When fear knocks, go out through the back door

I slept only in fits and starts last night, the night before the first day on my cycling tour around Lake Michigan, which will take me past Milwaukee, Port Washington, Green Bay, Manitowoc, until I reach Escanaba on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, pedal across it, and start the journey back down past Mackinaw City, Petoskey, Traverse City, Ludington, Muskegon, Holland, Sawyer, Lakeside, New Buffalo, and finally loop around Gary for the last leg. It’s a bicycle tour longer than any previous adventure, 987 miles, my conditioning is subpar, I don’t have many long days in the saddle this year, I’m older, blah, blah, blah.

I planned to get up and be gone at sunrise, predicted for 6:00 o’clock AM. I slept until 7:30. It annoyed me. I saw no reason to set an alarm. I am always up by five except this morning. What’s up with that? So, I had to start much later than planned. Fine.

The planned route for the day was from my front door in Oak Park, Illinois. to the front door of a AirBnb in Waukegan. To get there, I would head east until I hit the lake and then turn north and follow bike paths along the shoreline past Evanston, Glencoe, Wilmette, Winnetka, Kenilworth, Lake Forest, and Lake Bluff before I reached Waukegon.

In one day, it turned out, I would pedal through the slummiest and ritziest neighborhoods in all of Chicago.

At the start, when I reached the corner of Laramie and Augusta Blvd. on Chicago’s West Side, I had a flashback to a predawn moment six years ago at that very same corner as I was riding to my job at the Merchandise Mart downtown.. I had rolled to a stop there to wait for the light to change when two pit bull dogs off their leases came circling about me full of menace. I got out of that scrape by dismounting, holding the bike between myself and those dogs, talking to them in an even, authoritative voice as I walked the bike across the street and a quarter of the way down the next block until they got bored and decided to turn back.

At that same corner but now with plenty of sunshine all around, I was now convinced that my mind had kept me asleep so as to not have to visit that corner again in such a dark hour.

So, this was an instance of a benign fear, one that might have spared me some mischief. Most of my fears, I fear, are not benign but malignant. There were, for example, preparation steps that I didn’t do or forgot to do because fear robbed me of my better judgment or caused me to procrastinate so much that I lost opportunities to shakedown my gear and better prepare myself for the challenging days ahead.

There are fears heaped on me by well-meaning friends because, well, for example, I could get hit by a truck and die. So I try to remember to be flattered and grateful that people want me to survive a while longer. But they do tend to compound anxiety.

Perhaps the biggest fear though is fear of failure, of not getting all the way around. That’s the killer. That and its little baby sister fear that I won’t have the guts to call it quits if it is just flat out too much for my old body parts.

Then I remember one other fear and this one is the big kahuna, the fear of not facing fears, of doing nothing that might excite fear because it involves risk.

I love the first Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy for this reason. On his journey, before he can take his legendary trip into the depths of hell, the Inferno, fear turns him back several times over. And Virgil, his spiritual guide, has to rescue him and give him strength to overcome his fears so that he can advance through the terrible gate that advises him to abandon hope.

So, I got over it enough to make it to my first night’s lodging, I pedaled slightly more than 50 miles today.. I’m bone tired. The last 2.8 miles took a century to finish… and so forth.

With continued good fortune, I continue my trek north, pedal my way into Wisconsin, all the way up to Racine.

Wish me luck!


  1. Wick

    “Fear is a man’s best friend”

  2. Bren

    You can do this! I have faith in you.

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