“What did you learn?” It’s a good question. I ask it myself. Whenever you take on a new challenge there is the expectation that you’ll glean something from it that will enrich your life. There is the expectation that you’ll learn something that will make a difference if not for the world, than at least for you.
I took a bike trip. My first bikepacking trip. I rode 350 miles over 10 days. I carried all my gear. I slept in a small tent. I rode solo most of the time. I had no other obligations besides the ride. I had time to think, to experience, to “make the most of it.” So what did I learn?
Absolutely, fucking nothing.
And that is okay. There were no extreme realizations. There were no moments of clarity. I just kept pedaling. Day after day. I would wake up, pack up, and pedal. It was perfect.
When I left I was stressed. I left my job. Packed a bag. Flew to Portland. Built my bicycle up in the airport and rode right out into the city. Then I took a bus to Tillamook, and from there rode down to Northern California. When I got there I was much less stressed.
I am the type of person to put everything I have into my work. I can’t treat a job as if it is, “just a job.” I’ll keep working until everything is done, or right, or perfect or ready for someone else. I wake up in the middle of the night to write notes, or send e-mails. There is rarely an opportunity for me to turn it off.
This last job, turning around a restaurant that was struggling as the day-to-day General Manager, was especially stressful. I knew I had to do something different to get away from it. I wasn’t living a healthy life. It’s why I set the bicycle ride as my reward.
When I was packing my bag I made sure to save room for a pen and a notepad. A pocket-size, lined Moleskine notepad and a Pilot G-2 pen. Both my favorites. I thought I might have some revelations to record along the way. I filled it up in four days. Not with brilliant insights, but with descriptions of what I saw around me. It was all I had. Those daily notes became a stabilizing force. A way to come off the road, and know the day was done.
Once I started pedaling for the morning by brain would turn off completely. I would just pedal and inhale the scenery. Trees, cliffs, raptors, ocean, rock formations, and towns would pass in my peripherals. I would pedal past, accept their existence, and then pedal more. When I finished for the day I would be occupied with logistics. Check into a campground. Set up the tent. Reorganize my gear. Take a shower. Drink wine.
On a few special occasions I was able to have a campfire with some fellow bicyclists or thru-hikers. On those evenings we talked about the road or the trail. Not once did we discuss any sort of enlightenment we had achieved.
When it was over. I hunkered down. I spent my days wandering the Redwoods of NorCal, and drinking coffee in the mornings. In the afternoons I’d commune with my notepad. As I read through my notes I was struck not by what I learned but by how detached from the stressors of my previous life I had become in a relatively short time.
My lesson, my reward was speeding through the process decompression, and allowing me to leap forward to a time in which I could appreciate that last job for the opportunity it provided. I could appreciate the people I met, and worked with. I could appreciate what I learned. I could be objective so much faster than if I hadn’t spent my days doing nothing but pedal.
I didn’t learn a damn thing…except, when in doubt pedal.