“Fairy godfunders”?

I’ve been thinking more about this vision I have for a bike tour for a better world, and also about “the money that’s wanting to be spent.” Many thoughts and feelings have flowed through me in the past week since my last post.

Another great phone conversation with a far-flung friend deepened my thinking on these matters. This friend, in her late 30s, is someone whose intellect, knowledge, and heart-centered wisdom I deeply respect. She has tremendous gifts to offer the world by combining her heart and mind to serve others. She has specific visions for how she would like to do this.

And yet, on a day-to-day basis, she spends her physical and mental energy toiling in obscurity in an office, barely keeping her head above water, in order to pay her living expenses and significant student loans.

The world is worse off as a result of this, not to mention my friend herself, who could be personally thriving if she could give her gifts in a way that would also cover her living expenses.

After the phone call, I thought of many more friends in similar situations. I know many people who are gifted healers, artists, and other kinds of creators, but who do not have the ability to sustain themselves via these gifts to the world. I place myself in this category, as I earn my keep at an administrative day job while wishing I could be “changing the world” with a much higher percentage of my time and energy.

There are deep structural, economic, and cultural roots to this problem, and there is no quick or easy solution. Tax reform, student-loan reform, and healthcare reform would all go a long way toward alleviating the financial pressure so many Americans live under on a daily basis. But those things will take time, and they will not completely solve the problem I see, which is that in our cultural/economic system in the USA, we have “externalized” the costs of human wellbeing. Of human thriving.

I thought again about how so many healers and artists struggle to “market” ourselves, to “sell” our goods and services. Doing so feels icky; it feels antithetical to what we are offering to the world, because it seems base and self-serving, even though everyone agrees we need to have money to survive in society.

But then I also took this line of thought a step further: it feels icky to me that, as a society, we expect people who need healing of any kind—medical, mental-health, emotional, spiritual—to pay for this healing themselves. In an optimal society that I can envision, people who need any kind of healing should be able to receive it for free. Of course, in most industrialized countries, this is already the case, at least for medical issues. But not in the US. Not today.

What I envision is a society-wide decoupling of the costs of healing work from the “transaction” between healer and client or patient. Tax reform could play a large role in a long-term solution.

In the short term, though, I keep thinking of the enormous disparities of wealth in the USA. I know many people like myself, who feel reasonably financially comfortable only if we work at jobs that do not feed our souls, and often do not truly benefit the larger community. I also know many people who are not financially comfortable at all. They have no retirement savings, and sometimes struggle to pay their basic shelter, food, and medical expenses. Meanwhile, in May of this year, CNBC.com reported that there are 630 billionaires in the United States, while other sources report approximately 18.6 million millionaires nationwide.

I recently read about Chuck Feeney, an 89-year-old man who gave away more than $8 billion of his personal fortune between 1982 and 2020, leaving himself with just a “nest egg” to last him comfortably until the end of his life. He gave to schools and nonprofits, much like many other wealthy individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I admire such philanthropy.

And here is my suspicion, based on my own tenuous but growing trust in magic, and also my community ties to many people in the Burning Man world: There exists a small but significant group of people with personal wealth over, say, $1 million, who would derive meaningful pleasure from sharing some amount of their wealth that is relatively insignificant to them, but would be very meaningful to someone like me or many of my creative or healer friends who want to give to the world. Say, $50,000.

I would like to find someone like this. Or perhaps two or three. A “fairy godfunder,” if you will. In fairy tales, we understand fairy godmothers to be benevolent beings who give from their own abundance to help those who could benefit from their help. They trust that by helping their protégés in material and/or spiritual ways, the world becomes a better place.

Most of us have heard about “angel investors” who provide startup capital for risky business ventures, hoping that some of these startups will succeed and pay off financially for them. My idea is similar, but I envision funders who are not motivated by the prospect of further increasing their own wealth, but rather by the opportunity to use their own resources to make a positive change for individuals and the collective.

Chuck Feeney, the billionaire philanthropist, wrote, “I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living—to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition.”

And… of course I don’t just want this funding for myself, although the spark to think about it came from thinking that if I were to receive a “godfunder” check for $50,000, I could stop worrying about money and simply start planning my trip, as well as immediately offering free empathy and coaching sessions to anyone who felt like a good fit for me to work with for a win-win outcome.

One possible vision is a platform that would fall conceptually somewhere between Patreon, Kiva, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe, but would be aimed less at crowdfunding and more at larger, one-on-one (or perhaps 2- or 3-on one) sponsorships, allowing healers and creatives to spend less time and energy on fundraising, and allowing more meaningful relationships between the “godfunder” and funding recipient. Startups and tech are not my thing, but it seems to me that setting up such a platform might be another great use for perhaps $50K from a funder who could be paired with someone who has the skills and desire to build such a platform.

And if I could find a handful of such potential godfunders, I could end up connecting them with various people I meet in the course of my trip. People who have great ideas for projects, but would need funding to get started.

There could be various kinds of accountability built in, of course, such as an agreement for a total annual “grant” of money, but an arrangement for monthly disbursal, based on mutually agreed-upon benchmarks of forward movement in the project. Such accountability is one reason many funders prefer to give to established organizations such as 501(c)(3) nonprofits… but taking the time and energy to start such a nonprofit (or even to locate and secure an “umbrella” organization to receive and disburse the funds) is yet another potentially overwhelming layer of work and bureaucracy for a healer or creative to take on, when their optimal use of time and energy for the greater benefit would be to simply use their own skills to uplift others.

