Returning to the End of the Line

By Ethan Maurice | May 30th, 2018

I wasn't sure if this was the exact spot until, climbing down the black rocks of the seawall, I suddenly remembered their placement. This was it. I had hopped down this exact path to the beach nearly five years ago.

Reid and I were overwhelmed with waves of emotion. Pride, that we pedaled bicycles across the United States. Relief, that we survived. Despair, that it was over. Fear, that life might never be so good again. Frustration too, as we waited for Rob to pick out this spot, a five-minute eternity in a motel parking lot. That motel being the last obstacle between us and the Pacific.

Amid the emotional storm, this was the big payoff scene. The moment the Arizona Republic and NBC had paid to send Rob, the same photographer they send to the Olympics, on a drive from Phoenix to Oregon to capture. Much hinged on this footage, not just for us, but for Rob, who had surely stuck his neck out a bit to dub his neighbor's cross-country bike ride for the local children's hospital worthy of the financial investment.

The sky was gray as our feet landed in cold, damp sand. Reid ran straight for the ocean. I glided behind in long strides, fists high in triumph, yet, oddly, my head didn't follow suit (conflicting body language that can be seen in the photo above).

We celebrated among the waves twice so Rob could capture both photos for the newspaper and footage for our segment on NBC.

At the time, we couldn't explain why, but Reid and I both knew this cross-country bike ride was more important than anything we'd ever done up to that point. Of course, it led to many great things (including almost six-figures raised for the children's hospital that saved my life), but a change of deeper importance was also afoot. In outwardly crossing a continent by bicycle, tectonic shifts had occurred within us.

This wasn't the first time I'd crossed paths with our route. As a deckhand on a cruise ship, I tossed dock lines onto the same sidewalk we pedaled along the first day of our ride in Virginia Beach. I've revisited four spots along our route in Wyoming as well. Every encounter feels special, almost sacred, like returning to a birthplace or spiritual site.

When I'd dipped my bicycle tire in the Atlantic, I was a nearly straight-A student with a year of undergrad left before for medical school. A path I chose partly because I find tremendous satisfaction in helping others, but admittedly more so because I wanted to be a success. “Dr.” proceeding one's name plus a bountiful bank account equals high rank in our society.

But the greater the gap between us and the Atlantic, the more I understood the hollowness of the academic ambitions to which I was to return.

under the great sky

For two and a half months we pedaled under the great sky, essentially outside of culture. In those endless hours, with the volume of external influence turned so low, I began to notice another that seemed to come from within. It wasn't that this inner influence had been dormant before, but that participating in our culture was so loud and echoed around my head for so long that it was previously practically impossible to hear what came from within.

Like turning a blaring car radio down, I could suddenly hear the engine.

I've yet to find the right word in English for this inner influence, but phrases like “one's center,” “a voice from within,” and “conferring with the unconscious” all point at it, though, with different perspectives on what it actually is.

Seneca's definition of the Greek word “euthymia” was close, described in On the Shortness of Life essentially as a sense of your own path, and the ability to stay true as other paths intersected it. By removing those intersecting influences, I discovered one could navigate from within—not in a practical “What's the best way to the grocery store?” sense, but in a “What's the best path for me to take in life?” sort of way.

Joseph Campbell probably described it best in The Power of Myth:

Just sheer life cannot be said to have a purpose, because look at all the different purposes it has all over the place. But each incarnation, you might say, has a potentiality, and the mission of life is to live that potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, “Follow your bliss.” There's something inside you that knows when you're in the center, that knows when you're on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you've lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don't get any money, you still have your bliss.”

That was the conflicting body language as we ran across the sand. Fists high, head low—I was simultaneously accomplishing a dream and abandoning my center. We had biked across the United States! But I'd soon be right back on that externally guided path. I'd probably finish out my bachelor's degree, forget this magic, and proceed straight into medical school.

Incredulously, almost five years later, I find myself at this place of ultimate paradox writing these words in a notebook on the steering wheel of Honda Element home on wheels bound for the mountains just east of Yellowstone National Park to work as the innkeeper and bartender of this stunning old log-cabin lodge for my third summer.

Pedaling cross-country was but the first magnificent chapter.

The time between then and now brimming with such variety of people and experiences and explorations with this website, a channel through which to share perspective and insight from it all... As I look out on what I felt was the site of my ultimate surrender, I realize I have somehow followed the path on which I could see no way forward, but knew I was supposed to go.

For those whose sense of center doesn't align with cultural expectations, this juncture seems to define a life. Follow that which beckons from within? Or subvert one's center to the pursuit of accumulating money? Does this decision not echo through the rest of our lives?

Thanks to this website, I've conferred with many who have discovered this center but fear following it into the unknown. For them, I leave a little adage from Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Address that I've carried close since I took a leap of faith back toward my center, a conflicted year and a half after I almost buried it in the sand of the Oregon Coastline:

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

We've only got one go at this thing. As the wheel of life turns, us and everyone we know will come to pass. And thus, in the long run, we have absolutely nothing to lose.

If called from within, we are all free to answer.