Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home Again--Life's Journey Continues

Back home again in the Great Northwest! It’s hard to believe that it has been two weeks now since we crossed the finish line in Washington, DC. The re-entry has been quite surreal, with periodic thoughts that the Ride was a dream, or an out-of-body experience that I’ve been watching from the sidelines. As promised (or threatened) here is my last entry on the 2007 Big Ride Across America blog. I was hoping to have some grand revelations and epiphanies to share with you in this last entry. While they are light on the “grand,” here are some things that I learned (or re-learned on the 48-day voyage) that have been rattling around my foggy brain since the legs stopped cranking a fortnight ago.

I have never been an athlete, so I never really experienced the totality of being “in the zone” during an athletic event. I don’t want to diminish the importance of physical training. The 1,600 miles that I rode this year before the Big Ride began undoubtedly helped me face the challenges along the way—particularly the hill climbing and century rides. What I didn’t realize was the extent to which my mental focus developed and expanded in the early weeks of the Ride. This focus put out of my mind any thought that was inconsistent with, not supportive of, or a drain of mental energy from achieving the goal of reaching Washington, DC. This focus became more and more acute as the ride went on, as did its importance. One of the many gifts provided by the Ride was the intense sense of the present—the NOW. Each moment brought its own challenges and offerings. “Tomorrow” or “next Thursday” was not very relevant in facing and embracing the day to day ride experience.

There were definitely days or moments that you just didn’t feel like riding, or, reached a certain point along a day’s ride (say mile 72 of a 110 mile day when the temperature hits three digits and you’re just out of gas) when you think to yourself: “OK, that should do it for today…time for a cold one and a nap”—and you want to stop. You can’t. You don’t. You just keep on riding. This was to become a metaphor for life and the many courageous people I met on the ride—teammates, support staff, and everyday people we encountered along the way—who had recently battled and transcended (or are still fighting) serious life-threatening illnesses or facing other major life challenges and crushing losses. They heroically “just keep on riding” –even when there are times they feel that they just can’t. I have been humbled and inspired.

People frequently have asked “How on earth do you ride 3,300 miles?” The analogy talked about on the Ride was “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It sounds glib and trite, but it’s true. One needs to quickly jettison the thoughts of this being a 3,300 mile ride in 48 days across this vast and immense nation. The concept is just too overwhelming. Part of the focus mentioned earlier is that there are 40 individual day rides. The goal of each ride is to complete X miles, safely and, hopefully, enjoyably—then live to ride another day—then start a new ride all over again.

Most people mean well and want to do the right thing. Their motives are usually pure, although their methods and means may at times seem questionable. The ability to consistently give other people the benefit of the doubt when things (large and small—usually small) start to go sideways--and manage (and regularly adjust) expectations-- is critical to completing and enjoying the Big Ride.

I was privileged to have participated in this truly grand adventure. What makes up a grand adventure? Of course it’s different for everyone, but for me for an adventure to be "grand" it has to have sufficient unknowns, risks, challenges, fun, laughter, and feelings of well-being, joy, pain, and discomfort. It must nourish the body, spirit, and soul, and hopefully "make a difference" in some small way. This was one.

I am eternally grateful to have experienced the Big Ride Across America, including the many weeks of preparation and fundraising leading up to it and the Ride’s impact on how I navigate life from this point forward. First and foremost, I thank my best friend and life partner Betsy, and my tremendously supportive son Eddie, daughter Becca, sisters Paula and Karen, and all my dear friends and extended family members. All have been wonderful. I want to express my deep and sincere gratitude to my ride sponsors, and the many who have offered their well wishes and encouragement for the months preceeding and during the Ride. My sponsors have truly made a difference with their generous financial support of ALAW's lung health and clean air programs.

A huge gear-truck-load of thanks to my fantastic Big Ride Teammates; our outstanding Support Crew; and all of the incredible people I crossed paths with across this great and beautiful country—my Ride experience was richer because of you.

Finally, I thank my dear, departed Dad Ed, who gave me so much in his brief but full life. His spirit was my inspiration throughout the ride. Thanks are not sufficient to express my feelings of gratitude to my beloved Mom, Eleanor. Everyday I realize and rediscover strengths and gifts she has given me to face life, and challenges like the Big Ride. When my Dad suddenly passed on many years ago and left her with three very young children, she truly taught me the meaning of “you just keep on riding—and living, and loving.”

To the readers of this Blog, thanks for visiting over the past few months, offering your words of encouragement, and putting up with my so-called jokes and musings. I’ve heard some of your groans many miles away. But as Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

In love and friendship…until the next adventure,



David Doxtater said...

Very inspirational Marty. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Eileen Smith said...

Welsome home! Great job! I have truly enjoyed reading your blog as you rode across America and I thought your final blog update was especially interesting. I am somehow not surprised that you were able to overcome the mental focus challenge. You seem like a very positive person to me. As a side note, I also have a Dad named Ed who passed away at an early age and left my Mom with young children. The spirit of loved ones who have passed on sure help us in our life journey, eh? Well, see ya on the bus!

Eileen Smith