I trust that there are such potential funders out there, who appreciate such efficient, direct, and out-of-the-box ideas for turning their “money that is wanting to be spent” into a win-win-win scenario for themselves, their funding recipients, and the greater good.

Now to find these folks…!

(Meanwhile, if you’d like to contribute to my crowdfunding effort, please visit www.patreon.com/dreamintochange)

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“The money that’s wanting to be spent”

What a day!

Today is my 48th birthday, and it occurred to me with a chuckle how appropriate that is, given that within the year I hope to begin circumnavigating the “lower 48” under my own power.

More importantly, of course, as of yesterday our country has struck a blow against fascism, and although the amount of political, social, and cultural work remaining to be done feels nearly overwhelming, this is something monumental to celebrate. And I do.

Having acknowledged these two personal and collective milestones, I want to share a bit of an epiphany I had yesterday about my vision for my trip—and indeed, about life itself—after a wonderful phone conversation with someone I encountered recently on Facebook.

Sara Eden and I spoke about both of our career/life paths, and it was an enriching conversation.

At the very end, she said this about my goal to raise between $35,000 and $50,000 to fund my year-long trip:

“I hope the money that’s wanting to be spent finds you.”

Whoa.

What a profound statement.

What a mind shift.

“…the money that’s wanting to be spent…”

After we hung up the phone, I spent about 20 minutes allowing my mind and heart to marinate in, and free-associate with, that statement.

One of the first things that came to mind was a sense of abundance vs. scarcity. I thought about how money is something that I have traditionally thought of as scarce, and that “asking for money”—even in terms of marketing my genuinely valuable services to prospective clients—has felt scary and painful.

I further reflected that my “day job” of the past 17 years has involved accounts-receivable work, in which I have to “hunt down” unpaid and delinquent bills, using postal mail, email, and phone calls to recover the money our company is owed by customers. I have grown very accustomed to this work, but at first I found it so unpleasant and frustrating that I wrote a humorous, blowing-off-steam “template letter” to these various customers (which of course I never sent, but my coworkers and I got a needed laugh from it) and the one phrase that still sticks in my mind from that letter was, “It’s like frickin’ pulling teeth to get you to pay these bills!”

What a visual. It conjures how painful it feels to ask for money, or for me to imagine someone “giving up” their money, even to my employer from whom they did take merchandise with an agreement to pay for it within 30 days.

And then I found myself laughing out loud at that phrase: “pulling teeth.” I literally met with an oral surgeon this past week, to discuss doing exactly that in my own mouth. My own body. Physically removing all of my lower teeth—to replace them with hopefully more secure false ones—probably within the next few months.

Losing my teeth was a theme of recurring nightmares for most of my life. But now that it’s really happening… maybe it’s not so bad? It’s just a part of my life story. So, how funny to see this as a metaphor: maybe my asking for money—and maybe others’ giving or trading that money toward me—needn’t be painful or difficult.

What if it could be beautiful? Joyful?

“… the money that’s wanting to be spent…”

Next, I flashed back to my high school physics class, where I learned about potential vs. kinetic energy. Potential energy is that which is “stored up,” such as a book sitting on a high shelf. Kinetic energy is energy in motion, such as when gravity impels the book to fall to the floor.

What if money is a form of energy? (I believe it is.)

In that case, the money that is “wanting to be spent” is potential energy, existing within the hearts and minds of those whose money sits in their bank accounts, waiting to be transformed into the kinetic energy of a bike trip with a world-changing purpose.

This line of thinking spurred a visual. (I love visuals!)

I pictured myself standing in the middle of the continental US, or perhaps on an imaginary map of it. I stood with confidence and joy, which filled my body and began a dance. I extended my arms as if to receive, and looked joyfully around in all directions as I danced in a fluid expression of all that I wish for this bike tour to be.

As I did so, colorful dollar bills were magnetically drawn to me from all around the United States, like floating autumn leaves. (It brought an even bigger smile to my face to enjoy the fact that our bills do now come in various vibrant pastel shades, rather than the staid green they all wore in my youth.) The money was being drawn toward me by the beauty and resonance of my dance, my purposeful vision. Like November leaves, they floated effortlessly, joyfully toward me on the breeze, and joined me in the dance.

I flashed forward several months, and these vibrant “leaves” of financial abundance were now fluttering all around me as I piloted the picturesque Brompton along the roads and trails of this country, surrounded by ever-changing natural beauty.

Yeah.

Yes.

Yes!

I am now in this dance. I am trusting that the money that is wanting to be spent will indeed find me.

Sara Eden suggested a few nonprofits that might be interested in granting me some of this money. I will follow up on these leads. I’m also dreaming up ways to offer my empathy and coaching services in ways that will be a win-win for this trip. As time goes on, I will make more of a push to encourage people to sign up for my Patreon. (If you find yourself inspired to do so now, I welcome it!) I’m also open to the idea of meeting just the right individual benefactors/philanthropists who have this “potential energy” money in abundance, and would find it joyful to transform it into something kinetic by supporting my trip. Really, I would like to find a variety of sources of funding. I wish for this journey to be a wide-ranging, community effort, with community benefit. But rather than seeing “raising the money” as a painful, shameful, awkward, or insurmountable chore, I will now view it as a joyful dance from which everyone benefits.

Yeah.

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Stepping into an illustrious tradition

As I continue to get excited about traversing the United States (and parts of Canada, and possibly a dip or two into Mexico) I find myself thinking of others who have made similar travels, and who inspire me.

