What I Learned on My 468-mile Bike Ride
From July 29th through August 5th, a period of 8 days and seven nights, Steve Boona and I rode our bicycles from Westerville, Ohio to Gaylord, Michigan… a total of 468 miles. We camped at state parks and carried everything we needed on our bikes or purchased it along the way.
This was not my first long-distance bike ride. I’ve ridden from my Westerville home down to Raleigh, NC, a total of 525 miles. I’ve ridden across parts of Colorado and Kansas, over 500 miles. As with all previous rides, as I peddled away from my driveway my stomach was in knots and my mind raced with thoughts, not the least being: “Can I actually do this?”
It didn’t take long for a feeling of comfort to overcome me and I relaxed and began to enjoy the ride. However, that level of anxiety, of discomforting worry and fear, would return, nightly, as I sat in my tent and reviewed the agenda for the next day. But each day I got up and peddled my bike – and each day brought a new level of accomplishment, of wonder, and a sense of personal achievement and victory.
And as with other rides, I felt so viscerally alive – testing my inner strength against challenges I couldn’t see coming, but knew were out there… the daily cycle of fear of the unknown being overcome by the accomplishment of doing and achieving.
The true joy of biking across the country is in the people that you meet along the way. You meet people everywhere… at restaurants, camp grounds, and stores… when you stop for water, to rest, to check directions. And because you are holding a bike and dressed in spandex and bike shorts, people will notice, and they will ask questions. It is always satisfying to see the look on people’s faces when you tell them that you’re in the middle of a multi-day, 500-mile bike trip – especially when they learn my age… and that I weighed over 400 pounds just 5 years ago.
We met so many interesting and wonderful people: Dan, the guy who recently bought the campground, Judy, the woman just outside of Bowling Green who gave us water and bananas, Paige, our waitress at the bar and grille who was from my hometown of Westerville, Budd, the camp manager who shared personal stories and delivered extra firewood to our campground, Jim, the 40 year veteran of driving a fuel truck, who was fascinated by our ride and our back-stories, Amanda and her family who welcomed us into their campground at Higgins Lake. These are just a few of the people who made an impact on us, and hopefully we left them feeling the same.
The lessons and enlightenment of past bike rides were with me on this ride. But as with every ride, new ideas, new truths, new paradigms, and new insights were revealed as the miles went by and the wheels turned. I am always amazed at how lessons learned that apply to bike riding, usually have great significance for weight loss and for life in general.
The following are three insights I took away from this ride.
1) Sisu and True Grit
On the fourth evening of our ride, as we set up camp in Sleepy Hollow state park, we were joined by Steve’s in-laws, Elly and Ken Davis. They live nearby and drove over to check on us, take us to dinner, and brought us food for breakfast the next day!
While we were setting up camp, Ken mentioned that our bike riding efforts had certainly shown real Sisu.
Sisu? Ken described it as grit personified… grit plus.
Sisu is a uniquely Finnish quality; the word used to typify the Finnish spirit; a concept that is at the heart of how all Finns view themselves; a certain feature or value considered by Finns to be typically Finnish.
• endurance, resilience, tenacity, determination, perseverance,
• an inner reserve of diligence, capacity, the ability to face head-on and always overcome,
• the recklessness that inspires a person to take on something in the face of incredible odds,
• bravery, empowerment, inner strength,
• gritting your teeth, continuing to fight against an overwhelming enemy,
• continuing on to win a race even after falling.
Sisu means that you finish what you start, you don’t quit in the middle of a job, and you don’t whine.
The bike ride certainly demanded Sisu of us and proved that we had it. On several hills and against stiff winds, you’d often hear me shouting out loud, “I eat Sisu for breakfast… I bite its head off and swallow it whole…,” etc., etc., etc., to motivate and drive me forward. Sisu: breakfast of champions.
My fellow weight loss surgery friends, riding the next morning it occurred to me, we have great Sisu.
