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Re:Cycle 2013

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RE:Cycle

Introduction


“I sat at the Canadian border alone with a bicycle and a hammock, trying to remember a time when I still thought this was a good idea…”

RE:Cycle GDMBR

This is a long, meandering summary of my experience planning, executing, and reflecting back on a 500+ mile solo bicycle tour through the Montana wilderness. At just over 9,000 words, it would take a slow reader about 45 minutes to read the entire thing. If you’re not big on reading you can skip that part and watch some videos from the trip here, or you can just scroll through and check out the photos.

Each post stands on it’s own, but as a group they form a narrative. This isn’t just about some long-ass bike ride, but also self-reliance, uncertainty, and making difficult decisions.

As you read this I hope you will catch the itch to move, to explore with curiosity, and to do. Read this if you want, but regardless of how much you read, I want to encourage you to make the mistake of action. Let’s do something. Not something planned out, organized with a neat little spreadsheet and fee schedule. No, it has to be something untested and uncertain. In other words: Let’s create an adventure for ourselves.

I’ll be continuing this bike tour in the summer of 2012, would you like to join me?


The Big Plan

ACA GDMBR Map

(written February 3rd, 2011)
“I want to ride a bicycle across the country.”

It started with one stupid idea. Originally I was going to try riding coast-to-coast, but it turns out riding a bike with skinny tires in tights isn’t as appealing as scaling mountains in the mud.

So I started looking for more info. I’d never heard of anyone doing it, I half-thought it was impossible. If not in the general sense, certainly impossible for me.

Then I found out about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route; a series of trails stretching from Canada to Mexico loosely following the Continental Divide.

50% of the people that attempt the route don’t make it all the way. And me, I didn’t even have a bike. But I started reading and thinking about my finances, health, and capabilities. Nothing I could come up with would kill the idea. The more I read the more it seemed like I might actually be able to pull this off. So the plan was born:

I am going to attempt to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Motive

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
– Henry David Thoreau

Clearly, this isn’t in line with any type of typical motive. One big motivator is that I know I’ll learn a lot. I also like the whole minimalist student naturalist philosophy thing a trip like this has going for itself.

But no, it won’t help my career or relationships. It’s not profitable, it won’t help other people and it isn’t part of any big master plan. I simply believe that life is short, and this fits who I am today, so I’m going for it.

Why the gdmbr?

I try to use the 10-year rule when big decisions come up. For those who aren’t familiar, the 10-year rule says that whenever you are presented with a choice, you choose the option you would prefer to have taken ten years later.

The GDMBR is the longest off-pavement bike route in the world.

Whether I make it or not, this is sure to be one hell of an adventure. Right now my priorities are arranged in a way that puts this journey at the top of my list.

The Fear Questions

“What about gear/supplies/logistics/solitude/etc…?”

The simple answer is that I don’t know. I am comfortable with that, but many people shake their head at an answer like that. The bottom line is that those questions stem from the fear that people feel when they consider themselves trying something like this. If I wait until I have all the answers to all of the details I will never do this.

“What if you don’t make it?”

I have no commitment to the outcome, but I have 100% commitment to the journey. That alone should take me pretty far. If injury, equipment failure, or trail closure keep me from making it the entire distance, I will be disappointed but not crushed. I may try again another year, or not who knows.

Image courtesy of the Adventure Cycling Association.


Preparation

“It feels as if the whole world has turned against me, and started pushing in.”
(written 9 days before leaving on my trip)

Preparing for something that is totally outside of your range of experiences is extremely trying. It’s hard to find support, and building the forward momentum from a standstill can really test your resolve.

Reactions from my friends ranged from chuckling disbelief to complete appall, almost no one approved completely. Over time, I got fairly good at selling my idea, and at least one person (thanks Jeff) supported my plan completely.

As the date grew near, the time came for a number of very difficult conversations. I had to tell my parents, and negotiate the time off with my boss. This was particularly trying since I had only been at my current job for 3 months.

The planned 10 week trip got cut down to 3 weeks, with the agreement that I would get one week paid in full, and I’d actually have a job to come back to (something I wasn’t sure of at the outset).

With no feasible way to ride the whole route, I was now free to leisurely explore the forests of Montana for 3 weeks. A slight disappointment, but by no means a failure.


Let’s Talk About Flow

Flow
I’m new to bike touring, but I understand it in a unique way because of my skateboarding and snowboarding background. All 3 share a central element that makes them very unlike other sports.

I’m talking about flow here. Media and advertisers love trying to convince the outside community that these sports are all about 900’s and triple corks, but that was never what it was about. Those over-hyped, ultra-competitive action sport celebrities are actually ridiculed in the subculture communities that they’re supposed to be representing. Similarly, bike touring is NOT about mileage, speed, or elevation stats. They are part of it, but they are an auxiliary to the center.

These metrics are used to measure progress. And it is progress, not the metrics, that matter. Pushing your own limits and exploring the boundaries of who you are is what it’s all about.

I’m sure some uninformed people will look at my stats page (coming soon) of how far I rode and what it cost and they’ll make some blanket “wow, that’s a lot!” or “meh, I’ve seen something more impressive” statement and move on. These people see the RESULT, but they never even glimpse the reality of what makes it attractive. Some people get it and understand the inherent awesomeness, and others just see some numbers and a bike ride and shrug, “gee whiz, that’s nice”.

This is the whole “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” cliche in action. If you only focus on the destination, you miss the entire point. The point is to loosen the reigns of control, make decisions on the fly, and learn something about yourself and the world you live in. When you pop up, drop in, or ride out alone for the first time you have no choice but to say “I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m scared. I’m going to trust things will work out anyway.”

First you learn the technique, then eventually you realize that is not a skateboarding skill, it is a life skill. This is why flow people say things like “This isn’t a hobby, it’s a lifestyle”.

The “ball sports” lifestyle is about community, teamwork and sacrifice for the group.
The “action sports” lifestyle is about individuality, spontaneous creativity, and trust in yourself.
Each type of sport mirrors a personality type, the trick is aligning who you are with what you do.

Image thanks to macropoulos


Day 1

RE:Cycle
“…a lot of emotional difficulties this first 24 hours”

We arrived at the Canadian border and I unloaded all my gear. I struggled with the load and the rear rack, which I had never used before. After a quick goodbye, I pedaled off awkwardly down the road, with a flood of things going through my head. Most of them went something like:
“This is crazy! I’m going to be doing this for how many hours!? Calm down, there’s still a long way to go… It’s so far!” and so it went.

I pedaled down back county roads, along a highway through a small town, and then began climbing into the wilderness. I fought with my anxieties and tried to find a rhythm, but mostly I just fumbled for some kind of grasp on the situation I had found myself in.

Then the fatigue set in.

After 40 miles of pedaling, I was exhausted. I had been climbing for a few hours, pace slowing along the way, until I turned onto a rocky side road with no sign. My trail book simply said “Turn right off main road onto FR 114. Uphill grade steepens.”

Grade steepens? Seriously? After around 4 miles of straight-up mountain scaling, I collapsed beside the trail and passed out. I’m not sure how long I slept, maybe an hour. I was startled awake by a truck that passed by, and with a burst of energy from my nap I continued pedaling to the top of the pass.

RE:Cycle

I don’t know if it was worth it, but once I reached the top, this was my reward:

Day 1 Ride from Jim Fehr on Vimeo.

At the base of the hill I found my first campsite, Tuchuck Campground. It had 26 sites in all, and I was the sole occupant.

I had just enough time to set up camp, figure out how to cook a freeze-dried meal, and desperately try to hang a bear bag before it was completely dark.

The bear bag rule says to hang your food and scented items 10’ up and 4’ from any vertical support. Unfortunately, I was in the forest of limbless trees so my food was left hanging pathetically from a dead twig 8 feet up. I went back to camp discouraged, slipped into my cocoon of warmth and fell asleep immediately.

Then the animals came.

I awoke to a large mammal sniffing and snorting somewhere right next to my hammock. it was a loud inhale though the nose, then a rough exhale through the mouth that rattled in its throat. Like the sound a dog makes when it’s trying to catch the scent of something, but bigger. Terrified, I reached for my knife and said in my best mountain man voice “Hey bear, back up. I got a knife.” (seriously) but I still heard big, heavy footsteps circling my camp.

Somehow I fell asleep, and woke up again to the same noises. This time I jumped when I woke up, and heard the tell-tale sound of an elk bounding away. Relieved that it was elk and not a bear, I drifted off.

This happened at least 4 times that night.

To understand what this was like, it’s important to understand a few things. This was remote in the extreme. No one, and I mean no one was around. I have camped alone many times, but usually there will be some other campers down the trail somewhere.

This was also right in the middle of an area that contains 98% of the lower 48 state’s grizzly bear population. Not just grizzlies, of course black bears too. It’s pretty bad when you hear a rustling in the trees and hope it’s only a black bear.

Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that I WAS IN A FUCKING HAMMOCK. Don’t get me wrong, for setting up/breaking camp and for getting a good night’s sleep hammocks can’t be beat, but for escaping a midnight attack with your life they are easily the worst. At least with a tent you have the comforting 2’ buffer around your sleeping limbs. At least sleeping under the stars offers you the possibility of getting up and running.

A hammock is like a straight jacket. Even with my bear spray, I would still have to get out of my mummy bag and roll out from underneath the tarp to use it or I’d just end up with a face full of pepper along with my mauling. It’s basically a death-prison, albeit a comfortable one.

What I’m trying to get at here is that mortality becomes very real. It’s the kind of real you feel when you barely escape a car accident, except it looms over you for as long as you’re willing to pay attention to it.

This, I decided, was going to be harder than I thought.


Day 2

“I cannot describe how tired I am…”

My first morning on the trail started with wandering back to my bear bag, absolutely positive that some beast had shredded it in the night and left me without food. In the light, it was almost comical how poorly I’d hung it, and I decided that I positively had to get better and the whole hang-a-bag-in-a-tree thing. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard, but it isn’t always easy to get a 10lb bag 10 feet in the air and 4 feet from any tree. The good news is that as the trip progressed, I consistently found ways to hang it higher and further out each time.

As I walked back into to camp, I noticed that my hammock was hanging directly across a game trail. My visitors last night must’ve stumbled across me while they were trying to make use of it.

I packed up muttering to myself “Stupid newbie mistake. Jim, you suck at this.”

###

I set out and the first 15 miles or so were great. I pedaled down a gradually descending path in amazingly wild surroundings. I came across an old forest service cabin with a well that I graciously used to refill my water supply.

I met back up with a larger dirt road and rode along a ridge with views for miles in every direction. It was on this ridge that I first noticed the dark clouds swallowing up the sky.

When the rain started I didn’t worry much, I just threw on my rain gear and kept moving. It didn’t bother me when the rain picked up ether, or even when I turned onto a long, climbing side road that took me up toward the mountaintops. But when the streams started flowing down the trail, when my wet pack started falling off my rear rack because the water weighed so much, when the lightning started flashing and the cracking thunder followed less than a second afterward; my high spirits from the easy riding a few hours before had been spent.

I found a big tree with some dry ground underneath, and again I fell down and passed out. I awoke to a slightly less aggressive downpour, soaked and cranky.

From that point on, each pedal, each tire revolution, was a challenge. I’d promise myself 100 pedals, then 50, then 20 pedals and I’d rest. I would stand straddling the bike, chest resting on the handlebars, nearly falling over while the rain beat on the back of my hood and fell onto the ground in front of me. I stood in this resting position often, and for longer and longer each time.

Somewhere after my 5th wind, after all sense of time and distance had passed away, I came to Red Meadow Lake. It was an incredible sight, a giant lake on the top of a mountain, hillsides rolling with fog that had woven itself between the trees. The rain stopped and steam rose from the ground as the sun peered through a tiny gap in the clouds.