I recently learned from my mother that even my own grandfather—her father—made a somewhat similar travel decision in another time of economic uncertainty.

A Canadian citizen, he graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1930 with two degrees (one in forestry, for which he later earned a master’s degree at Harvard University, then spent his career working for the US Forest Service in Idaho and Utah). In 1930, right after the US stock market crash, jobs were even harder to come by in Canada than in the US. Rather than look for employment (or perhaps following a fruitless search) he decided to travel the world. He managed to spend a mere $200 for the entire trip, which my estimates show to be worth about $2325 in current US dollars. For this cost, my mother speculates that he must have traveled primarily on freighter ships. We know that he stayed with family members around the world, including Australia, France, Switzerland, and England. The purpose of his trip was mostly fun and adventure, rather than a larger humanitarian aim. However, I’m sure he learned a tremendous amount in his travels—before the days of television, much less the Internet—and it was interesting to me to learn that there is such a “meandering precedent” within the past two generations of my own family.

Outside my family, I have been inspired by the stories of Peace Pilgrim and John Francis, both of whom traveled on foot around the United States promoting peace and environmental responsibility, respectively.

I read John Francis’ book Planetwalker, at the recommendation of my friend Sunshine Dixon, last September on my epic cross-country train trip, and found his story very impressive. (I recommend his TEDTalk.)

Years ago, my friend Diane Emerson gave me Peace Pilgrim’s book, and I am embarrassed to say that it remains on my “to read” list, but I plan to read it soon; upon hearing of my upcoming travels, many other friends have recommended it.

Another fascinating character I just learned about, from my friend Avi, is Paul Erdős. From Wikipedia:

He was one of the most prolific mathematicians and producers of mathematical conjectures of the 20th century. He was known both for his social practice of mathematics (he engaged more than 500 collaborators) and for his eccentric lifestyle (Time magazine called him The Oddball’s Oddball).

Described by his biographer, Paul Hoffman, as “probably the most eccentric mathematician in the world,” Erdős spent most of his adult life living out of a suitcase. Except for some years in the 1950s, when he was not allowed to enter the United States based on the pretense that he was a Communist sympathizer, his life was a continuous series of going from one meeting or seminar to another. During his visits, Erdős expected his hosts to lodge him, feed him, and do his laundry, along with anything else he needed, as well as arrange for him to get to his next destination.

Erdős published around 1,500 mathematical papers during his lifetime, a figure that remains unsurpassed. He firmly believed mathematics to be a social activity, living an itinerant lifestyle with the sole purpose of writing mathematical papers with other mathematicians.

This lifestyle fascinates me. I dream of being someone who brings such value to the world, and to my hosts—by listening deeply to their dreams and/or existing projects, and helping them to enhance as well as publicize them—that they would wish to host me in such a way, and we would both consider it a win-win proposition, much like the intention I outlined ten years ago. Rather than solving mathematical problems, my intent is to collaboratively solve social and environmental problems.

I am setting an intention right now that this vision will come to pass.

www.patreon.com/dreamintochange

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Manifesting decade-old intentions

I’ve been setting intentions for some time. I don’t know when I very first began the practice—maybe around 2004—but I do know that in January of 2010 I founded a small Google group (remember those email lists? Apparently that service is being discontinued as I type) called “2010 Intentions”. There were four or five of us in the group, and it continued in one form or another through 2014. At the beginning of each year, we would write a post to the group describing our intentions for the year. Then at the beginning of each month, we would write in and update the group on our progress toward our intentions. We would reply to each other’s shares with encouragement and celebrations, and occasionally share resources, such as books or websites to check out, or introductions to relevant friends or colleagues, to help each other to manifest the intentions.

I really enjoyed the group, and got a lot out of it.

As I’ve been planning this upcoming bike trip, I had a sudden flashback to some early intentions I had set at that time. I went back in my email box to look, and lo and behold, my very first post in that group contained the following intention I had remembered. I am going to paste it here verbatim, because it feels so powerful to me:


I want to begin traveling to at least a few of the North American cities I will list below. My intention is go there for a specific purpose, as yet unknown to me. The purpose will be one that will be joyful and satisfying to me, and that will also contribute to the greater good. I will spend probably 3-4 days in each city. I might travel there by train; not sure. I might travel in a sort of tour, or I might visit them piecemeal. When I arrive in each city, I will be met by locals who will be very excited to have me there for my purpose. They will help me to partake in most, if not all, of the following in their city: 1) vegan restaurants and/or gatherings, 2) karaoke, 3) ecstatic dance events, 4) touch- and/or sex-positive events, 5) probably a bike ride or two, 6) any other cool attractions–natural or otherwise–of their particular city. They may also host me in their homes, but this is not a “requirement” of my intention. 🙂 At the end of my stay in their city, both I and they will feel joyful and satisfied to have met each other and spent our time together in these activities as well as any related to my as-yet-undiscovered purpose for being there.

The cities (in no particular order):

Asheville, NC
Boston
New York
Atlanta
Someplace in Florida–not sure where yet
Nashville
Denver and/or Boulder
Chicago
Austin
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
Minneapolis
Montreal
Toronto
Vancouver
Victoria

I’m open to others as well, but those are the ones that came to my mind.


I mean… wow, right? I get chills re-reading that.

