Uncharted territory

Derek Sivers, you inspire me. You reminded me today to keep moving out the boundaries in order to make my world bigger, to expand my comfort zone. I read your post, Push, Push, Push, and I thought about all the things I’ve done lately to expand my horizons. It was a short session.

Yes, I dove through mud and scaled walls and leapt over fire last weekend in the Warrior Dash. But I’ve done it before.

Yes, I rode 190 miles on a bicycle over hill and dale through Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research. But I’ve done that before, too.

Those are all the recent highlights I can conjure, and they don’t amount to much because they no longer represent uncharted territory to me. After all, the whole point of pushing is to overcome the fear, to master the feat:

I love that when we push push push, we expand our comfort zone. Things that used to feel intimidating now are as comfortable as home. –Derek Sivers

The consequence of not pushing the boundaries, big or small, is not that my world stays the same. Actually, without continuing to push outward, the weight of the unexplored begins to pile up, and my world starts to collapse upon itself. It begins to shrink until I find myself confined in a tiny box.

Thankfully, that state is never permanent. ANYone can expand her world at ANY time. One of my grandmothers bought a computer and taught herself to use it when she was in her 70s. The other grandmother elected to undergo hip surgery and painful rehabilitation at age 98. An uncle elected to undergo a DNA test at age 65 and found his family, flying to meet them a continent and a language away.

Pushing limits doesn’t have to be grandiose. Granted, for someone who has a pretty small comfort zone, stretching it will look a lot different than it will for someone who regularly hurdles large obstacles, but continuing to expand the territory is all that really matters. Read a book that challenges your beliefs. Try a dish that would never make it to your table at home. Take a class. Learn a new skill. Make a new friend. Conquer a fear.

Over time, I believe that pushing your limits doesn’t get you out of your comfort zone. It actually expands it.

It’s time to get out of my rut.

P.S. PLEASE read Derek’s post. It’s one of his best. Here’s a bit of it to whet your appetite:

Push, push, push. Expanding your comfort zone.

2012-08-13

I’m 40 meters underwater. It’s getting cold and dark. It’s only the third dive in my life, but I’m taking the advanced training course, and the Caribbean teacher was a little reckless, dashing ahead, leaving me alone.

The next day I’m in a government office, answering an interview, raising my right hand, becoming a citizen of Dominica.

I’m in a Muslim Indian family’s house in Staten Island, washing my feet, with the Imam waiting for my conversion ceremony. Next week they will be my family in-law. The Muslim wedding will make her extended family happy. I’ve memorized the syllables I need to say. “Ash hadu alla ilaha illallah. Ash hadu anna muhammadar rasulullah.” READ THE REST HERE.

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Cleaning sunglasses

Ohboyohboyohboy.

I haven’t been able to write for a week, not for lack of time or topic, but because I haven’t been able to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head following my PMC ride. (In case you’ve forgotten what that is, click HERE for the facts, or HERE and HERE for the inspiration.) I’m finally able to eke something out, but I suspect this topic will be sneaking into my posts for some time to come.

I had planned for this to be my last PMC ride. The fundraising commitment is incredibly steep and the hours of long, lonely training rides have taken their toll on my psyche. I wanted to go out on a high note–one last, good ride–and I accomplished that. I had a great ride, both mentally and physically. I finished feeling full.

By the time I boarded the party boat, er, ferry back to Boston, I started having second thoughts. What if…what if I came back again?

So far, I’ve been able to rein myself in and withhold commitment until I come down from the endorphin high. It has gotten me thinking, though. Why, exactly, do I feel drawn to this ride? What keeps me and so many others coming back year after year?

For one thing, it is extremely well-organized. The staff has identified every possible rider need and takes pains to address each one. From road signs to police support to food and water to porta-johns to icy hot to music to dorm space to luggage transfer to beer at the finish, it magically gets done. As a rider, I don’t even give it a thought; that’s pretty amazing.

Then there are the volunteers. More than 3000 people work their you-know-whats off to keep us riding, and they’re just as committed as the riders. At one water stop, I saw an older man with limited mobility sitting between tables of fruit and power bars. When I moved closer, I heard him telling people to bring their sunglasses to him; he would clean them. And trust me, he was. He may not have been able to lug jugs of water or move boxes of yogurt, so he found the thing he COULD do and made his contribution; the amazing thing is that he’s not unique among his fellow volunteers. I find that kind of commitment overwhelming.

Finally, the spectators play a huge role in keeping people committed. From Sturbridge to Provincetown, the cacophony of sound rarely ceases. Cowbells, cheers, clapping, boomboxes, bagpipes, drums, whistles, and the ubiquitous thank-yous keep those pedals turning. This year, I again saw many signs that read I’m alive today because of you! I’m a survivor! and My daughter is 14 today because of you! (The latter was painted on the back window of an imposing black SUV that cruised part of the route to make sure we saw it.) Kids lined up to give us high fives as we rode, and the full complement of campers at the Cape Cod Sea Camp (Da Hedge) came out in force and greeted us with deafening cheers as we rode by. With “Thank you for riding!” bombarding me for 190 miles, I finished feeling like a rock star. Riders keep coming back because we’re left somehow believing we’ll let these people down if we don’t.

