Lessons from Living on a Bicycle
I have been more-or-less living outside for three months while I bicycle from Oregon to Patagonia.
I have made it to the high plateau of Mexico City, but have about 8,000 more miles until I reach my destination. In many ways I feel like I have been on this trip for a decade. Cycling through deserts and freezing cold mountain passes give you hours and hours of contemplation. It is surprisingly lonely to think all day. But it is a good thing. Three months into my journey, I have a few thoughts maybe worth sharing.
First: You don’t have to travel the world, but intentionally do something uncomfortable.
Because of my current lifestyle, people assume I love to travel. I do not. I am not the type of person who disappears to backpack around the world and float from village to village writing blog posts about indigenous food. I do not have the word “wanderlust” in my Instagram profile.
A few months ago I wrote a piece for GOOD about why I was doing this trip.
I did what you should never do— I read the comments. Most were wonderfully encouraging. But of course I sadistically latched onto the ones that were not. One person asked, “Why would you give this guy a platform, he hasn’t even done anything yet! You should know better.” I boiled at that comment. What a wing cutter. What a poisonous attitude. “Oh, you haven’t accomplished anything? Well then stop dreaming. Stop explaining why you’re ready to change your life. Stop encouraging people to process their situation and plan a change.” Challenges are always fuel to the proud, so in a way I am thankful for that comment.
But looking back, maybe that commenter misunderstood me. Maybe she thought I was another frustrated pessimist who thought the mountains of Peru hid the answers to my entitled boredom. I am not that. I am not looking for secret answers. I don’t believe anyone else has the special revelation. I am just putting myself in a place that wakes me up.
Second: Take and post all the pictures you want.
I am so tired of people mocking the integration of communication and technology with our lives. I can imagine the ancients, accustomed to thousands of years of oral story telling, losing their shit over the kids inventing written language. “All these young people are obsessed with writing, always writing, never looking around to see or hear the world. What will they become?!”
How many articles have we seen on the cover of magazines talking about the loss of attention in young people? Maybe people look at their phones too much, but it isn’t destroying conversation or connection. Perhaps it’s just the opposite, it’s giving us access to new connections—people becoming photographers while hiking with their friends on the weekends or making new friends that they would never have had the opportunity to meet. By posting my pictures to Tumblr and Instagram, I am able to bring thousands of people along with me on my trip, excite them into their own discoveries, and feel the personal benefit of thinking through the lens of publishing. When trying to capture the right picture or the right words to describe a photograph, you encounter poetry in the moment more than you might if you had no one to tell.
Third: Boredom is a hard way to go. There is a reason that every time we head to the toilet or sit in the backseat of a car, we grab our phones. We are fleeing it—we will refresh the Facebook newsfeed or our Instagram a mere three seconds after we have just done it.
I didn’t know how un-bored I had been for a decade until I started biking six hours a day through barren desert. When you’re on a bicycle, you cannot do anything else. And it isn’t advised to even listen to music, because it’s important to hear the trucks rocketing up behind you.
To a millennial, boredom is a terror. It feels like withdrawal from a drug. Your hands don’t know what to do and you fidget. The most surprising thing about boredom is that it allows you to slip into obsessive thoughts. You are not dancing around a thousand ideas and tweets and posts—you are thinking about one thing. This has its benefits. You can take a worry or a dream and let it unfold in your imagination. It can drive you crazy, but out of boredom comes new ideas, new schemes, new dreams.
(I know that thoughts two and three could appear contradictory, and maybe they are. I didn’t promise a formula for universal truth. Just thoughts worth thinking.)
Finally: Do whatever you want and don't read the comments. It is a full time job peeling back the mystery of who you are as a person. Don’t be distracted by who others think you are. Just go outside and do what you feel is true.
It might get you in trouble, and it might hurt you. But you’ll feel alive and you’ll feel honest. And maybe most importantly: do the uncomfortable thing.
I read once that people who live in paradise-like climates die at a younger age. I guess when your body doesn’t experience tension, stress, or fear, it becomes weaker. Muscles grow through tearing. Learning comes not from comfort, but from pressure. That right there is why I am doing this trip. Why I am now in Mexico City drinking an Americano and attempting to order a donut in Spanish.
If you want to follow along on my journey, I post frequent updates on Instagram: @jedidiahjenkins.
Dear Nine-Year-Old Me The transition is going to be difficult for you, but whenever you feel a little lonely and left out, take comfort in the knowledge that you are honing one of your greatest superpowers.
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