“Both of my parents died. My brother and his wife had a son. A couple of sincere and serious love affairs began and ended. I moved to Chicago and back to New York. I spent four years as a theater critic. I published a couple of books. I traveled on a bicycle in Vietnam, New Zealand, Italy, Ireland and France. I renovated my apartment. Twice.”
Likely his 25th anniversary at The New York Times and the fact that he’s been writing obituaries for the last three years prompted a little of this life assessment.
After taking stock of life’s experiences, Weber posed two questions:
- How am I doing?
- What am I missing?
Many of us leap toward the future with 3-year plans or continue filling up a bucket list of more things to add to our lives. Weber’s approach – assess current reality (How am I doing?) then look for what’s absent or misplaced (What am I missing?) - might be a better way for any one who is looking to fill up precious sabbatical time with a meaningful life experience.
What Bruce Weber decided he was missing was a dream re-do. Eighteen years ago Weber rode a bicycle across the United States, solo. In mid-July he turned his first pedal outside of Portland Oregon to re-live the same experience and I’ve been following him ever since.
Weber’s health self- assessment:
- I probably drink a little too much but don’t eat many sweets.
- I quit smoking 10 years ago.
- I have gout, acid reflux, and a degenerating tendon in my right foot, tinnitus and tendinitis in my left elbow.
- Three years ago, I had surgery to reattach the retina in my right eye.
- And this spring I received a diagnosis of spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal – which pinched a nerve in my neck and sent throbbing pains in my left should. Treated with steroid injections, it feels better.
His three month career break has a plan: average 300 miles a week, or 50 miles a day, with one day off and never sleep on the ground. (He carries a tent and sleeping bag just in case.)
What I love about Weber’s dream re-do is his expression that he’ll be “trying to do it again.” At 38 he had no concept of the length and arduousness of what lay in front of him. Every challenge – the Rockies, for example, or the shade less sun baked plains of South Dakota was essentially a surprise. “Perseverance is, after all, easier for the poorly informed, he stated. “ This time I know exactly how I’m going to be working. I’m nervous.”
He’s also excited.
Weber has taken a rash of criticism for his choice of straight handle bars for his $8,000 bike from cyclists, more helpful suggestions from those more experienced than he thought possible, and a rash of offers for meals and accommodations from readers in states he’ll be crossing. “Be careful,” he says, “I’m not too proud to accept.”
While many sabbatical experiences are first time daunting dreams of a lifetime, creating a second try at an experience is even more dramatic. Bruce Weber might not be able to live this dream again. He knows this.
In Sunday’s New York Times (Life is a Wheel, Sunday August 14, 2011), Weber has already modified his schedule with reduced daily distances and admits to hitting the wall right before the 500 mile mark.
There’s much to learn from Bruce Weber and his re-do dream. What extraordinary experience in your life might be worth a repeat? Age, heat, medical ailments, lonliness and physical exhaustion hasn’t deterred Mr. Weber. He pedals on. Be inspired.
Follow Weber’s progress on the In Transit blog and on Twitter, @nytbruceweber.