Red Meadow Lake

It was beautiful, but I was wet, spent, and completely defeated.

I found a campsite, paced around in a confused daze, then changed my mind on the campsite half-a-dozen times. In a haze, I finally gained enough sense to setup my hammock, and hung my rain gear to drip out a bit.

I was thrilled to find a bear box at this site, which would spare me the humiliation of going through the “simple” task of hanging a bag in a tree. I made dinner, washed up in the surprisingly warm lake (fed by hot springs maybe?), and went straight to the hammock.

Day 2 Camp

I was a fragment of my normal self; the hollow shell of a man. I was convinced that I wouldn’t make it to Whitefish the following day, where I was scheduled to arrive and check-in with my roommate. The pace, weather, and terrain had beaten me. I decided that I wouldn’t even look at my proposed route for tomorrow. I’d head back the way I came and take an alternate path to Polebridge. There I could stay at the hostel, and then make arrangements to go home.

During the night, the rain poured so hard it pooled up an inch deep under my hammock where I had set my rain gear to dry. Also, my Thermarest sprang a leak, and I had to blow it back up 4 times.

One positively amazing thing is that during all of this, I stayed very dry and warm.


Days 3 & 4

Rocky Mountain National Park
“The idea of a ‘big trip’ and the reality of it are very, very different…”

On the morning of the 3rd day I got up and broke camp in the rain. I made my breakfast in a small square covered slab in front of the outhouse (really) and reluctantly grabbed my map to stare at while I ate.

To my surprise, the trip log said “The roads today are quite moderate …and mostly downhill to boot …You’ll lose half a mile of elevation en route to Whitefish.”

Slowly, I realized that I might actually be able to continue forward. I had mentally given up, the whole idea of moving forward with my plans was completely out of the question last night.

Then as I gathered my stuff and packed up it hit me: I can adjust the pace.

Obvious? Maybe, but I had been focusing only on getting to Whitefish on schedule. I’d given my contacts instructions to call the Forest Service if I didn’t call by 9am the next morning. But once I got to Whitefish, I could change the schedule however I wanted. That changed everything!

I finished packing and set out on the trail, where I was rewarded with a 30 mile downhill ride back to Whitefish. Check it out:

[Video coming soon]

I was so stiff and tired I fell twice for no reason on my way down the hill, but it didn’t matter. I was filled with hope …Maybe after I got to Whitefish, I could clean/dry my stuff, fix my Thermarest, and actually continue on after all.

Whitefish Lake

Last night, I had given up. That second night turned out to be the lowest point of the entire trip, and the third evening was one of the highest. The range of emotions I felt over that 24 hour period were astonishing.

At home, you’re fairly insulated from disaster. (It’s probably a safe bet that you’ll have 3 meals today and shelter tonight.) At the same time, you’re kept from the deep sense of appreciation that you get from little things when they’re not immediate and abundant. You exist in a sort-of emotional purgatory.

On the trail, that flat-lining emotional life is history. You experience shattering lows and mind-blowing highs.

I suppose it is better experienced than explained, so I’ll just point to this fact and leave it as encouragement for everyone to try it sometime.

I pulled into Whitefish feeling like I could conquer anything. The following day I would rest, repair my Thermarest, and readjust the mileage to a more manageable pace. Win win win.


Day 5

Day 5 Re:Cycle
“When you have a valuable experience, in a sense, you become more valuable to those around you, because you have more to contribute.”

After a day of rest, I set out for Bigfork. Today’s route was along mostly unused county roads. I zigzagged south, got lost for a while, then rode along the Flathead River into Bigfork. I had covered 53 miles by 4pm. So much for a ‘more manageable pace’.

Day 5 Re:Cycle

I pulled into what was clearly a tourist town. Bigfork sits at the shore of Flathead Lake; the biggest lake west of the Mississippi. I found a small park to rest in, and my plan was to find food and a campground, in that order.

This is where I met Alan. He was a large man in his mid 40’s, who had come over to see what I was doing hovering over a map and sitting next to a bike with a giant trailer attached. After a short exchange, he invited me up to a pot luck they had going on. There would be Sloppy Joes, Canadian Corn, and live music.

I felt awkward about the situation for about 5 seconds before my stomach made the decision for me, and all of the sudden I was sitting at a packed picnic table eating Sloppy Joes and talking with a bunch of strangers and their families.

It turns out Alan is a lawyer, educated at Cambridge who has traveled a lot himself. We had an interesting conversation that wandered between travel, politics, faith, and of course food. He even offered to let me camp in his back yard!

At one point I asked about campgrounds in the area and found there was one close by. Since it was Labor Day weekend I decided to head over to make sure I could get a spot. I thanked everyone and set out toward the huge lake.

I couldn’t find a spot at Wayfarer’s State Park, but they were overpriced anyway. I rode three and a half miles down the road to Outlaw Campsite, and spent a pleasant evening reading and reflecting on my adventure so far.

This day was something of a turning point in the trip. The first 3 days were defined by trying circumstances, and a difficult transition. From this day through the end of the trip, things got easier and more pleasant. I fell into a sort of rhythm with the pedals, and just sat staring at the landscapes.


Day 6

Swan Lake
“Swan Lake is a beautiful place.”

The next morning I found that Outlaw campsite provides showers, the kind with mechanical quarter receptacles by the spout that you feed every five minutes. I took advantage of this luxury, packed all my stuff up and then left only to find that my front tire was completely flat.

I took my bag off the trailer, dug out the patch kit and pump, and set to repairing in the morning sun. It didn’t take long, and I was more upset that I didn’t notice before packing everything up than I was with the actual flat.

5 miles in, I joined back up with the actual route, and started moving south. I changed the route at the last minute and took the forest highway down to Swan Lake.

Swan Lake

Montana has a lot of lakes. A LOT. So after I’d seen a dozen, one of which was the largest in the state, I wasn’t expecting much. That said, Swan Lake was probably the most scenic place on my trip. Second only to Glacier National Park, which doesn’t count since I went there by car on my rest day in Whitefish.

Swan Lake

I recorded my total daily mileage at 26.2 miles, which by this trip’s standards was incredibly light. I pulled into town in the early afternoon, with lunch already in me and nothing to do. I had called ahead to find a campsite, and the guy assured me they had a spot and would “probably be around here somewhere at some point.”

In rural Montana, the demand for customer service is second to the demand of community. When I pulled into town, there wasn’t a soul. I eventually learned that there was a wedding going on, which everyone was attending. I found the restaurant, the trading post, and the casino/bar all empty, some with hand-made signs that said “gone to wedding”.

I didn’t mind much, as I had all day so I found a spot along the lake and spent most of the afternoon reading.

Swan Lake

This was also when I started recording audio on my Mp3 player. For the first few days, it was all I could do to survive and keep moving. By the 5th ride day, though, I had internalized some of the skills and didn’t have to concentrate as much. My mind was free to wander and I captured some ideas that I’ll sprinkle in here throughout.

As the sun dropped lower and lower, I decided it was time to claim a spot to sleep for the night, trading post or not. I pulled into the trading post and again it was closed, but this time there was activity around the pond behind the building.

I went around and found some people building a foot-bridge, who pointed me to a trailer where the owners lived. After a knock at the door and a long wait, a visibly intoxicated man stumbled to the door and slurred out an apologetic greeting.

I spent some time comically trying to explain that I needed somewhere to camp, and found while he was staggering around looking for the bathroom/shower key that they have cabins for just $20 a night. “ssfull” he said with a shrug so I took my key and set up camp.

I had just set up camp and was walking around the pond when his wife pulled in and assured me there was a cabin available, so I packed up my hammock and moved into the nice little cabin for the night. It didn’t have plumbing or electricity, but it did have a roof and a floor that wasn’t dirt, which is pretty extravagant when you’ve been outside for a few days straight.

Recorded inside the cabin:

Wife: “Knock Knock!”
Me: “What’s up?”
“I was right, we do have the cabin rented out!”
“Oh really?”
“Sweety, I’m sorry I didn’t go back and look at the book, we’ve been at a wedding, and well, they just came.”
“Ok.”
[Her husband whispers to her]
“Well, yeah, you know what we got a house with a bed. It has a bed and a chair and you can just, you can do that. On the house”
“Um..”
“Yep. Come on”
“Are you sure? I can just camp you saw how quick I can set up my–”
Husband: “You got the house come on! it’s got a shower and bathroom, a bed, way better. “
Me: “Well, there’s a lot of confusion here today guys,”
Wife: “Yeah, you know it’s– it’s because we’re— we’ve been at a wedding.”
Husband: “Put it in your blog man.”
Wife: “…and you know we just– I feel so bad!”
Me: “Okay well let me get my stuff so they can get in here.”

And that’s how it went. I found myself in a double-wide trailer, empty except for a single chair and a bed with no sheets. This was probably the strangest thing that happened on my trip.

I went to the bar for dinner, where a cute girl served me drinks and food. She was wearing those little Victoria’s Secret shorts that say “Pink” on the ass, and I couldn’t help but wonder where she got those shorts. There isn’t a Victoria’s Secret within 100 miles of this place.

After a nice dinner, a few beers and good company, I headed back “home” for the night. I sat on the back porch and watched the sun fall. A few deer made their way through the forest in front of me, cautious and meticulous.

After dark I went back inside the trailer I’d accidentally rented for the night and slept like a rock.


Day 7

Lake Alva
“I just saw a very large old guy riding a 4-wheeler side saddle down the highway.”

I woke up early and thoroughly enjoyed my hot shower, packed up and headed to the trading post to drop off my keys. When I walked in, they welcomed me with fresh coffee.

There was a small group gathered around a table in back, reading the paper and casually conversing. This was a slow-paced, aimless, open discussion, the kind of conversation you’d hear between a group of retirees.

I sat and listened as they went back and forth about shooting pack-rats that had gotten into their trucks, about only dating women who “Have a 4WD and know how to gut a deer”, and about how there was a pending investigation into whether Gibson Guitars was using illegally imported wood.

Re:Cycle

On my way out I thanked them and tried to pay for my lodging last night, but was politely refused on account of yesterday’s inconveniences. These were real people; not polite out of some sense of obligation, but because they chose treat me that way.

For me, that is seriously refreshing. In the city, you can count on generic impersonal politeness, but “How are you today?” isn’t a real question, it’s just part of the script. “Thanks, have a nice day!” is merely a social cue to move aside for the next paying customer.

Personally, I’d prefer a genuine, honest clerk over a fake “polite” one any day. Sure, they may be gruff, but at least they’re not bullshitting you.

Mountain Range

I continued pedaling down forest highway 83 until I reached Holland Lake where I had planned to camp for the night. I stared up the path for long enough to decide that I still felt strong and didn’t want to stop moving, so I kept right on going all the way to Lake Alva.

It turned out to be a great place to camp for the night, I wandered along the trails for a while (video below) and spent the rest of the night reading and resting.

A Walk in the Woods from Jim Fehr on Vimeo.

I ventured into the wilderness partly because I wanted to get away from all the people. Along the way I learned that it wasn’t all the people I was trying to get away from; it was just the assholes.

After all, we want to feel human. We don’t want to be transaction machines who are bid for and treated as dollar signs or votes or statistics, marginalized and squashed down into some happy, predictable, manageable average.

Exactly.

Creek


Day 8

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
In the morning, I went through the new normal routine of grabbing my bear bag, packing up camp while my breakfast cooked, eating, washing up, then rolling out into the cool morning air.

The ride was very short to Seeley Lake, and when I pulled into town in the early afternoon I spent some time riding around and getting familiar. I found the post-office, scouted the town for any sign of a shop that may have bike supplies, then checked into my hotel.

