“D” is for Displacement
Our host Michael in Alamogordo trained the first woman who qualified for RAAM, Kitty Goursolle, in 1983. He told us of some of the grueling training rides and psychological tactics he used to transform her from an already renowned kayaker to a competitive and fierce cyclist. As an accomplished endurance athlete himself, he talked a lot about the mental side of endurance sports and how it was almost more important than the physical side of the training.
“Most of the pain signals your body sends are unnecessary,” he told us. Pain is the body telling you of potential damage. The trick is to discern which signals you should actually listen to and which you should ignore.
What is it that you think about when you’re hurting and you still have several miles to go? Was there some mental Jedi-jujitsu you could do to keep on going? One technique, Michael told us about was displacement – fleeing your body to some other place where you are not hurting on the saddle. He told us how on a recent strenuous hike he was lost in his inner world, a Dungeons and Dragons type fantasy exploring another unearthly world.
We’ve been doing a lot of displacement the last few weeks, slogging up climbs, riding long endless stretches, enduring freezing weather and eating jar after jar after jar of peanut butter. So where is that we go into our heads when we’re hurting turning the pedals over?
I asked Laura this yesterday as we were riding into Van Horn which was a long 65 mile day. Laura said she was in Portland, decorating our next home or she was with our happy hour friends in Long Beach or she was in Austin in a thrift store shopping for another set of clothes other than the ones we’ve been wearing for months. She focused on the details and could get lost in them, numbing her from the grind.
I count. Endlessly. One to ten, then over again, adding the tally up until I reach a thousand then start over again. If I’m not counting, I’m thinking of food. I’ve always joked that the alternate name of our website could be Cheeseburgers Across America. I seem to gravitate to bacon cheeseburgers wherever we go (I’m a man of simple pleasures). So in my head, I’m cataloging the different places we’ve eaten, what we ordered and what were our best meals (TIP: the absolutely best bacon cheeseburger I’ve had in the last 4000 miles was in Seattle’s Lunchbox Labratories!). This is usually good sport and helps me forget about the leg pain and butt pain but also makes me terribly hungry. I’ve also recently taken to imagining I’m riding one of those weird dragon things from Avatar since Michael took us out to go see the movie.
This brings up an interesting paradox – aren’t we living the dream? Why are we displacing at all? Shouldn’t we be absolutely and completely enthralled by every single living moment like some Kerouac-ian protagonist?
The short answer is – yes we are. I think we do wake up every morning feeling lucky and blessed to be on this journey and to share it with our readers, but there are moments that are hard and challenging and act as an occasional gut check. I’m reminded of a quote from Kahil Gibrain, “the cup of human misery is always full.” No matter what lot you have in life, there is always some nagging unhappiness. Even in our own travels we see the cycle happen. After a few days in the tent, we long for a warm bed and hot shower. After a few days in a city, we want to be in the woods again. Funny isn’t it?
The last cold week was a real challenge. It was hard to be cold every day and every night and not have enough food . It was one of those gut check moments. And yet, we made it through and now we’re in a lovely hotel that we appreciate so much more now. A reader commented on a recent post and it was really well phrased and provides a good frame for us to look at our tough times:
Is the worst days on a dream adventure better than the best days of a mundane life dreaming of the adventure?
I would have to say yes. I wonder if I would have been better off staying at home or getting an office job or any number of things but leave for this journey but I feel we still made the right decision. We’ve learned so much about ourselves and other people, we’ve experienced so much that everyday I feel like we are in the large classroom of Life sitting in the front desk. I’m glad that in the end that we chose to live the dream instead of just dreaming it.