What finally became clear to me is that everyone has a role to play. This event would not be so successful without each of these groups of people. We all do what we can, and that’s what makes it great.

I don’t know if I’ll ride again next year, but I’m pretty sure my involvement with the PMC is not over. I have visions of renting a vacation house on the Cape during PMC weekend just so my kids and I can set up camp along US 6 and scream our support. Or maybe I’ll mix Gatorade in Wellfleet. Or direct traffic in Wareham. Or pass out ibuprofen in Bourne.

One person can make a difference. Look at what thousands of them together can do. Never underestimate your contribution to a cause, even if all you can do is clean sunglasses.

When the going gets tough

Tomorrow morning at 5:30 I will clip my shoes into my pedals and head toward the sea. For my third and final time, I will take the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge and wheel my bike across Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

When I finish the first day’s 110 miles, I will be spent. When I get on the bike at dark the next morning, the outline of the seat will be excruciating for the first several miles until the sharp pain becomes bearable. When I approach the finish in Provincetown, the wind will try to push me backward to where I started. When I crest the last hill and approach the 190th mile, I will choke back tears. The commitment, the effort, and the adventure will overwhelm me.

As I sit in my bed just hours before the ride begins, I already know these things. After all, I’ve done this twice before. I know it will be hard. I know it will be overwhelming. Most of all, I know it will make a difference.

Tonight at the opening ceremonies, I listened to story after story about cancer survivors. Sometimes they were the people stricken with the disease; sometimes they were the people left behind. Everyone suffers, and everyone deserves a fighting chance.

I also listened to the president of Dana Farber speak about all the ways the more than $330 million donated over the lifetime of this ride has helped move the research forward. Real ways. Very specific ways. Drugs that came to market specifically because of the funding provided by this ride. Doctors who were able to explore innovative therapies because these donations kept their labs in operation.

In the crowd, I saw a man missing a leg. I saw men and women who had beaten cancer. I saw parents who had lost children. I saw fighters who didn’t know what the results of their next PET scan would show. I saw a man fighting for a friend. I saw a woman whose son had survived but his father hadn’t. Every one of them will ride with me tomorrow. Every one of them has suffered in ways I can’t begin to imagine and hope I never have to. Every one of them is stronger than me.

That’s why I ride. That’s why I can’t quit when the going gets tough.

Flying high

In less than two weeks, I will ride my bike a grueling, but beautiful, 190 miles to benefit cancer research. (See my note HERE if you want to learn more.) The price of entry is a fundraising commitment that seems impossible: $4300, and I treasure every gift, whether large or small.

Many, many people support me with donations and encouragement, but no one believes in me more completely than my daughter. In 2010, she begged me to let her set up a lemonade stand so she could have some spending money. At the end of the day, with a sly grin she proudly handed me the entire proceeds, $13.25, for my PMC ride. That had been her plan all along.

Last year, she gave me the only $5 she had in her possession, with a note that said, “Just do it, Mommy!” and she followed up this year with a flurry of organization. In May, she began prodding me to get on the bike, get my fundraising letters out, and get on with it. If it weren’t for her, I’d probably still be procrastinating.

Little did I know, her organization didn’t stop with getting me in line. For months, she has quietly squirreled away every coin, bill, and birthday check that has come into her possession. Yesterday, she presented me with $47.64 that helped push me over the threshold of my fundraising commitment. Stunned at her forethought and planning–not to mention the generosity of giving me everything she had–I had no words beyond, “Are you sure?”

Some part of me feels guilty for taking money from a child, but a bigger part realizes that this is her way to shine. She has long-since thought this through. This is her gift to me and to the cause, and she has worked hard to pull it together. To refuse it would not only be an insult to her efforts, but it would also constrict the very thing I should be nurturing: her generous heart.

As a parent, I struggle daily with knowing when to direct, when to guide, when to suggest, and when to back away. I want my kids not only to do the right thing, but also to identify it and choose it for themselves. That means I can’t always tell them what to do; I have to let them make their own choices. It’s hard, because I think of all the ways they could fall down. What I often forget, however, is how much higher they’ll soar if I remove my tether. Today, my daughter is soaring higher than I ever will.

Flat out

During the summer, I do a lot of long training rides on my bike to get ready for the PMC. Considering that I’m usually on desolate country roads for hours on end, I find it fairly surprising that I haven’t encountered much adversity. No flat tires, no pop-up rain storms, no close brushes with death.

Until last weekend, that is.