I had used a small adjustable wrench and a ball-point pen to pry the tire off back in Bigfork (take that, MacGyver!) and I scuffed up the rim in the process. I was worried that using this approach more than once could damage my rim or ruin my tire, both of which would be a huge problem.

There wasn’t a single place to get bicycle supplies in town, so I decided to stick to the highways again on my way to Lincoln; a 3-day ride from here.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

This was one of my bounce towns, so I was able to grab my supply box from the post office to resupply. I suppose this is a good place to explain the Bounce Box Strategy:

When you are carrying everything you need to survive, every ounce matters. Ask any backpacker. People have been known to drill holes in their toothbrushes, remove cellophane packaging, and do pretty much anything to reduce the weight of the gear they carry.

I read an account of one GDMBR rider who freaked out and sent most of his gear (including his warm clothing and first-aid supplies) home after a long day with a heavy pack. In Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods his walking partner freaks out and throws away food, water bottles, and coffee filters out of frustration with the weight. Twice.

Needless to say, when you can’t lay the burden of tow onto an engine or animal you realize quickly how much a pound really is, and after a few hours you start to wonder if you really need that chain tool, that fleece you haven’t even worn, or that extra water that you were told to always bring.

Enter the bounce box.

I stole the bounce box strategy from through-hikers on the Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, and Appalachian trails. The idea is simple:

  • Post offices provide a service called General Delivery.
  • There is a lot of gear that will be needed sparingly, supplies that can’t be bought in small towns, and consumables (coffee, mixed nuts, chain lube) that can be rationed into smaller portions to save weight.
  • This extra stuff can’t be left out, but it can be shipped to the next town.
  • General Delivery to the rescue!

So that’s the basics of the bounce box concept, and I used it to the fullest. I planned hotel nights in advance, and each time I came to a hotel town I’d stop by the post office and grab my box to resupply.

By the time I shipped it home, my box was ragged, scribbled all over, and nearly empty. I was very happy with how it worked out.

So anyway, this was what I did in Seeley Lake. I took multiple showers, re-packed my gear, and planned on an early start the next morning.


Day 9

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
Before leaving Seeley Lake, I decided it would be a good idea to book a hotel in Lincoln. Since it was the next (and only) town on the way to Helena, it was fairly important to secure a bed/roof/shower on my way through.

The first hotel I tried was booked solid. So was the second. And the third. Apparently there’s a car show in Lincoln every year, and the attendees like to book their hotels a year in advance. Great.

I found that while there wasn’t any vacancy in town on Friday, but there was one with an open room on Thursday. My three-day ride would now have to be done in two.

I rode out cold and discouraged, at a drudging pace.

Only a few miles out of town, I was passed by a couple European cyclists like I was standing still. They greeted me with an amusing accent and then pedaled up the gradual hill, leaving me far behind after just a few minutes.

I’m not sure why, but it was really motivating. This was the first time I’d seen loaded tourists on my ride, and I doubled my pace to try keeping up. They soon disappeared around a bend, and that was the last I saw of them.

Later I came across a large group of about a dozen cyclists, all riding uber-light road bikes without packs. We all stopped at a lake and I sat to talk with them for a bit.

They told me they were doing a supported tour on the Great Parks North route. One rider bashfully pointed out the supply van as it passed by toward the next checkpoint with all of their gear (read: weight).

I rode with them for a while, and we all stopped at a convenience store where highway 83 meets highway 200, where we would part ways.

I found one of the guys had done a lot of touring, in Alaska, Germany, and all over the US. He seemed impressed that I was doing my first tour solo, self-supported, and on the GDMBR. This gave me a huge sense of pride, since this guy clearly knew his stuff and was a part of the touring community.

With niche activities, you never know quite how you measure up until you talk with someone in the community. While I’d spent an entire year researching this online, I hadn’t had the chance to talk about it with any other distance cyclists, so I had no idea if I looked like a badass or just an idiot.

It was here that I realized that I really wanted a ride partner. Between the motivational boost I got from the Euro pair and the morale boost I got from the supported cycle group, I decided that I will do whatever it takes to get a ride partner for my next trip.

I rode through a “town” that proudly announced that the Population was 50, while the dog population was “about 100”. When the dogs outnumber the people 2:1, you know you’re experience will be a bit unusual.

Knowing this, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when I walked into the tiny deli and all 3 people just stopped and stared at me silently.

In a normal situation I wouldn’t hesitate to introduce myself, but when you walk into a place of service you expect –well, service. I literally had to say “I was hoping for some lunch” before one of the girls snapped out of it and rushed around the counter to get me a table. I’d like to think this was because I’m so ruggedly handsome, but somehow I don’t think that was it.

Brown's Lake - Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

After a nice home-style lunch, I followed a seldom-used dirt road through empty fields to Brown’s Lake. It would’ve been a nice place to fish, but wasn’t the greatest place to camp.

I hung my hammock from the only two hammock-friendly trees in the tiny camping area while swatting away thousands of flies, then passed the evening reading, wading in the cool water, and skipping rocks.

Go Skip Rocks from Jim Fehr on Vimeo.


Days 10 & 11

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

On my way to Lincoln, I had the privilege of conquering the challenging 5,994’ Huckleberry Pass.

I stayed in the Three Bears Motel; a small, 6 room place with a very home-like setup. The following day, I pedaled out to a campground outside town and hung my hammock there. This would be my second rest day of the trip.

The Whole “Hammock” Thing

For this trip, although I camped 11 out of 17 nights, I chose not to bring a tent. This invited plenty of hammock questions from my camping neighbors. Most seemed to think the hammock would be more of an inconvenience than a tent; I disagree for several reasons:

  • You don’t sleep on the ground. Having spent plenty of nights on hard, uneven ground I know how disappointing it can be to set your tent up and crawl in only to find a giant rock in your back. With a hammock, this doesn’t happen.
  • It weighs less, and takes up less space. I use a Hennesey Hammock, which weighs in at 2 lbs 9 oz. Tents pack up bulkier, and the poles make them heavier. Enough said.
  • It is faster/easier to set up. I got to the point where I could hang my hammock and have it completely sleep-ready by the time my dinner water came to a boil. The hammock setup itself takes about 2 minutes, it almost always takes longer to find suitable trees than it takes to get the thing strung up.

Common objections I hear:

“It looks like it would hurt my back.”
You know those Tempur-Pedic mattress ads where they talk about removing pressure points? Well, a hammock naturally removes all pressure points. Once you learn to sleep on the diagonal, you can lay nearly flat. And remember, we’re comparing this to sleeping on the ground, that’s not too hard to beat.

“I can’t sleep on my back.”
Although I prefer sleeping on my back, I often rolled to the side, or half way to the side after a night or 2. In a hammock, you can lay in a half-back half-side kind of position which is pretty comfortable. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but I’m not the only one who thinks it’s damn comfortable.

“What do you do when there’s nowhere to hang it?”
I go to ground, and end up with a bivy tent. Pretty simple really. I have to say I’d probably bring a tent if I was camping in the desert or the plains, but in the forest areas it’s pretty easy to find a suitable place. I went to ground twice on this trip, this is what it looks like:

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - ground hammock
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - ground hammock

So, I explored all of Lincoln pretty quickly, spent some time in Lambkin’s Diner talking with the 2 nice ladies who worked there, read a bunch, then went to the bar to close out the night.

I happened to sit next to a guy who I found was visiting from Denver. He had also spent time working in Brookings, OR, which I had too. It’s pretty interesting how often things like that tend to happen, he was an audio engineer which I was interested in for a time, so we talked about recording, music, Oregon and Colorado.

I left with a pleasant buzz and wove my way back to the little campsite on the edge of town.

In the middle of the night, I was woken up by a guy on a 4-wheeler, saying that he felt bad that I had payed full price to camp off a bicycle. He told me to go up to an RV that just pulled up, and ask them for half of the nightly price.

As he left I just stood there in long underwear, half-asleep with no contacts in, yawning and blinking.

I decided to go up to the RV, just to shake hands and tell them I didn’t want their money. The man who came out to greet me looked like a real tourist. He had an ugly bright shirt on that his wife probably bought for him in some gift shop. He wore a safari hat, tiny khaki shorts, long striped socks, and Velcro shoes.

As was always the case on this trip, he asked where I was going and where I had come from. At one point he said “That big ol’ mill out West is somethin’ else eh?”
“hmm, I didn’t see a mill.”
“That big ol’ one just down the highway on the way in, you didn’t see it?”
“Oh, no I came in over Huckleberry pass, I think it joins the highway further in.”
“You what!?” He smiled and shook his head in disbelief.
He walked away still shaking his head and muttering “ Oh, you…”

This was a pretty rewarding experience, I always get joy out of completely surprising people by doing the unexpected.

Never let someone tell you that something is impossible. Most people are too busy being comfortable and pleasing others. Impossible is just the word they use to describe the things they’re afraid to try.


Day 12

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Flesher Pass

After leaving Lincoln, I came over the Flesher Pass (6,131’) Continental Divide crossing.

When I came to Canyon Creek I was hot and dehydrated. I found a house that had been converted into a general store, and had a “Campsites available” sign out front. A woman came out and informed me that the campsite would be her backyard.

With no trees or… anything really for miles I had no choice. I set up in her back yard.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Ground Hammock

It may seem crazy, but since I still had the rest of the afternoon to burn, I decided to go for a bike ride. At this point all I knew was movement. It felt strange to stay still, and when I set out without my trailer my bike felt weightless.

I found a stream and sat there for a very long time. When’s the last time you waded in a mountain stream just for fun? I hadn’t for years, and this was one of the better memories I have from the trip.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Wading

On the way back along some unmarked dirt road, some dickwad in a big truck almost hit me. After he passed, he sped up, spitting dust all over me. He did this twice (once going each way) pulling away in a fury of dust and diesel fumes.

I rode as fast as I could back to “camp” and stayed close for the night, leaving early the next day. As a lone traveler, safety is always a concern. Nearly everyone on my trip was nice, but nearly everyone in Montana has a gun too, so this was no time to mess around. I clearly wasn’t welcome in Canyon Creek.


Day 13

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - East Helena

My day started in Canyon Creek (population 82) and ended in Helena (Population 30,000). I was feeling so good when I pulled into town that I decided to just pedal straight through past East Helena toward a national forest ground. The plan was to find a place to camp on some side road.

On the way, I crossed the 400 mile mark, which was a nice milestone.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - 400 Miles

Unfortunately I spent too much time in the sun and came down with what I now believe was mild heat-stroke. I pulled into Devil’s Elbow Campground just short of the forest, and claimed a pathetic little spot right next to an outhouse.

The rest of this day is a bit fuzzy. I remember wetting my shirt several times, I remember the cool fabric against my skin. I drank water and pretty much stayed in the shade trying not to pass out. It was 97 degrees.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Helena Res


Day 14

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Canyon Creek
Why would someone do this?

The question crossed my mind more than a few times on this trip. When I was overheated and wishing for A/C, or under a tarp in the dark rain, or crouched along a rarely-used highway changing a tire, the thought would often push it’s way to the front of my thoughts.

The short answer is because I can. The long answer is that I see this as a celebration of freedom, an opportunity to learn, and an acknowledgment of the power each of us have over our lives. If we can dream it, we can do it. I truly believe this.

Assuming I’m right about the whole “we can do anything” notion (quite a leap, I admit) then it follows that we should also embrace the responsibility of taking that power and doing something with it.

After discovering this freedom I immediately realized that I had no idea what to do with it, so I simply decided to do something and then ran with it. It’s amazing what a new experience can do to fill those empty spaces in our understanding.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Winding Road

“What man actually needs is not a tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
– Viktor E. Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning

With these things on my mind I pedaled into the first city I passed through on my trip. It was dirty, loud and ugly. I struggled across narrow bridges without bike lanes and through traffic over pothole-ridden streets.

