The post below was written a year before I started this blog and originally published on my personal Facebook page. I’m reposting it here as my “first” blog post since, although it’s now a year later, the lessons remain as relevant as ever.
I wanted to post my final check-in last night but sleep overtook me before I could finish.
I’m home! Justin joined me for the last 25 miles of the day and distracted me from the heat and headwinds with some much needed bro time that I’ve been missing all summer. Could not have asked for a better way to finish off the journey.
When I started this adventure, I had a few goals other than “make it from coast to coast without getting killed and take a photo in front of every state welcome sign.” I wanted a reflective summer, one that would challenge me to think critically about purpose, existence, (insert other philosophy-sounding concept here). I wanted to read the equivalent of what one might in Philosophy 101 to somewhat close the gap in my math and hard science dominant education.
It turns out I’m not much a fan of the Greek classics. But I did manage to spend much time thinking (not like there’s a whole lot else to do while biking solo in the wilderness). After reading Daniel Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” (thanks Sarah for the rec), I began thinking about “seeing what isn’t there,” the seemingly inhuman ability to observe what is absent in the present. Sherlock Holmes has this ability. For example, after observing that a dog particularly vocal around strangers had not barked during a burglary, Holmes deduced that the thief must have not been a stranger at all but rather someone the dog knew well. Alas, it seems this ability is common only among fictional characters.
I’ve realized that like most humans, I do not have the ability to see what isn’t there. I am biased by information made easily available to me by friends, media, academia, and so on, which becomes a problem when trying to make predictions or draw conclusions about something. After watching a news broadcast plagued with stories of violent crime, displays of social injustice, and threats of terror, one may be tempted to think that we live in a time more treacherous now than in previous years. Indeed, I have read posts over the past few months containing some variants of “People these days,” “We need ___ now more than ever,” and “What is the world coming to?” Being as the US is experiencing its most technologically advanced era ever with record high per capita income, access to and quality of healthcare, relative record low violent crime, etc., statements like these are products of overlooking what isn’t there, blindness to the good that fails to make front page news.
My trip removed me from my usual environment and exposed me to things I may not notice at home or in the media. Most notable were the innumerable examples of human goodness that I encountered. Although I camped quite a bit, I frequently stayed at houses of strangers who I met through an online resource called WarmShowers. It’s a platform like CouchSurfing but exclusive to touring cyclists. During nearly every WS experience I was taken aback that my hosts were willing to give me, someone they’ve never met before, a safe place to sleep, use of bathroom and laundry facilities, home-cooked meals (feasts would be more accurate), and genuinely welcoming and friendly company. Even the smaller examples of human goodness – the group of elderly people having breakfast who invited me to sit with them when they noticed I was alone, the truck driver who stopped on his way home from work to offer to refill my water bottles, the random cyclist in Milwaukee who changed his route to show me some of the highlights of the city and help me find my destination – remind me that people are generally good and that events prominent in the media are the exception. Yet not one of these significant acts of kindness will make the news, and all will go unnoticed by the rest of the world. It’s hard to see what isn’t there.
I am not encouraging ignoring the news altogether, even if times now are truly the best they’ve ever been. No, real injustices exist, and we must be made aware of these injustices if we are to address them. And to further clarify, not everything I observed on my bike trip was necessarily positive. As a student in the Research Triangle, I had lived in such a microcosm of progressive thinking that it was inconceivable to me that Trump could garner enough support to win the GOP nomination. After traveling through the rural areas between Seattle and Minneapolis where I noticed cumulatively fewer than a handful of people of color, I am no longer surprised by the results of the Republican primaries.
So please stay informed – do not ignore the news. An informed populace is critical to a functioning society. But keep in mind the bias that exists when our information comes from limited sources. If we cannot see what isn’t there, then the solution is to seek out wherever “it” is and see it. And, if you truly care about addressing injustice, I would encourage you to learn more about the injustices happening outside our borders, particularly those affecting children in developing nations, which seem to get a disproportionately small amount of media attention relative to the magnitude of their impacts.
So many thanks are due that I’m not sure where to begin. Thanks to my parents for allowing me follow my adventuresome spirit despite the inherent risks of a solo cross country bicycle trip. Thanks to the many wonderful people (Phil, John, Lisa, and several others) who graciously welcomed a stranger to their homes purely out of kindness and in support of touring cycling. Thanks to Paige, Liv, and Mike for hosting me and showing me around three awesome cities. Thanks to Matt for housing me, going to Cedar Point with me, and for being my personal guardian weatherman (you should Like his page, he’s pretty funny). Thanks to Keara for cycling with me and for baking cookies that I’m sure would have been delicious if the raccoons had not stolen them. Thanks to the touring cyclists I met along the way (Emily, Jenny, Robbie, Susan, Shayl, Shira, and others) who made me forget I was biking solo. Thanks to Emily who deserves a medal for putting up with me nearly 24/7 for ten days straight. Thanks to my friends who texted words of encouragement, kept me company on the phone, and sent motivational Snapchats (you know who you are) – I could not have gotten through the especially rough days without you. In my attempt to see what isn’t there, thanks to the tens of thousands of motorists who did not hit me, especially those who moved over a whole lane or more. And, thanks to all of you reading this for following my journey!
Though I am no closer to a degree in philosophy now than when I started, I am finishing my journey (and this post) feeling very much in harmony with the world. My journey reaffirmed my faith in humanity and belief that the vast majority of people are good and are doing good. Now it’s time to recover and begin packing for my third trip across the country this summer!