“When you bear what you think you cannot bear, who you think you are dies.”
I was divorced, fired from my job, unemployed, and deep in student loan debt. My beloved grandmother died suddenly, and what was thought to be cancer, thankfully, turned out to be something less menacing.
This all happened within the span of a year.
I was 26.
I didn’t want to live anymore.
But I don’t quit. I never quit.
Instead, I bought a bicycle. I was living in Illinois. I told the guy at the bike shop I was going to ride solo from the Atlantic to the Pacific—no support, no cell phone, nothing. Just me, my bike, and my crazy idea.
We spent the afternoon together disassembling and placing the bike in a box. A few days later a good friend (I love you, Gabe) dropped me off curbside at Chicago O’Hare for my flight east.
We said our goodbyes, and as I headed for the terminal, lugging what would end up carrying me 4,000 miles across the United States, my friend shouted my name.
I looked back.
“It’s in God’s hands now,” he said.
I lived a lifetime throughout those two months of cycling, and learned some practical lessons about bicycle touring: Always carry dog spray. Never underestimate the power of a Midwest lightning storm. Pack extra water—especially if cycling through Idaho’s Snake River Plain. And rural Missouri roads are a lovely place to travel—by car.
Everyone should undertake at least one solo pilgrimage in life. Big risks are where big lessons are learned; lessons which have a lasting impact.
Here are mine.
People are good.
Human beings are guarded and skeptical, especially when a disheveled-looking stranger on a filthy bicycle rides into town. But behind that we are deeply curious, we long to connect, and we want to help others. Those times when a wary local asked about my bike or where I was heading allowed me to expel their suspicions, and witness the person come to life. It was a gift to behold. Complete strangers would soon confess to me their hopes, failures, fears, and regrets. I think they felt safe knowing I was just some guy on a bike whom they would never see again. It was cathartic for them—and for me.
Yes, people are good.
But many people are lonely, and quietly suffering.
Don’t take your own life.
Instead, just start walking. Leave wherever you are, and walk. Take nothing with you. Just walk.
Or ride your bike.
The universe will intervene.
What kept me going 4,000 miles? A wave, a smile, a thumbs-up, a conversation. Gifts from strangers: Two cans of cheap beer, a handful of quarters for payphones and laundry, a tiny plastic toy lizard for good luck, a switchblade knife for protection. The retired pastor who said, “If you get sick, get hurt, have bike problems, or whatever, you give me a call and I will come help you.” (I wrote his exact words in my journal.) People I had never met stopped me to say prayers of safety over me. A husband and wife who invited me to join them for dinner at the local diner and insisted on paying: “Pick anything you want from the menu,” they said. When I excused myself to wash my hands just before our meal arrived, I returned to find they had ordered me an extra cheeseburger.
These acts of kindness happened well over a decade ago. I nearly weep as I recall them today. There were dozens upon dozens more.
The power of kindness is immeasurable.
I carried little more than a compact tent, sleeping bag and toothbrush. I cycled close to an average of seventy miles per day. After sixty days I was in the best mental and physical health of my life. I felt like a gazelle. I looked like a Greek God, bronzed and chiseled.
We need next to nothing to survive, thrive, and be healthy. “More stuff” does not make our lives easier or better, it makes them worse.
Our culture suffers from a delusion of need.
News can be malicious.
Overexposure to news media is one of the most harmful things to human beings. That’s my feeling, anyhow. Yet mainstream news is still perceived as innocuous. By design, the news stirs up fear and conflict, poisoning the bodies and minds of its audience, making our culture more judgmental, resentful—even hateful towards one another.
Grab a bicycle and ride it across the United States. When you’re done, turn on the local or national news. You’ll laugh at its absurdity and sensationalism.
Did I encounter a few bad eggs? Of course I did. But that was the exception and not the rule, as the news media so desperately wants us to believe.
America is a beautiful place full of wonderful people.
A bike trip won’t solve all your problems.
Before I started my journey I secretly hoped I’d see some ancient guru mysteriously appear upon a hill, gesturing me to come and sit by her side, expel my grief, and tell me my purpose in life.
But that didn’t happen. It doesn’t work that way.
“The cure for the pain is in the pain,” Rumi once said. He was right. You have to go through it to get to the other side.
I’m on that other side now, at least for today.
And it’s a beautiful day.
I may just go for a bike ride.
About the Author: Kipp Wilfong is a Gen-Xer from Portland, Oregon with an 8-5 office job. He’d rather return home to read books and write than go out. Find him at holdingthefrequency.com