Am I on an Adventure?
on control, uncertainty, and serenity
I awake on the church floor in Dubois, Wyoming.
The guy from Portland and the Dutch father-daughter duo are gone, having hit the road at 5:30 to beat the heat and get a head start on the high pass they must cross today.
I’m sticking around because I’m behind schedule, so I’m going to hitchhike. And it’s too early to hitchhike.
Am I on an adventure?
I didn’t know where I was going to stay when I pedaled into Dubois yesterday.
The rough idea—sketched out with the Dutch duo just earlier that morning—was to share a KOA Campground site. But the KOA wanted $25 per tent. So we found the church, which was mentioned in the Portland’s guy’s cycling guidebook, and is free.
A kindly couple showed us into the congregation room and told us to lay our sleeping bags anywhere we like. We just needed to be out by 8am because tomorrow was Sunday, hence, church.
There were bathrooms but no showers, so I pedaled over to the river to take a dip and wash away my salty crust from nine hours of cycling.
Am I on an adventure?
Before Dubois I was in Lander, and I didn’t know where I was going to stay until the day before I landed there. Airbnbs were scarce, hotels were expensive, no hostels to speak of, and the few Warmshowers and Couchsurfing hosts were already booked. So I went onto Facebook, searched “friends in Wyoming”, and found a woman with whom I’d attended a Wilderness First Responder recertification course in San Francisco eight summers ago. I messaged and she quickly replied, yes, wonderful, come camp in my yard.
The yard turned out to be a ranch. I helped my friend herd the sheep and feed the goats and llamas. She told me about a climber’s festival happening in town, where I happened to meet another long-lost coworker friend from 15 years ago, a fellow outdoor educator who now runs the festival.
Am I on an adventure?
Today, I don’t know if hitchhiking will be successful. I don’t know if I’ll still need to climb that pass with my fully loaded bike, hours later than my already-departed colleagues. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.
I need to make it to Bozeman, Montana, by Wednesday—that’s for certain. I have an obligation. But between here and there are many miles, many hills, Yellowstone park, and a road closure. There’s no public transport. There’s just me, my bike, and the goodwill of strangers.
I believe I’m on an adventure.
Willie Weir, whose book inspired me to try cycle touring in 2020, wrote:
I worked as a bicycle tour guide for four years and I loved it. Loved the people, loved the scenery, loved the food (and had the extra pounds to prove it). Loved the cycling. Was it an adventure? In my opinion, undoubtedly, no.
My guests knew when they were going to get up, what they were going to have for breakfast, and how many miles they’d have to ride before eating. They knew that a cold beer would be waiting at the hotel or bed-and-breakfast, what pricey restaurant they’d be dining in that evening, and, if I had spare time, that their luggage would be waiting for them in a room with a view.
Most people want adventure without the risks, hazards, and discomforts. In other words, most people want adventure without the adventure.
How do you know when you’re in the midst of an adventure? Ask yourself these questions:
Am I beyond my comfort zone?
Am I pushing my physical limits?
And, am I taking a risk?
If you answer no to all of these questions, chances are you are not on an adventure.
Just last month I met Willie. I’d emailed him, and he invited me to stay the night as I passed through Seattle after a bike trip near Vancouver. He struck me as a totally normal, energetic, kind man. He and his wife had gone on many long international bike tours, and now they were content to tend to their huge front-yard garden. Recalling his many adventures, Willie kept returning to the same theme: not knowing what’s going to happen next. Not being in total control.
That reminded me of what Tom Allen, another long-term cyclist, writes about the trouble with ambitious goals and tight schedules: namely, that they prevent you from lingering and taking chance opportunities.
If you’re able to build the kind of flexibility into your plans that will allow you to react spontaneously to new opportunities, you’ll be embracing what for me is the real spirit of the bicycle adventure: the freedom afforded by this humble mode of transport to go anywhere, accept every invitation, take every scenic route, and do it at whatever pace feels right at the time.
In this way, being highly organized and prepared does not make for a successful bike trip. Rather, it’s about developing a Zen-like serenity in the face of discomfort, uncertainty, loneliness, and seemingly intractable problems. It’s about letting go.
In my work with teens, I remain focused on organization, preparation, and yes, a good degree of control. Taking care of other people’s children requires that. I care about giving them adventures, but I care more about getting them home safely.
In my own world, I’m trying hard to let go, embrace uncertainty, and not flee from discomfort. To plan less, trust that things will work out, and welcome a bit of chaos. It’s hard work. But it feels like the right work.
In other news: I’m offering a new month-long adventure in Patagonia for ages 16-20 in Feb/Mar 2023. Apply by September 7th.