As we began to plan the bike trip (which is still happening in a big way, haven’t mentioned it in a while!), Joey and I got a lot of questions about why we were doing this, who we were riding for, and what message we were trying to send. The most honest answer to all these questions is “I am riding for me.”
These questions have given me pause in the past. My professional and academic careers thus far have had a non-profit, progressive, humanitarian air and thus I felt it necessary to justify my choices using these established ethics in my life. People who embark on these grand outward journeys must also have some great outward purpose, some wisdom to impart to the world, some point they are trying to make, or some deep and meaningful cause that they are supporting and “raising awareness for.” Joey and I don’t have that external motivation. We are doing this for us.
Joey and I moved to Portland with the understanding that we would “see what happens.” We figured everyone needs a first city; somewhere with cheap-ish rent, interesting people, and a job you got through a college employment fair. We planned on learning a lot of lessons here and growing into real people who function in the real world and accomplish real things and build real skills that we could take to other real places where we could meet other real people and so on and so forth. In other words, we came here to learn how to live after college. In that regard, I believe we succeeded entirely.
We now have a house to live in (albeit a rental), a job to go to, some money in the bank, and our weekends free. But we are 23 and 24 years old. We have no plans to get married or have children in the near future (sorry mom). We are lucky enough to be debt free so we are able to think about this city and the grown up things we have done here not necessarily as a foundation for our whole life but as a jumping off point for the next adventure. And the periodic adventure is something we are not ready to take out of the rotation.
Since Joey and I graduated a year and a half ago our adventure to life ratio has gotten upsettingly skewed toward banality. On the weekends we are often too tired to enjoy ourselves and taking time off work seems like a trap. From 2010 to 2014 I was able to plan a weeks long adventure every 10 weeks with virtually no limitations. At the time I resented the fact that I could not make a home and keep it. I longed to maintain my place in a community not fragmented by Holiday breaks and off-terms. I wanted to be somewhere that wouldn’t necessitate me accepting that the people around me were constantly flying in and out of my life for a few months at a time and then forever. Not to be dramatic or anything.
But now that I have been in Portland for a year and a half I am confident saying that I have not found my bliss here either. I have been able to put down roots of some kind, we have built a network of friends and colleagues. But I still wouldn’t consider this place (mostly for what I have made of it) the community with the permanence I searched for. In this city of transplants, I think a lot of folk have a similar reaction after a while. It has been fun, it has taught me a lot, but I don’t think I need to stay in Portland for the rest of my life. And now I still have the freedom to find myself in any way I like.
So we are not riding for charity because charity is not the reason for the ride. If I had a life changing event that made clear my passion or cause in life I would ride for that. But right now I don’t want a higher purpose. I just want to put my whole self into something and figure out what to do on the other side. This ride isn’t meant to be a publicity stunt. It is a life transition. When we come to the end of the ride our goal is to find a new place to set up shop. Its a self-supported, self-driven, selfish endeavor.
But I don’t mean to demean the impact or importance of the trip in my own eyes. This past week (10/4/15-10/10-15) was Mental Illness Awareness Week. Please check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness website for more details on the events they put together and the conversations they are beginning. I felt this week of awareness most acutely through all the people of the internet who have felt compelled to share their stories this week.
I am a fan of Buzzfeed and the like, those aggregating sources of compiled and original content that put the experiences of people around the world, both mundane and extraordinary, in your lap. I have been reading the numerous personal stories that have surfaced here and around the web of people from all walks of life, their struggle with mental illness, and their path to wellness. It is not uncommon to struggle and I know from the past few years of my life that people around you struggle without showing it. But where does this suffering come from?
For me this bike trip is simultaneously a way to answer that question and act on it. Awareness of mental health issues is a blessing to my generation because I hope that means we will feel more comfortable finding ways to fix them. Most of the suffering in my life right now comes from a realization that I don’t want the things I work for; money, fancy house, mundane suburban life. I know that these things will not make me inherently more happy and the pursuit of them takes me out of the running of gaining ground on actual fulfilling goals. So now that I know where I am, the bike trip and its constant motion will both help me answer the questions what do I want and how do I get it? As a millenial, I have been called part of the most selfish generation. But I think something that is often overlooked is that all this focus on the self is not one dimensional. I don’t care for selfies, but I sure do care for self-reflection, self-referential world views, and learning my own self. We in 2015 (oh god almost 2016) have the opportunity to use what we know about ourselves to make us happy. Happiness is something I want to emphasize in my life. I have not always chosen the happy road; I have martyred myself on the altar of traditional achievement, I have cracked fillings over campaigns that weren’t meant to be won this year, and I have relished tasks referred to by my former boss as “a death march.” I thought I was putting time in the bank toward “paying my dues.” But when you don’t really want to join the club, why don’t you just save your money?
…and maybe spend it on a bike 🙂