Before you do anything, you have to decide to do it. A decision is not a static thing. You have many opportunities to decide whether you want to keep doing that thing or not. In fact, you have infinite opportunities, because at any one of the infinite moments in time you can decide to keep doing that thing, or stop doing that thing. Often, between the beginning of a task and the end of a task I will forget why I wanted to do that task in the first place. Or perhaps a more interesting task comes along and I choose to do that task instead of finishing the first task. Or perhaps I have bad luck and it seems like the task isn’t worth the effort it’s taking.
On Thursday night, I decided that I would get to Florence, Oregon before 10pm. I decided that again on Friday morning. I had no idea about how I would do it. I didn’t have a nutrition plan, or a goal pace, or an odometer. That didn’t matter, because I had decided that I would do it.
I set out in the cold morning. The nearly full moon lingered in the sky. I reached Oregon City by 7am without even one incident of snakebite or cholera. Every 10 miles or so I checked my phones maps to make sure I was still on the correct route. Today I was not going to fuck around with directions. Mists hung over the vineyards on the Oregon Countryside. I was going the right direction, so I was able to return to my thoughts.
Everything we do in life starts with some sort of decision. You decide to keep doing something, or you decide to stop doing something, or you decide to do something else. Sometimes, if you have a bigger long-term goal, not reaching a short term goal makes sense. For instance, I wanted to get through Salem by 10am, but I stopped for a sandwich and a donut at a café and I ended up helping an old lady with her new ipad and writing a blog post for an hour and a half. If I hadn’t done these things I might not have had the morale or the stamina to continue.
Some people are very good at making the same decisions over and over. We praise these people as “determined.” These are the people who make their ideas come to life because they act and then they follow through.
This is a macabre example, but the Donner party was determined. At least some of them were. They had decided that they were going to get to California, so they kept going, despite how late it was in the fall. And once they were trapped, they resorted to cannibalism because they were determined to survive. Oftentimes, unforeseen circumstances, or bad luck, can reverse our decisions. Often, we have conscious or unconscious lines that we will not cross in our determination. I had decided that I would get to Florence, but one of my unconscious boundaries was that I would not continue if I had to eat humans. Don’t worry, this is not a story of cannibalism in that sense.
I think that the people who we praise as “determined” can sometimes also be the people who have the loosest boundaries for what they will do to succeed. They may not realize it when they dream their dream, but when something gets in the way of their dream – when they have to fire a good employee because they can hire someone else at a lower wage, when they have to use ingredients that aren’t ethically sourced, or when they have to have to make shoddier gadgets because their shareholders want higher margins – they don’t think twice about it. They have their goal, and they are going to reach it no matter what. Whenever any of us goes after our dreams, we are faced with this type of decision. Often, the people who succeed at making their dreams come true are psychopaths. They don’t mind throwing someone under the train for the sake of their dreams. And the kind-hearted people? They are just dreamers. They don’t believe in breaking eggs, so they don’t make omelettes.
In today’s world, we are obsessed with speed. When we are trying to do something, and someone else does it faster, it can be discouraging. Business people talk about the advantages of being “first-to-market.” If you only care about where you are going and not how you get there, you can cut corners and get there faster. But that is the difference between a power boat trip and a cruise on a sailboat. How you get somewhere still does matter. Otherwise, I would have flown to San Francisco.
I’d like to believe that the world is still a place where kind people can achieve their dreams and be recognized by others as being achievers. I’d like to think that people who keep their determination in an ethical check and cooperate with others to reach their goals will be more respected than the highly competitive self-promoters.
I did achieve my goal that day, and I don’t think I hurt anyone except for a few hapless flies who flew into my open mouth. The roads were smooth and flat, and the wind was at my back. It was a cyclists’ dream. The last stretch was along the Eugene-Florence Highway. There is nothing along that road, not even a gas station. Finally, 33 miles from Florence, I found a farm that sold pastries and old-fashioned sodas. I drank a Mountain Dew and ate a muffin. The grandmother who sold them to me was concerned that I would be riding in the dark. So I took off again, trying to beat the sunset by riding towards it. I was surrounded by tall pine trees, and the air smelled wild. Giant RVs pulling trailers filled with dirt bikes drove past me. Although I cursed myself to ride faster, there was nothing I could do to keep the sun from setting. It sank behind the trees, and I was surrounded by dark and occasional car headlights. Thankfully, the margin of the road had grown so that I had my own lane to ride in. The only time it disappeared was when I had to go through a tunnel. Knowing that this might be the last thing I ever did, I pushed the bike signal on the tunnel and rode in. The worst thing about being hit by a car in a tunnel would be the fact that I wouldn’t see it coming. I hate the idea of not being able to face my death.
I didn’t die (obviously). I made it through the tunnel, and then I followed the dark, forest road for another 20 miles. The air smelled wild, like pine trees and salt. The darkness was total, and except for the sound of frogs, it was silent. At last I reached the welcoming lights of Florence. I sat at a gas station and called Matt, my couchsurf host, to let him know I was there. I think I may have been delirious. I had done it. I had ridden 176 miles in one day by myself carrying all my own gear. Matt offered to come pick me up. I think he noted the tone of delirium in my voice. He offered me my own room, a bowl of lo mein and a hot shower. I am eternally grateful.