One of my favorite things about cycling has always been that almost meditative time on the saddle when your mind gets to wander and you slowly sort things out. When we were still living in Long Beach, I would commute to work by bike, and that half-hour to and from work every day was time that I could decompress from my day and plan new projects. Now that we’re on this journey, that saddle time has been extended to days (instead of merely minutes), and the amount of thinking that I’ve been able to do is pretty incredible.

For some people, that may sound terrible… hours on end of being in your own head, pondering life… but for me, it’s truly delightful, and it has enabled me to come to a number of understandings over the past few months.

1. To start with, I’ve come to realize just how capable I truly am. When you sit at a computer, day in and day out, under flourescent lighting, you can forget how much you’re actually able to do, instead thinking about your typing proficiency or your place in a big bureaucracy. There’s the physical ability to literally push a 130-pound bike, yes, but there’s also the other abilities to meet new people and strike up a conversation, read maps and navigate a direction, figure out how to make a healthy dinner from the selection at a mini-mart, and be okay with the constant changes and general not knowing what comes next. After almost five months on the road, I look back at everything that we have done, and I’m impressed. Not only do I feel that I have earned the respect of people I look up to, but I have managed to earn some self-respect as well.

2. Then, there’s all the nitty-gritty of managing the not knowing what’s ahead. I mentioned it above, but it really deserves its own paragraph, because it’s an incredibly hard thing to learn. Even with all of the recent focus on “going with the flow” and learning to “be in the moment,” I don’t think it comes naturally to us, especially in our modern world. So, it’s been a long process to figure it out. Recently, I’ve begun to notice the way that I can react defensively when we don’t stick with a plan we’ve made. There’s a tug of frustration to just do what we’d talked about, even if it was never set in stone. ‘Stay another day at the Salton Sea? But… we were going to get rolling again!’ It’s a quick reaction, but I’ve been learning how to notice when it happens. And then I very consciously do the exact opposite of the reaction. I’m not talking about going against a gut feeling. Instead, I’m talking about recognizing my own tendency to not be as open as possible to change or new experiences, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone in order to get the most out of this trip. So far, every time I’ve successfully let go of my grip on a plan and just gone ahead with whatever new possibility has popped up, I’ve been thrilled by what happens.

3. It’s okay to not talk all the time. Actually, it wasn’t until we stayed with Jeanne at Two Paws Up, and had a great conversation about traveling, that I realized this (after months of feeling frustrated by the quietness). Jeanne had simply pointed out how she had once learned that, when you’re traveling with someone every day and seeing the same things, there’s nothing to really share at the end of the day. I am coming to understand just how much of a social person I truly am, and it has been hard for me to have evenings in camp when Russ and I don’t have wildly deep and long conversations. We do have these conversations, but not all the time. And there’s only so much that one person saw on the day’s ride that the other did not. Which means that we have a fair amount of quiet time between us. And I’m learning to be okay with it. Which then opens up the understanding that we need to seek out social contact with other people in order to not go quietly crazy or get frustratingly mad at each other. And this sort of new contact with new people is always so much more enriching and fun than re-hashing small ideas again and again between ourselves. And I think I am becoming less of a loner.

4. Which brings me to the ironic flip-side… I really do enjoy watching TV. After years of trying to wean myself from watching a lot of TV, and the past few months of not having access, I find myself laughing at the fact that one of the things I miss the most is the ability to just sit down and veg out. When we pony up for a hotel room, we rarely use it as an opportunity to go out on the town, instead opting to turn on the cable and turn off our brains. (But, please, don’t think any less of us.)

5. This journey is so very much more than just a cycling excursion. And the miles that we log are almost secondary to everything else that we are learning and experiencing. We have found kindred spirits in every part of the country we have so far traveled through, we have stumbled onto dozens of examples of how to live a good life without buying into the cubicle model, we are growing in ourselves and what we believe in and want for our lives. The bicycle is proving to be more of a tool than a part of the destination. And, yet, somehow, doing this journey on a bicycle attracts others to us in a way that a car or RV could not.

We are just a few short days away from a new year, so my head is full of goals for 2010. There is so much to look forward to… and I am beyond grateful to have so many people with which to share this journey (and these lessons).