It’s really worth setting intentions. Doing so in front of witnesses is even better; when people can help you to hold an intention, it’s all the more powerful. Sometimes intentions take a long time to come to fruition—one might consider 11 years to be a long time, for example, in this case—but sometimes they stretch out over time, so that you get parts of them all along the way.

In this example, I began to fulfill that intention the following May, in 2011, when I visited Minneapolis over the Memorial Day weekend. (The pic is of me in Minnehaha Regional Park.) I had a wonderful trip—and a wonderful tour guide in my friend Nate—and I felt so excited to begin crossing these cities off my list.

And in the intervening years, I have visited all of the above cities—some as many as three times!—with the exceptions of Atlanta, Nashville, Boulder, and Toronto. I will probably miss Boulder and Nashville on this trip as well—they are just too far outside of the route I envision—but Atlanta and Toronto are definitely on the itinerary!

I set several other intentions in that debut email as well, of which a few important ones have come to pass:

I have managed to reduce the hours worked at my day job by about half, while retaining my full pay and most of my benefits.

As I also stated in my intention-setting, I used much of that extra time to focus on photography and filmmaking. (I did complete a short inspirational documentary film in November of 2011, and my tree-photography Instagram account is now nearing 5,000 followers.)

Looking back at this old document helps me to feel proud and joyful about my achievements, and also even more excited about how the coming two years are going to unfold, under this new dream and set of intentions.

Do you set intentions? Do you feel proud and joyful about having reached them? Are there some you are still working toward? Are you able to set new ones even during this scary and unstable time?

www.patreon.com/dreamintochange

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Choosing to trust the magic

Lately I’ve been thinking about money, and my career path, and how these two intersect with my bike tour dream.

I estimate that I will need about $36,000 of (net) income to get me through this year on my bike. And I will no longer have the income from my current day job. (I very much hope my day job will even continue to exist, but given the shaky state of the US economy, particularly in the retail sector, that is far from guaranteed at this point, and this fact stresses me out a bit as well, after 17 years in that job.)

My deepest hope and dream, for the past dozen years, has been to make a living from my life coaching and empathetic listening practices.

That has not happened. My income from these sources has remained a trickle, a meager supplement to the income from my day job. If I’m being realistic, I have no reason to believe that I can suddenly “manifest” this dream career in the next year, to give me the cushion I’ll need to pay for the trip.I find this disappointing on a few levels. I worry about my future, my possible retirement. Technically, I have the savings to pay for this trip, but that would take a massive dip into my retirement savings, and that feels really scary and foolhardy.

I also find it disappointing because I judge myself as a failure in this respect. Being some sort of therapist or life coach has been my dream ever since 8th grade, and I have never found a way to make it work for me financially. The clients I do have love what I offer—I know my work has deep value—but I’ve never been able to find an effective way to “market” myself; like most people in healing professions, I recoil at the very idea.

I have spent thousands of dollars on business coaching with two different coaches. This only left me depressed and hopeless about my prospects. I have offered free sessions to try to entice new clients. I have participated in trades. (The ongoing trade with a massage therapist was definitely a win-win!) I have done countless sliding-scale benefits, trying to make my work as financially accessible as possible to potential clients, while also donating a portion of proceeds to many different nonprofit causes I care about.

I don’t want to make “sales funnels,” or sign up for expensive mailing-list software, and write just the right blog posts, and post just the right videos, where I look professional enough but also down-to-earth, and I speak vulnerably yet powerfully, and I lure people in to want to work with me.

Ugh! No! I don’t want to do any of this.

And so… I’m kind of a failure. And it feels depressing.

So, I was thinking about this these past few days. Like… what do I need to do to “meditate right” and “manifest right livelihood” in just the right way? Or, what do I need to force myself to do, against my will, to “make it happen” in more conventional ways, such as going to grad school or some sort of coaching school, slogging through my learning disabilities and racking up debt which I then may or may not be able to repay? Or spending a lot of money to hire some kind of perfect coach to either force me to do the icky marketing, or at the very least, update my aging, non-smartphone-optimized website?

Racking up debt, doing things we hate, going against our own values, experiencing various forms of humiliation… that’s how we succeed under capitalism, right?

Yeah. No. I’m not doing those things.

I had a bit of an epiphany today, after these ruminations, on a phone call with a dear friend. (Hi, Erin!)

Those of us who believe in magic (sometimes surreptitiously, because we’re not allowed to do so openly in this society without being mocked or dismissed)… those of us who do our best to “manifest” the magic we want… the thing is, it does exist. It does happen. And it’s incredible to behold.

But.

Sometimes (always?) it does not work in the ways we might want. Like… sometimes we have a core struggle in life. Mine appears to be that of manifesting right livelihood.

It’s deep. It’s thick, like a dense forest. It’s not something a bit of meditating, and visualizing, and journaling, and talking about it to many people, and going to networking events… etc… can produce.

It is a core struggle. Probably lifelong.

And… maybe the way to approach it is not head-on. Maybe it’s more of a dance. Maybe it’s about having a wish and a vision, but mostly focusing on the magic and the beauty that does continue to unfurl around us, sometimes serendipitously and sometimes with a slight push from us.

I don’t want to slog in service of my dreams. I want the means to be consistent with the ends.

Thinking about this trip lights me up. I don’t know if it will somehow lead to my “succeeding” financially as a coach or healer… actually, I suspect it won’t. I’m starting to grok that this may be part of the point. Maybe that’s not even my actual destination in life.

