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Your adventures aren’t only about showing up. The paths you walk will demand more of you. Think of bike touring as an example or a metaphor. No matter what adventure you’re planning, you need to be holistically prepared.

Your adventures aren’t only about showing up. The paths you walk will demand more of you.

Think of bike touring as an example or a metaphor. No matter what adventure you’re planning, you need to be holistically prepared. You’re an complete human being, not a pair of legs.

On a long bike tour, you could be in the saddle for 4-6 hours most days. And I want you to have some energy left to enjoy yourself when we get to our destination.

Biking takes its toll on your back, your arms, and your joints. You have to build those up, along with your legs. 

I’m not a trainer or a physical therapist, but here are a few basic principles that will help you.

Challenge yourself

Don’t push yourself. Don’t torture yourself. But you should always give yourself a little healthy challenge.

Think three months ahead, and aim to be a little better, stronger, and faster than you are today. 

This means going just the slightest hair’s breadth beyond what’s easy or comfortable today. 

Focus on pre-hab

A big part of your training should be about preventing injury. Work on your core and your back. Get really disciplined about warmups and stretches. 

Include a lot of movements and exercises that you won’t do on the bike. Running, jumping, push-ups, pull-ups and burpees should be a foundation. If you have time, throw in some acrobatics, yoga, or martial arts. You’ll thank yourself later.

Your muscles are like armor when they are toned. They can hold your limbs in the right position and prevent things from being wrenched the wrong way. Strong muscles help you snap back from a twist or a fall. Take care of all of them.

Also give yourself plenty of easy days to rest, recover, and grow.

Use your untapped resources

If you haven’t already been using this secret, you might be surprised at the immediate boost you get in power and stamina. 

Most people rely on their quadriceps when they bike. But all your quads really do is straighten your legs. The other part of the equation is in your gluteus maximus--your butt. 

There’s a lot of muscle down there, and it rarely gets sore or tired. Think of this as the main force, driving each leg down like a piston. The quads are just assistants.

If you’re not sure how to engage your glutes, stand up and pretend you’re kicking a soccer ball that’s behind you on the ground. This will give you the feeling, and then you repeat that when you’re riding.

If you’re not literally thinking about a bike tour, this principle can still help you. What untapped resource is right in front of you (or behind you in our case), that you can start to use immediately?

Ride

Yup, you gotta do it. Hours of biking, several times a week. Maybe you already do this. I don’t do enough of it.

First, get solid on all the other principles. Use your butt, challenge yourself, and get in the habit of exercising all those muscles that you don’t think you’ll need. 

But then, once you’ve done that, get on your bike and ride. As much as possible. 

Get used to riding, have fun riding, and get used to having fun riding. 

Every single person is a temple, carrying a sacred fire within. When you combine your passion with self-discipline, you can wield the power of your sacred fire. 

Every single person is like a temple, carrying a sacred fire within.

Do you have a purpose, something you strongly believe in, something you want with a burning desire?  When you combine your passion with self-discipline, you can wield the power of your sacred fire. 

This sacred fire is one of the secrets of the ancient Mediterranean.

A long time ago, a traveler named Aeneas carried the sacred fire of Vesta, as he crisscrossed the Mediterranean sea, looking for his final destiny. 

Roman coin showing Temple of Vesta
Temple of Vesta on Roman coin

Vesta became one of the most important gods of ancient Rome. Most of the Greek and Roman gods are depicted as people, but Vesta is more obscure.

A few rare statues and engravings show Vesta as a woman, usually veiled and with very little detail. Instead, she’s almost always represented as a fire. 

Fire was often a violent, destructive force, but Vesta was the goddess of hearth and home. She was the benevolent side of fire, the energy that cooks our food, the source of light and warmth. 

Vesta was also described as “the fire of Earth,” or “fire of life.” Vesta was the life force, the energy of life itself. Vesta was a symbol of power, energy, passion--but all of these things contained and controlled. 

Aeneas carried Vesta’s sacred fire relics across the sea, seeking a place for them to take root. She was the fire that fueled his mission and destiny. 

In fact, the whole story of Aeneas begins with fire. The city of Troy was burning. 

You’ve heard the story of the wooden horse. It was the end of the Trojan War, but this was just the beginning of a new story for Aeneas. 

Aeneas escaped from the fallen city, and led his family and a large group of survivors on a journey around the Mediterranean. 

Eventually they made their way to central Italy. Aeneas married the princess of a local tribe, and their descendants were Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

The Roman poet Virgil tells the story in the Aeneid. It’s similar to the Odyssey, covers a lot of the same ground, and takes place at roughly the same time. (It’s surprising that Aeneas and Ulysses never ran into each other. I’m a little disappointed about that.)

All through his journey, Aeneas carried the religious relics of Troy, especially the pieces belonging to Vesta.

There’s an important story in the Aeneid, which is related to Vesta and very relevant to the current state of the world.

At one point, Aeneas and his people were shipwrecked near Carthage, in modern day Tunisia. The travelers were fed and clothed by the generosity of Dido, the queen of Carthage.

Dido was an extraordinary woman, and there’s evidence that she wasn’t merely a mythological character. Carthage prospered for centuries thanks to Dido, and her life was filled with clever and heroic deeds. 

But she was about to meet her doom.

The goddess Venus (or Aphrodite if you prefer) set Dido's heart on fire. She afflicted Dido with an insatiable love for Aeneas. For a while the feelings were reciprocated, but Aeneas eventually sailed off to find Italy. 

When he left, Dido lit her own funeral pyre, stepped into the flames, and stabbed herself. The fire that consumed her body was the beginning of centuries of war.

Carthage would have her revenge. Many generations later, the Carthaginian general Hannibal would invade Italy and bring Rome to her knees for two decades.

Rome would return the favor by conquering Carthage, slaughtering her citizens, demolishing the city down to the last brick, and covering the land with salt so nothing would ever grow there again.

This story shows the violent, destructive side of passion. The internal fire that goes unchecked.

This fire has never stopped burning. The Mediterranean has been torn apart by centuries of violence. 

Religious passion, the sacred flame that should make people love one another and perform deeds of kindness, has exploded into a conflagration. It goes back to biblical times, burns through the Crusades, and continues today in conflicts between Jews and Palestinians, Shi’i and Sunni, Bosnians and Serbs, Greeks and Turks…

I often think about what it would take for us to hold the sacred fire in our hearts again, and turn it away from destruction. 

Justice would be the obvious answer, but we can never seem to agree on what that  means.

Understanding, compassion, and forgiveness are harder to imagine, but they are easier to reach.

I’m writing this on a cold morning in February. My fingers are numb, but there’s a fire burning inside of me. I want to learn and have new adventures and experiences. I want to bring other people together to do the same. 

Travel and learning are two bright lamps than can light a pathway out of the flames.

This is my sacred fire. What is yours?