My First Partial Bike Commute: Trial and Error

My alarm is awful. I’ve worked to slowly get used to waking up as peacefully as possible, and I now wake up to one of my favorite Bach pieces, Aria by Simone Dinnerstein on almost minimum volume. But at 5:45am, even an angles song would piss me off.

This was the first morning I would try bike (partially) to work! The night before I planned everything. I was already wearing my base later (a merino wool long sleeve, some long johns, and the best travel underwear ever!), the water was measured and ready to start some great local coffee, my tire pressure was perfect, and my lunch was ready to be thrown in the bag with my neatly folded office clothes!

That smile wouldn't last to long though :(

That smile wouldn’t last to long though 😦

Coffee down, banana ate, and layers applied, I stepped out into the 42ºF morning. It was drizzling, and my hands were cold (I lost my gloves camping a few weeks ago >:8), and I had developed a sore throat, cough, and the sniffles during the night, but I wasn’t going to let any of these excuses stop me! I put the rubber to the metal and began my first ever commute!

3 miles later I was just about to exit town. I was alread a quarter of the way there and ready for anything. Traffic was light at 6:15am, and the rain wasn’t so bad either. The street lamps had lit my way for a time, but soon they would become few and far between. Then it happened: my head light went out…

I forgot to charge the damn headlight.

I had faced down every obstacle that morning. The cold. A cold. The rain. The early morning. Everything. But I couldn’t ride in the dark.  Even if I could see (which I couldn’t) cars entering the highway couldn’t see me. Irritated, I turned around. Pulling in I scared my wife half to death as she wondered from the shower what the noises were as I dragged my bike into the house, defeated, and slightly peeved. My first commute had dissolved to mere 6 mile workout.

But today was different. Still fighting a cold, I got up, made another pot of coffee, packed another lunch, and made a quick steak and eggs breakfast. As I tied my shoes, my pups wished me luck in a variety of ways. Zoey licked my shoes and pawed at my knee; Java, rubbed her butt on the floor. I am truly loved.

Java left, Zoey Right.  The best cheerleaders a guy could ask for!

Java left, Zoey Right. The best cheerleaders a guy could ask for!

When I stepped outside today the weather was a great 48ºF !  That’s not sarcasm, only 6 degrees difference and suddenly my hands aren’t cold anymore. There were only a few clouds in the sky and the moon shined bright. Compared to yesterday, these were perfect conditions!

I had to tackle 3 large hills on my way, but I was rewarded on the last one with a speed I’ve never experienced on a bike before. As I raced the sun to the Buckhead MARTA station, I abandoned my workout playlist (a J-Pop album that is both upbeat and allows me to practice listening to Japanese!) to enjoy the wind, occasional bird song, and the sound of panting progress!

Arriving in Buckhead via Bike

Goooooood morning Buckhead!

Just short of 12 miles and a tad over an hour later, I rode into the station sweaty and alive. I wanted to talk to everyone I passed, but most were still asleep; they had barely made it this far, better to not disturb them. That’s OK, don’t mind the crazy person smiling to himself, he’s going to be just fine.  He’s going to be better!

Learn Japanese, My 100th Kanji

The fact that people can communicate in multiple languages has always left me with a sense of awe.  But once I started traveling internationally, I felt quite lazy when I realized how many other people had taken on the huge challenge or learning English as a second language, while I was just sat around butchering it; much less learning any other language. 

To top it off where I’m from (southern US), our culture resists language learning of any kind, and immigrants are expected to “learn the language before they come here.”  Often times these comments go so far as to imply that someone who doesn’t speak perfect English must be unintelligent.  Needless to say I was never a part of this camp, but now that I’ve learned some Japanese I realize just how bright and dedicated a person has to be in order to convey any thought, no matter how small or broken, in another language.

Unfortunately for myself however, I choose the language that interested me most, but was also ranked 5th hardest language to learn for native English speakers.  I would be venturing into a realm where neither letters nor spaces between words existed.  A place where I would have to learn not just another alphabet, but two plus a pictorial one with thousands of unique characters and conjugations. 

And that third one is pretty scary.  Take for instance the word for “today”, “kyou” pronounce “key-yo” and looks like 今日.  You can write this word correctly in 2 different ways, one with kanji as shown, and one with hiragana as such きょう.  In kanji form however, the word is the summation of two separate characters that when used separately sound neither like “key” or “yo” but instead are “ima” 今 and “nichi” 日 (“nichi” can also be pronouced “hee”).  To illustrate, imagine if the word “homeland” when split apart was pronounced “origin place” but was still spelled as “home land.” Yeah, this goal is going to be a hard one, but arn’t they all?