The point is to follow my passion. My passion lights up others. As I traverse this land (and even before I start) I will meet so many amazing people. We will light each other up. We will become parts of a powerful network. Untold magic will result from this trip. I am 100% certain of that.

And I will make it happen, financially, somehow. I’m taking this trip.

www.patreon.com/dreamintochange

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A chain of challenges

(After substantial scrubbing at home)

Thursday was another beautiful summer-like day, and I wanted to make the most of it. After I got off work around 4:30, I spontaneously decided to check out a new all-vegetarian Ethiopian food cart I had heard about. Google Maps told me it would take about an hour to bike there. I thought, Sounds perfect! Having had a late Clif bar instead of lunch, I trusted that my appetite would be perfect by 5:30. The route was pretty much a straight shot, and pretty flat. I would be done with dinner by about 6:15, and should even be able to get home with some light left in the sky.

I wasn’t on the Brompton; my daily commuter bike remains my beloved red 1979 Free Spirit. 

I enjoyed the ride to the cart pod, and savored my kik alicha at a picnic table in perfect weather. My (pre-sanitized) hands got pretty messy with the meal, but I knew I could wash them at home, about seven miles away.

I threw away my dinner trash and put on my helmet. But as I began to roll the bike, I noticed the chain had come off. 

Oof! 

In the 24 years I’ve had that bike, this has happened probably only five or six times. It never occurs to me to worry about it. Partly for this reason—and partly because I’m just lazy and hate doing bike repairs, and partly because for the past two years I have been paying for bike roadside assistance through Better World Club—I haven’t bothered to carry any tools with me. And, as I soon noticed with dismay, even the grease-covered rag I normally carry in my backpack in case of such events had been removed in preparation for my North Carolina trip, and I had not yet replaced it. So, my stash of paper napkins was the extent of my bike-repair preparedness.

I sighed, and hoped I could easily put the chain back on with my hands.

Nope.

Tried again.

Nope. (But now my hands were filthy.)

It was thoroughly jammed. Only once before had I encountered this problem so badly, about ten years ago. I was at my workplace at the time, and two coworkers helped me and struggled with it until they finally righted it.

Those two were nowhere to be seen at the cart pod. I looked around to see if there was someone I could ask for help, or to borrow a tool. I felt embarrassed. Vulnerable. Stupid for being so unprepared. In pre-COVID times, I would have thought nothing of simply walking the bike to a bus stop and making the (lengthy, two-bus) trip home that way. But these days I’m doing my best to avoid enclosed auto spaces.

My eyes fell on a father and daughter sitting at the next table over, waiting for their food. I stepped awkwardly toward them. (The pandemic makes every social interaction more fraught: I wanted to get close enough that the father could hear me through my mask, but not closer than six feet.) I asked if he had any sort of tool I could borrow, to put the chain back on. He said no, but that maybe he could help with his hands. I felt further chagrined as he interrupted his chat with his daughter to blacken and grease up his own hands, before concluding that he couldn’t get it to budge either. I thanked him for the effort, and decided to look up nearby bike shops. Could I find one still open? 

Google Maps showed a dearth of such, but there did appear to be one a few miles away that claimed to offer mobile repair. Great! Who knows what I might shell out for this, but it was exactly what I needed. I called the number, but got a voicemail box. Dejected, I hung up. A few seconds later, I received a text: 

“Thank you for contacting XYZ Bikes. Please send a text with your name and description of which bike or service you seek. Thanks!”

Hmmm… maybe this could still work?I sent a brief explanatory text, as well as a photo of the chain’s predicament and my location.

No response. 

After about ten anxious minutes, I decided it was time to call Better World to redeem one of my two annual roadside-assistance service calls. Maybe this could be an important “trial run” for me, with very low stakes. Yes, actually, this was a good thing! I could get in some practice close to home, on a pleasant-weather evening with buses not too far if I needed them.

I needed to find a place to make the call, though. The cart pod was noisy: music on the loudspeakers mingled with the rush of traffic on the busy road, not to mention all the ambient conversation. I walked as far away from it all as I could, and looked up Better World Club on Google, grimacing as I realized that if I had a membership card or number, I didn’t have it on me. I found the phone number and called it.

What I heard in “answer” was an extremely jarring sound, which cranked up my existing tension by several notches. 

I hadn’t known it was possible for a phone connection to sound like this in the 21st century. I flashed back to a 1999 quote by comedian Dave Barry: “What, exactly, is the Internet? Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a ‘modem,’ can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.” 

The sound I was hearing through my iPhone could best be described as 90% kazoo-choking duck, plus 10% what sounded like a standard automated phone menu:

“Press 1 for…” I had turned up the volume as high as it would go, to try to compete with the cart pod sounds, and this static blaring into my ear was an assault on both my senses and my sanity.

Cranky, bewildered, and increasingly anxious, I wondered how to respond to this. I pressed a series of 1s, hoping to somehow reach a live operator. This had little apparent effect; the squealing static continued. I moved the phone away from my ear and glanced at the home screen, wondering if I should hang up and call back, or…?

I spotted a new text from Better World, an Arizona phone number: “Reply with your vehicle’s location in the following format: Street# StreetName, City, State or click the link to automatically locate you.”

I hastily clicked the link, and the squealing-static automated voice blessedly gave way to the call ringing to an actual person.

This person was not much help. She asked if I were sitting in the vehicle. I explained it was a bicycle, and she seemed to understand, but then asked several questions that indicated she thought I meant a motorcycle. 

I was not enjoying this customer-service experience.

