosier Pass) since she was vacationing in the area. A group of individuals from a church/hostel rang cowbells as I came into town to welcome me for the night at 8:30pm. Countless other churches welcomed me (and other riders) into their buildings. Some provided huge meals for me to enjoy. A family let me use bug spray when the mosquitos were wicked. And hundreds of encouraging conversations from complete strangers. What links all of these people together? They took just enough time to care for someone who looked out of place. For some, it was a huge effort to help me out. For others, it was just a few minutes before I was gone. But all of these people slowed down just long enough to have a huge impact on my trip. Some of them called me inspirational for doing the ride, but I was inspired by all the acts of kindness shown to me when I wasn’t expecting anything. In today’s fast paced world, we have to keep these interactions alive. I personally need to do a better job of caring for others in small ways like these. If we all try to do just a little better at this, our towns and cities will feel the impact.
#4: Never overlook your family.
My parents and girlfriend were amazing while I was gone. I often found myself in need of someone to talk to, advice, and/or encouragement. Rarely would they miss a phone call, and I don’t think I ever waited more than 10 minutes for a call back or some sort of response. I know my family loves me, but they really showed this to me by investing so much time and energy into getting me to the finish line. Daily texts from my parents, my grandparents, my girlfriend, and my girlfriend’s mom lifted me up, knowing the people closest to me had my back. Now, I know not everyone has a great family situation. I realize that I am blessed to have the family that I do. But I’m pretty sure we all have at least a few close people. The kind of person who’s got your back no matter what. They show up for your big events and cheer you on when you’re losing. Please, do not miss out on these relationships. They can help you through the most challenging parts of your life, and you’ll get to do the same for them. Whether it’s just someone to talk to, advice, and/or encouragement, sometimes that’s all we need to get through a really crappy situation in life.
#5: You are capable of more than you think!
Seriously, we all are. This is my third summer of road cycling. Before doing this trip, my first ride over 100 miles had been just one year before the start of the race. I rode for 105 miles with no gear, and I was wiped. Between then and the start of the race, I had only ridden 1 more ride of 100 miles. My longest consecutive days of riding was 188 miles. With no gear. My longest ride with all of my gear on the bike before the race was 55 miles. And I was gassed at the end of it. Yet I went out to Oregon and went for it. I averaged 103 miles over 41 rides in 42 days. My shortest day of riding was 49 miles, and my longest day was 171 miles. With my history of riding on the road the past two years, it didn’t make a ton of sense for me to be able finish this challenge. Especially at the pace I finished it in. I had some doubters, and I think I may have been the biggest one. Regardless, I woke up every day and simply tried again. I would string a couple nice rides together and then completely bonk the next day. Try again. Push your limits. Challenge yourself. I met many riders on the road who told me they would never be able to do what I did. My response was always, “I think you could.” Because just a little bit ago, I was the exact same rider as them. I surprised myself, too! My challenge to you would be to try something a little bigger than you think you can handle. In the words of Judah and the Lion, “don’t reach for the moon when you’re going to Mars. We can do anything we want.” Don’t reach for something you know you can do when there’s another challenge just a little further away.
#6: Drive safe
I think we all need to take driving more seriously. I was truly saddened by all of the memorials that I passed on along the road for people. Some of them were for other riders, and some were for other drivers. Regardless, I can expect that none of them would have chosen to have a road side memorial. These people passed away on the roadside, likely because of an accident that could have been avoided. In a world run by smartphones and drive thru’s, we need to keep our eyes on the road and put down the distractions. Sending one more text is not worth putting up another roadside memorial.
#7: Always trust the timing of everything
Some of my biggest setbacks during the race ended up being some of my greatest stories to tell. If you haven’t had the chance and aren’t yet tired of reading my writing, you should go thru the blog posts titled “The First 1,000,” “2,000+”, “3,000+”, “4,000+”, and “The Finish.” Embedded in these posts, you’ll find stories about my most frustrating times and who came out to help me when I wasn’t expecting anything. On day 6, I didn’t ride my bike. It wasn’t by choice since my bike had broken down and I wasn’t able to fix it on my own. I felt healthy, strong, and was incredibly pissed off that I couldn’t ride that day. Instead of riding, I ended up meeting the most incredible people who came out to help me without expecting anything in return. This story is in “The First 1,000” post. On my second to last day of the race, I ran into another bike issue that I couldn’t fix on my own. I ended up having to lose 2 hours of riding that day, but I met more incredible people at the bike shop who were eager to help, and I ended up reconnecting with friends that night who I met on the other side of the country in Oregon. On my last day of riding I rode over a major interstate as my parents were approaching the bridge I was crossing as they were on their way to the finish line in the car. They were able to see me before I disappeared, and I had no idea they were there. I don’t really care if you call it God’s timing, karma, coincidences, good luck, destiny, or any other term. We just gotta trust it. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. It doesn’t make the hard times easy, but it gives me peace of mind knowing that everything will work out no matter how cliché that may sound.
And that’s all for now! If you have any questions or want to talk about any of these lessons further, you can email me through the contact page on my blog. Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom! 🙂