Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why It Pays to Resist Your 'Inner Pig Dog'

Redondo Beach, 23 April 2015, Me with local resident Nina and Aussie adventurer Rob

I had one of those days today, the kind where I had to fight off my resistance to getting out of the house. I had to take my Mini in for its third service in three weeks, but what I really wanted was to just stay home in my pajamas, drink my latte, and catch up on email. I'm driving from California to Iowa mid-May (to drop off Jack at my friend's farm for the summer so I can go on my WORLD PIECE adventure) and the water pump and axle seal had to be replaced. If I didn't do it I might later find myself somewhere in the Nevada desert of Colorado mountains waiting for a tow from AAA.

The resistance to leaving the house was not just that I would have to get dressed (I do my best work in my pajamas) but that I would have to ride my bike home from the mechanic. It's only 6 miles, but the last half of it is uphill.

The Germans have an expression for this kind of resistance: they call it the Innerer Schweinehund. Inner Pig Dog. Which basically just describes your (er, my) lazy, unmotivated self. The hill isn't really that bad. And I have a good bike with good gears. And usually I love riding my bike. Besides, with the clock ticking on my departure date, there was no avoiding -- or even postponing -- the auto shop.

This was how I felt, before I got on my bike.
Do a Google image search for Innerer Schweinehund.
It's interesting (read: disturbing) what you will find.

Once I dropped off my car I realized it was a really nice day for a bike ride. So instead of riding straight home to the south, I headed north. I rode on the bike path up to Playa del Rey, following the ocean the entire time, taking in the sailboats, the seagulls, and was awed when a snowy egret land just inches from me.

Why had I been so resistant? This was a huge treat to be outside, surrounded by nature, feeling the wind in my face, the sun warming my bones.

I stopped to eat a granola bar and watched Massey Ferguson and John Deere tractors raking debris from the sand as if it was a meditation. What first caught my attention was the familiarity of these tractors, their red and green colors identifying their brands, and the contrast of seeing them on a beach instead of on the Iowa farms I was used to. As I sat on a beachside bench I became mesmerized by their slow and steady rhythm, soothed by their repetitive motion as they traveled back and forth in straight lines, smoothing out the beach. My farmer friend, Doug (Jack's future dog sitter), had just sent me a photo taken from his tractor where he was at that very moment making his own back-and-forth lines in Iowa's black soil, planting corn. Making the connection between these two worlds made me feel more connected to myself. This day was definitely going well.
Similar yet different. This is my friend Doug's view from
his tractor while planting corn in Iowa.

I got back on my bike and it only got better.

I spotted a biker on the path with his bicycle loaded with gear -- bulging panniers, a bag hanging over the front bars, and sleeping bag and tent rolled up over the rear wheel. I wondered where he was from and where he was headed. I had a magnetic eye for traveling bikers, drawn to them as I had been one myself, carrying that same kind of gear, when I was 17 and riding down the West coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest. That was the same trip where I was caught stealing apples at the orchard of a retired pastry chef and learned how to make apple pie. To be on a bicycle is the ultimate way to be open to adventure. You are traveling under your own power. And you are very exposed. It's you and your own strength -- mental and physical -- that moves you along. Through rain. Heat. Headwinds. Traffic. Hills. There is no place for an Innerer Schweinehund on a bike trip.

I was curious about this biker. I was also remembering how while on my own adventures -- biking and otherwise -- I appreciated people offering support. A meal, a shower, a bed, a phone number of someone in the next town, even just some friendly conversation. Reaching out can mean the world to someone who is alone and traveling by their own human-powered engine. So I pedaled to catch up to him and talk.

"Where are you headed? Where are you from? How long are you going to be biking? Where are you going to today?" Poor guy probably just wanted to ride his damn bike but here was this chirpy girl in a blinding orange bike jersey yacking in his ear. But he was willing to answer. From his first word I detected his Australian accent, that pleasant and friendly tone with the soft Rs and drawn out As. Of course this only made me want to hear more.

He was riding across the USA, including Alaska, and he was going to take 12 months to do it. The most amazing thing was that he had just started. He had just landed at LAX, assembled his bicycle, loaded the bags, and I had encountered him on the FIRST MILE of his 6,000-mile trip!

"Do you have a website? A Facebook page? Somewhere people can follow your progress?" I might have been a little overzealous, bordering on interrogating him. Maybe I just seemed, well, American to him.

His name was Rob and, no, he didn't have a website or Facebook page. He had barely had time to get all his gear organized, and any energy that would have gone toward social media was spent trying to navigate the bureaucracy of getting a 12-month US visa. Besides, he said, this trip was for him, to find the "real" Rob.

Yes, I totally understood that.

I've had my own questions about that for my "World Piece" journey. I've had days where I was overwhelmed trying to turn this into a project, when really, my trip was intended to be something personal.  To feed my soul, to help me get "un-lost," to reconnect with that fearless and adventurous girl I used to be, to make myself feel better by giving to others (through making and sharing pie.) Hearing about Rob's lack of need or desire for public sharing of his travels and transformation affirmed my own thoughts: Personal journeys require some privacy. I had already come to the conclusion that not every big, life-altering trip has to be promoted -- or turned into a book. The world is already so noisy. That Rob had opted to travel so humbly and quietly was, frankly, refreshing.  (Don't worry, I'm still going to blog from my travels! I'm a writer; telling stories -- hopefully inspirational ones -- is what I do.)

Rob had just quit his job as a naval engineer, moved out of his apartment in Sydney, and tried to convince his mother that he could go on this bike trip without getting hurt. (To hear that his mom is so caring about her son made me smile.) He is in his early 40s and he had been hearing that compelling voice, perhaps a command from a higher power, telling him, "If not now, when?" Exactly. So here he was. Day One of his 365 day bicycle trip. He left his Innerer Schweinehund  behind in the Australian dust. And now he is living his dream.

We ended up stopping for coffee in Redondo Beach before saying goodbye. A woman we encountered at the cafe, Nina, started asking him about his bike trip. She was so interested and so friendly, we sat with her and talked for nearly an hour until Rob finally said he needed to get moving. He still had 50 miles to ride to his first overnight stop.

Rob and I rode together until my Palos Verdes turnoff, meaning the uphill climb I had been dreading before I left the house that morning took almost no effort at all. We chatted the whole way up. Rob was loaded down with all his gear and wasn't standing up on his pedals, or even breathing hard like I usually am on that climb. This time, as I climbed the hill, I was feeling buoyed, my inner load lightened by the nice surprise of making two new friends. Especially, I was feeling happy that I could make a stranger feel welcome in a country that was new to him. It was a reminder that when I get off the plane in faraway lands this summer, the same can happen to me. There will be good people and new friends in each new place I go.

Because of this bike ride and chance encounter (was it chance?!), I ended up having such a good morning that I didn't even mind when I went to pick up my car and got the bill for $750. Okay, well, maybe that part was a little painful.

The next time the resistance rears its fat and furry head, I will know to kick it to the curb without hesitation. Interesting and inspiring people and adventures are always awaiting. All I have to do is get out of my pajamas.


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