Regardless of lifestyle choices, it’s hard to disagree with anyone’s positivity. Here is a recent email I received from someone I’ve never met.Hi Brody, ______told me about meeting you [along your ride], and then pointed me toward your website, which I have been reading every day. Your post Don’t Squander a Moment, part 2 is an amazing story. Well, they all are, but this one really stuck with me. Who would believe that you (well, anyone) could walk up to a home whose residents are unknown to you, be invited to camp in their backyard, be served veggie pizza (no less!), spend precious time with a very friendly and interesting woman (and her pets), and end up staying in a beautiful ready-for-guests guest bedroom. I’m totally awestruck. Martha is the epitome of Minnesota nice. The true Minnesota nice. But before that, I laughed when you wrote about the… …Thank you for sharing, Brody. I look forward to reading about your travels in India and wish you a very safe trip!
Take care, ________ ______
Over the past number of years, I’ve found myself interacting with a lot of strangers. So have you. People I’ve never met before, and usually have no direct or even indirect relationship with, have stepped beyond their comfort zones (or what is commonly considered the standard comfort zone) and into my life.
Each of these experiences has been positive for me; but moreover, each is an opportunity for me to look at humankind as a group of individuals, and not as a single species, because each individual unknowingly leaves part of his/her personality and mindset engrained into who I am. I am not an individual in the sense that I have consciously created my own character, but in that I am an assemblage of traits passed on to me from others.
The person who sent me this email could have easily remained anonymous, hidden as a number in a statistic of daily website hits. Instead, though, the person chose to remind me that it is foolish to ever look at individuals as a herd. The same way the emailer reminded me how Martha in Minnesota is more than just another person in another house, the emailer herself become an individual to me.
On the day referenced, I rode past house after house, seeking to select one–as an individual–and grasp the opportunity to learn about it, as a specific home with individual residents who have each lived lives, day in and day out, as themselves, with years and years of stories to prove it.
If I was fortunate enough (as I’m sure you, reading this, have been in your life) to find such incredible experiences with so many people, imagine the 99.9999% of people that we just walk/drive/ride/ski past on a daily basis, living our own lives and with whom we are not sharing our stories the same way they aren’t sharing theirs.
See, I made a solo bike trip. Solo. Alone. At least that was the intention. But my solo bike trip was anything but alone. The most engaging, memorable, and encouraging part of the adventure was the people that I encountered. Or should I say each individual, because it wasn’t the people, but the individuals who stick out so vividly in my mind. Each of my favorite stories involves personal interactions. My memories aren’t introspective and revolutionary thoughts that I was conjuring up sometime during mile number 1372, but, instead, experiences beyond myself and my time spent alone, pedaling. Whether it’s the yogurt-chucking truck driver, a sympathetic cell phone store manager in Minnesota, or a fireside conversation with family, people–individual people–were the best part of my bike trip. I didn’t expect this to be the case. In fact, I anticipated going longer than I ever have without speaking to anyone. Each and every day I met people, oftentimes who invited me into their homes, and relished my time shared with them.
Similarly, people are also my favorite aspects of traveling, adventuring, and living.
I’m willing to bet you, on at least one of these levels, agree. In a single day while biking through Glacier National Park, I met a pair of individuals biking around the world and another pair driving around the world. For me, it’s hard not to be inspired by adventures like theirs. And by them.
Since completing my bike trip, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions about how I met people, and about how these people quickly morphed from strangers to friends. The truth is that it was surprisingly easy.
I’m not a very imposing individual as-is. My 5′ 7 (and 3/4″) stature does not tend to make people step aside as I stroll down a city sidewalk or quickly duck if I offer an unexpected and aggressive high-five.
Walking around grocery stores, gas stations, and small-town main streets wearing bike tights, a buckled helmet, and a Camelbak was unlikely to transform my image into a threatening, traveling, serial killer. Instead, upon seeing a 150-pound bicycle with a 150-pound rider, residents were inclined to approach me and to hear the story of why I make such poor decisions…I mean…the story of why I’m blatantly and miserably traveling by bicycle. Where I was going, where I came from, and ‘how much further?‘ were all constant inquiries.
Sometimes, these questions would get on my nerves. Even if I had gone 24 hours without speaking with anyone (which rarely, if ever, happened), a barrage of questions was likely to fly towards me the second I stopped in a mid-sized town.
I began to grow tired of the questions not due to a disinclination to speak to strangers or temporarily quench their curious thirst for knowledge, but due to the poor quality of content in my responses. Even after a month of being asked ‘where are you from?’ it was not an easy question for me to answer because no single city could properly credit where I grew up (Chesterland, Ohio), where I live (in a car, often in SLC, Utah), where I started the trip (hitchhiking, Bozeman, Montana), and where I actually started biking (Kalispell, Montana). What’s more pathetic is that after 6 weeks of answering identical questions, every one presented a challenge. I treated each questioner as an individual, and tried to appease their curiosity with a personalized answer. But I feel as though I always failed to do so. I didn’t, and still don’t, have good answers to ‘why are you biking across the country?‘ or ‘why would you climb a dangerous mountain when you just have to climb back down?‘ or ‘why not just get a job after graduation?‘, or even the “simple” ‘where are you from?‘.
Small-talk would begin with a mom in the bagel section, a homeless person at the public restroom, or a bike enthusiast at the water fountain. Perhaps even in a town park.
Hung-over and over-weight gas station clerks would provide inadequate directions to the next small town and not allow me to leave without first asking if I knew, “my cousin who lives in some city–I think it’s in Ohio–her name is Sarah.” As I fished my wallet out of a pannier or unlocked my bike from a signpost, a passerby would offer a “good luck” or “how many miles today?“. A thumbs-up out a passing car window gave me the energy of 5 Redbulls during Finals Week. These small interactions, which, I’m confident, went unnoticed in the daily routine of the offerers, mutated my trip from a pensive and contemplative repetition of pedaling to a social happening, constantly in the present and the now.
I quickly learned to not get frustrated by the constant influx of similar questioning, but to embrace it. For when I offered decently sufficient responses to their succinct queries, I would always receive an offering in return, although no one was ever aware of it: I would be left a bit satisfied, a bit different, and a like them.
I wonder what they got out of the deal.