But I’m making progress.  I started getting pretty serious with Rosetta Stone in January of last year, while I prepared for my trip to Tokyo.  I studied using RS and made friends online to practice language exchange as well.  This got my through Tokyo with ease (but wasn’t actually needed to be honest), and after just three months, and armed with a dictonary app on my phone, I was conversing over dinner with a friends cousin who didn’t speak English short of a few words.  Upon returning home however, I promptly abandoned my studies.

Then several months later, I decided to finally tackle what I had been avoiding: kanji, the pictorial alphabet that has thousands of symbols and at least two different ways to read/say each one.  So I bought a book on November 11th, 2013 entitled “Reading Japanese,” and published by Yale back in the 70’s.  Since then every day I’ve been making slow progress through the book, and now, over 3 months later I hit a big milestone.  I can not only fluently read and write both syllabic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) but also 100 kanji! 

As of 3/13/14 I've copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book!

As of 3/13/14 I’ve copied by hand about 168 pages of 546 page text book! Also, if you notice, there’s another goal lurking in the background 😀

Yes, this is only a small, miniscule step in the process.  I have a very long way to go (1900 more to be specific).  But with 100 kanji under my belt, I’m immensely excited, and have a huge boost in confidence that I can actually achieve this goal.  My newly formed routine is practically set in stone at this point.  Every morning I arrive at work an hour early and copy new kanji, example sentences and reading drills.  I haven’t missed a day where I don’t write something or read something in Japanese and as such, I look very forward to it each morning.  I doubt I’d ever be successful if I didn’t.

In the next few weeks I’ll start posting entries of my individual study sessions, realizations, and milestones!  Any motivation or words of wisdom will be greatly appreciated :D.

Bike to work, the 7 mile mark!

Psshh, the source for this said this is a girls only poster! Well too bad :P

I want to be able to bike to work.  But as a consultant, it’s rare that I’m ever actually in my home office (5 miles from home), and instead find myself at a client site much further away.  But that won’t stop me this time.  However, the distance may slow me down just a bit… It’s 16 miles each way!

So I’ve broken this seemingly impossible goal (to go from 0 miles a year to 32 miles a day via bicycle) down into stages.  I’ll ride each day, and little by little increase the distance until I hit the numbers I’m aiming for.  And this week I hit a great mile stone, 7 miles in 40 minutes!  At this rate I’ll be at work in an hour and about 2 hrs… Still, it’s progress. 

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

My new bike, with only 8 miles on it at time of photo!

At 26, I’ve never walked, ran, or biked a distance of 7 miles in my life.  In fact, since owning it I’ve riden 4 times.  I’m slowly trying to gauge where max distance is over time, hopefully minimizing the chance for injury by easing into it as well as learning the bike itself.  So far each ride has left me pretty tired, and my legs feeling like half set jello, but there has yet to be any intense soreness the day after.  I am however aware of the strain I’m putting on my body, and have no intention of jumping up several miles each run.  Which leads me to my first biking tip ever: creating a distance menu!

The Menu

First I started with a chart with 2 columns, one labeled ‘Miles’ and the other ‘Route’.  I then added rows from 1 to 16 with half mile increments starting after 9 miles (since I’m guessing I’ll have to slow my progression about that distance).  Each route starts and ends at my home, and the chart was emailed to my phone for quick reference.  When I’m walking out the door, I can decide how I feel that day and have a quick route planned out to match.  So if the Sun is going down and I only want a brief ride in I can follow the route for 2 miles and be all set!  In a few days I’ll try my 8 mile route when I think I’m ready.

Building Your Routes

Using routebuilder.org  I was able to easily click my way across a google map and get a great estimate on the distance.  It took me about an hour or two to map everything out (I have over 16 routes mapped after all), but now that I have them all mapped out it’s a peice of cake.  Each route starts and ends at my house, and some share the same first few starting streets to speed up the route mapping process as well as give me  some options should I change my mind early on.  The site offers a saving feature, but if you don’t start over each time it will overwrite the last one, so I just gave up and built a simple route reference system.

Route Shorthand

I used the following format for jotting down my routes so that I could easily read it on my iPhone:

(L)COBB-(R)PEACHTREE SE-(R)XMPLSTRT…

Since all my routes start at home, I skip the first road most times to save space.  In this example I turn left onto Cobb Parkway, then right onto Peachtree St SE, and finally right on to Example Street.  The first time you try a longer route, you may need to check half way through, but after a while you’ll easily remember the path you plan to follow with a quick glance.  I usually try to leave out vowels or use nicknames for really popular streets with long names. Like PTREE for Peachtree.