Eventually she transferred me to the “bicycle division.”

A woman with a Southern accent and matching slow-paced demeanor answered, assuring me that she was happy to be providing me service this evening. By this time I had burrowed myself behind a closed food cart, next to a building wall, to get as far away from the noise as possible. The daylight was quickly fading, and I was losing patience: All I needed was a tow. Why was this so complicated? Why did this agent seem completely unconcerned with the urgency of my predicament?

I strained to stay polite and explain that I needed a tow for my bicycle.

This seemed to please her, and she continued to speak slowly but enthusiastically: “Oh! This is my first experience with a bicycle issue. I may need to ask my supervisor for help.”

“OK.” [Really? Does no other bicyclist use this service?]

She asked the “make and model” of my bike. [Again, really? I knew that the only service they would provide would be to send a tow truck. How much detail did they need?] I explained that it was a Free Spirit, a Sears. I didn’t know the model; it was from 1979.

“OK… now wait… did you say 1979, or 1976?”

[Are you freaking kidding me???]

“1979.”

“Haha, OK, that’s what I thought you said. But I just wanted to make sure.”

The conversation continued along these lines for probably another ten minutes. At one point she read out loud from her list of “vehicle options,” wondering if my bike might qualify as a “recreational vehicle”? [Please, no, this is not an RV.] At another point, she happily assured me that she had found my location on the map: “Buckman Field!” No, I told her—struggling to un-grit my teeth—that was seven miles west. “Ohhh… haha, OK, the street number is 15700, not 1500!” [I’m glad one of us is enjoying this conversation, ma’am.]

Her last question was whether I would prefer to receive a text or a phone call from the towing company—once she could locate one—to let me know when to expect them.

“How about both, to be on the safe side?”

“OK, sounds good…”

We got off the phone at 7:15. It had been 45 minutes since I had discovered the problem with the chain.

I walked back to my bike and sat in the waning light. I watched the workers at the Ethiopian cart close up shop. 

Argh. This had started out as such a pleasant evening. How long was this ordeal going to last? 

And what if I were on the top of a mountain right now, in Southern Oregon, in the dark and the rain? Or how about the middle of the highway in New Mexico, miles away from any tow trucks, or possibly even cell service?

What on earth am I getting myself into here?

How can I rely on people to help if I need it?

I guess I really do need to brush up on my bike-repair skills.

7:30. I get an automated call from Better World, telling me that ABC towing company, in Vancouver, Washington, was going to respond to my call, “in 120 minutes.”

What?

Two more hours?

I mentally repeated the above hypothetical scenarios. If Portland, Oregon can’t produce bike roadside assistance faster than three hours, what hope do I have elsewhere?

I thought, There is no way I’m sitting in this nearly empty food cart pod at the edge of town for another two hours. I’ll walk to the bus, and cancel the tow.

Right then, the Ethiopian cart guy who had taken my order approached and asked if I was OK, if there was something wrong with my bike. He offered me a ride home, on his way home from work, and I was touched and humbled by his generosity. 

But this was clearly my problem, not his, and I did not want to sully his car with my greasy bike. I thanked him for the offer, and indicated I would take the bus. 

I set out to walk the 14 blocks to the bus stop. The road was unpaved and potholed, and I thought with a chuckle, Well, I guess my bike tour’s adventures are already beginning!

I felt dejected. Morose. This experience had shaken the sense of security that I had allowed myself to feel after enrolling in the roadside-assistance plan.

Clearly, though, this was all surmountable. I hadn’t even left Portland and its city-bus range! The evening was warm, and dry. I had options.

And… I know that I will always have options. I will undoubtedly face much more difficult obstacles once I begin the tour. And, I will find some way around each one. It will be an adventure, and that means there will be lots of fun, plus some big challenges and difficult times.

People do this. 

I can do this.

The gravel under my feet turned to pavement, and the level road gave way to a slight downhill. I thought, Hey, maybe I can’t pedal, but at least I can coast, eh? I hopped up on the saddle and rolled about half a block. I even tried pedaling for a second, just to feel how badly the chain was stuck.

And… the pedal seemed to work.

What?

I pedaled again. The gears engaged.

This wasn’t possible. The chain was hopelessly jammed. Was I dreaming? Had this entire scenario been an elaborate anxiety nightmare?

I hopped off the bike just as I hit Burnside Street. Pulled onto the sidewalk, and examined the cassette.

The chain was on. Like nothing ever happened.

What in the ever-loving…??? What??

OK… I’ll take it…?

And I rode all the way home.

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Basking in a fleeting magic

As a hobby photographer, I have been enjoying playing with golden hour light since this past spring. Early in the pandemic restrictions, I would walk five blocks to what I thought was my “boring” neighborhood park, to enjoy some fresh air and outdoor time. But the sloth of the lockdown held a gift for me: the first few weeks of severely reduced working hours had me, mostly happily, staying in bed until 1 or 2:00 in the afternoon more often than not. By the time I had showered, eaten, and decided to go to the park, the light would be starting to turn. And it was absolutely enthralling.

There is a Japanese phrase, mono no aware (“the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last”) that describes the “extra” beauty of an aspect of nature that arises when we know that the beauty is fleeting.

This could aptly describe the end of summer, the end of a flower’s blossom, the end of a day … so I think that the golden hour, while visually stunning in its own right, also benefits from this concept.

