[ Day 447 — Sept 3, 2013 ]

Built Not Bought

I wrote for many reasons—some admirable, some not. I wanted to better understand the trip, both in the moment and in the decades to come. I also wanted to share my story in hopes that it might resonate with others. The adventures of teachers, friends, and family inspired adventures of my own; sharing was my attempt to pay it forward. Also woven through this exercise was a vain desire to be perceived as clever and insightful, and for my efforts to be as interesting to others as they were to me.

Though the writing process encouraged a certain amount of vanity, it also prompted self-awareness. If I hadn’t thought about how my story would be perceived by others, I wouldn’t have caught myself looking at my own reflection. I wouldn’t have scrutinized my notes and realized how my attitude affected where I chose to direct my attention, nor how this orientation helped shape actual events.

En route, I thought of the ride as an exercise in self-determination: I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and was in love with my own sense of agency. But when I reflect on the stories worth telling, I don’t wander to moments of solitary inspiration or accomplishment. I think of people: Dean, Niko, Alvin, Jeff, Nick, Scott, and Erin. The best moments of the trip arose through agency and communion, where the leading I became a We.

I can’t help but see a chain of cause and effect: an open attitude widened my attention toward others; attention invited meaningful connection; connection was at the heart of all my favorite moments—what would become my favorite stories.

If this narrative has a place beyond the limits of my own experience, I’d like it to stand in support of an idea: that our best stories are ones of bold co-creation, of shared enterprise built on the premise that our infinitely small roles are endowed with infinitely wide potential. Adventure writing can work against this idea, reinforcing the author’s perspective as protagonist and the reader’s place in the armchair. Both viewpoints hold us back: the person who lives his life as if he were protagonist misses out on just as much as the person who believes that adventures are to be read about but not lived. The challenge lies in pursuing our own narratives without simultaneously thinking that these stories are all about us. They’re obviously not, but it’s easy to forget sometimes. In the wider human narrative, there are no protagonists—only co-creators—and there’s no such thing as an armchair. May we venture forth with this in mind.

To everyone who helped shape this experience, both the cycling and the writing: thank you.

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