We met our first cross-country biker of the trip in Baker, NV. We’ve seen plenty of serious bikers on the road and have heard about others (my parents’ friends’ daughter and son-in-law recently completed a trip from Syracuse to San Francisco, you can read about it on their blog), but we haven’t actually met any of these brave bikers. Michael wasn’t blogging about his journey; he was just out there for the experience. He’d recently graduated with a Master of Music degree from Yale (maybe you’ve heard of it?) but wasn’t sure what to do with his life. So he decided to bike across the country, from Virginia to San Francisco.
In my mind, there’s a cross-country biker hub in San Francisco — maybe it’s a hostel — where these adventurous souls gather at the end of their trips and share their stories over biking-themed beers (like New Belgium’s Fat Tire). Listen: as new parties roll up, a cheer erupts from the crowd and the thirty-ish other bikers rush out to welcome their new friends!!! Then they all spend a few days relating horror stories and helpful tips, before flying home with a bunch of new Facebook friends and a lifetime of stories.
At least, that’s how I imagine it.
Michael had only gone to school for music because he was good at it — it was the easy choice. But, as we’ve discovered, the easy choice is not usually the best choice. On this trip, Michael had decided that he wanted to have a physical rather than a theoretical impact on the world. So he’d decided to join the army.
I confessed to Michael that I’d thought I’d figure out what I wanted to do with my life by now. I’d been waiting for insight to just…strike me. But so far, it hadn’t happened, and I was starting to wonder why.
Later that night, we camped along a reservoir in Utah. It was a clear night, promising excellent viewing for the night’s scheduled meteor shower. As we waited for the sun to set, sitting atop the picnic table, we watched a family set off Chinese lanterns, oblivious to the drought and associated fire ban. And we talked. And we talked.
Most people who set off on a journey are looking for something, whether they know it or not. Whether they admit it or not. If you’ve spent time doing something you don’t want to do and you have the luxury to stop and reexamine your life, you expect you’ll be able to figure out what you want to do instead.
People always ask us why we decided to take this trip, and we can never come up with an answer that leaves them satisfied. The truth is, we did it to see if we could do it. We wanted to explore, to be free, to be outside, to learn how we wanted to live and hopefully to find out what we wanted to do next. We’d been taught to assume that we’d find the answers, but we just ended up with more questions.
But maybe I’m putting too much importance on one big aha! moment. We’ve learned lots of important stuff that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We’ve learned that it’s easy and satisfying to live with little. Even a minivan was too big for us at times (we’ve lost things inside the van). We’ve learned that we can make compromises and still get what we want on a minimal budget. We’ve learned how to communicate really, really well (but still not always well enough). We’ve learned that we need to be outside to achieve balance in our lives. We’ve learned that we need to live in a city that’s easy to escape.
And we both feel like we now know what to do with our lives, even though it didn’t come with lighting-flashes of insight, fireworks, or loud voices from above. We’re not going to do what we should do. For as long as it’s possible, we’re never doing should again.
We’ve learned silly things, too, which is why we’re currently sitting on the picnic table at Starvation Lake State Park. We’re on the table because the ground is covered with thousands of tiny sidewalk ants and hundreds of biting fire ants, but the ants can’t climb the slippery table legs. First we sit on the table to watch the sun set, then we lay on the table to watch the meteor shower. The stars are intensely bright. We feel so incredibly lucky that we’re here, now. We watch the meteors streak across the sky, shrieking and pointing like silly little kids whenever we see one. I don’t want to go to sleep, ever. I just want to see one more meteor. Then one more meteor.
Here, now. That’s really all that matters.