A constant theme of this website, and in particular the Motivation Monday posts, is “pay it forward.” I’m conscious of how much I owe to others, and I try to pay forward when and where I can. I’ve been the recipient of favors from the first few months of my transformation from potato to potential. I’ve been taken rowing, been invited to bike rides, been lead up mountains, hosted in Ohio and New York and Florida, and…. well, I’m a very fortunate man.
Most importantly, in January 2007 a complete stranger volunteered to teach me to ride a bicycle. I’d never learned how to as a child, and having lost a third of my body weight I was eager to try. I’d purchased a bike, and been on one ride that ended when a mailbox jumped in front of me. (Pennsylvania did not and does not have a leash law for mailboxes, alas.)
A brief exchange on a long-gone web forum led to my meeting Dan in Valley Forge on a warm Saturday in early January. Like many people, he wasn’t prepared for my clinically accurate assessment of my limitations and lack of experience. (Too often people assume I’m being modest or indulging in hyperbole when I list shortcomings. ) I could barely balance, and at one point I stopped suddenly and sent 250 pounds of rider and 2000 dollars worth of Cannondale onto the pavement. Dan knew how to fall and both he and the bike were unscathed. Our session ended at that point, although Dan gave me some general advice to follow up.
But the most important thing he gave me was his email address, and the offer to help me in the future. I took up the offer eagerly. As we went our separate ways back then, we had very different thoughts. I felt embarrassed and vowed to do better; and Dan later told me all he could think was “just what did I get myself into?”
What we both got into was my participating in the outdoors to a degree I couldn’t have imagined. Dan met me for a hike the following week, and afterward suggested I join the bicycle team he led in the MS City to Shore ride. With that vote of confidence I was supercharged. By the end of March I was up to riding 20 miles in a day. My first fifty mile day was in June; my first metric century (a 100 kilometer ride) was in July. In addition I was hiking and even swimming when I wasn’t riding. It wasn’t about weight loss, although that happened too. It was my grabbing the outdoors with both hands.
Finally, after ten months of learning to ride a bike, I rode 100 miles from Cherry Hill to Ocean City, New Jersey. It took me forever; despite all that work, I remained balance-challenged and structurally compromised. But I did it, and it remains the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The photo below is at the 20 mile rest stop, and is my only photo from the ride. Its fitting my coach and friend Dan is beside me. And eight years later we are still friends.
I didn’t share this story because it makes a good blog post, although there’s that too. I’m asking everyone who reads this post to think back on the people who have helped them in the outdoors – the people who took you camping as a child, the guys who led you on your first serious hike, the women who invited you to ride with them…. we all had people in our lives who helped us. Now, I’m asking you to pay it forward.
A Taste For The Woods isn’t just a home for my writing. Its a community of writers and readers who believe, and passionately believe, that the outdoors is for everyone. My friend Dan Glass often quotes Edward Abbey’s statement that the outdoors is the “right and privilege of every free American.” Not everyone knows they have that right. I didn’t. Dan the cyclist helped me find it.
In 2015 lets share those rights and privileges. Your kids are spending too much time playing Angry Birds? Take them to see real ones. You have a coworker who is struggling with her weight and doesn’t want to go outside? Invite her for a walk. Your neighbor is stressed with work? Meet over the fence and suggest he get the bike out of the garage for a ride with you. You have a friend with a challenge? Help them meet that challenge in the outdoors. Don’t talk of distance or speed or the details of perfection that outdoor people get hung up on. Wear cotton for your hike or walk, and street clothes and sneakers for your bike ride. They can go as far as they like in pursuit of their new interest, because the outdoors is for everyone.
In doing this, by reaching out and sharing your passion for the natural world, you are paying forward my work on A Taste For The Woods. And by doing so you are repaying me a thousandfold for my work here. So lets make this happen. Spread the word and share the joy. And, if you like, share the stories of those meetings and hikes and swims and snowboarding and bike rides on the A Taste For The Woods Facebook group. Because we are all fortunate, and all have things we can pay forward.