Please note~ Careful consideration should be made in making drastic life changes. Many months of planning and years of saving allowed me to make such a decision.
In early November of last year Andrew suffered a massive heart attack one morning and passed away later that same day. Well liked, happy and successful were all words I would use to describe him. At age 50, Andrew was a senior manager at a prestigious global insurance company and survived by his two children and wife. The morning I heard of the loss I looked inwardly and asked, “if I die today in my cubicle, what would I be known for?”
The positives came easy. Good brother, son and friend. OK roommate, perhaps. Charismatic, smart, well-traveled and funny may be some other descriptors – should you not agree, feel free to call me an idiot in the comments. When I looked at my professional life the descriptions looked less inviting. Sure, I was well-regarded by colleagues and clients, hitting and exceeding goals, but I wasn’t achieving personal success. And what is success? Money, power and influence? I lived within my means, but wasn’t exactly swimming in things that society attributes to success.
When I looked inward at my own values, I did not see success. Had I died in my cubicle I would have seen a person that played things safe. That stressed daily over trivial tasks in a role that did not have a clear path for career growth, at least growth that would fulfill me as a person. Life had to change, I had to change. No longer was I willing to accept the safe route in life, accept daily stresses for a regular paycheck and regular time off. I would venture into the unknown (check off a bucket-list item) and survive.
It was then I decided to trade eight (8) hours at a desk four (4), eight (8) hours each day, cycling across the US – coining the Trading848 moniker. I would undertake a journey of a lifetime, seeing a country that I had only seen a small portion and do so by bicycle, a near forgotten joy in life. Inspiration came from friends of friends who had completed a transcontinental trips and a former CFO that toured the country by RV with his young family when the stars aligned. With no wife, no children, no mortgage and a very understanding girlfriend, my stars had aligned.
First came planning. When will I leave? What route will I take? What do I bring? Graham you’ve never camped before, are you ok sleeping outside with bears and spiders? A Farmer’s Almanac, countless internet searches, trips to REI and numerous bike shop visits provided adequate guidance. How do I leave my job? Am I financially capable to take this trip? A careful analysis of my work life, pending bonus, savings and lease, confirmed I was making the right choice. Again the decision was not easy as the unknown is, and continues to be, a scary place.
The mental relief from making such a decision came almost immediately. Something in my brain allowed me to not sweat the daily stresses, knowing that in May I had adventure waiting. Inmates planning their escape from Alcatraz likely found prison slightly less daunting after visualizing eventual freedom. Work became more tolerable and interactions more enjoyable.
Every conversation I had regarding the trip went better than expected. My one brother was excited, the other was questionable, sister seemed happy for me, my parents were surprisingly accepting of my decisions and friends were overwhelmingly jealous. When the time came to resign and inform co-workers of the trip, the decision was again pretty well received. Only one individual told me I should buy a gun and the rest were very supportive – not many people knew individuals who traveled cross country on a solo, self-supported cycling trip.
I did feel anxiety in resigning. I really like my manager and team and did not want to put people out. Also, THERE IS NEVER A GOOD TIME TO QUIT and this trip wasn’t about making others happy, but challenging myself. Besides, the trip wouldn’t be all about me, I partnered up with a non-profit and raised funds and awareness for a good cause, the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. I would use my new found endless “free” time cycling, supporting a non-profit and blogging. Three things I had not previously spent a considerable amount of time doing.
What I experienced when I left on May 10 was nothing short of incredible. I traversed sixteen states, enjoying their history and natural beauty at, on average, 12 MPH. I challenged myself physically and mentally. At first I averaged about 40 miles a day and by the end a 75-85 mile day was expected. Heatwaves, climbing mountains and periods of scarce food, water and services produced some precarious situations, all of which were survived and now remembered fondly. I reaffirmed my faith in humanity, meeting Americans and foreigners alike, realizing people are not all that different in wants and needs. Things like race, religion, political party only seemed to matter when behind a keyboard, not when meeting strangers in one of the more vulnerable modes of travel, cycling.
By and large a touring cyclist is non-threatening. People are typically interested in your experience and reasons for embarking on such a trip. A touring cyclist is not likely to take from an individual, unless its food, as a TV on the back of a bike would be heavy and wind resistant. People were eager to help, offer directions, shelter and most often, food. Another lesson, NEVER TURN DOWN A FREE MEAL. Seriously, don’t, even if you’re British and being polite, Americans that offer, genuinely want to feed you.
A friend once replied to my experiences by saying, “yea Graham, of course you had a great time, you’re a white American male!” While this long time friend was being observant, I took offense to the statement. Not because it diminished the joys of my recent accomplishment, but because it would tarnish the joys of what others experienced while touring. I met men and women of varied nationalities and race, traveling in groups or solo and all seemed to have an exceptional attitude towards their journeys. A majority of concerns held by individuals were unwarranted. Sure we all faced adversity, some more than others, but not enough to wipe the smiles from a single person’s face when they recalled adventures. It goes without saying, that one should always remain aware of their surroundings and trust their gut if a situation does not appear safe.
When the trip ended it was hard to digest. After 4000 plus miles, I sent my bike home from Portland, Oregon. It felt like I was sending a child off to college – or, what I imagine that would be like. I raised nearly $6,000 for my cause and recently provided the donation to the organization. I was shy of my $10,000 goal, but felt great about raising that much for a Philadelphia based organization while traveling across the country. In late August, I left important people that I traveled thousands of miles with and returned to family and friends.
People are often impressed with the trip and ask many questions. Unfortunately a lot of these questions are about assumed negative experiences. It is difficult to come up with answers to these questions. I have a laundry list of amazing memories, it is difficult to pick which is best. To them I am the only person they know who has taken such a trip. I always recommend cycle touring as an experience worth undertaking.
Most importantly I implore people to do what is right for them. Life can pass you by rather quickly. Sometimes jobs can dominate life and few pleasures are found outside work hours. One moment you graduate from college the next you find yourself in a cubicle having worked for 10 years, or 20 or 30. If you were anything like me, Netflix or beers dominated my evenings and weekends were spent doing much of the same, with occasional cultural events smattered in between. We can find ourselves living to work and instead of working to live.
If you are not one of the few who “love what they do and never have to work a day in their life”, I implore you to find a passion or passions and dedicate time each day to that passion. Whether it is writing, reading, cycling, volunteering, etc. the focus on creating or expanding a skill sets will enrich your life. It may lead to an opportunity to turn your passions into a career. I am in the process of trying to make this happen. I intend to do so myself. Older blog posts on Trading848 detailed my planning and experiences during touring. Moving forward posts will focus on cycling lifestyle, NYC area rides, equipment reviews and entertaining anecdotes of life.
This blog is geared around cycling, but also to inspire. I want people to make changes in their lives to make it more fulfilling. To make small changes or huge ones, like I did. It won’t be easy. It is not easy. Changes in life never are, but they make for great learning and better stories.
I ask you to leave a comment with one or two passions you currently pursue or would like to pursue. Please follow the blog via email in the top right or bottom of the page and like & share this post with others that you believe will find some value.
Congratulations for making it to the end!