I feel compelled to share the story of one of my most epic bike rides, ever. This is the story, the ride, in which I learned one of my most essential survival skills: Anything is possible. This is also the story that has a specific moral in my life and points to a specific turning point in my ideology.
It was April in Chicago. The weather was in constant flux. One day bright and sunny followed by a day of sleet and/or snow. That’s the kind of spring April 2003 was. In that month I was testing out a new theory for adventure called “Just set the date.” It works like this: If you want to do something, anything, just pick a date to do it. I want to go to Zambia, just set the date and buy the ticket. This type of adventuring would later be dubbed “SOPA” or “Seat of pants adventure.” Though it was pre SOPA it was nonetheless a bonafide SOPA.
I had planned a trip to ride from Chicago to St. Louis in two days, loaded with panniers, having never done any sort of touring, camping, or the like. But I had a date and so on May 11, I was to set out to St. Louis. I decided to get some longer training rides in before the two-day, 300 mile trek. So, naturally, I set a date for these as well. Yes,I was a date setter.
So I chose any old Friday in April and committed to waking up, packing my lunch, and riding the 93 miles to Milwaukee, Wisconsin which was a route I had frequently and easily accomplished in the summer. I committed to this ride regardless of weather.
This was the April, however, when the weather was in flux and on this particular April day it was in a down flux of sleet, snow, freezing rain, hail, etc. I was, however, committed and so put on all my gear and set out.
I stopped after ten miles to warm my feet under a hand dryer at the botanical gardens. I then took out my sandwich, put it in my pocket and bagged my feet with the sandwich bags. I should have turned back. The adult in me says “Turn back!!” But, I kept going.
Twenty miles later I stopped again, now thoroughly soaked, freezing, and only beginning to question which way the wind was blowing. This time I stopped at a laundry mat, stripped off most of my clothing and put it in a dryer. To be blunt, this laundry mat was in the ghetto just outside of North Chicago. It was equally as entertaining for me as I am sure it was for the people doing their laundry on a Friday night, eating Funyons and watching something on the one TV.
Having my clothes dried, I got on my bike again and started going North. It was sleeting. The roads were icy. I had already passed a few cars that had spun out. I kept going.
Then, the inevitable happened. I shredded my tire. I’m not sure how, even to this day. Was it a large chunk of glass in the road that I couldn’t see? Was it fate? The answer is still a mystery but had this particular event never happened, I wouldn’t have learned the single most important lesson of my adventuring career.
After I came to terms that there was nothing I could do, that there was no bike shop opened in the vicinity that would sell me a tire to keep going, I had to come up with a plan.
In 2003 I had an early model of a cell phone. I recall bringing it with “Just in case.” The easiest solution for me was to call my dad who was going up to Wisconsin to pick my little sister up from boarding school. In my mind, this was an easy fix. Dad comes to pick me up and I am warm and dry sitting in the car sharing my crazy adventure. This is not, however, what happened.
My dad answered his phone. He was in the car driving up to Wisconsin as I had assumed. In fact, he was close by. I don’t remember much of the conversation anymore except this sentence: “You got yourself into it, you get yourself out of it.” >Click<.
These words seem harsh by most standards. I can understand. It seemed harsh at the time—my dad didn’t want to come and rescue me from one of my adventures gone awry on a cold, stormy and now dark night when I was at least 50 miles from home. I wasn’t offered much latitude in my late teens/early 20’s and this seemed to highlight that fact. In defense of my dad, I didn’t think things through, I never have. I am a leaper, not a looker. Though his motivation is still unclear to me today, for whatever reason, those eleven words have become my mantra in times of dire stress—they’ve become my ticket to unlock my creativity, to find my way, and be open to how I get to my end destination. They’ve also helped me own my adventure no matter the outcome.
What happened next is fairly amusing to my adult self. I hitch hiked for the first time, learned to wait in a cold, dilapidated train station, be comfortable with the uncomfortable, get kicked off a train because bikes weren’t allowed, ask for help, and thrive on the joy of connecting with people who kindly offer to help.
In short, those eleven words fueled my adventure mantra: Anything is possible. And, while it doesn’t seem like the most earth shattering lesson, for me it was. It opened a world of possibility, of unimaginable things, and fostered a spirit of joy and adventure.
For my parents, in hindsight, these are the worst eleven words uttered by my dad because after this adventure, nothing could stop me. I had, in fact, figured my way back home in the most stress of conditions.
There have been a few days out touring which have offered similar conditions to that April 2003 adventure day. Though I prepare more now, I rarely ever worry because I know I have the skills, the creativity, and tenacity to “Get myself out of it.” Afterall, some of my best days on the road often include many moments of uncertainty, fear, joy, and “In the knick of time” solutions.
Enjoy the ride, every part of it. Anything is possible.