My experience was somewhat negative. I felt like I had found my way back to the land of box worship. All around me people were clutching these boxes, staring at them, working hard to buy more boxes so they could hoard them away like paranoid box-collectors.

Along the road were giant box warehouses disguised as friendly stores, where people could go to get newer and more fashionable boxes. I walked around for a while and couldn’t find a local deli so I settled for a Spicy Chicken at Wendy’s. It was about as unsatisfying as it was unhealthy, but I didn’t pay much and I left full which is the point of these places.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy to have the comforts of the city, I just wonder if the price we pay is worth it sometimes. Can we not live in luxury without also living in excess? I wonder if we’ve all crossed a line somewhere, paying high cultural prices for low cost products, cheapening our entire experience along the way. I continued to think on this as I cleaned up in my cool air conditioned hotel room.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Helena Res


Day 15

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

I left the city in the morning and found myself pedaling along an I-15 frontage road. I decided to take the Boulder Alternate route, which adds a few miles but bypasses one of the hardest sections on the entire route.

Along the way I passed an older woman on a cruiser cycle, then shortly came to an on-ramp, where my map instructed me to hop on the interstate. I’ve never ridden a bicycle on an interstate freeway, so I just sort of stood there for a bit looking around, not sure of my plotted course.

While I was standing there scratching my head, the woman caught up with me and assured me that it was legal (if not pleasant) to ride on the freeway in Montana. As proof of point, while we were speaking a couple came up the off-ramp on a tandem bike.

It turns out they were the Eckels, a couple somewhat famous in the Helena area cycling scene, and they had won several distance races in the area, including the “double divide race”. Open only to tandem pairs, the race wound its way through the hills along the continental divide, loosely following my route but sticking more to pavement.

They pointed me to a side-trail that would meet up with the freeway 10 miles or so down the road, which would keep me away from the semi trucks and exhaust fumes of the interstate for a while longer.

As I left, the older woman’s husband came pedaling up too. When given a hard time about his slow pace, he answered “I don’t know how you’re going to get home with 2 flat tires and nothing but your big mouth to keep them pumped up!” I chuckled at this quip as I pedaled off toward the hidden trail.

After comically struggling with clearing a fence to get back on the freeway, (not easy with a fully loaded bike) I rode a few miles and pulled off onto a STEEP graded dirt trail that took me far above the continuing freeway.

After summiting the climb, I had no energy left. I was close to full exhaustion and decided I would camp at the first spot I came across as I wobbled down the road. The map reported “nice camping along the stream” after tunnel #9, a 100 year old tunnel. I won’t lie, it was pretty creepy.

In the tunnel, I found myself pedaling through pitch black, barreling over bumps and ruts while catching the occasional water drop on my head. Had I turned on my light, or at least removed my sunglasses, it would have been a bit less unnerving.

Tunnel #9 from Jim Fehr on Vimeo.

Shortly after a tunnel I stopped at an improvised campsite, which I happily settled into, ate dinner, and promptly passed out.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route


Day 16

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route
The Final Day

In the middle of the night, several cars came down the trail I rode in on and stopped right by my camp, scaring the shit out of me. There was nothing out here, and the only thing of interest in the area would be my vulnerable camp. I told myself stories of mountain folk who got their jollies off of terrorizing and robbing campers.

The next morning I packed up and made it 40 feet down the trail when I came to a cattle gate, which explained the strange car activity the night before. I had come quite a ways on this trail, and I wasn’t about to turn back, so I fumbled my gear over the rickety fence, and pedaled on what was now private property.

Soon I came to a bend that neared the interstate. I decided to clear one more fence, and traipse through a few hundred yards of brush down to a freeway pull-off, where I was rewarded with a completely flat tire for my efforts.

You can imagine the fun repairing a tube on the shoulder of a freeway. I did a quick, poor job and started down the other side of my final divide crossing..

The decent marked 2 milestones, my top speed for the entire trip (39.5 mph) and the 500 mile mark.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route mile 500

I pulled into Butte feeling somewhat depressed. I found a campsite on the edge of town and my neighbors were pretty impressed with my little journey. “Tim, come here! This guy came from Canada on this thing! 500 miles!” I explained that my little trip certainly didn’t set any records, and that this was something that anyone could do, but they still felt it was a major feat.

After getting to know my neighbors a bit better, I found this man who was so enthusiastic about my trip was on a journey of his own. Greg lost his son in a car accident and travels around North America giving speeches to teenagers about the responsibilities that come along with the privileges of driving. His story was a tragic one and I really enjoyed the few short moments I spent talking with Greg.

I arranged to have my bike shipped at the Outdoorsman bike shop, which was my favorite business on the route. Rob was astonishingly helpful, offering me a free bike box, assistance with breaking it down and packing it up, a “goody bag”, a ride for me and my bike to the UPS store, and a ride the following day to the airport.

I cannot express how hospitable they are at the Outdoorsman bike shop in Butte, I give this place my highest recommendation.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route Butte


Afterward

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route - Glacier National Park

I awoke in a Motel in Butte, MT. My bike was on a truck or plane somewhere slowly making it’s way back to Colorado, and I had a plane of my own to catch.

The rainy night before had been spent in a casino. You can’t go anywhere in Montana without seeing a casino. Apparently it’s an easy way to supplement your business so you’ll see such ridiculousness as a Casino/Museum (on HWY 85) and the Suds ‘n Fun – Casino and Laundromat.

I figured I couldn’t take a trip through Montana without visiting one, so I spent my last sad night plugging money into a blackjack machine and sipping whiskey. I left with $40 more than I came after several free drinks.

The Butte airport was charmingly quaint, but my experience in it had a surreal hue that blurred out the details.

Over the following weeks, I sat restlessly at my desk job, trying to remember if it was as bad when I left, or if I had just changed somehow.

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

I think it was me that changed 🙂

Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

###
I was able to re-live my trip by writing this story. If you actually followed along through the whole thing, thank you very much. I assure you, it was much more entertaining doing it than it was to write/read about it.

As I said before, I wrote this to encourage others to go on their own adventure. So go do something! Or if you already have, I’d love to hear about it. Just send me a letter or link.

Read More

31Days

RADiculous 31DaysImage by Brian G Wilson, used under its Creative Commons license.

How temporary sobriety changed my life: A personal reflection on what it takes to beat any addiction and build new habits.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be completely drug free? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sure what it feels like. For as long as I can remember, there has been some kind of drug in my system. These “drugs” aren’t necessarily bad when used in moderation, but they do alter the way we experience the world around us. I think it’s a good thing to be aware of the filters we put around our senses, even if we choose to keep them on.

That’s why I’ve decided that for the entire month of January, I will be completely drug free. Specifically, I won’t be taking in any caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, THC, or OTC medicines of any kind. If you cringed at the thought of at least one of these, then you know how serious taking up a challenge like this is. Almost everyone I know regularly uses at least one of the things in this list.

I’m not sure what I will feel like, how I will manage my emotions or what type of change in my energy level/appetite to expect. That is exactly why I’ve designed this experiment, and I’d like to invite you to follow along as I try to share my thoughts on the subject, along with the changes I see in myself every day for the month of January.

To avoid coming off as arrogant or condescending, I picked something I personally struggle with in order to live my message as I try to explain it. Throughout this project, you’ll find I use drugs as a metaphor for the things we think we can’t do without.

This is 100% authentic and as real as I know how to be. I wrote/did this for many reasons, one of them was to inspire anyone trying to build a new habit or kick an old one. This is my story…


Day1: New Year’s Resolutions

2011 31Days

Image by Marlonjuettner, used under its Creative Commons license.

I woke up late with a mild hangover, drank a liter of water and went back to sleep. It’s good to indulge once in a while. After all, it was a holiday and I knew it would be my last blurry night for at least 4 weeks.

I mentioned to one of my friends last night that I wouldn’t be drugging myself at all for the month of January and everyone immediately chimed in with their own goals and resolutions. I was glad to hear their approval but I’m afraid it came from a slight misunderstanding. I’d like to be very clear on this one; this is not a New Year’s resolution. This is a 31 day exercise, and the only reason I’m starting this experiment now is because I came up with the idea on Dec 27th, and the first of the year seemed like a convenient time to start.

Of course I didn’t point that out to my friends because I’m not a dick (usually), and I’m not necessarily opposed to the practice. I happen to have a good friend who is still living his 2009 resolution so there are times when it can help you make a change for the better.

The trouble with the tradition of waiting until next year to make a dramatic change is that when you finally wake up in January, reality replaces the romantic goal.

Rather than giant pre-planned drastic changes, I’d like to suggest cultivating the habit of taking countless tiny actions that drag us in the direction we know we want to go, but can’t yet. Life is not about movie moments. Sorry. Our culture tries so hard to say otherwise. But rarely do we get that inspirational glorious moment with perfect background music. Trying to wring one out of a normal day-in-the-life is a recipe for disappointment. Life is more like a 15 second montage stretched out over untraceably long periods. I know that’s not very poetic, but it is a powerful idea, and it’s one I’ll be expanding on in the coming weeks.

 


 

Day2: Determination

Radiculous Day 2: Determination
Image by The Ron Sombilon Gallery, used under its Creative Commons license.

I have a slight caffeine headache. I’d like an Asprin, but those are off limits, so I’m drinking a TON of water. It doesn’t help. It looks like not having any coffee is going to be a bigger deal than not partaking in adult recreation.

I decided to run this little test on myself, write down my thoughts, and then share the whole thing with whoever wants to read it for a few reasons. I like the idea of letting all the toxins flush out of my system, I figured I could put together a good little series of rants on the subject of managing habits, and I knew that by creating “31Days” I would be more motivated to go through with it.

I still might not make it, if I get sick I may have to take some medicine, I may slip in a moment of weakness, or I may “need” coffee on some morning when I’m just too tired. But I’m pretty determined to make this work, and I think that alone should take me pretty far.

Being unusually determined is like having a superpower. Raw determination is the precursor for skill, luck, power, and all of the other things people usually associate with success. Without it, we wouldn’t have human rights, general relativity, or the Internet.

Never underestimate what can be done with a little determination.

 


Day3: Pain

Radiculous Day 3: Pain
Image by Torsten Mangner, used under its Creative Commons license.

This is the 3rd day of my little exercise now and it’s nothing like I expected. Not having any coffee in the morning makes me completely lethargic. I’ve taken naps all 3 days and feel a little sleepy pretty much all the time. I see it as a good thing, since I am expecting insomnia after my caffeine withdraw symptoms go away.

Yesterday, I sat with 2 friends while they drank a 6 pack. I drank water, and after the awkward “Oh, I’m not drinking this month” and a few smart-ass comments it was the same as it was a hundred times before. So being around people who are drinking doesn’t seem to be that much of a challenge (for me).

I went snowboarding today, and ate shit HARD. I think it had a lot to do with me not being very alert, I must have a stronger coffee habit than I thought. I’m feeling it in my shoulder, and tomorrow is my first day back to work with no coffee and plenty of the stiffness.

Normally I would probably take an Advil with the way my shoulder feels right now, but this month is about willpower, not comfort.

It makes me think of how quick we are to try and “fix” the pain in our lives. Whether emotional or physical, we are lucky enough to have the option of taking a drug for either. This can be a good thing, but pain is part of life. Without it pleasure is expected instead of appreciated. The type of pain I feel now is just a reminder not to fly down black runs with deep moguls. It is like life punching me in the arm for getting too crazy and not paying attention.

Okay, so pain is the subject for today but actually I had a great day, the feeling of freedom and power I get from floating down a mountain in the snow is second to none. I saw some great sights, talked to some cool people, and experienced a sensation some people will never know. Perfect ending to my 3 day weekend.

 


 

Day4: Luck

Radiculous Day 4: Luck
Image by {Ziggy}.