Today was a spectacular Portland September day. The high temperature was around 80 degrees (27 C), and after work I spontaneously decided to bike to one of my favorite food carts, Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen. The ride took me along the beautiful Springwater Corridor. After a wonderful outdoor meal of vegan Chinese food, I headed home a different way, through the Westmoreland neighborhood. As I was rounding the bend at Bybee Blvd, I glanced to my left and was visually struck—not for the first time—that there was a beautiful overlook of the Willamette River just there, and there seemed to be some benches. Tonight, I finally paused long enough to check, and sure enough: I saw three picnic tables, two of which were occupied, and the last one just waiting for me.

As I parked my bike next to the table, I was overcome with the beauty of the light. It was about 6:30 pm, and the sun was dropping in the sky, saturating all the river trees with a golden glow. I marveled at it, and began photographing somewhat obsessively, as is my wont.

Finally, I relaxed and simply sat at the table, soaking in the moment. After thirty years in Portland, to sit in this spot was another first for me this summer. The temperature was perfect. The light was perfect. This wonderful dream of a bike tour hummed in the back of my head.

And… I realized that a big part of my motivation for taking this trip is to maximize the golden hours in my life. I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms, but that is what I’m dreaming of: to follow the light and the warm, pleasant weather all around the continent. Of course I know I will encounter days—probably stretches of weeks—that will deviate drastically from these ideal conditions. But… I hope that on most days of this tour, I will greet the golden hour tired but satisfied, and I will be able to sit—alone or with friends, new or old—outdoors, in some new spot every few days, feeling the warmth of the lowering sun and basking in its magical glow.

This summer is drawing to a close in Portland. If all goes according to plan, by this time next year I will be in southern Oregon or northern California. Tonight, as the evening ebbed, the summer ebbed, the year ebbed, my time in Portland ebbed… I savored the mono no aware.

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A powerful mind trick

Some of you know that I am a huge fan of train travel. I have criss-crossed the United States several times on Amtrak, as well as traversed large segments of each coast. One time, frustrated by an order-ahead system that never seemed to work when I needed it, I even ran a successful petition campaign to get vegan meals on the everyday menu of the dining cars. (RIP.) Ever since my first cross-country train trip in September of 2000, I was hooked. And, I’m fondly looking forward to supplementing this upcoming bike tour with a few rail segments.

But, I wasn’t able to dive right into train travel; the time and money were outside of my means at that point in my life. Over the years, I slowly accrued more vacation time at work; switched around my schedule to four days per week, which allowed more long-weekend trips without even touching my vacation time; and I started using an Amtrak credit card to build up miles and earn free trips.

However, I also discovered a “mind hack” to help me bring about this new, dreamed-of reality as a rider of the rails.

In 2012, I flew to San Francisco to watch my favorite band Marillion perform, since that was the closest they got to Portland on that tour. I had only visited the Bay Area once before, very briefly. As a transit geek, I was thus excited to experience the BART, which I had only heard about. I was staying with a friend in Oakland, so I would take the BART to and from the concert.

Having paid my fare and taken a seat on that light-rail train, I was anticipating the evening’s show when I had a sudden thought: “Hey, wow, I’m a rail traveler! Here I am, in another city and state, sitting on a train and enjoying the scenery. I guess this is how I get around these days! I have manifested my dream!”

I chuckled in my seat, marveling at what this little mind-trick had done for my sense of self. I knew this wasn’t an Amtrak train… but I was able to “live into” my dream, by recognizing the similarity of what I was experiencing to some important aspects of what I dreamed of experiencing. It took my transportation geekdom to the next level: no longer was I merely experiencing another municipal transit system—albeit a well-known one I had looked forward to riding—but I was now a person who vacationed in various cities via rail.

The shift was powerful. Within one year of that moment, I became an international passenger-rail tourist: In January of 2013, I took a two-week “California rail adventure,” stopping in five cities. In June of that same year, I took my East Coast Empathy Tour, offering on-the-street empathy in four major metro areas while traveling between them on long-distance trains. And then in December, I took a 30-years-in-the-making two-week trip to Australia, where I traveled by train between Canberra and Melbourne.

I’m choosing to start that mind-shift again now, on my bike. As I enjoy my morning or afternoon commute, or take a spin around the neighborhood to do errands or explore a new food cart, I now think to myself, “This is my life! I’m a bike tourer. This is how I get around, wherever I go, and I enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery.”

I’ve always enjoyed biking for transportation here in Portland anyway. But now, I can feel that it’s part of something much larger. I am riding into something much larger.

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The magic is building

Wow… the magic of this trip has begun!

I had sensed from the start that as I began to write about it, and to share the writing on various platforms, people would start to come together to offer advice, encouragement, and the like… and that I would begin making connections amongst inspiring people and resources.

That’s how this all works. If I’ve learned anything from living my life, and working as a life coach, it’s that when we put our scary and exciting visions “down on paper” and begin to talk about them with others, things start to come together in really inspiring ways.

When I shared yesterday’s blog post to my Facebook page, I wasn’t sure if it would garner much engagement, because I thought “the rain” was a pretty unexciting topic, even if it was top-of-mind for me, and felt very relevant to my vision and planning.

But when one of my friends read the post, she tagged three of her friends whom she knew to be bike travelers, and two of them weighed in with some great pointers and encouragement. One of them also re-referenced the third person, who hasn’t (yet?) chimed into the conversation himself, but who has apparently written several books about his own bike-touring adventures! I want to read these books. I think the more I learn firsthand about others’ experiences, the more I will get a feel for what I want, what I should perhaps avoid, and how I can best prepare for this adventure.