Think about it. We took it upon ourselves, against incredible odds, to make a huge change in our lifestyle and remake our bodies. It took endurance, resilience, tenacity, determination and perseverance to learn new skills and develop new habits. It took bravery and inner strength to face the challenge of surgery, recovery and starting over. We’ve all had setbacks and found a way to continue even after falling. And we don’t quit in the middle… in fact, because our life-style changes are life-long, there is no middle, just a journey that we will live for the rest of our lives. It seems that people who possess Sisu are always moving forward. They are striving… struggling… overcoming… continuing… fighting… and racing. To accomplish is to do, act, or become. To achieve is to change, evolve and grow. Winning is not a destination but a way of living.
My fellow WLS peeps… We possess great Sisu!
2) Always Moving Forward
In the movie Wish I Was Here, Aidan’s father, Gabe, relays that his cancer has returned and this time it’s worse. The future is uncertain and bleak. Aidan is shocked and confused:
Aidan: What do we do?
Gabe: What do you mean what do we do? We move forward. It’s the only option God has given us.
As I was riding, Gabe’s words keep replaying over and over in my head. “We move forward. It’s the only option God has given us.” I think it is obvious that as much as we might like to be able to go back in time, we cannot. That option is totally closed off to us. Many people advise living in the moment… in the ‘now.’ That sounds like good advice, especially since you are never guaranteed another day or even another moment. However, living in the now is a very fleeting thing. For one, “Now” was here and instantly become “Then” (the past). There isn’t much we can do with any one moment. I think what most people mean by “Live in the moment” is actually “Live in the next few moments strung together to represent the near-term future.” This is still a forward moving thought.
So it seems to me that God has laid out the direction of life pretty clearly for us… We either move forward, with as much Sisu as we can muster, or we suffer, we lose out on life, we die. There is no use fighting for options that have not been given to us.
As I was riding out of Grayling, Michigan on Highway Old27, I saw a sign in front of a church that said:
Now, I have no idea how the pastor of that church was planning on using these words in a sermon, nor the lesson she may wish to impart. I am not directing this at her or her headline. But reading that sign made me think about how often I experience people who live exactly as these three steps outline… 1) ask God, 2) trust that God will grant, 3) wait for God to deliver.
I don’t feel quite comfortable with that outline. I am familiar with the Bible verse “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (English Standard Version), but I prefer the New Living Translation which says: “Keep asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Don’t ‘ask, trust and wait,’ be active… ask – and keep asking, seek – and keep seeking, and go find what you’ve asked for. Act, don’t wait.
Further, I don’t really believe that God gives us what we ask for anyway. In fact, I think the only thing that She gives us is 1) life itself, 2) the seven billion potential best friends of ours that live on earth now, and 3) the seven continents, five oceans, and hundreds of lakes, rivers, mountains, prairies, fields and woods to explore and experience. After that, God doesn’t give us anything. God prefers:
The bike ride was a great example of this. I wanted to get from Westerville to Gaylord, by bike. I prayed I could do it, and I trusted I could do it, but if I had waited for it, I would still be sitting on my bike in my driveway. Instead, I moved forward. I went and got it. I peddled for eight days and guess what, the more I acted, the more my prayer and trust were ‘answered.’
My fellow weight loss surgery friends, riding the rest of the way to Gaylord it occurred to me, we embrace the philosophy of Always Moving Forward. Think about it. We call our experience a ‘journey,’ which by definition is an act of moving forward. We can ask (pray) for weight loss and a fit, healthy body all we want, but it won’t happen if we wait for it. We had to act for it to happen. We may have found strength in Divine support along the way, but our weight loss was achieved, not given, because we acted and didn’t wait.
God gave us only Forward, and it is the only direction She allows us to pursue. The answer to our prayers are always out there in front of us to go and discover, to get for ourselves, Divinely provided, but not to those who wait, rather to those act. Remember, it is also said that “God helps them who help themselves.”
My fellow WLS peeps… We possess the strength to be Always Moving Forward!
3) The Act of Becoming
At dinner that fourth night Ken related how he had described his beds of flowers, vegetation and greenery as being in the process of “Becoming a Garden,” upon an inquiry from a neighbor.
