Category Archives: Travel

Lessons From Folks Who Biked Across America

My former student, Rachel Timmons, and her husband, Brian Gottleib, recently finished biking across America. Yep, they biked 3,886 miles: starting in Florence, Oregon on May 14, 2010 and finished on August 6, 2010 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  They planned their trip for a long time. The items they would bring, their expectations high. Along the way, they encountered physical and emotional challenges so grueling, they weren’t always sure they would make it. They had to dump gear, change routes. Adjust. But they never gave up. They just kept meeting people, collecting stories, photographs and memories.

Before their journey ended Brian wrote:

There has been so much emotion on this trip. So much happiness, so much anxiety, so much love, so much discomfort, so much triumph, and so much inner and outer conflict. There have been . . . years worth of tears abbreviated in a few months. Most have been tears of pain, it’s true, but not exclusively.

Before this trip, I only remember crying once out of joy, it was at my wedding. I’ve broken down in tears of joy three times on this trip. I’ve been surrounded by so much beauty and freedom that I found myself crying uncontrollably and being unsure why.

I hope to remain in this feeling of freedom after this trip draws to a close. It’s not a physical freedom or the freedom of being on a vacation, but a freedom of the mind . . . Perhaps I owe it to the monotony of the routine. Every day, we pedal six to eight hours. When it rains we pedal, through heat we pedal, in traffic we pedal, when sore we pedal. There was no perception of choice or option, there was only the pedaling.

For the first month, the discomforts magnified each day—within hours the rain became a mental monsoon and the wind a mental hurricane. A small disagreement in the morning could become a huge rift in my mind within two hours. But at the end of the day, I would look around and there would be no monsoon, no hurricane, no gap in our love for each other. And this repeated for days and weeks, and then I became more accepting of the routine and occasionally forgot to judge the rain, the wind, the small disagreements. I focused on the pedaling and a light rain remained a light rain and a breeze remained a breeze and I stopped clenching when a truck passed from behind.

Now . . . I look back at all the intense emotions and they are all my favorite part. The best days were the ones I felt the most, regardless whether it was intense joy or grueling discomfort. The worst days were the days of sterility and numbness, the days that I turned off and hid from both lows and highs. Perhaps my mind believed it was only hiding from the lows and was still open to the highs, but it was mistaken. In hiding, I hide from both.

I don’t see this trip as ending. My goal is to keep this trip going forever. I want to transition back into daily life as I’ve pedaled through these best of days: free. I want to let in all the feeling I can, high or low, as I pedaling through my next assignments at work, my search for a new place to live, and my lifetime adventure with Rachel.

I loved reading about Rachel and Brian’s youthful adventures avoiding buffalo and sleeping in freezing cold temperatures, finding country jamborees and attending rodeos. These days, I know so many people who are struggling: kids trying to figure out how to deal with new schools, new teachers, new routines; young adults working three jobs so they can afford to continue to take classes; graduates tirelessly trying to obtain meaningful work while toiling daily in low-paying jobs. I have friends going through terrible divorces and friends wrestling with terrible illnesses. I know people who have recently lost parents, best friends, spouses. I know people living in poverty. Sometimes, there is little to offer people in the way of words.

So I would like to offer up some of Brian’s optimism, and remind people that — despite the sad/frustrating/annoying/angst-filled/seemingly unfair parts of the story — life is still an amazing journey worth making. Remember that little goofy Blue Tang fish from Finding Nemo, Dory? Remember when she and Marlon come to a deep, dark, seemingly hopeless point in the ocean, and Marlon wonders what to do? Dory’s answer is “Just keep swimming.”

When Dory swims, she doesn’t do it resentfully, but with a kind of faith that shows she believes that the dreary, dark water will – one day – end, and that, eventually, a more pleasing stretch of life will reveal itself. It is just downstream; she’s sure of it. Her funny amnesia propels her forward so that she can only focus on the moment, the swimming. We laugh at her, but there is something innocent and yet profound about her trust in the cosmos.

So, like Dory, the Blue Tang, and Brian and Rachel, I urge everyone to just keep going. And I urge everyone to think about where they would like to be in five years. Because sometimes having a vision of where you would like to be can help you move forward and think beyond the hard times you may be having in the moment. Keep pedaling and swimming. Keep reading and learning. Just keep moving forward. Why? Because Dory said to.

Where do you want to be in five years? When you look back, what would you have liked to achieve?

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Post Vay-Cay Gratitude

Colorado River Ride

Having just returned from a fabulous, week-long Tauck-Bridges Tour that started in Phoenix, Arizona, moved through a few of our country’s National Parks, and ended in Las Vegas, Nevada I am finding re-entry into everyday life a little rough as we were so very pampered. Where is my breakfast menu? You mean I have to start cooking again? Sigh. But now that the six loads of laundry are behind me, and I have a fully stocked refrigerator, I would like to take a moment to express a little gratitude because it is easy to get sucked back into the daily grind and forget how wonderful it was just 36 hours ago.

