Recently, two seemingly unrelated, and perhaps insignificant, events in my life came together to teach me a valuable and inspirational lesson.
Event One – I read excerpts from the Roman philosopher Seneca’s 2,000-year-old discourse On the Shortness of Life.
Event Two – I meet 4 men biking from Alaska to Argentina and interviewed them for The Eye.
After nearly 9 months of biking, the team from Pedal South arrived in Huatulco, admittedly, a little behind schedule; four young men of ambition, determination and vision, 3 American and 1 Mexican. Two filmmakers, one photographer and one writer.
The four met a few years ago though a Students of the World internship program each undertook after graduating from university; volunteering their time, talent and skills to help document and publicize non-profit organizations and the good they are doing in the world. Their passion to help promote non-profits became the foundation for their plan to bike the Americas and make a movie, telling the stories of people they encountered along the way.
I spent about an hour talking with 2 of the team, Thomas and Ricardo. As the interview started I began with the standard questions…When did you start? What route are you taking? How long will this take you? What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you? They kindly answered my questions and shared accounts of Grizzly Bear encounters in Alaska and the absolute silence of the northern wilderness.
But when I asked them about the purpose of their trip, I began to see who these men really are and how their journey is a testament to the “Art of Living Wide Rather than Long”, as the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote in On the Shortness of Life.
As they travel, these men are chronicling life. Not just their lives and their journey, but the lives of the people they meet. Capturing the reality of everyday life in the cities and towns they travel through. It was clear to me, through their stories, that these men were seeing humanity in a way that few people will ever take the time to experience.
They spoke of the demands of 100% self-reliance, pedaling a bike 18,000 miles, carrying every essential for daily life on their person, navigating unknown lands, cultures and languages, that never let up. Comfort becomes subjective and safety paramount. Every minute, of every day, becomes calculated, meaningful.
I could see how arduous this lifestyle must be, but at the same time, when comparing it to my own daily experience (emails, Facebook, work) it seemed much more meaningful and inspiring. It made me see how the mundane busyness of my life is clouding over how quickly it is passing me by. This is what made me think of Seneca’s discourse.
Seneca wrote – It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough…if it were all well invested. But it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity…we are not given a short life, but we make it short… Life is long if you know how to use it.
Clearly, I thought, these men know how to use this precious gift of time. Their lives will be long. It made me wonder if they sometimes heard some version of the Roman philosopher’s words echo in their minds as they rode, watching the rest of society, like me, caught up in the dizzying distraction of the being busy, expecting something great to come of it…
Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and weariness of the present…The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today…To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.
While Pedal South has a rough timeline for their expedition and a loosely defined route to follow, they live immediately, not thinking twice to take extra time to attend a First Nation’s People country music festival in Canada or spend a few days with a poetry-reading recluse in the mountains of Oaxaca. They are not bound by another’s agenda, but live to squeeze the juice from every experience and document it, to share with others.
But, on a journey such as this, there are times when living wide can feel like living long. As Ricardo Palomares recently posted on his Facebook page…
It’s been nine months of constant travel. We are nomads, change is our best friend. The ability to adapt comes natural nowadays. My face has changed so much. I look older, raw, and much tougher. – Pedal South Headquarters, Mile 7053.
In the end, having met Ricardo, I have no doubt he will see this photo and think along the lines of Seneca’s thoughts on aging…
…you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.
Far from just existing, Ricardo is living every moment, and while it may show in the changing features of his face, the changing features of these men’s hearts and souls are what make the journey worthwhile.
In their own words…
“The goal is to inspire, share and connect people to other people and the whole, by showing the beauty of their being. We just want to feel connected, and so do they”. – Thomas Allison
Yeah! I thought; that is definitely a mission that would compel 4 men of adventure to pedal 18,000 miles, enduring daily hardships and capture it all on film – to inspire, share and connect.
Even though my encounter with them was brief, I so admired these men and the project they had undertaken. I was truly inspired by their drive to live more deliberately and not let life slip by, simply existing.
My chance meeting with the men of Pedal South and the ancient words of a Roman philosopher somehow came together to inspire me to be more aware of the art of living wide rather than living long. I am grateful for the lesson, and I look forward to learning more as I follow their journey online and see their film, upon its release.
If you would like to know more about Pedal South, their project, and their journey, follow them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/pedalsouthfilm), Instagram (instagram.com/pedalsouth/) or check out their website www.pedalsouth.org/.