Most importantly, though, one of these friends of my friend—Matt Picio, whose name I recognized as a multifaceted leader in the local bike community over the past ten years or so, but whom I had never met—imparted some wonderful words of wisdom, and I want to share them with you too, because they apply to so many areas of life and dreams, not just bike tours:

“Someone told me once that everyone on a major tour hits ‘the wall’ at some point, where they are ready to give it up and go home. If you get past it, then nothing will faze you anymore and you can ride pretty much indefinitely at that point. It was true for me, and for me it was in Virginia City, Montana, slogging uphill after a few particularly brutal days riding from Twin Bridges through Sheridan and Alder. I was ready to be done, and go home, and I had a couple of soul-searching phone calls with friends. What got me past it was having to get to somewhere I could catch a train home, and riding over the crest and downhill into Ennis, MT, I truly experienced why Montana is called ‘Big Sky Country’ – it was a breathtaking, humbling moment coupled with a several mile 30mph+ descent into Ennis that reminded me exactly why I was out there, and why I wanted to ride.

Your moment will probably be different, but whatever it is, remember that everybody has theirs, and if you can (safely) push past it, you’ll be able to do whatever you put your mind to on the tour.”

I loved this nugget of wisdom. It was another example of something I had sensed, and imagined would be true on my journey, but to see it expressed so eloquently by someone who had actually done a similar trip really helped to reinforce the principle.

Matt continued:

“Oh – one last piece of (unsolicited) advice. Never let anyone tell you ‘you’re doing it wrong’. I was notorious among people touring the US that year for carrying a cast-iron skillet. (For the record, it weighed 3.5 lbs and I lost 33 lbs during the trip – so really, did it weigh that much? I ate really well.) A couple I met toured with a full Coleman stove strapped to her rear rack. And one guy I met in Gothensburg, NE had a 70s suitcase with buckle straps bungied to his rear rack. Whatever you choose to tour with is YOUR CHOICE. We weren’t doing it wrong, and you won’t be either. The best mental skill you can have on tour is a willingness to accept everyone where they are at and not take anything personally. Everyone will have an opinion – you’re doing it wrong, you shouldn’t be touring alone, you shouldn’t be touring with a partner, it’s so dangerous to be on the roads, etc. Let them roll off you and enjoy the moment. … This is your tour, your life. You’re not doing it wrong. It’s yours.”

This was another wonderful affirmation, exactly when I needed it. Just yesterday at the optometrist, I told the doctor about my plan, and he was excited for me, but then he began speculating about what kind of bike I “should really be using” for a trip like this, rather than my Brompton. He wasn’t the first I’ve encountered, to hear my dream and then try to “edit” it, to “optimize” things for me. (And clearly he will not be the last!) I’m pleased to say that I mostly did take Matt’s advice, before even reading it today; I smiled and let the optometrist enjoy his own “twist” on my dream—perhaps he will even end up making some part of it his own!—while remembering that I have my own vision, and I can take others’ advice, but only if it truly feels right to me.

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The rain returns

I’m back in Portland, after a wonderfully refreshing break. The area had a small bit of rain while I was gone, which mercifully cleared out most of the smoke, and put out many of the fires.

Today, I was back out on my bike—returning from an eye doctor appointment—in my first “real rain” of the season. That’s how we know fall has arrived in Portland. Contrary to popular belief, it does not always rain here. Our summer months—July, August, and most of September—are reliably and almost completely dry. It’s the other nine months where things get soggy. Unfortunately, within the past few years that dryness has now seemingly reached a climate-change point where it turns the West Coast into a tinderbox pretty consistently by the end of the summer.

Still, many of us do struggle with seasonal depression, and the rain and gloom and cooler temperatures are a part of that… particularly for those of us who bike for transportation.

Thus, I experienced quite a mixture of feelings today, swathed in my rain jacket, rain pants, helmet cover, and rubber boots, wearing sunglasses over my dilated eyes as I navigated the rain and gray skies for the 15-minute ride home. (I arrived soaked and dripping, and hung up all my gear in the kitchen, signaling the return of another seasonal ritual.)

I noticed how so many of the trees seemed to have begun turning, even just in the week I was away. The equinox happened the other day.  And now, here is the rain.

It will be intermittent, interspersed with warm and sunny days, probably until mid-October, when the season will really settle in. I expect I will do much less pleasure bicycling, focusing more on commuting and grocery trips, beginning around that time.

This leads me to ponder how I will navigate the weather on my bike trip. A large motivator for the trip is to “follow the sun” and pleasant temperatures around the country, effectively opting out of the cool and rainy months here at home. But I know that I will still encounter some rain, and possibly other challenging weather—maybe even hail or snow in mountainous regions—so I will need to be prepared for this. How will I choose what to pack, to be able to protect myself adequately, yet also keep things as lightweight and non-bulky as possible?

A friend forwarded me an ad for a bike trailer today, and I looked at it and wondered if it would be a good style of trailer for me. What were its pros and cons? How would it compare to other options, in size, shape, style, portability/convenience, price…? What kind of bags or “luggage” will I end up taking, and how will they interface with whatever style of trailer I end up using? As I mused aloud about these questions to my friend—who lives on his bike, up and down the West Coast—he reminded me that planning has its place, but the magic of “living by bike” lies largely in taking the leap, and allowing what unfolds to unfold.

It’s kinda scary.

And kinda exactly what I think I want and need.

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