Here goes. Thank you to:

  1. AT&T: For your miserable coverage, which reminded me that I did, in fact, live without a Smart Phone until last December. Had my phone been working, I would not have been able to plug in to my family as fully as I did. Together, we swam, hiked, played chess, read books and chattered away. Not being plugged into technology also afforded me the opportunity to meet everyone on our tour. Yeah, I worked the bus.
  2. Suitcases with Good Zippers: I didn’t believe it was possible at the packing stage, but we were able to live completely comfortably – with everything we needed – for 8 full days – out of 3 medium-sized suitcases. And I still managed to bring 4 pairs of shoes and my favorite pair of cowboy boots. How can you go west without ‘em?
  3. The Grand Canyon: For reminding me how small I am. (Because sometimes I forget.)
  4. Horses & Mules:For being sure-footed where I would surely have fallen. Also for 2 hours of happy-happy, joy-joy bliss.

    Riding in Bryce Canyon

  5. Sunshine: For confirming what I had already suspected: that I am an exothermic lizard-girl who gets happier and happier the drier and hotter it gets. Thank you, sunshine, for showing up every morning around 4:30 am and sticking around – hot on my face – until around 7:30 pm. (Husband would like me to take a moment to thank Neutrogena sunscreen here.)

    Me, doing yoga on a very skinny ledge

  6. Headlamps: So that when day was done and sunset descended into the canyons so completely, we could still see the deer and fox around us. And when we turned them off, we could hear frogs and owls and bats.
  7. Children: Who despite their varied ages all managed to find something wonderful to appreciate about each other and enjoy the time they spent swimming, hiking, catching tadpoles, playing football, rooting on a park ranger as he wrastled a rattlesnake, even just hanging out together on the bus.
  8. Good guides: Thank you Southwest pilots for your sense of humor when the roller-coaster turbulence complete with big dips and swells was not appreciated by everyone. Thank you to William, our motor coach driver, for allowing my husband to truly relax and not have to fuss with maps or GPS systems or reservations (which, in turn, allowed me to completely relax because you know we might have killed each other if we were driving together, getting lost together, for 8 days). With William at the wheel, hubby’s most basic needs were met: he had a bottle of water every day; a rotating but reserved seat; he was able to tune into conversation when he wanted, tune out when he had had enough; and he could nap whenever he wanted, knowing we were still moving toward a destination. He never had to worry about checking in, checking out, dragging a bag, checking to make sure our flight was on time, or arranging for transfer to or from the airport; all of this was handled by our tour company. Thank you to Justin, our riverboat guide, who encouraged us to soak our feet in the Colorado River to understand what 47 degrees feels like. (Note: It’s damn cold.). Thank you Julie, our Tauck-Bridges guide, who worked her butt off to make sure the needs of 40 people were met. That woman managed to land us a king-sized bed and roll-away cot combo in the most remote of places. And thank you to Ver, our more than slightly abrasive Navajo guide who, at the time, pissed me off by snatching the camera out of my hands and screwing around with all the presets – but managed to capture one of the best photographs of the entire trip.

    In Anelope Slot Canyon, Page, AZ

  9. The Navajo Nation: Though skeptical when we met in a rundown gas station parking lot in Page, Arizona. The trip to Antelope Slot Canyon was truly a treat, and we never would have found that skinny little hidden canyon where the sun shone through the cracks and made purple and yellow and orange. Thank you for opening your land to us. I truly feel blessed to have been able to be there.
  10. Bryce National Park: For making me feel like I was on another planet, like there are a million other places on this big blue marble we call Earth that are filled with that kind of magic.
  11. The Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada: For reminding me that everything is better in moderation. That the 2-foot hot dog is a better idea than a reality; that sometimes it’s hard to tell by the height of a woman’s shoes if she is being stylish or if she is a prostitute; that I am not a drinker, a smoker, or a gambler and I prefer living in a place with windows and far fewer bells and whistles; that the shtick, the glitz, the glam – enjoyable as it is – is fake and after you’ve seen the MGM lions and ridden the roller coaster at New York, New York, and seen the fountain at the Bellagio and been to a show, there’s still no place like home.
  12. Family: That I am blessed to have one as good as I do. Because I am. Thank you for taking the trip that I have always wanted to take.

    My family at Zion National Park

Favorite Vacation Memory

photo by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I am taking off for a few days. I am crazy excited, and I am sure that once all the frantic packing is finished and I’m on the plane, I’ll be able to have that ahhhhh moment. But not yet. Not yet.

So today’s questions is:

What is the best family summer vacation that you have ever taken, either as a child or an adult? Location and a favorite memory, please.

(And remember “favorite memory” doesn’t necessarily mean everything was perfect at the time. Memory can grow and morph and suddenly, a kinda-lame trip can be into a favorite story as the years go by. When I get home, somebody remind me to tell you about the Nepa Hut.)