Monday. Yay.

Not having caffeine is still kicking my ass, and I heard a couple times that I looked tired. Other than that, it was just another day at the office. I’m sore from yesterday, so I was actually glad to be sitting at a desk for once.

Apparently there’s a record lotto drawing tonight for Mega Millions. Have you ever googled “things more likely than winning the lottery”? Hilarious.

I do like seeing the glow of hope when people talk about what they’d do if they won, so I try not to bring up the reality of the odds that lottery players are actually up against. And I can’t deny that, yes, there is a chance. Technically, there’s also a chance I’ll find the winning ticket in the street tomorrow.

It’s intoxicating to put in for a chance at millions, I get it. I’m just not buying it. We’re all orders of magnitude likelier to start a million dollar business than to win the big Powerball.

Unfortunately, it does make me feel a bit left out when I realize I’m the only one in the room thinking this way. It’s alright though, I am happy today without being a “Mega Millionaire.”

If you live in poverty money will make you happier, but beyond that it does very little. Especially if you haven’t refined yourself enough to use it wisely.

It’s funny how we’re so quick to bet on terrible odds for a huge lump of money, but we seem to choose not to bet on ourselves for much else. Luck is nice, slow determination paired with competence is better.

 


 

Day5: The Deceptive First Choice

Radiculous Day 5: The Deceptive First Choice
Image by Julia Manzerova.

My constant, dull aching head is starting to drag me down a bit. If you ever quit drinking coffee, I would NOT recommend depriving yourself of precious ibuprofen too like I have. Other than that today was easy.

It seems the physical addictions are kicking the mental habits’ ass, and it makes me glad my drug of choice doesn’t come with any real physical withdrawal symptoms. For some reason, each day I feel a bit better about this little challenge I invented for myself.

I’m slowly getting better at not underestimating the power of small changes. As I break one set of habits, I start to see all these other areas that I chose to do things a certain way one time and that was all it took to turn it in to a part of me.

Choices are funny like that. I’ve always known it, but I like it when I get fresh new examples from my own life to back up the concept. How many things do you do every week out of an obligation to the ritual? People start noticing these and assume that’s how you will continue to be. Then the outside world starts reinforcing them without you doing anything and pretty soon BAM! Welcome to “how you’re supposed to be”.

The decision to change can be a hard one, because you’ve already solidified choosing a certain way. Over time it gets harder and harder to separate the choice from who you are.

It seems like we make initial decisions based on something small or nothing at all. Then to change later on it usually takes something big. It’s in our nature to repeat behaviors until we have a solid reason to behave differently, especially when there is social pressure to be consistent.

From my experience, I’ve found that remaking small arbitrary choices as simple as “I’m gonna read a book” or “No beer tonight” can set off momentum toward huge life-altering polarity shifts.

 


 

Day6: Untitled

Radiculous Day 6: Untitled
Image by Darrren Hester.

Today was my first day going out to the bar without drinking. It went really well, I thought it was funny how certain people felt more comfortable mocking me the more trashed they got. Offering me shots was the joke of the night, but since I had my wits about me it wasn’t a big deal at all and I actually had a pretty good time.

It was finals for our pool league, we made it to the last game and blew it. I played pretty good against the best player on the opposing team and lost, but not badly. I tend to feel good about the match when I play well, regardless if I win or not.

Its 1am right now and we’re going up to the mountains early tomorrow morning, so there will be no thoughtful message tonight. I do feel great about my decision and how things are going though, and I’m stoked to take this new approach further in the coming weeks. Good night.

 


 

Day7: The “Fixer”

Radiculous Day 7: The Fixer
Image by Bottled Void.

Today was awesome. I went up snowboarding with 2 friends and I think they would both tell you the same thing. My headache seems to be getting lighter, or maybe I’m just getting used to it. Either way, the transition shock of what I’m now in the middle of is easing.

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been almost constantly around alcohol, cigarettes, and weed. I’ve been directly offered drinks like 20 times and passed a joint from one person to another without partaking. My friends have collectively dismantled any purpose I had in taking this little test, and I can’t even give a good reason on paper why I put myself through this kind of discomfort.

Yet in all that, I feel a great sense of clarity and control. I am happy to say “thanks, but no thanks” to good hearted offers of buying me a beer after a long, active day. I don’t feel the kind of anxiety I thought I’d meet up against, if anything I feel more confident in all the situations I’ve found myself in so far.

One thing I’ve noticed is the way we (I say “we” because I’m no exception.) lean heavily on our particular fixers in some interesting situations. When we are uncomfortable, angry, frustrated, stressed, or depressed there’s an irresistible urge to take another drink/bite/hit/drag/whatever. Whether it’s a good idea or not, we reach for things to change our state.

When I don’t have anything to reach for, I’m left with only myself. I meet myself wherever I’m at in a moment, and I manage it with what I’m equipped with. We don’t actually need these things we’re reaching for to “fix” anything. Having them at hand gives us an easy way to shift responsibility. It doesn’t have to be a drug; it could also be food, a person, or a place. Intentionally placing the fixers out of reach forces us to meet ourselves in a way that just doesn’t happen when they’re available.

What’s your fixer? Can you remember a time when you had to go without it? If not, I highly recommend creating that kind of situation for yourself.

 


 

Day8: I Don’t Wanna

Radiculous Day 8: I Don't Wanna
Image by Citril.

Today was an interesting day. I had a slow morning, and in the evening I went to the yearly work Christmas party. Yeah it was a bit late, but it gets crazy around the end of the year at my job so we usually wait until January. I had reserves about going at all (ever seen “The Office” Christmas party?) and there was a party at one of my coworkers’ house afterward that I wasn’t really into the idea of either.

The dinner came and went as expected, and I had a better time than I thought I would, this was the first time most of the people from work learned that I wasn’t drinking since it was double-take-worthy to see me sipping water on a free tab. Everyone was supportive in a kind of confused way.

I considered just going home afterward since I’m on call right now which usually means a week of no fun, but I went anyway because I’d already said I would. I ended up having a great time and I got to jam with a guy from work I didn’t even know was in a band. After going home I noticed that being out was the only time I smiled all day, which I’ve heard makes you feel better subconsciously even if it’s fake as hell.

So now I’m thinking about doing things we don’t want to, and I’ve noticed that in my life there are 2 distinctly different reasons I do them: For what I think needs done, and what others think needs done.

Everyone has to do things they don’t want to, its part of life. But I think there is a pressure sometimes exploiting that fact to get you to do something you don’t want to do for someone else. Doing things you don’t want to can be a habit too, and its easy to stop looking at things from a “why am I making myself do this?” perspective.

If you find yourself doing something you don’t want to, consider for a minute why you are doing it. Is it your idea? Will it directly help you or make you happier? If yes, do it. But I think a lot of times it may be for other reasons. If it’s for work, friends or family consider not doing it. What will happen? If you don’t do it this time, maybe the expectation will disappear and you won’t need to ever do it again. (Remember day 5?)

If you find that is the case, fight against the habit. Meet up with the demand boldly: “Maybe not, and how about no?” I’m not advocating laziness or selfishness, I’m encouraging you to make conscious decisions on what you’re doing with yourself and your time.

 


 

Day9: Passivity

Radiculous Day 9: Passivity
Image by Julianrod.

Cold, uneventful, but not without significance. I’ve lived another day. One more of maybe 28 thousand if I’m lucky. I’m holding firmly to my goal, and I enjoyed being lazy but alert today, it really is a nice change of pace from just ‘turning off’.

I thought it was more like day ten or eleven until I sat down to write this. It is pretty late, and I’m in a weird mood from just sitting around reading all day.

One thing I’ve noticed in sobriety is that I don’t really have any patience for passive entertainment. I need interaction with the things I occupy my time with, even if it’s just looking up a thing or two that cross my mind that I want to learn more about between chapters.

TV is definitely out, if only for the stupidass marketing forced into every cliff-hanging break. I know it’s just business, but I can’t help but feel disgust at the insensitive exploitation of all that is sacred to us: The dish soap ad trying to harness a mother’s love for her children, or the Viagra commercial trying to tie itself to an aging man’s fond memories of his generation. And we see between 250 and 3,000 of these ads a day in one form or another.

I can hear you now. “Who cares.” You’re probably right, choosing to not watch TV gets me closer to what really matters, but at the same time it takes me further away from the connections I have with the people around me: “Huh? What? No, I haven’t seen that show/commercial/movie trailer… Sorry.”

It’s weird to find myself looking forward not to intoxication, but to the mindset that comes with it. There’s a real appeal to just being passive and dumb and just being part of the big mess that I like to criticize when I’m being too serious and thinking too much.

Not very inspirational, I know. But… meh. This is about being real, not filling pages with bullshit.


 

Day10: Gratitude

Radiculous Day 10: Gratitude
Image by respres.

I’ve been feeling ridiculously inspired today. Little things that I normally don’t even notice are making me shudder with humility and awe. On my drive to work, I felt amazed to have the privilege of owning a big-ass shiny machine that took me past giant stadiums and theaters built for my entertainment. Not too hot and not too cold, I drove across a vast raised road system which had been diligently plowed before I even woke up.

On the radio, they were trying to get people to sponsor kids in Haiti. Normally it’s just annoying to me, but today I felt a real tinge of sadness for the thousands of people who are literally living in tents just feet apart from each other. 80% of these poor people are unemployed. We talk about our 10% like the sky is falling.

Later I read a short quote about travel and how it forces you to be attentive to a self that lies low and unnoticed at home. I think sometimes it’s a good idea to take that same attitude into our normal lives. Living your everyday life as if you were a tourist makes everything interesting. While you obviously can’t keep that perspective every day, it really is motivating. And I’ll have chances to travel soon enough.

My roommate commented that I “haven’t been acting any different” this month. I laughed, thinking about how much has been going on inside unnoticed. I also noticed that I haven’t had a headache for a few days. I’ll be counting this as a good day even though Mondays don’t usually belong in that category.

 


 

Day11: Unjustified Fear

Radiculous Day 11: Unjustified fear
Image by Meredith Farmer.

Another good day, aside from the whole working it all away part… I sold most of my time today, but I think it was a good deal. I mean, I got a good rate per hour and all.

Other than that, I had no issues keeping the contract I’ve made with myself. Actually, at this point it really isn’t much of a challenge. I’m kind of disappointed how quickly it became normal. I thought It’d be harder from day to day, but really it all comes down to a couple infrequent urges. If I can beat those, the majority of the day is just regular old life.

They opened the Ruby Hill Railyard yesterday so I hit that up for a couple hours after work. Pure awesome. If you aren’t in the know let me catch you up: Winter Park Resort in Colorado puts a million gallons of water’s worth of snow in a park built on a hill in Denver. Then they put up rails and have volunteers raking and maintaining them for a couple months until the snow melts. 100% Free. If you are ever in the area around this time of year check it out if even just to watch.

I noticed that the discomfort I had last year going up there is gone completely. You’re being watched when it’s your turn, and there’s something intimidating about dropping in after watching some of the best snowboarders in the city hitting the same rail right before you.

The fear and timidness that comes from not knowing how people will react to me is something I’m scared of.

There, I said it.

It’s one of my “unjustified fears”. The kind of thing that makes a person genuinely afraid, but they know deep down its the kind of thing others would chuckle about.

I don’t see myself as alone in having unjustified fear. I see plenty of people scared of getting on a ladder because of “heights” or scared of an elevator because of “tight spaces”. I think these are exactly the types of things we should constantly push ourselves toward. Like anything, it becomes a habit. I don’t think it ever starts to feel good but the more of these things we keep in check, the better off we are.