Mix it up!

I decided to try and get each route to take me somewhere new.  If I want to do 3 miles, I’m not planning on riding the 1 mile route 3 times, which would be far too boring.  Instead, I want to ride the 3 mile route, and if I’m in the mood can ride the 1 mile route to top it off at the end.

Let’s Ride!

After that it’s back to peddlin’.  For now I’m focusing on slowly working my way up to that magic 16 number.  But first on my list is mile 11, because that’s the distance to the closest train station from my house.  Thus allowing me to bike there, and ride the last few miles on the train, which should be a great sub goal!  Wish me luck!

My Goal List: 2014-2015

Below is a list of everything I am currently working on, with the longest running goal extending through May 2015.  Many are very easy, and it is my belief that by sprinkling many easy and attainable goals that compliment your bigger ones, you’ll keep a steady stream of success flowing that builds your confidence to the bigger, seemingly impossible ones. 

In order to motivate you, and keep myself accountable, this list will become the table of contents for the next several months of my life.  I’ll be updating the blog often with statuses and lessons learned for each goal and then linking to them here.

Building the List

This list started with 1 goal.  And it was a big one: to travel around the world with my wife on a RTW ticket.  I accomplished this goal last year by raising the total number of points necessary for 2 tickets to travel 35,000 miles around the globe.  But, we can’t leave until March or April of 2015, so I have lots of time to prepare as well as become increasingly impatient.  This list was built around preparing for that goal, and while it may seem like a stretch at times, each one plays a small part in it.  Also, all them work together to make sure I’m not obsessing over the RTW ticket every day J.  So what do you want to do in a year or two from now? Solidify that goal by setting smaller ones that build up to it.

My Daily Baseline

26 years old as of this year.  Married for 2 years, so all the same responsibilities that come with that.  I own 2 dogs, have a mortgage, and am a consultant from 9-5 Mon-Fri and almost never get to work from home.  For the first 2 years of my career I was so exhausted after work I literally added 20+ pounds as I became addicted to eating out and watching TV every day for 2 years.  Over the course of 13 months, my wife (also a consultant) and I might have cooked 15 meals at home.  This horrible lifestyle lead to two very unmotivated people, so tired from being tired that we spent most weekends laying around the house as well.  Then I decided to change that! And thus the list was born.  So no, I’m not a full time blogger, free to roam the world and get paid to gloat about it.  I’ve just decided that I’m not going to let 40+ hours a week define my whole life!

The List

  • Read More
    • Finish The Leadership Moment by Michael Useem
    • Find a read a good stategy book about Go
  • Win a game of Go against ‘sensei’ (buddy who taught me how to play)
  • Take 30 cold showers
  • Bike to and from work (32 miles round trip)
    • 11 mile circle route
    • Bike to closest train station (11.3 miles)
    • Bike to and from closest train station (22.6 miles)
    • Bike to work (16 miles)
    • Bike to work and from train station (27.3 miles)
    • Bike to and from work (32 miles)
  • Don’t come in last in two 5k’s
    • Atlanta Ridiculous Obstacle Course 5k
    • Atlanta Color Vibe Run 5k
  • Learn to read and write basic Japanese
    • 46 Hiragana
    • 46 Katakana
    • 425 kanji
  • Learn to lead Alaskan glacier expeditions
    • Reduce daily food consumption
    • Leverage bike commute to increase endurance
    • Complete paperwork/payments/medical
    • Procure equipment
    • Arrange flights
  • Increase social opportunities
    • Increase SABG Meetup group activity
    • Cultivate Reddit Atlanta FB group
    • Checkout backpacking meetup group
  • Lose weight/save money for RTW
    • Eat more homemade food
    • Drink homebrew or free beer only
    • Save $10k
  • Travel around the world for 2 months
    • Visit friends in Germany
    • Visit Thailand, Istanbul, Norway, etc
    • Go on a safari
    • Sleep in an ocean hut in Maldives
    • Live in Japan for 3+ weeks
    • Camp in other countries
  • Have more Weekend vacations
  • Learn Mindfulness Meditation

Quitting Isn’t Just For Losers

I drew this back and college, and it sold for more than any other piece I ever made, $800:

About a semester or so later, I quit drawing.  It was time for something new.

