Back then, there were no cell phones. Back then, there were no portable GPS’s. Back then, there were no GoPro video cameras, no social media. Back then, I thought I had ridden about 200 miles. In one day.
So now, 38 years later, I finally checked my route on the computer. 180 miles. Give or take.
I had just returned from a Chuck Mangione concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Children of Sanchez. 1978. “Without dreams….” still playing in my head. It was 1978. It was midnight.
My family was on the beach in Rockport, Massachusetts on vacation. I was working in Schenectady, New York for an architect doing drafting work. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. I wanted to take a few days off and go to the beach. So I did. Without a car.
I got up at 3:00 am and started riding. A 10-speed, steel-framed bike with a hard leather seat and non-padded drop handle bars. I had never ridden more than 10 miles before. I did not have padded shorts nor gloves nor a shirt that covered the bottom of back. I did not know what dehydration was. I turned on the generator-powered light. Wrapped a bandana around my head. Off I went.
A flat tire in Hoosick Falls. Before sunrise. Not a car on the road. “Every child belongs to mankind’s family. Children are the fruit of all humanity. Let them feel the love…”
Breakfast at McDonald’s in Bennington, Vermont, just as it opened. 7:00 am.
Up Route 7 to Prospect Mountain and Woodford. Down Route 7 to Wilmington (it was my first visit to the town that I would move to 20 years later). Up to Hogback Mountain. Down to Brattleboro. It was lunchtime. I was hungry again.
I remember having a burger across the Vermont border in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. It tasted like cardboard. I didn’t know why I didn’t have much saliva.
Then all I could remember in New Hampshire was up, then down, then up, then down… over and over. It was over 90 degrees and humid. It seemed like the towns were always about 10 miles apart. I had a paper map. Get a drink every 10 miles. Hold my head up. Peddle on.
There is something about long-distance bicycling that keeps you focused. You just have to keep going. One stroke at a time. I observed my thoughts… Present-moment awareness. No choice.
Somewhere in New Hampshire, I was startled by a chasing dog who happened to get a peddle in his jaw as I was speeding down a hill. Momentum was everything!
“All men need a place to live in dignity….”
My lower back hurt. My butt and hands were numb. My mouth dry.
“Those who hear the cries of children, god will bless…”
As I crossed into Massachusetts, around dinner time, I realized I was not going to make it to Rockport that evening. New Hampshire, the smell of pavement and car exhaust, and 95-degree heat, had slowed my pace. I called Rockport.
You see, I hadn’t told my parents I was coming. “You’re where? Doing what?”
“Can you pick me up in Lowell later?”
So, 18 hours later, my father and my uncle picked me up on the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, near some town park where July 4th weekend festivities were starting.
I spent a couple days on the beach. Nursing a burnt back. Trying to get feeling back in my hands and butt. Walking slowly. Drinking fluids. Humming music.
“As my children grow, my dreams come alive…”
No pictures to share. Just stories. And the music I remember.
“I will always hear the Children of Sanchez…”
I swore I’d never do something like that again.
But I did.
With padded shorts and gloves. And a helmet.
As a yoga teacher nowadays, practicing present-moment mindfulness, I sometimes look inside with a deep sense of peace, awareness, and an inner confidence that knows that everything is okay. This feeling has remained present in my life even when the going has been tough. I suspect it has always been there, even before I knew what yoga was.
Is resiliency a learned behavior, a result of direct experience? Or, is it innate? Is it part our true nature to be open to the adventure and the gifts of living in the present? And to persevere through the perceived obstacles that often get in our way? Is it about letting go of the way we think life should be like?
On this bike trip, I learned presence. I learned the power of mantra and devotion towards an intention or ideal. I felt the unity of mind, body and spirit while living in the moment of each pedal stroke. I was (and continue to be) drawn to the wonder – and the adventure – of a more spiritual and heartfelt existence, and exploring the wonder of living in the gift of the moment. Maybe we’re each really yogis, and we live lives discovering who we really are.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
(John O’Donahue’s “For a New Beginning”)