A big part of building a good life is about taking advantage of possibilities. If you’re in the habit of putting your fears in check, when they do come up you’ll be more likely to look at it with a clear head. Our culture teaches fear, politicians use it as a tool and the media nourishes it. Despite that I’ve found more than half the time, being scared and doing it anyway is the best choice.

 


 

Day12: We Can Do Better

Radiculous Day 12: Do Better
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow –Image by Sweet One.

I read this today and WOW. This guy gets it. I thought it was funny how similar the tone was to what I wrote on day 10, only he’s clearly much better at being grateful (and writing) than I am.

I kept thinking of how he approached the subjects of work and TV. I have the habit of bashing both, and reading that inspired post made me feel a bit ungrateful. I finally decided that my anger toward both isn’t because either is really that bad; it’s because I’m frustrated with how good things could be.

Sure, there really is no justification for bitching about having to show up to a “good job”, and the marvel of TV is truly a wonder when looked at outside the frame of exploitation and manipulation that I like to put around it. But I repeatedly find myself going back to the fact that it could be better.

We can do better, and I can’t shake the constant feeling that I need to do more to prove it. That is a big part of what this little series of writings is about. More than addiction or will-power, this is about trying to do better.

I want to wake up and feel the pressure to do better, not to follow rules. Lets try to DO more, not HAVE more. Fuck the expectations. Forget what you’ve been told to want. Ignore the friendly faces promising you an easy way toward [fill in the blank] and start investing yourself in something.

I’m about to give away my secret here, because I don’t hear anyone else saying it. So let me finish by telling you the most important thing you’ve never heard: Personal investment is worth far more than monetary investment.

 


 

Day13: Doubt

Radiculous Day 13: Doubt
Image by cruzinbye.

My job can get hectic sometimes, and this morning was one of those times. Usually this is no problem, but when there are too many fires and not enough firemen it starts to feel a bit like my house is on fire. The reason I bring this up is I noticed after calming down a bit that I handled the stress way less gracefully than I’m normally able to.

There’s definitely an adjustment phase that comes after cutting off my standard break from life and living without the “off switch”.

To dial things down after work I went out to the Rail Yard for a little session. It had about the same affect on my mood that smoking or having a beer after a long day would, and obviously it was a better alternative for other reasons too.

I won’t lie, today was tough. But I know that’s when it counts the most and after I dropped the idea the craving went away pretty quick.

Another thing that makes this a unique situation is that there’s weed in the house and beer in the fridge. No one will be drug testing me, and no one even told me to stop. Yet here I am, 13 days without a drop of alcohol or a puff of any kind of smoke. Not a single pill or milligram of caffeine.

Doubt is one thing that anyone is sure to come across when they’re trying to do something uncommon or difficult for their own sake. Even though it’s inevitable, doubt has no place in day 13 of 31.

There is a time for everything, and the time for doubt is before an undertaking, not past the point of no return. At that point doubt is just a driving force. Feel free to steal that idea and apply it to your own life.

 


 

Day14: Integrity

Radiculous Day 14: Integrity
Image by saturn ♄.

Two weeks in now, and heading into my third straight-edge weekend I feel pretty good. Looking back at yesterday’s post makes me feel good about myself, knowing I stuck with it through the first real test I’ve had where I actually struggled a bit.

I feel SO much better today looking at things than I would’ve if I’d allowed myself to slip. I feel like the reward for the restraint was a million times bigger than the reward for indulging in weakness could have been. Not because it actually matters whether I got baked one time or not, but because I’m actually doing what I said I’d do. I know it sounds dumb but it makes me feel like I have integrity, the more I do things like this the more I feel better about the world in general.

A lot of times integrity gets described in terms of what it looks like: People with integrity do what they say they will do -or- People with integrity keep their word. Usually when you hear this it’s when people are trying to get you to do something they think is important after putting words into your mouth. I think those qualities are true, but they don’t paint the entire picture.

Integrity comes from the word integration. It means making every little piece of your personality an integral part of how you act. It is about integrating the things that you believe with the things you do with yourself; taking daily choices and conversations as opportunities to fuse them with the things you’ve decided to make a part of who you are.

As I’ve started to think more and more about my priorities, I see a lot of places where I don’t have the integrity I’d like to see in myself. How are you gonna bitch about Walmart when your house is full of plastic crap from there? What does it even mean to bash the market system when you just went to the supermarket or bought the latest gadget? For me, asking these types of questions is changing the way I see the world.

It seems like living with integrity isn’t really so much about sticking to your guns no matter what. In practice, it actually looks like flexibility and a willingness to change long-held beliefs and habits for the sake of a new (better) idea.

 


 

Day15: Sacrifice

Radiculous Day 15: Sacrifice
Image by Snapping Kurtle.

The long week of being on call came to and end today. There’s plenty of work involved, but by far the hardest part is dealing with the fatigue that comes from being woken up in the middle of the night and not having a single moment to feel like “ahh, my work is done for the day.” Today I got that moment for the first time in 7 days.

Usually I celebrate with at least a shot. And when my last hour was up, I was sitting at my house watching others drink beer and talk about the game that just ended. I toasted with water. Times like those really nail it home how uncommon doing something like this is, at least in my circle. It’s a challenge to want something, and be offered that something, and to say no. It makes it even harder when the people around you don’t quite get it.

This all started out with me making up one little rule to learn more about myself, and the consequences turned out to be huge. Way bigger than the idea was before I tried it. When you decide you want something, there are usually sacrifices that you’re going to have to make, and its impossible to see them all ahead of time. At some point it is going to come down to “How much are you willing to sacrifice?”

When trying to do something awesomley different it is sacrifice, not skill, that separates the people worth their salt from the talkers.

When I hear “I could never…” in casual conversation I translate it to “I really don’t want that badly enough.” If a person truly wants something, they’ll give it all away and then some for it.

This month is like training wheels for the push it takes to just go for something. Anytime I feel the pressure putting the squeeze on me to slip I just accept the sacrifice, and it’s not an option anymore. I’m glad to be doing it, I’m proud of my success so far, but it really makes me feel like shit sometimes too. That’s just one of the sacrifices I unknowingly committed to.

 


 

Day16: False Borders

Radiculous Day 16: False Borders

Today I went with my roommate to race our vehicles on an ice course built over a frozen lake.

Yeah, you read that right.

In Georgetown, CO there is a group called “Our Gang” that organizes the event every year. They put cones up and you literally drive out on the ice and slide around a course. I lost my first race and was eliminated, but we still got to race each other on the 3 courses after it was all over and I was super stoked to get to take part anyway.

I want to point out that we knew nothing about this going into it. Neither of us knew anyone who had tried it, but thanks to the beautiful web of information we’re all connected to, a few quick searches told us all we needed to know: where, when, and how much. The requirements amounted to having a street legal, mechanically sound 4WD vehicle and twenty five bucks. I was in.

Although I know a lot of people who meet those requirements and would like to “try something like that sometime”, I feel bad that they could but probably wont. I thought about why we do this, and I think the issue comes from creating false borders.

I think a few years ago, I might have put a false border around this one. I would’ve attached a curious weight to the $25 cost for the tech inspection and entry fee. $25 would turn into $50 somehow for “gas”, and I would’ve said no. Later, I would find myself disappointed with the decision looking back at it.

I also see this “false border phenomenon” when I remember opting out of things because I was nervous about not knowing anyone or being judged. Neither of those stopped me today, and I feel much better than I would’ve if I hadn’t done this. It was awesome!

So take some time to think about your own false borders. Unless you are a true adventuring radass, I bet you can think of one or two. Personally, I found one and created this website/project in an effort to tear down some longstanding walls. How are you going to dissolve your imagined boundaries?

 


 

Day17: The Challenge Of Clarity

Radiculous Day 17: Clarity
Image by Matthew Stewart.

Today was a struggle. Most of the time just going with the flow is enough to keep things nicely in place. Not today. Today was a fight from start to finish, and a test of my patience and will for sure.

I feel better having conquered my Shit Monday, but mentally fatigued at the same time. So there’s my little daily summary, and enough of all that.

On a more positive note, I noticed that some of the things I was worried about going into this haven’t been a problem at all.

I haven’t had a loss of appetite. I haven’t had any problems with insomnia. I haven’t had any problems with calming myself down, though I do seem to have a shorter fuse. All of the things I’ve run across that have made this month difficult are things I had no foresight into beforehand.

In the same way, I haven’t seen the big shift into sobriety I expected either. Things aren’t really that much clearer than they were before.I thought there would be kind of an “ah ha!” moment, I’d be “clean” of toxins and things would get… I don’t know, brighter I guess.

That didn’t happen, my moods are pretty much the same. My outlook is pretty much the same. I am a bit sharper, but the big difference is how I fill my free time. What I’m getting out of this isn’t some big shiny moment of clarity, instead it’s more like meeting a new side of myself.

I question myself constantly on this dumb idea I’m working so hard on. Even though the struggle is a small part of it, there’s been more than a few times I’ve considered just forgetting it and stopping the whole thing. Yesterday after the race we went for pizza, and the beer my buddy drank looked sooooo good. Just one beer. But right after times like that I remember why I’m writing this; why I started putting value in different things and shifting around my priorities.

I’m doing/sharing this to see how it works; to see what it takes. Quitting something because of no access, no money, or pregnancy is different. I have absolutely no external reason motivating me to do this. This is about picking SOMETHING and just going for it for a deeper reason than because of peer pressure, laws, recommendations, or profit.

I see people playing it safe, and I see people wasting it all away for no reason. What I don’t see are people doing the unexpected for a personal reason. I want to hear about people leaving their families for a philosophical quest across Australia, or moving to Japan just to see if they can make it, or selling T-shirts to raise money for a spaceship they’re building in their garage. Instead what I see (even in myself) is a combination of either doing things “the right way” or giving up and doing nothing at all. I’m not saying that there aren’t any people like the ones mentioned, I’m just saying that I haven’t met them.

Well I’m sick of it, and I’m not accepting it anymore. Bring on the RADiculous.

 


 

Day18: Gradual Change is Our Revolution

Radiculous Day 18: Gradual Change
Image by Barry Yanowitz.

Change is a funny thing. We all know about quick change, the kind that comes from a phone call or a car crash. The kind of change that comes in an explosion caused by months or years of building pressure. But there is another, more subtle kind of change.

This elusive type of change catches us off guard. This change bubbles up in the form of regret or surprise. The kind of shift you can’t trace back to a single starting point; like waking up one day to find yourself fat, or bald, or old. I’m interested in that specific type of change and this month I’m not only exploring it, but trying to put it into words which is a totally new experience.

I’ve heard we tend to overestimate the kinds of change we can make in a short period, and we underestimate the change that comes about over long periods of time. I think this is because we don’t measure the gradual changes, and we obsess over trying to micromanage small chunks divided into days or weeks. Usually this makes sense; our schedules are built around short cycles for a good reason.

But what if we consciously try to shift our planning into these bigger inevitable changes? What would it look like? I think one great way to measure these is to monitor the smaller results and tie them to the bigger picture.

Health experts know this, and you’ve probably heard that slow consistent weight loss is more healthy than crash dieting. That example is a great illustration of just how bad we are at these small changes. Our “quick-fix” mentality buries the small changes underneath systems to get results faster even though we know deep down that the gradual change is more effective long-term.

Life today is fast and competitive. We have people competing for our attention, for our money, and for our time. It’s really easy to lose direction and build the habit of running around aimlessly, reacting instead of acting. I think that the only way to avoid it besides locking yourself away from the world (something I’ve done, and don’t recommend) is to constantly reinforce your direction.

While floating aimlessly can be nice for a short time, living life without a clear general direction ends in disaster. It can lead to a sense of no control and a feeling of hopelessness.

