Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Motivation, among other things: The Longest Post Ever

Weigh-In: 230.8 lbs

The past few days I’ve been thinking about motivation and what creates it in me. I have to say, I can be a very lazy person. The weight and shape I allowed myself to get in over the past ten years is a great example of that. I’ve been lazy paying bills, keeping things clean, getting things done. I can admit that. These are all things that I’ve tried to improve about myself over the past year or so. For me, something snapped inside me in the months leading up to my 30th birthday. I don’t know exactly how to put it into words, but somehow in the past 18 months or so I’ve come to realize my own mortality. I guess this happens to a lot of people when they hit 30. I’d like to think I’m not alone anyway.

I don’t consider myself a religious person and I have no idea what will become of me after I die. Everyone has their own ideas ranging from nothing, to going to heaven, to being reincarnated. I don’t want to get into that discussion, but I’d just like to get across the fact that I do not know what will happen. It’s pretty scary really, especially for a person like me who often values rationale and facts over feelings and faith. My answer for this dilemma is to try not to spend much time trying to figure it out, but instead enjoy the time I have and make the most of it. I don’t plan to have any regrets. Will I make mistakes? Absolutely. But I will not regret those mistakes because they will be part of learning, which is part of living. Regardless of what my peers, my bank account, or my body tells me, I will do what I want, and I will achieve what I want, or at least give it a hell of a try. If it ends, I will make that decision. I refuse to have it made for me.

I know I’m only 31 years old and that is relatively young, but I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that your body will adapt and allow you to do things you’d never have thought you’d be able to do. It’s a wonderful machine that can reward you, or cause you great pain. For me anyway, it constantly impresses. I will give back what you put into it. At least that has been my experience.

I have not always felt this way. As with many things my thoughts and feelings about motivation have changed over the years. And there have been a few defining moments that have helped shape me.

The one that’s been sticking in my head is my Chicago – Philadelphia bike trip a few years ago. For those of you who read this and know me, you may want to skip this part as I’m sure you’ve heard this story before.

At some point, maybe 8-10 years ago, my Dad started riding bicycles. I’m not really sure what motivated him to do so. Maybe it was because he didn’t smoke anymore and wanted to get in shape. Maybe it was because he rode as a teenager and wanted to relive those days. I don’t really know why, I’ll have to ask him someday. The point here is that he started riding. I’d also ridden to work and around my home town as a teenager, but most of that went away when I started driving a car. When my Dad started riding, eventually I started going with him. I can credit him with being the one getting me into the sport which eventually in a way changed my life.

This was also a pivotal time in our relationship as I was just becoming a man at 20 or 22 years of age. I was just starting to really get to know my Dad and we ended up bonding on our bike trips in one way or another. What started out as an hour down a flat paved path on a Sunday afternoon eventually turned into 40-60 mile day trips in the rolling hill of southeastern Pennsylvania. I’d been interested in hiking prior to this so at some point I suggested we get some pannier bags and take the bikes on a longer multi-day touring trip. Neither of us had ever done this before.

Over the next few years we’d end up doing many trips. We threw our bikes on the train from New York City to Montreal then rode home to Philadelphia through the Adirondack Mountains over 10 or so days. We rode to Virginia Beach in the hot summer heat, turned around and came home, camping all the way. We also did smaller long weekend trips through wind and rainy weather, hot and cold. People at work could never understand why I’d take vacation time to ride a bike all day. At times I wondered the same thing, but at the end of a long hard day of riding the feeling of accomplishment always overrode any pain I went through.

In Early Spring of 2004 we’d planned to do a bicycle trip. Actually, I’d planned it. I do the planning and my Dad does the repairing of the bikes. That’s just how things work . That year, a former high-school peer of mine made headlines in the National News. His name was Nick Berg and he’d gone to Iraq for business, and ended up being murdered. A simple Google search will tell you more of what happened if you’re interested.

