When I started this great ride across the country, I knew that it would be more than physical. It was to be an emotional and spiritual journey as well.
Most visibly, I’ve changed physically. I’ve dropped from a high of 214 pounds in January to 188 pounds in July. At the same time, my legs have become insanely strong: able to climb several mountains in a day at speed, and to do so on consecutive days over a long period of time. My heart is stronger. Even at the height of marathon training, I never had a resting heart rate in the low 50s like I currently have. In addition to the changes in my body, I’ve started an experiment of giving up meat that’s now about a month long and seems to be going strong.
Less visible, but readily apparent to myself, I’ve changed emotionally. Prior to my trip, I was stressed about the IPO, merger, and leadership transition at GrubHub. I was frustrated about the trends that go along with a company getting larger and going public: an unhealthy shift of the pendulum towards shareholder returns and public perception to the detriment of employee benefit. I’m still frustrated by those changes, but I can also accept that in some ways it isn’t personal. Further, I can be honest with myself in realizing I’m culpable for those changes as well: I could have more effectively fought for the principles I believed in if I had been less selfish in getting my own interests served (for example, transitioning out quickly to move on to the next phase of my own life).
The most ethereal of the changes has been the spiritual journey. It has been a slow change, composed of imperceptible increments. At various points on the trip, I have taken inventory to see if I’ve learned anything profound. No great lightning strikes of insight have shifted my world view to the accompaniment of angelic choirs. But as the physical boundary representing the end of the journey approached, my mind sharpened on these deeper issues. Conversations with people, both strangers, and my new close friends Paul and Terry have taken deeper turns.
The common element of my conversations on this trip is that I’ve had an abundance of time. I learned that when one of the participants in a conversation has the time to listen, the nature of those conversations tends towards the profound.
Strangers opened their hearts to me in Virginia and Kentucky after just moments of conversation. Their rapid revelations hint at a desire for community. A desire for confession. A desire to have their troubles shared. A desire to be known.
Two friends from my “real life” joined me for a week each. With the distractions of work and the busyness of life left behind, we had conversations searching for answers to deeper questions. These conversations revealed a desire for deeper connections in community. Even in long term friendships, there exists a latent desire to move away from superficiality, politeness, and boundaries.
I also made some new friends on the trip who have become very important to me. New friends and traveling companions have marveled at the beauty of this world around us as we cycle through it at 10 miles per hour. We’ve struggled to find the words and capture the images of the beauty around us. In our best moments, we surrendered the desire to document and understand our surroundings. We simply perceived. And a deep and abiding peace entered our hearts in these fleeting moments. Maybe only 20-30 minutes out of the 75 days of this trip. Well worth the cost.
Of all my conversations, both inwardly, and with my traveling companions, the most important to me has been the exploration of faith and doubt. I’ve often marveled, and perhaps envied, the evangelical Christian completely cemented in their beliefs and emotionally overflowing with joy. I’ve also had a perplexed respect for the peaceful atheist: that rare individual who is comfortable with the clockwork nature of the universe who shows their peace by following an admirable moral code without the need to attack other individuals of belief.
But for myself, and I suspect most other people, faith and doubt exist in a complex counterpoint. They are not mutually exclusive, nor are they polar opposites. Both faith and doubt exist on several levels: rational, emotional, and something deeper. On this journey, that something deeper has been experiential. And this journey has been long on experiences.
I’ve felt the charge of adventure on the cusp of the Atlantic ocean.
I’ve seen the majesty of snow capped mountains grandly emerging from a docile plain.
I’ve seen the fragile delicacy of a hummingbird moth living on the precarious life of a desert flower.
I’ve shrunk from the total darkness of a cave several hundred feet underground.
I’ve been humbled at a memorial cemetery by long rows of men who died to create a better life for future generations
I’ve reveled in the simple joy of a superbly prepared breakfast.
I’ve exulted in the growing strength of my own body.
I’ve tread in the footsteps and wagon ruts of pioneers that have come before me on this very path.
I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers that speaks of a bone deep desire for connection and love.
I’ve witnessed the nobility of a proud elk stag in the quiet of a still morning.
I’ve felt the desolate serenity of the high desert in the pink of an evening sunlight.
I’ve groaned at the prospect of an unexpected additional 15 miles of torturous hills after an already brutal day of climbing.
I”ve sung and Seussed.
I’ve saved turtles from certain doom.
I’ve had a tearful moment with a couple of Brits on a pub crawl.
I’ve met some very kind and completely crazy folks along the way.
I’ve heard a peace that surpasses understanding unexpectedly at the top of a long hot hill in Missouri.
I’ve crossed the Mississippi with a close friend on my bike with a police escort.
I’ve experienced an Atomic Pie Bomb.
I’ve crossed the Continental Divide nine times on my bike.
I’ve donated a pint of blood to mosquitos.
I’ve staggered in the awesome power of a tornado forming over the Kansas plain.
I’ve ridden my bike across the United States.
In the sum of all of these experiences, the pendulum swings to ‘Yes’ in answer to the questions: “Does God exist? Does He care? Does it matter?” This answer is neither completely confirmed by rational thought, nor is reached by the suspension of scientific reason. It isn’t just a good “feeling,” nor does it sit well with my reaction to the horror of some events of this world. This answer, call it faith, exists concurrently with my doubts.
On one of the final days of my trip I read a church marquee with one of my favorite verses from the bible. It is in Micah and it reads: “What does God require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”. My journey has taught me two things relevant to this verse. The deeply personal and meaningful experiences of this trip point to the personal nature of the word “your” in this verse. And my doubts exist in harmony with the humility powerfully exhorted here.
Again, I reflect that this journey has been physical, emotional, and spiritual. The peace I feel at the completion parallels the varied nature of the journey itself. My understanding of faith and doubt existing simultaneously has brought me a measure of spiritual peace. The time to enjoy the beauty of this country has composed in me an emotional peace. The strenuous exercise and physical challenge has built a physical peace. And so then, this has been my journey:
I began on the Atlantic, and I ended in Peace.