For those of you, Dear Reader, who have followed any of my posts you will know that I’m in one of those transitions in life, unwanted, but perhaps for the best. On a melancholy evening I’m searching for some distraction in Netflix whose AI, since I’m a big fan of The Way movie also suggested Tracks. A few simple lines brought up a whole bunch of memories and feelings:
The decision to act was in itself the beginning of the journey. I believe when you’ve been stuck too long in one spot it’s best to throw a grenade where you’re standing and jump … and pray.
Hearing these lines in the movie triggered me to recall a rare (for me) viewing of a Bill Moyers special with Joseph Campbell on The Power of the Myth. At the time I saw (only one episode) it resonated but I didn’t really know why.
In my exile here in a place where I don’t belong I’ve run off a few times. The first time was in desperation, just throw my backpacking stuff in the car and head south (in March, miserable here). One of my few trips alone. I found myself in Big Bend National Park and through multiple coincidence had an amazing time. While this memory stands out it is not alone; multiple times I’ve just hit the road when where I was didn’t fit any more. Little did I know, despite having The Odyssey in classes, how much I was following a well-trod path, so well spelled out by Joseph Campbell.
So, tonight, alone, I’m thinking of all this, sixty-nine years of experience where more than once I’ve felt that urge for the journey, both to escape the present and to seek the future.
So it’s confession time. While I was little, in Texas, like all kids I wanted a bike. I picked a jazzy bike (terrible, actually, but typical of me to pick the bad one). But I had a basic fear of riding that bike. So for a very long time I rode it with training wheels, even to school, where I endured lots of ridicule for my lack of coordination (really confidence, plus misunderstanding of the physics of angular momentum). After I finally ditched the training wheels (long after other kids) I joined a simple trip of the local YMCA, kids riding their bikes a short distance to a camp outside of town. Because it was an awful bike and I was terribly out of shape I failed to make the short ride, facing the ignominy of having to be transferred to the camp via pickup truck and the ridicule of the other kids.
Fast forward. In Boston where amazingly I ended up rowing crew and finally developing some muscles (plus some knowledge of how to train) I frequently borrowed a bike and rode all over the town. Fast forward again when I moved to Palo Alto with only one car and challenges of getting both me and my wife to work, so it was buy a bike time. I hustled to the bike store and bought a Bertin, at least a 10-speed, even though a heavy steel clunker. Once attempting a ride up Arastradero (a tough hill on any bike) I encountered another cyclist, taking a break. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was riding a “century”. Having no clue what that was I asked and he explained – it was a ride (for fun) of 100 miles. The concept of it was staggering to me but somehow the seed was planted.
A couple of years later and having learned more about bicycles finally on a good bike I set out, alone, of course, on my first century, the Marin Century (a fairly hard one, lots of climbing). After about 90 miles I was dog tired but also certain I’d make it back to the finish line at the Marin Civic Center. As I was plodding along on the last 10 miles I thought back to that humiliation in Texas, wondering how many of those other kids, now middle-aged, could even begin to do a 100 mile bike ride.
Yet I’m a late bloomer, slow to get rid of training wheels, slow to learn what a good bike is, slow to get in shape to do a century, but somehow I made it. And later a century was not enough and so somehow another bug got in my head, a triathlon. Like biking, despite numerous classes on swimming, I couldn’t swim – I was always afraid. Now my triathlon was just a “tinman”, not the notorious “ironman”, but nonetheless a one mile swim in open water was terrifying to me. But by that stage in my life (nearly 40) I’d learned something about how to train and so after many months in a pool (initially just barely able to do 40 meters) I knew I could do it.
I have little athletic talent nor, in fact, the iron will and determination of true athletes. But somehow, I can set achievable goals, hard for me, and still pursue them. Actually the 10YO me would be rather surprised at the older me.
But now I face a new challenge, the inevitable decline of aging. I’m fighting it, with all the training I’ve reported in boring posts here and most recently, during my time alone, in my new efforts at the gym. But the physical hurdles are only part of it, it’s really the mental hurdles.
I guess that’s why the Power of the Myth, the Hero, the Road, resonates with me so much. Overcoming fear, overcoming physical weakness, daring to attempt something that seems almost out of reach, I guess that’s been a lifelong thing. Doing stuff through mental effort is my strong suit, easy – doing something physical, doing something the least bit daring, that’s my weak suit. I guess that’s why I’m drawn to it.
And before I get really old and unable to do much more than feed myself I still seek that quest, the adventure, the test of myself against the odds – the true part of the pilgrimage concept. Will I find it, can I do it – I don’t know but somehow I’ve got to try. Maybe the wisdom of the past, the ancients, the scholars, the philosophers will guide me. But what is the myth? What lies at the end of the road (The Way)? That’s still the question.