The event hit very close to home for me and for some people I know who were close friends with Nick. Somewhere during that time I got the idea to basically dedicate a bike ride to Nick. In fact Nick used to go on long bike rides himself. So in late May of 2004 my Dad and I flew out to Chicago with our bikes, intending to ride home to Philadelphia. We’d have signs on our bikes that said “Ride for Nick” and we’d hand out flyers which told people what we were doing and asked them to contribute to the Nick berg Memorial fund. I’d also set up a website that had a forum and I would update it with pictures and text from our trip along the way.

Before we left I’d been interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and our story ended up getting picked up by the Associated Press. The story reappeared on news channels and in newspapers in several places across the country as we were riding.

As for the trip itself, well, we had our problems. I had done no training whatsoever before the ride and was not in the best shape. In fact I never trained for our bike trips. I’d just suffer it out for the first few days and my body would eventually adapt. Being overweight probably didn’t help either.

The first half of the trip through the flat Midwest went well enough, but about half way through my Dad started having major knee problems. As it turned out his bike was not put together properly when we got to Chicago and it was slowly irritating his knee. Once we fixed it, it was too late and the damage was done. The strongest rider I’d ever ridden with was having trouble keeping up with me even at a slow pace. He was in a lot of pain and really should not have been riding at all.

When we reached the mountains of western PA, it was my turn to suffer. I had bike problems where it wouldn’t shift into lower gears right when going up yet another steep incline. One time I got so angry I jumped off the bike and chucked it into a ditch in the shoulder and started walking. I’d even considered sending home a lot of the luggage we were carrying on the bikes to make it easier.

This was the longest and hardest trip we’d ever done. At the same time it was the most emotional. As we were riding my Mom would phone us letting us know she read about our story in the LA Times. I’d been in contact with Nick’s family and they knew what we were doing. In fact Nick Berg’s father planned to ride the last few miles home with us on the last day.

So back to our trip: it was hard. In the end, we ended up covering over 1,000 miles in 9 days. My Dad somehow suffered through 500 or so very painful miles. I somehow got stronger the farther we went regardless of how much my bike acted up.

We did end up riding the last few miles with Mr. Berg. When we got home my friends were there waiting, along with a reporter. I wasn’t sure how but we’d made it, but we did. We did it for ourselves, for Nick, in a way it was for who we were as a people. There were a lot of reasons I guess.

When I started feeling better, and as I was riding up a steep hill, I could not stop thinking that whatever anyone throws at me, however difficult things get, it all just makes you stronger. That goes for western Pennsylvania hills, knee injuries, and Iraqi terrorists. I know it sounds cliché to say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I was really realizing this first hand.

Most importantly, what this trip proved to me was that I CAN, and I WILL do what I set out to do. Sometimes we need a little help from each other, but in the end reaching your goals is up to you. It get’s a lot easier when you truly understand that you CAN DO IT. If it were easy, well that just wouldn’t be life I suppose. We all fall down, the important part is that you get back up.

My take away from this is the following:

1. I will not ignore my problems. They will not go away.
2. Things will almost never be perfect and I will fall down. I will ALWAYS get back up, until I meet my goals.

Learning these two things changed my life. Some day’s I’m still learning them, but they will always be in my mind.


Rob Tucker said...

I am sitting here at my desk at work speechless.

Amazing, man. I don't even know what to say. I've got chills running down my arm reading that story.

Melissa said...

Brian what an great blog. Amazing. Simply amazing. I feel honored to know a man with such a great heart, determination, and drive. We really learn about ourselves in situations like that, and it really does change who we are. And thanks for the reminder that we can do anything we set our mind to :)

Ripx180 said...

great post Brian, truthfully inspiring. I totally believe what you said and the conclusions you have come to. Thanks for sharing.

Carrie said...

Wow. That's powerful.

Brian said...

Thank you kindly for the compliments.
I started typing this post about two months ago, but it took me to now to figure out exactly what I wanted to say. I just really do feel strongly that we all have it in us to do almost whatever we want.

billy said...

great post man. That's all i gotsta say.