‘Awesome’ is the most common response I get from people when I describe my upcoming trip. ‘Crazy’ runs a distant second, and ‘Dangerous’ a close third. Though I prefer to focus on the awesome aspects of my journey – the physical exhilaration and mental hejira – I cannot ignore the truth of concerned friends who think I’m crazy and what I am doing is dangerous. And so, in the spirit of full disclosure and the covenant I feel between my readers and me, here is the fine print of my odyssey. Just like when you buy a car or take out a mortgage, its time to acknowledge the gruesome details of what can go wrong immediately before signing the irrevocable commitment. Since my second favorite quote is Susan Jeffers, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, this is where I own the fear. Because I am doing this anyway.
The day before I launched my blog, How will we live tomorrow?’ my friend Joe’s brother suffered a heart attack while riding his mountain bike, fell, hit his head, and was unconscious for some period before he was resuscitated. After two weeks of complicated medical intervention, he died. He was 53. Joe’s brother could have had a heart attack surfing the web, just as I could have a heart attack on my way to the library. But realistically, I am more likely to get hurt – and less likely to get prompt medical attention – riding my bike across America than if I stayed in Cambridge. I know that. I accept that. I have decided the experience is worth the risk. I am doing everything I can to be safe; I’m a cautious cyclist decked out in bright yellow with reflective panniers and bright lights. But none of that will matter if even one driver behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle steers a few feet wrong.
I’ve attended to all the messy details so many of us put off until tomorrow: my will, my medical proxy, my organ donor card. If I get taken out short and quick, the world might as well use what’s still valuable, and tidying up after me ought to be easy for those left behind. If I get taken out short and quick, find solace in knowing I quit the earth doing what I love.
Writing these words will make me safer by making me more cognizant of the dangers I’m inviting into my life. We cannot control the future. But if we have a vision of what it might be, we can work toward that vision. I cannot control my fate on the road. But if I’m aware of what a fragile yellow speck I am on the face of this continent, I can be doubly careful to navigate well.
That’s all the doom and gloom I wish to share. Get ready for pedaling out on Wednesday. You will be safer than me, in the comfort of your bedroom or your office. But rest assured, I’ll be having more fun.