Mountain bike on train tracks

Getting Lost in Independence

Freedom rings true, even in, or most especially during, disorienting times.

Remember that day when you first learned to ride a bike without the training wheels?  When the grace of gliding and pedaling with just two wheels elevated your spirit to new heights of belief in yourself?  Independence!  Strength!  Travel!  Well of course, maybe when we were children the experience wasn’t that big a deal.  Perhaps it just happened, and my amplified memory is distorting the significance of just another day of growing up.  Symbolically though, this momentous achievement is a core memory of freedom for me.

Bike and helmet, water bottle, paper map of the county, purple spandex shorts and air in my tires, I was ready to explore.  As I rode my bike further and further away from home by myself, another essential experience and realization developed.

I like to get lost.  There is a thrilling excitement in the experience of being lost.  And I’ll not deny there’s also some worry involved as well – a feeling of being a bit out of control.  

At first, I’m biking in a frequently traveled area that I know well.  Past the neighbors’ houses, the school bus stop, my friend’s house.  This way to the corner store.  Circumnavigate the lake.  This is the road that goes to my school.  But as the miles get further away from home, I come to an intersection where not all roads are known to me.  One road goes downhill and heads left (is that north, or west?).  The other road looks level until it turns to the right (would that get me further from home, or headed back to the house?).  Do I choose based on the hills – a reasonable choice with a 10-speed bike and understanding that what goes down, must also come up?  Or do I hone in solely on a sense of direction and path back to known territory?

The freedom to go out and get lost on the back roads and to puzzle out getting un-lost and navigating my way back home, was not just an accomplishment, but a real joy.  Without guidance – be it a parent, older sibling, or leader showing the way – I alone had the power to find my way back home.  With my pedaling legs guiding my independence, I was subconsciously providing myself with an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of my known world.

I was heading out into new terrain outside my normal travel pattern, or even daily schedule.  Do I know where I am?  Yes? Maybe?  No, not really.  Oh no, now what?  First I take a deep breath and have a drink of water.  I need to acknowledge the confusion.  What took some time to discover on each progressively more distant bike ride is that confusion doesn’t have to be a loaded or negative emotion.  The trick is to keep it at it’s purest form without letting doubt or fear sneak in.  I need to use all of my senses, especially my sense of direction and observation of the terrain.  I pull out the paper map and retrace the lines of the roads and turns I remember taking.  Based on where I think I am, which was should I go now?  I used the tools and resources available to help me to find my way home.

MGB heads into the woods

MGB heads into the woods

Once I had my driver’s license the same adventure of potentially getting lost took hold.  Let’s keep in mind, this was before the days of cell phones for the average American, let alone a smart phone or a GPS device.  Atlas, gazetteer or fold-out state maps were the tools for navigation.  One could always resort to stopping at a gas station to ask a friendly attendant for directions too.  If I needed to drive to a place I hadn’t yet been, I always allotted lots of extra time.  I had patience about the possibility of getting lost and not finding where I was going the very first time.  Sometimes I would take turns too early or too frequently, inevitably and somewhat intentionally getting lost in new towns and cities.  Downright intending to get lost gives you the freedom to make a wrong turn.  I had the beginner’s mind and open attitude that it’s okay to be lost.  Learn where it takes you.  See the experience as a puzzle to solve.  Find your way back to where you were, or where you are going.

We all can relate to times in life when the path forward seems obscured.  The thrill and potential worry of feeling lost is an opportunity to live outside our comfort zone but sometimes, it’s difficult to remember this when the path forward in life feels uncertain.  I have considerable experience in the overwhelm of worry, and it is at those times when I would do well to remember that my early adventures in getting lost always resolved with eventually finding my way back home.

To get back home, to find one’s way to a certain destination is to acknowledge that you are the central player in the game of your life.

Lost can imply the existence of free-will.  We are independent and therefore responsible for forging our own path to where we want to go.  The answers are not outside ourselves, though we can use tools to help guide us and we are not ever alone. Community, family, friends, guides and helpers are out there.  Consider the scenes around you and determine which path leads in the direction of the next best step to take.  To get back home, to find one’s way to a certain destination is to acknowledge that you are the central player in the game of your life.

Whether strolling the back alleys of Venice, meandering a maze of shallow coral reefs off the shores of a tropical island or walking the hilly streets of San Francisco, take the opportunity to leave the navigating GPS turned off.   Go ahead and get lost.  In this process you’ll find the path along which you maybe didn’t realize you in fact want to, or are able to travel.

Mountain bike by the water

Cannondale bike by the water