Too often we’re told to that we should figure out what we want to do with our lives early, and then do it forever.  According to the last generation, we should leave school, take a job, and stay there for 40 years or more.  According to this one, if you want to start a blog the typical advice is to find a niche and only write about that one topic for a long as possible.  For the most part anywhere you look, the average word of wisdom is to choose one thing and never look back.  But I disagree.

Let’s explore the idea of focusing on one thing for a bit.  Professional sports and rock stars are a good example.  You can’t really expect to become either if you spread your focus across too many things.  It’s not often that you become a pro basketball player and cure a disease at the same time.  So if your goal is stardom, to be the best of the best, then yes, set your path early, and never look back.

But how likely is it that you will become a professional athlete?  Cure cancer? Win a Nobel Prize? I’m not trying to discourage you, I’m simply asking:

Is your goal to earn one really big gold medal? 

For the average person, I don’t think it is. So why is it that the average person heads the advice that best suits someone with such a specific goal? 

I’m a quitter– not because I fear difficult things or failure, but because I have no desire to win a gold medal in any particular field.  I love the rush of starting something new, difficult, and exciting.  I love that feeling of learning, stumbling, and then eventually succeeding.    But eventually, I get to a point where I have to make a decision.  Do I continue onward, honing this particular craft to perfection?  Do I spend thousands of hours perfecting the subtleties involved, things that only other professionals would notice and appreciate?  Do I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to this one thing, or do I go find another mountain to climb?  One that will teach me a little bit more about who I am, and what the world has to offer?

Each time I become pretty good at something, a magical thing happens.  I receive an all access pass to a whole new room of people to meet.  I spent years learning to draw, filling exhibitions with my work, and earning spots in highly competitive gallery shows.  I now have a lifetime pass to the art community, and whenever I stumble across a charcoal or pencil artist I can connect with them in a way only another artists can.  Same goes for anyone having gone through business school, or learned a second language.  Am I a world famous artist? No, but would I have become one if I stayed the course? Probably not, if we’re being honest.  Instead, I decided to follow another path.  One that would allow me to me more people.  And when I get to that all import crossroad again, I’ll likely change direction again.

Hopefully I’ll stumble across your profession one day, and we can chat at length about it.

The One Phrase That Prevents You From Reaching Your Goals.

I meet people all the time who say they wish they could travel as much as me.  I used to want to help them reach that goal, offering tips and advice on how to get started, but would quickly run into the “I can’t” road block.  After countless attempts at clearing it, pushing for a real answer, or helping them explore their excuses, it was clear.  They really don’t want to travel.  Or learn a second language. Or do anything that won’t come about as a result of their currently formed habits.  They want to day-dream a little, and then go back to what they were doing yesterday, so that they can do it again tomorrow.  And that’s fine.  But don’t lie about it. And if you’re not lying, and you really do want to do something more, then the first step is to let go of “I can’t.”

QCHX7

The worst part about “I can’t,” isn’t that it’s an excuse, admission of defeat, or just plain negative.  The true danger is that it’s habit forming.  You start off slowly.  Maybe just one or two a week, when you feel a little extra stressed from work.  Then you start using it when you’re happy too, and can’t be bothered with anything that’s not relaxing to you.  Before too long, you’re a full on addict.  You can’t walk to the store. You can’t learn a new language. You can’t understand politics. You can’t. So you won’t. Ever.

So what do you do? Quit cold turkey?  Try to emulate Jim Carrey from Yes Man?  Well, not exactly.  Bouncing from one extreme to the other isn’t going to do you any good.  Instead, you should first learn to balance out the “can’t” with “cans”.  Because your ability to find an alternative will show you just how important it really is to you.  Each time you can’t find an alternative solution, you’re in fact saying “It’s not that I can’t, I don’t want to.”

But what if you physically cannot do something? It happens.  A few weeks ago I went camping.  On the hike back (3 miles or so) I got a pretty bad pain in both my feet.  Since they were both hurting in the same place (outside edge, near my heel and ankle), I assumed they were just sore from being out of shape.  As the pain increase and lasted over a week however, I realized it was something more.  It was likely that I developed a form of tendonitis in both feet.  When I attempted a jog a few days later, the pain became much worse, and I found myself limping for several days.