I was instantly mesmerized by the concept of Becoming.
Ken’s beds likely held all of the ingredients of a garden… fertile soil and flowers… maybe a mix of perennials and annuals, maybe a few well-placed ferns or hosta, some early bloomers and some late summer show. He likely regularly watered it and preened the beds of weeds. But even with all of the required parts of a garden being present, it hadn’t become a garden quite yet… it was on its way, it held the promise of being a garden… it was in the process of becoming a garden.
The bike ride was certainly an act of becoming. I wanted a ride from Westerville to Gaylord. I had the bike, a planned route and reservations at campgrounds. My bike was tuned, I was trained, my gear, tools, and spare parts all packed. I had all of the components of a bike ride, but I didn’t have a bike ride yet. But I noticed something as the days passed and I peddled on; the planning and coordination of resources, combined with the people we met, the sights we saw, the experiences we had, the miles we covered were blending, and becoming a bike ride.
And riding the rest of the week it occurred to me, my fellow weight loss surgery friends, that we are all in the act of becoming.
Think of yourself as a constant work in progress – one that will continue until the day you leave this earth. The journey will never end, therefore the goal, while important, isn’t the end-game.
Always be becoming, never have become.
It is one of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn from my weight loss journey. At first I thought my goal was to lose 200 pounds and wear a size 34 pant. But eventually I realized that my goal wasn’t either of these things, rather it was dedicating my journey to becoming a healthy, trim and fit person. The former requires magic, the latter is a way of life.
I look at it this way, I bought into my weight loss journey as a life-changing event, I accepted that for the rest of my life I’ll eat well and exercise, so too, I accept that for the rest of my life I’ll be becoming ‘me.’ That the ‘me’ you see today will yield to the ‘me’ I’ll be tomorrow. That continually becoming Me is as much a goal of my journey as weight loss – and every bit as important.
My fellow WLS peeps… It’s really very simple, we are all in the process of becoming something, someone. Let’s set a goal to always be becoming our best self… happy, healthy and fit.
What did I learn on my ride from Westerville to Gaylord?
In life we often marshal all of our resources (time, energy, mind, heart and soul) to focus on achieving a goal, an end result, or an outcome. And while it is good to set and have goals, sometimes we focus too much on the end objective and not enough on the journey. And while we are in the process of becoming something, we fail to recognize, celebrate, enjoy, and appreciate the beauty we create and that has been created for us. We fail to see the moments we experience as significant learning opportunities. We fail to honor the things we share and the people we share them with.
This ride has reinforced what I’ve learned on every other ride I’ve ever taken… That it’s the journey that makes the effort special, rather than the achievement of a specific end goal. It’s in the journey that the life-lessons are located. They are found and experienced only as they are discovered within the journey, only when your mind, body, heart and soul are ready for them.
This ride was significant for me, not simply because I had a goal to ride 468 miles and I accomplished that goal. No, this ride made an impact on my life because of the people we met, the things we saw and what we learned about ourselves along the way.
I believe a couple of secrets to a cross-country bike ride, to losing weight and changing a life-style, or to living life as full as we can, are:
1) To understand that life often requires us to exude Sisu, a concept of endurance, perseverance, and inner strength that is called upon to overcome incredible odds and overwhelming challenges,
2) To realize that we are made to be Always Moving Forward (the only option God has given us). That to receive the gifts we want to enjoy we must go and get them where God has left them for us,
3) That we should always be in the act of becoming.
There are many ‘secrets’ to a happy and successful life. I can think of others, but none more important than these.
Thank you to everyone who followed the ride and sent support and encouragement. I cannot fully express just how much your support provided a lift in spirits and attitude, often just as it was needed, helping us push through the toughest stretches. Thank you also for your donations to WLSFA. My hope is that these funds will help provide someone the same life-changing tool that has helped me so much.
You can still donate to WLSFA. Go to www.wlsfa.org. Click on the ‘Causes’ tab and then the ‘Tour of Hope.’ Thanks.