The Last Four Weeks

Rory and I have been living at my apartment in Chicago for the past 12 days since we rented a UHaul in Townsend WI and drove the nearly empty truck home (if you missed that story, read my previous post). The first day or two back felt awkward–our first consecutive days of not riding in 6 weeks, existing in a familiar place with familiar people, and still not wearing my normal clothes because I left most of them with Sarah in Seattle. But routines don’t die easily, and settling into my previous Chicago life happened alarmingly quickly. I met with my advisor at Northwestern (twice); I saw friends at coffee shops and bars; I worked on my bike(s); I raced cyclocross.

To be clear, I don’t think that routines are inherently bad, and there are many elements of bike touring that are less than ideal and–at least for me–not sustainable over longer periods of time. By the time Rory and I reached northern Wisconsin I was both physically and emotionally burnt out. Sleeping in outside in a bivy sack, eating food cooked on a camp stove, and riding through days of damp, boring miles had largely lost their appeal. Developing tendonitis only underscored my need for a longer break from what had become a daily grind towards Chicago.

However, touring has made me think critically about elements of my day to day life that I suspect would otherwise go unnoticed. In Chicago I’m less likely to talk to strangers in passing; I compulsively create schedules and to-do lists for each day; I spend more time checking my email; I read less, write less, and take fewer pictures. Throughout our stay I continued to journal semi-regularly, but I found that although I had more to do each day, I had fewer experiences that I felt were worth writing about.

Rarely–if ever–have I taken long trips where I was able to “start over” in the middle. Although a not insignificant part of me wanted to stay in comfortable Chicago life with Sarah, friends, cyclocross, and routines, I’m also ready to start towards the East Coast. In part I just need to finish the trip (who wants to say, “I almost rode my bike across the country, but then I decided to go back to work early instead”), but there are also elements of touring life–particularly the opportunity/necessity of meeting new people–that I want back. I hope that when this trip is over I can more intentionally incorporate those elements into my day to day life.

This time around I’ve swapped my bivy for a full tent, replaced my thermarest with one that doesn’t leak, and swapped from down tube friction to STI shifters; hopefully my touring life will be more comfortable. As it turns out, when packing for a 3 month tour, sometimes comfort should trump my tendency towards ultralite minimalism.

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