Luckily, there is hope. But our hope shouldn’t rely on instantaneous salvation or winning the lottery. I know I’ll catch hell for that statement, but I don’t care, it’s a bad idea. Never allow yourself the luxury of waiting idly with just your hope. Years can be wasted, lives can be squandered waiting in vain for something that no one can influence. Do something.

Never, ever underestimate the power of small gradual changes built up over time.

 


 

Day19: The Cold Turkey

Radiculous Day 19: Cold Turkey
Image by Ginger Me.

Today I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind since I started this, and it’s central to my message on conquering any addiction permanently and creating better habits. If you’ve ever had a habit you were trying to break, you’ve probably thought of quitting it “cold turkey”. This is the tried-and-true method of beating an unbreakable habit. My aim today is to point out a serious flaw in the cold turkey approach.

disclaimer: If you have quit something cold turkey and are still staying away from it successfully, stop reading this. Really. Go do something else. This will probably insult and offend you. I didn’t write this for you, this is for all the people who’ve tried going cold turkey and found it doesn’t work for them.

The problem with the cold turkey approach is that its based in 2 emotions: Fear, and hopelessness. Let me explain.
1. Fear, because it starts with the assumption that you don’t have the will to control yourself, and
2. Hopelessness, because the Cold Turkey tells you that you can NEVER learn how to control yourself.

Do you see the problem here?

I believe in a higher power, but I certainly don’t believe that I have no power over myself. The Cold Turkey lies to you by telling you that because you can’t control nature (external), that means you can’t control yourself (internal). I humbly suggest that this is total bullshit. The only thing The Turkey can do for you is make you a victim.

Lets look at how The Turkey works his magic:

You are a smoker. You smoke 1 pack a day. You decide you are done, you’ve had enough, and this carton will be your last. (This is very common, I know a lot of people who’ve been smoking their “last pack”.) You really do want to quit, but The Turkey convinced you that it was fine to continue without resisting your urges until the carton was finished. By the time you make it to your last smoke, you’re mentally exhausted from the stress of the approaching deadline, the initial gung ho that you had has fizzled out, and you haven’t tried even ONCE to beat a single craving.

Shoot The Turkey and put it to rest. Enter The Donkey. The Donkey isn’t some chickenshit bird. He’s a stubborn ass. Let’s replay the story with him:

You are a smoker. You smoke 1 pack a day. You decide you are done, you’ve had enough, and… You decide to learn how to beat your cravings. You start by trying to not smoke in the car, this is when you really want to light up. After you arrive, you can smoke, but not in the car. You fail. You slip again and again but The Donkey keeps kicking, and a month later you’re still smoking close to a pack a day but you finally have the no-car-smoking thing on lockdown.

Then you stretch it to no smoking before 5pm. You fail. You have an argument, get stressed and slip, but The Donkey doesn’t care at all. Two months later you’re getting pretty good at resisting until the craving passes. Most weekends you still slip up, but The Donkey tells you “This isn’t quitting yet, you’re still in the learning phase.” so you keep getting better. Fast forward a few more months and you’ve tapered off your habit a bit, you smoke less than half what you used to. Now when the cravings come you know from experience that they will pass.

You’re feeling good because you’ve accomplished some little goals and you’re feeling big today, so you decide to take the plunge. 6 months of preparation and confidence boosting have gotten you ready for this, but you still have almost a full pack. After this you’re going to quit, this will be your last pack right? NO. Tear that pack up and flush it.

This does something to your brain that says “Self, you just tore up that pack. You already had your last smoke. It’s over. You’re not going to buy another, remember what you did with the last one? If you were going to have 1 more, you’d have had one of the those. They’re gone now and you got rid of them for a reason.”

I’m not just speculating here, I’ve actually done this with a very addictive substance, and it works. I also smoked cigarettes regularly for years.

Fast forward 1 year. You lose your job, get drunk, and buy a pack. You smoke 4 cigarettes that night. Off the wagon right? Here’s where The Donkey’s power comes in. You already learned the skills you needed for long term success. You fight the urges for a few months after the slip up, and you’re back on track.

The Cold Turkey never leaned how to fight cravings and win, he just ran away from his weakness.

Quitting something cold turkey can keep you clean for years, and a lot of people will tell you addiction is a disease you have for life. The Donkey doesn’t accept that, and you shouldn’t either. Self-restraint is a skill that can be learned like anything else. Once a person has this skill, they can apply it to bad habits, impulse spending, building a new life, or doing something like the project I’m in the middle of today.

If you’re putting your life in danger or repeatedly waking up naked in the gutter, then the Cold Turkey might be your only hope. Chances are, though, you don’t have a problem like that. For all the other insidious habits that are just a nuisance, or an inconvenience in certain situations, The ass-kicking Donkey can give you the tools you need for success.

 


 

Day20: Real Improvement Isn’t Profitable

Radiculous Day 20: Improvement
Image by jrodmanjr.

Two thirds of the way through the month now and I haven’t so much as bent my little rule. I went snowboarding today. The feeling of riding combined with the little bits of constant progression tend make everything else in my life just fade away.

It’s a weird feeling writing these little posts every day, a lot of times I don’t feel there’s much to write that people will want to read. But I feel really strongly that this is still important somehow.

If you’re actually still reading at this point, then I hope this has helped or at least encouraged you in some way. That is the reason I’m doing this. I really do think we can all do a lot better in life by changing just a few habits.

If it hasn’t helped anybody, or nobody cares; no worries. I feel strong enough about this to not really give a damn what the end result is. Besides, as many ideas that I have that I think are great I also believe everyone has the same things inside of them that they can tap into.

Why aren’t we getting any encouragement to make genuine improvements in our lives? I think it’s because it’s not profitable. Confident people can be a hard sell. So naturally, the “improvements” we are offered come in the form of nice vehicles, big houses, expensive degrees, and a whole range of beauty and health products. They are packaged with a healthy dose of psychology designed to make people think they will fail miserably without them. Unfortunately, that’s just good salesmanship when profit is king.

The result is that talking about free ways to improve your health and keep you feeling young almost seems like a joke to some people. To talk about the free information available you can use to educate yourself without a university seems absurd, and forget about suggesting we settle for older cars and smaller houses. Those are the “finer things in life” right?

I can’t keep myself out of this group of people, I am no exception. I was raised by a system that taught me a lot about what to want and that will take a long time to rearrange. I’m only just starting to realize that the illusion is there, let alone trying to sort my way through it to a better set of ideals.

This change will be like any great change; a slow shift toward something distinctly different. This month is one part of that great change. Moving to an unfamiliar state, reducing my possessions, and starting a quest of self-education are other parts of the same shift.

 


 

Day21: You’re Off Your Game

Radiculous Day 21
Image by h.koppdelaney.

“You’re off your game man.”

It rings in my ears. Meant as a joke, said with a chuckle in passing, I fought back the urge to passionately spew a 10 minute speech on why we should all be trying things that throw us a little off balance.

I was shaken into an almost furious state, my mind alternating between aggressive defenses and feelings of inevitable failure. I still can’t put into words the passion that I felt when I heard that phrase. The feeling underscored something I hadn’t really noticed until now; this is taking all I have.

As you can see by reading any random post I’ve written this month, my little month-long trial means a lot more than just “not doing drugs” to me. It represents a different approach to life, one that I have only heard of in stories of the best among our species.

Then I look at my everyday companions and I feel like I share this sense of wanting something more but not quite knowing how to make it happen. There seems to be a lot of arm throwing and “what can you do”ing.

I think the answer is to do something and brace yourself for the reality that you may need to be constantly revising your ideas once you start. Sitting idle is easy, it puts the people actually doing things on the other side of the fence where they can be critiqued without involving yourself.

I want to tear down that fence, I want to help give momentum to a new culture that encourages everyone to burn the rulebook and get involved for more than a salary and comfort. Comfort is only an illusion, and while it brings a euphoric sense of safety it also brings about catastrophic failures of inaction. Look at our problems with the gulf, with the climate, and with our economy. We just can’t expect to sustain comfort our whole lives.

We need an army of adaptable, independently educated super humans; Titans of change
. Blindly clinging to tradition is a serious blunder. The stories passed down to us are valuable, but we really need a more open environment that advocates the discussion of possible changes. We need it as individuals, as small communities, as nations, and we need it as a planet or God/Earth/Nature will soon tear down the fence for us.

 


 

Day22: You Are Not Safe, and That’s Okay

Radiculous Day 22
Image by Stuant63.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature… Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
– Helen Keller

I love this quote, you might have heard it before. I stumbled upon it (literally) a long time ago but I’ll always remember it for 2 reasons.

1. “It does not exist in nature

Remembering how vulnerable we are despite all our master plans and grand posturings can be a real virtue. This lack of security is one of the few things that puts everyone on the same plane. Our planet, our institutions, and our individual lives are much less secure than we’d like to think.

You won’t hear shit like that very often, but Helen gets it.

2. “Either a daring adventure, or nothing.

The huge, epic journeys that come to mind when you hear “daring adventure” are just one kind. What about the less celebrated daring adventures? It could be negotiating something completely out of the ordinary with your boss or telling your family you’re not going to do what’s expected of you.

A daring adventure is just something that goes against the convention. Spending your whole life eating garbage food, betting your life savings on a failing system, or committing to monthly payments for years to come are all risky, but these aren’t daring because they are established norms.

Words like daring and adventure only come into play when we’re talking about going against the standard models. While not all of us can go out and change the world, we can still all gain something by challenging expectations on a smaller scale. All it takes is an adventurous spirit.

 


 

Day23: Oops!

Radiculous Day 23
Image by brionv.

Oops! No post today…

 


 

Day24: Comfort is a Gift to the Wounded, and a Wound to the Gifted

Radiculous Day 24
Image by iamthemoonstar.

A Gift to the Wounded, and a Wound to the Gifted. Oh yeah, I just came up with that. Pretty slick eh?

Anyway, over the course of the month, my dreams have evolved into epic nightlong sagas. There is no way that 7 hours is enough time to experience what I did last night in my sleep, and I can’t even really describe it, but, whoa.

It was like Starship Troopers meets Mothman Prophecies. For some reason my dreams are usually phrased around the “feel” of a movie or a memory, and they get warped out from there. I’m not really going anywhere with this, but I didn’t ever really remember my dreams before so this is a new experience for me.

…So I didn’t write anything yesterday. Ended up watching the playoffs while the guys proceeded to get trashed, then later I just forgot.

No post Fail.
No drink Win!

I told myself I would write a short thought every day this month, and it’s not that hard. Why is it we fall so short of our capabilities sometimes? I think it’s easy to let your mind convince you that little things don’t matter. Like the “Just once” phenomenon, it would have been easy to keep skipping days, or to cheat and to write the post the next morning, when I realized I missed a beat. Nobody is even reading any of this yet, I could revise the whole thing next week if I wanted.

*** I did edit heavily after the month ended. I didn’t add anything, but I corrected some spelling and grammar, and removed a lot of personal stuff you wouldn’t care to read anyway.***

But I want this to be a testament to what can be done in 31 days, and what my weird mix of reflection/critical thinking looks like. This is supposed to be a snapshot, so the gap on the 23rd will stay as part of the picture. I really did write everything here during the dates I put on each post.

You can have all the potential and capabilities in the world, but it wont mean a thing if you stay too comfortable. Writing this is uncomfortable, going without any drug of any kind is uncomfortable, and publishing this where anyone can read it is SUPER uncomfortable. But I think outside of this discomforting moment, my little month-long rant/story/trial/thing will count for something more than 5 minutes of “I don’t wanna”. So I keep going.

If you’ve been suffering, then aim for comfort. Embrace it where you find it. But most of us aren’t really suffering. We make up little reasons why we suffer. It’s the spoiled white syndrome where everyone exaggerates the minutiae of their misfortune, and I think it is caused in part by a need to justify excessive comfort. In the US, most of us are rarely hungry or cold. What are we doing with that gift?

