Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reflecting on the Root: Planning to not have a plan

A few scattered thoughts on my Lanesboro bike trip that will eventually resemble a point:

  • When I stopped to fill my water bottles at a gas station in Brownsdale (northeast of Austin about 10 miles), I came across an elderly man that asked about my trip. Since this was during my ride out to Lanesboro (when I had brutal head wind and got rained on several times), the unforgiving weather was the main topic of conversation. While the man agreed that it wasn't ideal conditions for a long ride, he said something that stuck with me for the rest of the trip: "If you sit around waiting for the perfect weather to do something, it's never going to happen." I think that's an interesting point. Most days carry a risk of rain, wind, hail or other unpleasant weather occurring, but that doesn't have to stop you from doing what you want to do. (unless you ignore weather reports and narrowly miss biking through a hailstorm, which happened to me last summer, not my brightest moment)
  • The routes I took to get to and from Lanesboro weren't remotely close to the ones I initially planned. I had to adjust the ride out on a fly due to dirt roads and I got directions for the ride back from a store owner in Lanesboro (quick tangent: Google maps should seriously consider adding a feature that shows which roads are paved and which road's aren't, it would've saved me a lot of grief)
  • As it turns out, some of the best roads to bike on between Mankato and Lanesboro in terms of scenery, traffic and safety (Highway 218, the back roads from Fillmore to Stewartville and the back roads out of Ellendale, to name a few) were roads I had no intention of riding on when the trip started.
  • One of the better meals I had on the trip (the $5 burger-fries-Mich Golden Light combo with free popcorn at Marv's in Hayfield) was in a town I never would have passed through had I followed my initial directions.
  • With all due respect to Lanesboro, the most memorable moment of my trip didn't occur in the quaint river valley town with all the quirky shops and bike trails. It occurred in the nondescript town of Ellendale, where a local was kind enough to let me crash on his porch. That was something I never could have planned for or anticipated. The only reason I was even in Ellendale at the time was because I biked past sundown in an attempt to get closer to home and lessen the miles I had to bike on Friday.

Taking all those thoughts into account, here's my point: The biggest reason my trip went so well wasn't because I was well-prepared for it (I should've brought more warm clothes), had good luck for it (too much crappy weather and my camp stove broke), or even because I was in excellent shape for it (my legs are still a little sore). It's because I was flexible with my plans and made adjustments as the situation dictated.

It's almost impossible to keep a tight schedule if you're traveling by bike. There's just too many variables (weather, fatigue and bike malfunctions, to name three) that can swing your travel time by several hours.

Heck, the 50-mile stretch between Mankato and Ellendale took me nearly two hours less on the ride back thanks mostly to the wind conditions being more favorable. I can't see wind having the same effect on a car's travel time, unless the wind were at hurricane speeds.

It's not that I didn't plan anything going into the trip. I meticulously mapped out my routes ahead of time and had the phone number of every bike shop from Mankato to Lanesboro written down just in case my bike broke down to a point where I couldn't fix it.

I also had a basic idea of the things I wanted to do on the trip. I wanted to see the Mystery Cave (check), I wanted to hear some live music in Lanesboro (check) and I wanted to tour an Amish community (didn't get to do that one).

But when it came to finding places to eat or sleep, I pretty much just played it by ear. If I was hungry (which was basically all the time), I stopped in the next town and looked for a restaurant. If I was tired or if it was getting late, I stopped in the next town to look for a place to camp (I wanted to camp either in towns or near towns so I'd be close to water if I needed it).

In a lot of ways, I found myself trying to have the mindset Eric and Christie Nelson had on their bike trip to South America. I wanted to let the world impact me and I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. This helped me be more receptive to the people I met along the way, and in a way, I think it made me more approachable from their end.

Granted, this isn't a mindset that works for everyone. I know plenty of Type A personalities that pride themselves on having a plan and always like to be prepared for what they're doing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's a lot less nerve-wracking to know where you're sleeping ahead of time, and you also don't run the risk of running out of food or water in the middle of nowhere.

But if there's one thing I learned from this trip, it's this: Sometimes, the best plan is to not have a plan.

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