Sunday, July 6, 2014

Reflections on My Recent Trip

I've ridden three "big" bike tours thus far -- a 21-day trip down the Pacific Coast, a 52-day cross-country trip from Portland, OR to Portland ME, and a 50-day ride through the Sierra-Cascades from the Mexican border to the Canadian border.

After all three tours, I've reflected on the lessons learned from the trips. Doing so has not only provided closure for the trips, but it has also enabled me to continually improve my touring experiences by recognizing those things that did and did not go well.

With each subsequent trip, the number of lessons learned has decreased. I interpret this to imply that the more touring experience I acquire, the closer my experience asymptotes to the ideal touring experience.

Unlike my first two trips, however, some of the lessons learned from my recent Sierra-Cascades trip have been more profound. A mere statement, abbreviated within the confines of a bullet point, fails to fully capture the importance of these lessons.

The Sierra-Cascades trip has resulted in three points of profound reflection. Two of these points were summarized in yesterday's Lessons Learned: Sierra-Cascades post. Though they were summarized as bullet points, further explanation is necessary to fully grasp the significance of these two lessons learned. The third point of reflection is only found below.

Reflection #1: It's the journey, and not the destination, that matters.

I've always known that I'm a person who prefers the journey over the destination. As a climber, for example, I didn't need to reach the summit in order to have appreciated the climb. The Sierra-Cascades trip reminded me of the importance of the journey.

As mentioned in Day #50: Riding Forever on the Last Day, before Alex joined the trip, I had planned on beginning the Sierra Cascades ride in San Diego and ending the ride in Seattle; I didn't feel as though I needed to begin and end the route at the official border towns.

I was looking forward to the journey of the Sierra-Cascades ride. I was looking forward to the difficult climbs and to visiting the national parks I had wanted to see for years. Defining the trip destination as a random town on the Canadian border provided no significance to my trip.

And yet, Alex and I planned our trip with the end goal of Sumas, WA.

Although I was fine biking to the border, I didn't anticipate how dissatisfying it would be for me to end the trip in Sumas. Doing so felt like I was betraying who I was and what I believed in. For this reason, it was important to me that I continue the journey beyond Sumas for another 25 miles. Ending my trip in Bellingham, instead of Sumas, enabled me to refocus on the importance of the journey.

What have I learned? For future trips, I'd like to better deemphasize the destination and to instead focus on the journey.

Reflection #2: There's no value in pushing your passion beyond the point of enjoyment.

While I am not a competitive person when it comes to competing with other people, I do appreciate pushing myself beyond my comfort zone -- whether that zone be physical, mental, or otherwise.

Though I had really tough days on previous trips, I had never wanted to end the trip cold turkey. It was different, though, on this tour.

On the Sierra-Cascades trip, my desire to bike the additional 685 miles or so beyond Crater Lake wasn't there. Sure, biking the extra miles would enable me to have a higher total mileage at the trip's end. And, sure, biking the extra miles would enable me to say that I rode border-to-border. But, I really didn't care about these things; I cared about enjoying the ride.

I'm not sure why I lost the desire to bike beyond Crater Lake. Perhaps it's because we had already finished the tough climbs. Perhaps it's because we had already visited all of the national parks that I had been so looking forward to seeing. Perhaps it was because the only thing to look forward to was the anti-climactic destination at Sumas. Perhaps it was because I had a lover waiting for me at home in Seattle.

Whatever it was, my passion for touring had drained from me on the final 11 days of the trip. Touring had become merely about pedaling, eating, and sleeping. I would have been perfectly fine ending the trip after Crater Lake. In retrospect, it's quite possible that the trip would have been better had I done so.

For the last number of years, bike touring has been my main passion. And while I can't possibly know whether touring will remain a passion of mine indefinitely, touring remains my main primary passion as of now. As such, I want to do everything in my power to continue to make it special. As my friend Doug told me earlier today when he was sharing a story about his love for running, a passion should be fun and not feel like work. I agree wholeheartedly.

What have I learned? For future trips, I'd like to better respect if and when a tour no longer becomes enjoyable. I want to enjoy touring because it is fun; I don't want for touring to feel laborious.

Reflection #3: This trip did not empower me as past trips have.

I've never been one to lack confidence. However, when I finished my Pacific Coast and cross-country trips, I felt absolutely empowered. Finishing these trips was a huge boost to my confidence. Finishing these trips made me feel like I could do anything.

Unlike my prior two trips, the Sierra-Cascades trip did not leave me with the feeling of empowerment. I'm not sure why this was the case. Perhaps it's because the Sierra-Cascades trip wasn't as physically demanding for me as my prior trips. Perhaps it's because I did the Sierra-Cascades trip with a riding partner and thus didn't need to rely entirely on my own capabilities. Perhaps it's because my passion for touring had been depleted by the trip's end.

Whatever it was, I know for certain that the Sierra-Cascades trip did not allow me the opportunities for introspection that I so much valued on my prior trips. Though perhaps not entirely responsible for the lack of empowerment, introspection definitely would have been a positive enhancement to the trip experience.

What have I learned? For future trips, particularly those involving a travel partner, I'd like to better protect my me-time. Time to devote to my side-interests, such as reading and drawing. Time to connect to my physical and spiritual selves, such as through yoga. Time to reflect upon and be grateful for what it is that I love about the open road. And, most importantly, time to touch base with my inner me.

In no way are these reflections intending to imply that I would change anything about the Sierra-Cascades trip; it was a truly wonderful trip, shared with truly wonderful friends. However, I think these reflections are important in helping me to evolve as I continue along this journey we call "life." After all, life is best enjoyed when empowered by your passions.


  1. I just wanted to compliment your writing skill lady, being able to let us know what you are feeling, no holds barred is a rare talent. You do it particularly well.

    I also concur on the reaching the summit line. The first 3 "failures" on Mt Rainier ate at me forever. It wasn't unit the 4th attempt, that I honestly looked around at all I was seeing and understood 12,500 feet is an accomplishment. It takes us guys longer I guess!

    Finally, i am thinking that you're "empowerment" bucket was overflowing when you started this trip. There is now one I know more confident and empowered than you are. Where you were expecting that rush you felt at the end of the other trips, you were there when you began and it never dipped. Proud of you!

    This was by far the best of all your posts about this ride, and that is hard to do! Well done on all accounts Sarah!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Tony.

      Climbing Rainier can be a tricky goal. I'm not sure the nature of your first three "failures," but it's often a different story when attaining a goal is sidetracked by weather or other conditions outside of your control. Glad you were finally able to experience the buzz of standing atop Rainier. :)

    2. Sadly nope, never have nor probably will touch the top. My body shut down each time at 12,500 feet. Disappointment Cleaver should be renamed to Tony's Cleaver.

      Time #4 though I finally looked at where I was, what I could see and thought about what it took to get me there, and how many wouldn't even try. I then understood I hadn't failed, I succeeded in getting THAT high!

      That Christmas I bought my bike and never looked back!

    3. Duh! My bad. I totally know that the summit of Rainier ain't at 12,500 ft.

      Regardless, congrats for getting THAT high! :)

  2. A very interesting read, Sarah. You are so honest, it's refreshing and blunt at the same time. I agree with Tony about your empowerment bucket. Great insight!

    1. Thank you for your note, MaryJo. :) Although some of these reflections may not necessarily reflect positively on my trip, I believe that "blunt honesty" (both with myself and others) is important for being truly open and transparent (both to myself and others).


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