“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.
Shawn February 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm
Well said… well said. Thanks for the poignant description of your experiences.
George February 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm
Now there’s a nice line, “…we are in the large classroom of Life sitting in the front desk.”
Thanks for the blog.
Brian February 18, 2010 at 6:04 pm
Russ & Laura,
Thank you for continuing to share. And not just the pretty scenery, but the mental interplay of questions one can probably never answer with full confidence.
As someone that’s planning my own voyage, though admittedly as an escape from a life I wish to no longer associate myself with, I find great value in hearing the less romantic side of the adventure, the occasional reality check (doesn’t everyone that has money think it’d be better without) and the reaffirmation of mankind by way of the connections you’re making with some great people on your journey. You’ll surely never say “I wish I would have” and probably always say “I’m glad we did.”
Yoshiyahu February 18, 2010 at 6:05 pm
This reminds me of the Ortolan story on This American Life (it’s on episode 343) where writer Michael Paterniti describes eating Ortolan (where you eat the entire bird, which has been drowned in cognac, while holding a napkin over your head).
This is from his written account in Esquire:
“Here’s what I taste: Yes, quidbits of meat and organs; the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth. It takes time. I’m forced to chew and chew again and again, for what seems like three days. And what happens after chewing for this long–as the mouth full of taste buds and glands does its work—is that I fall into a trance. I don’t taste anything anymore, cease to exist as anything but taste itself.
And that’s where I want to stay–but then can’t because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves. When I think about forcing them down my throat, a wave of nausea passes through me. And that’s when, with great difficulty, I swallow everything.”
On the This American Life segment, he talks about how hard it is to eat regular meals after this:
Michael Paterniti: it takes a lot of energy and concentration when you really taste a meal. it takes concentration, and silence…
Ira Glass: it’s almost as if you are saying if we were really awake to what the world was giving us in a given meal, it would be hard to eat the meal every single time.
Paterniti: Yeah, I think we would, I feel we would age really quickly.
Glass: But you’re saying that we have to deaden ourselves in order to live.
Paterniti: I think we do; I don’t think we make enough time to eat, and if we haven’t made enough time to eat, then it’s better not to taste what we are eating. It’s easier.
So yeah. I think it’s just part of our biology that, in order to be totally present at any one time, we have to be totally displaced, mostly NOT there, most of the rest of the time.
ha1ku February 18, 2010 at 6:20 pm
One of my best motivators for a ride is knowing that a meal is waiting for me at the destination 🙂
I also want to comment that your stories are getting better and better over time. I think this might have to do with perhaps a transformation that you two are experiencing on your journey.
Russ February 18, 2010 at 8:03 pm
Yoshiyahu, that’s SO strange how you brought that TAL story up. That is one of my all time favorite TAL episodes 🙂
Yes…definitely like that
Dustin February 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm
If your heading through Marathon, TX and wanting to a have the feel of South Congress in Austin a little early you should think about staying at – http://www.evesgarden.org/
Rick Norman February 20, 2010 at 6:01 am
I just recently have been reading your wonderful blog. I saw it in the online Current-Argus and have followed it since. I saw your video Thrus. night from Van Horn; enjoyed it! I am sharing your journey with my 7th grade students here in Texas and they also love it. You are an inspiration, maybe even more so than the Winter Olympics so am very happy for you both!
Missy MacDonald February 20, 2010 at 9:52 pm
hi russ and laura… great post. i have been catching up on your travels when i can. this one i particularly enjoyed as it brings back so many of my thoughts from our tour on life and choices, how the mind and attitude plays into our perception of suffering in all it’s varying degrees. thanks for putting it into words so well. happy travels and be safe and well, missy
Kim Roser February 21, 2010 at 9:28 am
Thank for sharing the not-so-pleasant realities of your journey. Those of us who fantasize about escaping our realities rarely think about the unpleasant parts (or can imagine them).
Russ February 21, 2010 at 7:26 pm
Hey there Missy! Hope things are going well there in Eugene. We like to look back at the photos of you guys and remember warmer times!
It is amazing how much suffering is mental as well as physical. It’s amazing when we look back at the beginning of our trip. We’ve certainly gotten a little stronger, but our tolerance for discomfort has increased as well 🙂
Thanks again for hosting us and hope Isadora is doing well.
Brandon March 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm
“aren’t we living the dream?”
If that’s a jar of Nutella in her hand, then I’d say yes, yes you are.
The Ultimate Simple Living Guide: 95 Rockin’ Posts April 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm
[…] 21 Reasons You Should Quit Your Day Job And Travel The World 59. The Great Fear 60. “D” is for Displacement61. 10 Minimalist Travel Tips62. Simplicity on a Bike63. What I Have Learned on The Road64. Rest and […]
Ramona Marks February 26, 2011 at 12:32 pm
Part of the reason the good is so good, is because we know what the bad is like, too.
We sing while we ride tough spots. That can be really hard on hills, but great in the rain or wind. One of my suggestions to aspiring bike tourists is to learn some songs together, so you can sing when it’s tough. Sometimes one of us will sing, sometimes the other, sometimes both.
Or I count in German. That works wonders for hills. When I get to five – funf – Joshua inevitably says ‘that’s not a real word!!!’
John October 17, 2020 at 8:00 am
I am just catching up on your journey, 10 years later, and I cant stop binge reading. Amazing posts, and I especially love introspective one.
Some links to the pictures and videos in earlier posts seem to have disappeared, which you may want to address, as I can see this blog becoming am historical artifact to would be adventurers like myself. Can’t wait to discover what you have seen and what you have learned about yourselves.
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I was just having a conversation about this with a co-worker.
He rides a bike for enjoyment and will take rides up hills and doesn’t want to suffer.
I argue that you get more enjoyment from the suffering. It is the suffering that makes you realize what you have done.
Embrace the suffering!