Giddy after picking up my freshly tuned-up bike from my local bike shop, I set out on a 45-mile ride. Less than two miles into it, I heard a hissing whoosh of air that could only mean one thing: I had a flat.

Frustrated and indignant, I did what any capable, middle-aged woman would do. I called my dad. I figured that my plans were shot and that he could pick me up and take me home.

While I waited, however, it occurred to me that I had a tire-changing kit in my saddle bag. I had never changed a tire, but I flipped my bike onto its seat anyway. I grabbed the new tube and the tools and tentatively set about making the swap.

Having only a vague idea as to what to do, I was thankful to find instructions on the tube box (instructions!). Although somewhat more difficult than the box led me to believe, my inexperienced hands had the new tube in place and the tire almost completely reinstalled by the time my dad pulled up in his truck. Under his watchful eye, I finished the job and put the wheel back on my bike. Giddy with accomplishment, I decided to continue my ride.

Alas, the adversity continued. Though the tires rode well, the black cloud over my head turned out to be more than figurative. Just before the halfway point where I was meeting some friends, the skies opened and drenched me, thundering menacingly all the while. I made it to our meeting place, waited it out, and eventually rode home on wet, steamy roads.

Bummer of a day? Nope.

Even though I certainly didn’t wish for it, I faced down two of my biggest bicycling fears that day. First, I’ve always been petrified of “flatting” when I’m out by myself. What would I do? Well, it finally happened, and I was forced to deal with it. In that exercise, I now know that I CAN. The idea of flatting no longer seems so daunting. I rode, I flatted, I conquered.

Second, the idea of riding in the rain with smooth, skinny road tires has always left me shivering with dread. Besides the gritty, oily goo that sprays my legs from the tire, the pavement just plain gets slippery. In fact, the painted road markings might as well be a biker’s version of a Slip ‘N Slide. With no other options on Saturday, I had to face down that fear, too. I rode in the rain and I survived.

I wouldn’t have chosen to flat my tire or to ride in the rain. Given the choice, I would have avoided both at all costs. Fate had other ideas, though. I couldn’t cut and run; I had to face down my fears, and I DID IT. I felt like the master of my universe.

Flat tire + thunderstorm = one great day. Who knew?

Ride, baby, ride

If you read the recap of my 2011 PMC ride, you know that last year’s ride was tough for me–and I wasn’t convinced I was ready to do it again. If you read my year-end reflections, you know that I did, indeed, decide to give it a go once more. If you’re new to my blog, you’re likely confused.

For the benefit of the latter group, I’ll explain.

PMC stands for Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. It’s an annual event, a two-day, 190-mile bicycle trek that winds its way through half of Massachusetts, from Sturbridge (about mid-state) to Provincetown (the tip of the curlicue). As if the thrill of the physical challenge weren’t enough, this 5000-rider event serves as a cancer fundraiser, donating 100% of all rider-raised proceeds to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It’s a big deal. Last year alone, the PMC presented a check for $35 million to DFCI. Yes, those are MILLIONS.

It’s tough. In fact, it’s grueling. Physically, I don’t think I’ve ever undertaken anything more challenging for that sustained period of time. I almost gave up last year.

It’s also rewarding. Everyone who rides, everyone who lines the route to cheer and encourage has been touched in some way by this daunting illness. Some are survivors. Some are fighting now. Some have lost loved ones. Some are supporting people close to them in their fight. Everyone has a story.

In my most tired, run-down moments during the ride, I only have to turn my head for inspiration. The man riding a tandem bicycle alone, his wife’s photo affixed to her empty seat. The people on the roadside shouting thank you. The couple with both their tiny daughters’ photos pinned to their backs, memorialized for this ride. The kids being treated at DFCI who wait to meet their pedal partners at one of the rest stops. The man with one leg, spinning his wheels faster than I can with two. The signs along the route that say Thanks for giving my mom a second chance.

I also think about the people who’ve sponsored me, who are counting on me to hold up my end of the deal and make it to the end. Many, many of those people have lost someone dear or have survived their own fight. Riding a bike for two days is nothing. Nothing at all.

So here I go again.

This year’s PMC will be my last hurrah, but I am going to do it again; I’ve already signed up. It’s for Frank, Howard, Betty, Roy, Rachael, Rebecca, Linda, Bernice, Jason, John, Sherri, Chanda, Bill, Nonda, Ebony, Carly, and so, so many others. Really, it’s for everyone.

If you want to know more about the PMC, visit www.pmc.org. If you would consider sponsoring me financially, click here to donate. If you want to share a personal story, please do. I would be honored and humbled to ride in honor or memory of someone special to you. I also need lots of encouragement, both during my training phase and the ride itself. Drop me a note, an email, or a text message if you can.

Thanks.

Yes, this post is a bit of a departure from my communicating and connecting theme, but it’s my way of staying accountable to my promise. I think that’s a key component to both of those topics.