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This is the end. Today, I’m meeting my family in Los Angeles, bringing my cycling journey to a close. In the past 50 days, I experienced more than I could have anticipated. The people I’ve met, places I’ve been and situations I’ve overcome are truly unforgettable. This trip has pushed me to become a stronger person: mentally, physically and emotionally.
The Journey Is The Reward
Before this trip, I was fascinated with classifying my levels of achievement. I’ve constantly worried that I’m going to reach an “okay plateau”. I’ve worried that I’m not realizing my full potential, subconsciously halting my progress at the point where it’s socially considered “okay” to stop getting better. For three years now, I’ve been running 1000 miles per year. It’s turned into an endless personal challenge, an annual goal. Running has been one of the most important parts of my life, but after three years I began to obsess over the arbitrary number of 1,000. I had turned into an “ego climber,” focusing on the end goal and ignoring the all important experience. This trip started as a goal, an ego climb, but it turned into one of the most important journeys of my life. It was the experience, not the achievement, that made this trip life changing.
The World Is Getting Smaller
I believe that traveling is the best way to find yourself and learn more about the world around you. A man I met in Hillsboro, New Mexico said that people who go on trips like this are either running or searching. Of course, I left Tampa wanting to see the country, but I unknowingly embarked on a quest to find myself. I’m not willing to settle for a life without a passion. Finding out what I’m passionate about is going to be hard, but I think it will all work out as long as I don’t settle. We all need to find our place in this world. It’s a big world, so I expect that finding that place will take a lot of searching. This trip taught me to never stop searching.
I feel lucky to have experienced some of the cultural differences across America. At times, Texas felt like a foreign country. The people talked, dressed and acted differently. That being said, the country is changing rapidly. Towns with populations under 90 now have free WiFi. Our world is becoming connected, but I fear that this may have been my last chance to experience such rich cultural differences. This may be the last generation that will express such cultural individuality. These micro-cultures are what make our country great, and I’m glad that I was able witness them while they are still around
Strangers On This Road
In the midst of these different cultures, I was forced to adjust to what was initially out of my realm. I’ve never been one to readily trust others. I’ve always kept a small, tight group of friends and family. I used to have a lot of trouble trusting those who I do not know or understand. This trip forced me to constantly put my well-being in the hands of complete strangers. Every day, I had to trust that drivers were paying attention, and every night, I had to trust that nobody around me had ill intentions. In order to survive, I had to trust others and, occasionally, ask for help.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness, courtesy and general good intentions of those around me. I used be skeptical of people I don’t know, always keeping my guard up, but, after being helped through this trip by complete strangers, I may look at the people around me a little differently. I wouldn’t have made it without the help of the kind-hearted strangers who helped me along the way.
I’d set my life up so that, if I had to, I could always make it alone, and that’s made feel comfortable. Now that I have been alone for almost two months, I know how important my friends and family are in my life. This journey has made me grateful for the people I love and the people who love me. I love you; I couldn’t have made it without you.
Into The Wild
As much as it may seem to be, this was not an Into The Wild-type journey. I now know that I don’t fit the personality type of those who wander away from their lives, heading in no particular direction. Abandoning a modern life means abandoning those you care about. I never wanted anyone to worry about me on this trip. As much as it may seem like I was roughing it, I never put myself in harm’s way. I always chose the safest path available. Putting myself in danger on a cross country trip like this would have been egotistical and selfish. Leaving my life in Tampa permanently would hurt the people I love. Chistopher McCandless, the subject of the book Into the Wild, wanted to make create a new life. I admire his adventurous spirit and passion, but what separates me from Christopher McCandless is that I don’t want a new life. I just want to make sure that I make the most of the life that I have.
I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now
As some of you may know, my life to this point can be described as a series of rebellious gimmicks. When I was at Hillsborough High School, I started a band that sold T-shirts, but didn’t make any music (Weenus: Reunited…Again!). Then, with the help of my friends, I turned the “band” into a brand, selling hundreds of T-shirts with high school ID cards printed out on them. This was a tongue-in-cheek protest against a school policy requiring students to wear ID’s on lanyards, or otherwise face suspension. When I went to the University of Florida, I hit the ground running. My Freshman year, I started a campaign sheerly intended to randomly promote myself. I friend requested as many of incoming Freshman I could, gaining thousands of Facebook friends. Then, I started putting stickers with sayings like “I Partied with Rutger,” or “Rutger for President” on them all over UF’s campus. By the end of my Freshman year, my face was on the front page of The Alligator, UF’s student-run newspaper. There was even a political cartoon about me the next day. The ironic thing about the “I Partied with Rutger” campaign was that I was never much of a partier. Instead of being genuine, I had spent years burying myself in irony. I was never comfortable enough to express anything I truly believed.
Now, I’ve created something genuine, something I can whole-hearted stand behind. This trip, this blog, is the first time I’ve expressed myself as the home schooled, vegetarian, jungle boy hippie that I have always been. And, the reaction I got was extremely uplifting. Thank you all for the encouragement along the way. You have no idea how much it helps to constantly read so many positive messages from so many people. After years of silence, it felt great to honestly express myself.
Writing this blog was an unplanned part of my journey that became one of the most important factors of my growth as a person. For the past few years, I’ve progressively become more and more of a perfectionist. I’ve mistakingly tried to achieve purity through perfection in all facets of my life.
Of course, perfection inspires me. The Beatles’ music, for example, is mapped out so well and so heavily refined that it appears to be a perfect creation. It’s amazing to experience, but the standard they set is daunting. For example, when Brian Wilson, the creative genius behind The Beach Boys, first heard Strawberry Fields Forever, he was so deeply affect that he stopped production of the album Smile, which could have been a masterpiece had it been finished. The prospect of competing with perfection was too much. This is tale reminds me of the creative block that I faced before embarking on this journey.
What I failed to understand was that purity and perfection are not synonymous. Sometimes, purity can be intensely imperfect. I can’t mention The Beatles without comparing them to Bob Dylan. Dylan’s music in the early 60’s was decisively imperfect. What made his lyrics so pure is that they were the unexplainably genius ramblings of a 20 year old kid. His message was so pure that it had to be imperfect. After making this connection I began to see this phenomenon everywhere. Spending weeks on end in nature made me realize that this world is messy. Nature, from ground level, is imperfect; it’s all about survival. But nature is the ultimate example of purity. Nothing man made can compete with the beauty of this world around us.
This blog had to be imperfect. After biking 80 miles a day, I had about 30 minutes a night to import pictures and write a post before my iPhone died. At first, this was frustrating, but after accepting that these raw posts of streaming conscience were more pure than anything I’ve produced in years, I learned what could be the most important lesson of my journey. I began to relish the fact that most blog posts were written in public bathrooms, outside of country gas stations, or wherever else I could find a functional power outlet. Creativity is imperfect. I used to strive to achieve an unreachable level of perfection in what I wore, said and produced. I now know that sometimes it’s better imperfect and pure.
Thank all of you for reading and I hope that you’ve enjoyed hearing about my trip. I’m glad that I could share such positive and important part of my life with so many people.