After a short recovery, comfort can become the enemy of progress. Comfort facilitates procrastination, ignorance, and stagnation. No, I’m not suggesting we randomly torture ourselves with mindless discomfort, that’s called masochism. I’m talking about frequently venturing out of the comfort zone in order to push the definition of who we are and what we’re capable of.

 


 

Day25: Cut Your Anchors

Radiculous Day 25
Image by diedm.

As I start getting closer and closer to the end of the month, it makes me think of how much I don’t want to go back to drinking most nights and smoking every night. I’ve grown into all of these new habits. I’ve been taking in so much information, and accomplishing so much from day to day by just cutting out a few of my favorite time-wasters.

I accidentally created this new world that is slowly, imperceptibly turning me into a new kind of person. I don’t connect with the same people in the ways I used to, and I’m finding connections to other people that I didn’t “get” before.

I don’t really want to go back now, I don’t think I can. I will still take some nights for adult recreation but I don’t think I can look at the whole “getting fucked up” thing the same anymore. I’m afraid I might not look at anything the same anymore.

Before I started this, I was already in the middle of something new, a perspective tangibly different from how I was used to seeing things. Writing it all down and learning to put it into words has taken it to another level.

I remember cutting a lot of mental anchors and making tough decisions in a “this is it” kind of moment, but nothing really happened right away. After a while though, I started seeing some unexpected results. I remember the fear and excitement I felt while I started to notice myself interacting with the world in a different way.

We literally anchor ourselves to the ideas in our heads. We tie abstract memories to who we are and what we think we know. This isn’t some new-age crap, it’s real whether you pay attention to it or not.

I’ve found that as I start paying more attention, I find there is a LOT that can be done without. After cutting a few of these anchors, I learned that instead of floating away, or downstream with the rest like I was afraid of, I’m free to aim myself wherever I choose.

There are a few things that I can say are generally helpful for anyone trying to find what ties them down regardless of lifestyle or stage-of-life:

Meditate – Anyone can learn things about themselves from this practice, and there are a million different ways to do it. The main thing is to just sit still, shut the hell up for a bit, and quiet the noise that is your mind.

Fix your posture and breathe better – If you’re lounging around on a Friday night, slouch all you want. The rest of the time, it really helps to learn the basics of using your lungs and body more effectively. I’m no expert, but learning about these 2 things made a big difference for me and I see a lot of people who could benefit from it like I have.

Stretch, exercise, and eat better food – These 3 things together pretty much brought me back to life. Years of eating garbage and getting progressively more stagnant contributes to zombification. Autopilot has it’s time and place, but snapping yourself out of it takes movement and quality fuel.

 


 

Day26: Wants and Needs

Radiculous Day 26
Image by luce_beaulieu.

We can do SO MANY THINGS that we think we can’t. Military recruits who’ve never exercised before get into phenomenal shape, new mothers go months without enough sleep, and people who “aren’t smart” run businesses after chance promotions. This is common, but those same things are uncommon when done without the crying baby or diligent boss.

Often after working all day for someone else, I’m “too tired” to do things for myself that should be just as important. But some mornings when I’m “too tired” I still manage to drag my ass up and out to work. Its easy to see how people go through huge parts of their lives stuck in this cycle.

Of course we have to work, we have to take care of our kids/family, and we have to keep promises and agreements. But when it comes time for keeping ourselves in shape, doing that thing we’ve always wanted, or pushing boundaries for our own sake we dig in our heels and come to a screeching stop. Distinguishing wants from needs is a good thing, but it’s not the whole picture.

At some point, the dreams need addressed. When that time comes (you’ll feel it), don’t let yourself get so accustomed to old habits that you just find excuses to continue stalling. I’m not talking about watching your favorite show or reading Twilight (you should be ashamed!), I’m talking about moving to [dream location here], learning and practicing an art for art’s sake, or entering that contest/competition you think you’d do well in.

When we turn into the kinds of people who say yes to those possibilities we end up being better people. Then, when the time does come to do work for others, we can be useful in a more genuine way. Being “selfish” and stealing time for yourself is better than being a lifeless drone or an unloving partner/parent/friend.

Ironically, putting yourself aside for others in the extreme can diminish the value you’re providing. By demanding time to cultivate your passion, you can actually become better at dealing with quotidian life and doing quality work.

 


 

Day27: How To Suck and Be More Awkwarder

Radiculous Day 27
Image by Helga Weber.

Wow. The month is almost over. It has been pretty damn hard coming up with things to say every day that aren’t just “Today was okay, I fixed computers and surfed the web.” but I think it has turned out pretty good.

Some of the posts read a bit like a self-help book but whatever I really believe all of the things I said and there’s plenty of negativity out there already. Not in my house. Negativity is only aloud in forms of sarcasm, humor, and satire.

After spending a couple years on autopilot, it seems funny to find myself here with all of these ideas coming together. I’m excited about what I’ve done and what I’m doing. None of this would have happened if I had let “31days” remain an idea or if I had given up half way.

I still remember how it was when I first started this:

It sucked.
it was awkward.
I felt dumb.

No wonder we just do the same thing over and over, to do anything new or different involves being a sucky awkward dumbass. I don’t know that there’s any point to that, but it’s true. If you’re afraid of looking stupid, you will never do anything great.

 


 

Day28: The Day I Took Drugs

Radiculous Day 28
Image by Curtis Gregory Perry.

I’m on drugs today. I’m a complete and total failure in all that is life 😉 I said I would go the whole month of January without putting ANY drugs into my system, and I almost did. 4 weeks now I’ve gone without a trace of anything that could even be considered a drug, but today I caved and took 3 Advil.

…Yeah, its not really a big dramatic relapse, but I figured I could hold out for another three fucking days after going 4 weeks but it was just too much. See, I have an impacted Wisdom tooth, I’m scheduled to meet someone to have them all (5!) removed on February 1st. I can’t really have teeth pulled without drugs and I’m so serious about this goal that I pushed the date so I wouldn’t have to break my commitment. It may seem stupid to some people that I was putting off urgent dental work for something like a ‘31days” project, but I was adamant about making this goal. Remember when I said if you really want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes?

This a good example of being unreasonable for the sake of a goal. I picked something random, and started making sacrifices for it.

But… Today I woke up with a swollen spot behind my back molar. It was uncomfortable, but I was prepared to suck it up. Then it got worse… Then it got REALLY BAD. I couldn’t talk or do my job, my face was swelling up, my pulse was throbbing into my jaw. There was a distinct point where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. It went from “Ouch, good thing I’m taking these things out soon” to “HOLY SHIT I AM GONNA DIE DON’T EVEN TALK TO ME I WILL KILL YOU” pretty fast.

So I left for lunch telling my boss I might not come back. I bought some Advil and took 1, then 5 minutes later I decided that since I already failed my month-long test I would take another 2. (See how that works?) All I can say is that was the most relief I’ve ever gotten from any painkiller, ever. The swelling went down, and an hour later I went back to finish my day. I still plan on not taking any more until my surgery on the 1st if I can avoid it, and if I do it will be for the swelling (Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory) which was causing all the pain.

So yeah, I couldn’t hang. But 28 days is a good run. After the month is officially over if I can say all I had was 3 Advil that’s still pretty darn good.

 


 

Day29: Into The Unknown

Radiculous Day 29
Image by Zephyrance.

Today I got my hair cut by a beautiful girl named Ashleigh, spent a long time getting this website setup, and went for a short bike ride in which I went over the handlebars exactly twice.

So that was pretty awesome.

As the days run out of this project I have to feel a little sad. People keep talking about when I ‘come back’ like I’ve been on a trip or something. “When are you gonna come join us again?” I’ve been right here the whole time, WTF? While it’s always fresh in my mind what day I’m on from writing this, I’m definitely not counting down days to freedom or anything. I’m afraid people might be a bit disappointed when the month is over but I’m not binging on anything I can get my hands on.

At this point, I really like not smoking or drinking. I like how much I’ve been able to accomplish this month, I like the attitude I have towards other people when my brain isn’t clouded. I like not “needing” a hit or a drink or a cup of coffee in the morning.

At the same time though, I’m really looking forward to relaxing and having a couple beers on Friday evenings with good company or slowly drinking a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Since I didn’t have any real problems with my drug use before it’s likely that things will be close to how they were before after this month ends. The difference, though, is that now I have a reference point for keeping the (un)importance of it in perspective.

I do plan on doing another 31Days project, and I have a few ideas. If you enjoyed this little series, if you got any benefit at all from it, please subscribe to the RSS feed When I’m finished with my next experiment, you’ll receive the new posts automatically.

In 2 days, this project will be over. What will change? What will stay the same? Instead of being anxious about these questions I feel excited to see what will come next, and I’d like to encourage everyone to adopt that same attitude. It’s a hell of a lot easier than taking the more traditional ‘worry more’ route.

 


 

Day30: Thank You For Reading

Radiculous Day 30
Image by visual panic.

It is very late, I just got back from the Winter X Games in Aspen. It was great. Surprisingly the highlight of the night for me wasn’t the infamous Shawn White, it was Snowmobile Best Trick, those guys have balls of steel! On the 4 hour drive home we stopped for gas and my friend wanted a cup of coffee. I really could’ve used one too, but I powered through it and will probably sleep better now that I’m back. It struck me that I just passed one of my last tests before this month is over.

On the long drive home, we talked about my month and I got to say a lot of the things I’ve been writing here out loud for the first time. It helped me to really put a nice little package around what I’ve learned and what this month meant to me.

I will forever look back at this month as a reference whenever I need to make a change for myself that I have reserves about. “That’s nothing, there was this one time…” is an easy way to get the confidence to start building momentum, and this will be a great “one time…”.

I’m happy that I did this, and happy that I get to share it with you. If you are actually still reading this, or even if you skipped everything and ended up here, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to hear what I wanted to say. I highly encourage anyone feeling “stuck” to try their own 31Days project. When done right, it can fuel changes that would never happen otherwise.

 


 

THE END –Day31: Privilege, Self-Will, and Teeth

Radiculous Day 31

Well, here we are. The last few hours of the last day. It’s been quite a ride eh? I was able to write something (hopefully) meaningful every day except one. And I had to take 2 more Advil today so that makes 5 total. For the entire month of January I give my solemn word that I took no other drug of any kind. NOTHING that could even remotely be considered a drug entered my system except 5 ibuprofen, which as you can see on today’s pic were seriously needed. Notice the bottom right tooth drilling into my back molar, he’s the culprit.

So what’s next? Now I plan on focusing on my next project, which relates to media instead of drugs.

The essential message of this entire series is that you CAN make a difference in your life if you want it bad enough. The usual suspects (skill, luck, intelligence) aren’t enough, and they aren’t even needed. Better, or even great things usually come in the form of small gradual changes too small to even notice. All it takes is a random idea and a lot of willpower.

This month I chose to test/exercise my willpower in the form of restraint. It can also come in other shapes, it might look like determination, persistence, or patience. Regardless of the type, self-will is one of the most valuable skills I’ve ever learned.

I wanted to share that with you all because I see in myself and my peers a sort of condition caused by living with advantageous wealth in a time of unprecedented change. We live with privilege and yet, we still suffer from many things those privileges can’t remedy.

With all of this uncertainty, I see some people fervently clinging to failing structures. I see others hiding in denial, or skewing their disadvantages to mask the dilemma. But I also see a select few doing great things, working to repair what isn’t working and learning to embrace this new rapid-change environment that technology has blessed cursed presented us with.

I’m about as independent as they come, but I’m beginning to see more and more how much we all depend on each other, and how badly we are failing ourselves and our communities. As 31Days comes to an end, I see great possibilities for us all. But we all have a lot of work to do, and a long way to go.

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