I really need to stop answering my phone when I’m riding my bike. That should be a time for myself, right? A moment for self-reflection and meditation, perhaps? As I stumble toward my 45th birthday, that should be my inner sanctum, but I give it away too capriciously.
Don’t think, however, that the irony is lost on me when I start this story with a phone call from my girlfriend, as I was winding around the somewhat unfamiliar territory of paved Boulder bike trails. Recently relegated to my road bike by most unfortunate circumstances, I turned the sharp corner off Broadway near the university just as she asked, “So where are you riding today?”
I gasped for a moment before pedaling into the downhill, then said with a whimsical air, “I go wherever my bike takes me.” We both laughed immediately, and I knew I had a metaphor in there somewhere.
“You should write your next column about THAT!” she exclaimed.
I know- I can feel your collective groan at the prospect of the low hanging fruit of the “carpe diem” essay here. I do carpe me some serious diem, but that’s not where I am headed here. For me, this is about letting go, about an openness to whatever lies in front of you, even when you have no knowledge of the path ahead. Because in the end, control is but an illusion anyways.
I usually plan my bike rides out scrupulously before I hit the trail. I have the mileage estimated, if not precisely calculated from previous experience. I even have a good sense of where the hill climbs will be, especially since I prefer to do those earlier in the ride. I’ll opt for a loop ride if I can, but if that simply isn’t an option, I’ve got a good turn around spot in mind. And you damn well better believe that I am GPS’ing my ride on my phone the entire ride so that I can do it over and over again and compare my times. Is that a bit anal retentive? Yeah, I thought so too.
When I head out the door with a plan in mind, I don’t like that plan getting jacked with. I want to follow the script just as I wrote it- no damn ad libbing. We all know, of course, life doesn’t work that way. Don’t be sending me on some stupid detour through a sketchy ‘hood filled with water treatment plants and marijuana grow warehouses (yes, we have those in Colorado). I don’t want to have to recalculate my proposed distance, arrival time, and remaining energy level. A true creature of habit, I dislike relinquishing that control when I’m on my bike.
This is probably also why I hate flying. I know that an airplane is whatever times safer than me driving a car, but in a plane, I’m not behind the wheel. I have to place my life in the hands of someone else. Control is a sticky situation. I don’t have to sit here and tell you how little we control the external circumstances that befall us. But you want to nonetheless. Sometimes it’s just so damn hard to let go.
But it is just that acceptance that leads to our greatest journeys. I hate every moment I’m on a plane, but they’ve taken me to St. Lucia, Europe, Australia, and countless other amazing places. In life, prepare for everything- create plans, make reservations, get a hotel room, but then be ready to fly by the seat of your pants and go in the direction your soul is leading you, even if that means altering the plans you worked so hard to make.
I sing a different song to each of my kids every night before bed. For my son, it is John Lennon’s striking rendition of “Beautiful Boy”, which has one of my favorite lyrics from any song, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” In life, we can choose when we get up from our seat to go to the bathroom, and save for an overbearing stewardess, we can usually decide which bin we use for our overhead luggage, but try as you like, they aren’t going to let you fly the plane. Sit back and enjoy your flight. If you’re taking off from Nebraska, at least you know you’ll wind up in a better place.
As I rode on through Boulder on a weekday afternoon, I suddenly realized I was lost, that I had no real clue where I was headed. And it was at just that moment that I also knew I didn’t much care because I had already found the way to go.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com