After 4,262 miles and 71 days and 10 states, we’ve changed gears.
Our calorie intake is back to normal. The handmade “Mazel Tov – David and Elliot – TransAmers” congratulatory posters have been rolled up and tucked away. The heavy aroma of cigar smoke has been erased with laundry detergent. The champagne bubbles have long since gone flat. The grandiose celebratory steak dinner(s!) have come and gone.
Elliot and I have balanced our checkbooks, signed up for the TransAm Register, hugged, and parted ways.
All of a sudden, we aren’t the same studly heroes blazing our way across the continent, receiving presents and praise at every turn. We have crash-landed back to regular old home life. On the surface, we now look like two average guys, fending off postpartum depression and coping with the reality that the coolest thing we’ve ever done in our lives is officially over.
Yet while we may no longer be living as vagabond exercise fiends, this tour of duty across America has changed us forever. Memories of our unforgettable journey have already solidified into lifelong lessons. More, our recent life off the road has further endowed us with a new, hard-earned perspective on What Is Important and What Isn’t.
The following is a list of teachings we collected while on two wheels:
USA All The Way
What Washington says and does is one thing. How the everyday American behaves is another. From Main streets to national parks to grocery stores to gas stations, we were very pleased to find that the people of this country are incredibly decent, humble, and hospitable. Negative stereotypes about rural Midwesterners are laughably unjustified — ironically, urban coast-dwellers (myself included) can be more myopic than the very middle Americans they often ridicule.
This country is truly an open book, welcoming each citizen to contribute a story, read their neighbor’s chapter, and share the living tale with friends and family. We are proud of America and feel fortunate to have seen a new side of our country. Here’s to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in our land of the free and home of the brave.
Keep At It
We’ve proven to ourselves that we are brave, patient, and optimistic warriors. We learned that with a mission to accomplish and an objective ahead of us, head winds, hills, and rainstorms weren’t abysmal impediments — they were manageable hiccups. The raw psychological power of determination and perseverance kept us going through our lowest points. Little by little, even after bad days and hard rides, our daily mileage accumulated and we ultimately produced a major achievement. We were committed to steadily chipping away at the road ahead until, finally, we puffed victory clouds of cigar smoke across the finish line.
After his fall, Elliot was forced to contend with severe mechanical damage, in the absence of proper bike tools or spare parts. I pedaled across the country while powering through occasional discomfort caused by an intramedullary rod in my right femur (part of a larger Vespa story dating back to 2008). We are living proof that “no pain, no gain” really means something. We’ve got the guts to stick to our plans. We are willing to take chances and unwilling to give up.
It Takes Two (Or More)
After everything we’ve experienced together, it goes without saying that our friendship will last a lifetime. What is worth mentioning is the collective strength we experienced as partners on the road. When the two of us combined our efforts, we could do more, and could do better, than when we acted independently as lone individuals. As if each of our innate talents and predispositions were funneled and blended to create a hybrid vigor, our ability to perform certain tasks as a pair was off the charts: cooking, getting directions, shopping, relaxing, and — of course — pedaling. We made more informed decisions by bouncing energy and ideas off of one another. We were more resilient because we pushed each other.
This sort of resonance needn’t stop with a best friend. So long as intentions are aligned, two or more people have the potential to create something far greater than themselves. Whether it’s a spouse, family member, coworker, or community organization, there’s something magical and gratifying in impacting each other and your environment.
So Much With So Little
Ten weeks of the simple life have given us a new understanding of the rich life.
We have endured pain and we have survived unpredictable and inclement weather. We have slept in questionable places and eaten very austere meals. We have traveled for more than two months with a tiny wardrobe in tow. We have been dirty, sore, and tired. We have experienced a life stripped down to its most basic elements, carrying remarkably few possessions and left to our own devices to contend with the outside world. And we made it just fine with only the bare essentials.
Especially now that we’ve assimilated into the plush comforts of domestic life (i.e. waking up in the same place each morning), we are appreciating everything around us. We are in awe of the fully stocked refrigerator, sheets with a thread count, and wheels that quickly accelerate with the step of a pedal. Exemplified by the generosity we regularly received, many Americans are already living this way. Either they are very smart or very stupid: they don’t have much, yet they are so happy with what they do have that they are eager to share or give it away for free. I say it takes an enlightened mind to behave this way and see the extraordinary where everyone else sees the ordinary.
In a society that defines everything by the presence of something, it is an eye-opening exercise to place value in nothing — to seek out absence and adopt an upside down, less-is-more attitude in a more, more, more world. We have arrived at the precious realization that you do not need to have a lot to have a lot.
You Gotta Have Faith
Our brake pads were totally useless when we were careening down mountains at speeds of 40+ miles per hour. Our maps were also useless when we were wading through the sludge of a closed road. Our smooth negotiation skills were also useless when the only place to sleep was a soaking wet road median. Throughout our most trying experiences, we had faith that things would work themselves out. We found solace in believing that events would unravel in our favor. There was a palpable sense of spirituality on the open road; we were often hypnotized by the steady whirring of the chain and read into signs which indicated that things around us were happening for a reason. This certainly does not mean one should forgo total control and leave everything to chance, nor does it mean one must believe in a deity, but our faith frequently stitched together the unknown and unrelated fragments of daily life into a fabric we could interpret and navigate.
Spirituality is not only an internal motivator that allows us to reach higher and go farther, but it provides us with a healthy dose of certainty in an uncertain world. Translated into the everyday workweek, it is an emboldening and empowering force that encourages us to take risks and reminds us that we will always land on our feet. We now understand that anything we want is within reach. We may get caught in a storm, we may break down and get sidetracked, and we may even fly over the handlebars, but, one way or another, we will climb that mountain and reach that destination. Rain or shine, we’ll get to where we need to go.
After pursuing something we’ve wanted to do for years, we are staunch supporters of acting out your internal desires. We have learned the pleasure and satisfaction of transforming ambitions into accomplishments.
Spend the time to learn what makes your heart and mind tick and, as selfish as it sounds, do what’s best for yourself. Know your limitations, understand your strengths and shortcomings, and recognize that dreams are an expression of your personality, not some unattainable pie in the sky. Following an internal compass doesn’t mean turning your back on everyone else’s well-being — it is a way to stay upright and focused in a vast space of choice and opportunity. It is the key to feeling fulfilled and making an impact in the world. It is only once you are fueled by a true passion that your character explodes outwards and you are driven to do a job well done.
All Good Things Never End
Our tan lines aren’t the only remnant of this game-changing voyage. We don’t see this end point as an unfortunate event, but rather as a beginning to a more enlightened, appreciative, committed, and adventurous life ahead. There are many more cool things to do in the future. There are still untapped reservoirs of curiosity and discovery on the horizon.
Certainly, several aspects of our lifestyle will change now that we’ve got a roof over our heads. Armed with our first-hand collection of truths, though, we intend to keep up this aggressive pace of doing and thinking. The world’s largest firecracker has just been lit. The wick has only begun to melt. Slowly, after years of fanning the flame with our lust for life, it will intensify from the steady heat of boundless spirit. Until one culminating day when it finally erupts, sending color and sound in every conceivable direction, casting a spell of joy all around and replacing darkness with light.