A Lucky Penny, a Stimulating Conversation and a Grueling Bicycle Ride

I had just stepped out of my favorite lunch spot, and as I crossed the parking lot, there it sat, head’s up and shiny, a lucky penny. 

I never fail to pick up any loose change I have come across no matter what the circumstances.  If I quit picking up spare change, if I ever became too proud to collect a lost penny, perhaps I would be limiting my opportunities for future financial success?  It seems silly as I form these thoughts, and then putting my thoughts into words. 

I feel fortunate to have been invited to participate in a new discussion group (salon) formed by Ann Bauswein, the editor of the Bainbridge Spirit.  While still in its infancy, Ann has brought together an interesting, accomplished and thoughtful group (imagine my astonishment of being included) to provide rich conversation, the type of conversation I expect may have been commonplace before we had the distractions of modern day technologies. 

Leading up to our latest meeting, I found myself exceptionally busy, and I had completely forgotten the subject matter we were to discuss.  Looking back through old e-mails I found that Self-Discovery was our assigned topic. 

Self-Discovery… I really hadn’t thought of that much.  What do you do to begin the process of researching a subject?  You Google it, of course!

There was much to learn about the topic and my mind began to wrap itself around what self-discovery meant to me. I read through many quotes regarding self-discovery knowing that words pulled together by others can often help us marshal our thoughts and feelings. After dozens (if not hundreds) of quotes, I was struck by an extract of a speech delivered by Matthew McConaughey; “The first step that leads to our identity in life is usually NOT “I know who I am,” but rather “I know who I AM NOT.” A process of elimination.”  McConaughey’s quote resonated with me.  Who we are, who and where we evolve into is (at least) partially caused by a conscious effort to avoid becoming what we don’t want to be.

Many more quotes, thoughts and ideas were presented during the salon delving deeper into the subject of self-discovery. Nature vs nurture…what dictates more control? Do lives have a pre-determined destiny or are we simply experiencing a collection of random occurrences? Is there a greater power affecting our eventual outcomes? The hour long discussion passed quickly but its effect on me have continued.

I always look forward to the end of my busy spring season and taking some time to get away and regroup. My in-laws live in Park City, Utah, providing an idyllic home away from home.

The mountains there provide endless prospects for outdoor adventures… opportunities to play in the dirt! Cycling has always been one of my favorite pursuits and the mountain trails in Park City are some of the finest in the world. Getting accustomed to the altitude takes some time so I generally begin with easier, less strenuous trails and work myself into more challenging tracks.

On day 4, feeling (perhaps over) confident in my conditioning, I chose to test myself with the Armstrong trail, a four-mile-long and 1300 ft. climb leading to a series of mid-mountain connected trails. I had previously avoided this one-way steep trail. Once you begin, you are committed to finishing the climb. Getting started is always most difficult, most painful as your body adjusts to the demand. Lungs and legs burn but soon it becomes just one pedal after another, a steady rhythm develops.  The 18” wide trail meanders through scrub Oak and Aspens steadily climbing along the mountain face.  Steep switchbacks require extra effort to scale bring a tingling sensation to extremities robbed of sufficient blood circulation.  It is here, when I am within myself and my thoughts that I thought again of that lucky penny. 

Why do I feel the overwhelming urge to collect these lost coins? To my memory, my parents never collected them or encouraged me to do so.  I am not superstitious, nor do I intend to spend the money. So, why?  I immediately connect this curiosity to my newly found interest in self-discovery. Does this practice have a greater meaning of who or what I am? 

A particularly precipitous switchback followed by severe rock outcroppings serve as an obstacle I am unable to negotiate forcing me to step out of my clipped in petals and cross the obstruction on foot.  Defeat! I am perturbed with myself for having given up so easily. I resume my climb to the mid-mountain connection. Here, the trail becomes more varied and more easily traversed. As my heart, legs and lungs celebrate the lessening of pain and stress another question comes to mind… why do I do this to myself

While the surrounding meadows of wildflowers and vast views of the mountains are stunning, the narrow path I ride upon requires my complete attention. There is no thrill of victory, no satisfaction of winning. This isn’t a race to be won. I have no one with me to share the experience or savor the accomplishment of the adventure. So, why? 

I think hard over many miles. What about me makes this challenge so appealing? Challenge.  Life is fraught with challenges that, in turn, shapes who we are.  Character is built by the trials and tribulations we are forced endure and/or we choose to inflict upon ourselves.

During the self-discovery conversation at the salon, every individual shared a significant incident in their lives… an event, an experience (often tragic) that, in retrospect, afforded positive change in their lives.  From challenge comes strength. Have I, unconsciously, created adversity to gain the benefit of mastering difficult tasks? Am I intentionally placing trials in my path to fill a void? Is my privilege of well-being with a lack of (noteworthy) difficulties have me seeking hardship? Have I become too complacent in life? Do I need new set of challenges, a new direction?

Before I know it, I am headed down the mountain to where my ride began.  Another decision is to be made. Do I take the easier and benign route or the most difficult course available? You have to know by now what I selected! 

Knowing full well that an unscheduled dismount was most certainly forthcoming, I rallied down John’s Trail marked as a double black diamond outlet. There were signs of minimal use with brush and grass overhanging the narrow path. The precipitous fall had me hanging on with white knuckles through turns impossible for me to navigate. I feel no sense of defeat here… this is well beyond my skill level. As expected, a blind corner and ill-situated stump launches me fully over the handlebars, across the trail down the steep decent of the mountain.  Luckily, there was dense growth, and I narrowly avoided hitting a tree.  Climbing back to the trail, grasping branches and grasses to gather my purchase, I find little harm done. A few scrapes and a little blood spilled…just another day playing in the dirt!

I feel as though a veil has been opened, and I have had a peek behind the curtain to better appreciate the gift of self-discovery, the opportunity for self-actualization. Looking back, I realize that in many cases, it is here, in my writings that I have shared with you my life experiences and challenges. I feel richly rewarded that, in turn, you have provided me the encouragement to dig deeper within myself to discover who I am and who I can become. Thank you for this precious gift.

Now go outside and play in the dirt!