So no, I can’t run, which is quite a predicament for someone preparing for multiple 5k’s.  But immediately after hearing the “can’t” on my breath, I decided I needed a “can” to balance it out.  It didn’t come to my right away, but I kept searching for a few days.  Then, I picked up spinning and bicycling.  Neither required weight to be placed on my heel, and thus I found a way to train, without further injuring myself.  And that’s a big indicator that what I have is a goal, and not a wish.  A wish is very easily pushed to the side, tagged with labels such as “I can’t” and “Someday.”  But a goal can’t be bothered with such puny roadblocks, there holes to be dug, ladders to be raised, or roundabouts to be found.

 GGXWM0B

So if you catch a whiff of “I can’t” on your breath, realize that you have only a few moments to balance it out.  Wait too long and you just be one step closer to never doing any of the things you truly want to do.  And as you get used to not saying those dreaded words, you’ll suddenly realize just how often those around you do.  Try not to breath in that second hand smoke!

A Different Kind of Motivational Music

SunnyMountainDesktop

I love motivation-porn.  Give me 100 pictures of something epic (mountain peak, ocean, etc) with a bolded font overlaid on each one and I’ll consume them faster than I normally read anything.  And it’s probably because of this rapid consumption that none of them truly stick with me.  Sure I’ll get that surge of inspiration, but like any other junkie, I immediately just start looking for my next fix.  The next one liner that will make me feel invincible!

But there are a few ‘one liners’ that do stick with me, and they didn’t come wrapped up in a thick black border or on top of an Instagram photo.  No, these come from some new-to-me songs that have become cherished favorites, songs that on first listen don’t sound like your typical source of motivation, and defintily not the kind for prepping to run in a 5K.  So I thought I’d share them with you, sans the Instagram photos.  Warning, you won’t find anything below that will get you pumped for your fastest run, but hopefully these will help you get up and decide a run today is worth it!

“I guess you are afraid of what everyone is made of”
      –St. Vincent, The Apocalypse Song

It should be noted that this song is actually not motivational at all.  In fact, it’s pretty widely understood that this song is about sex.  But hey, what’s wrong with distorting a little bit of art to get what you want out of it?  This line resonates with me because I’ve recently become much more aware of the fear that shadows so many peoples’ actions, including my own

Until recently I hadn’t noticed just how ubiquitous these fears are: the fear of failure, the fear of what awaits outside the comfort zone, and the fear that something will change.  No one admits to these fears at first.  But they’re there, that’s why they decided to change their major again, or to buy new shoes instead of the passport they’ve been meaning to get, or that their’s no point in networking with people.  But the fear of change, that’s the hardest one to overcome.  It’s the one that fuels the excuse generator and churns out disgusting muck such as “what’s the point?” or “definitly someday!”  These are the excuses that bubble up just before success, just as it peaks over the horizon and the only action needed is one of initiation, but then convince you to back down. On the surface, you turn away because you’ve rationalized its futility, ironically telling yourself that “‘nothing will change either way,” but in reality, you’re backing down because you fear that this little bit of success will change something.  And it will; it will show you what you’re made of.

“Damn you always treat me like a mountain, stranger.
Though I have never seen your shadows or fading lights.
I’m just a rock that you’ll be picking up through all your ages,
Always believing there’s a canyon for every blind…”
      -The Tallest Man on Earth, Bright Lanterns

Much like all of his songs, Bright Lanterns requires several plays to get everything out of it.  This song paints its own epic picture of the cycle that is mountain becoming a mole hill.  The protagonist essentially wakes up, having forgotten that his previous challenge/mountain has led him the current one.  He is unaware that this mountain, like the others, will also be climbed, becoming nothing more than another rock below his feet.  “A vision of a mountain you say? So where did it go?” illustrates that the last challenge is effectively non-existent, especially compared to this one.  It’s much more complex than that, and told beautifully, but my motivation comes from the mountain in this song.

Having taken it a bit literally, I always picture a never ending mountain with a series of plateaus looking like a stairway for a giant.  The next plateau being so high up, that it appears to be its own separate mountain peak, but once you summit, you find yourself faced with yet another.  What truly motivates me about this are the camps that I imagine at each plateau.  A large field filled with tents, and houses, where others have settled in.  This is where people build their comfort zones, staking their claim in a splendid meadow with a glorious view to remind them of how far they’ve climbed.  From here, they too can see the top of the next mountain, and convince themselves there is nothing beyond it, so “what’s the point,” of climbing further.  When I hear this song, I imagine myself standing at the base of the next ‘mountain,’ bags packed and ready to go.  I’ve left a lot of friends in their respective plateaus, but I’m really excited about the fiends I’ll make further up.

What songs/movies/art gets you going?  Are you tired of the meadow you’ve chosen?  Of find yourself turning a blind eye to what you could be?