If the recent book and movie Eat, Pray, Love can link Italy, India, and Indonesia, then maybe my eating, drinking, and pedaling can connect Ghana, Afghanistan, and America.
When my cousin Glen Lapp died in Afghanistan in early August, I gave one of the eulogies at a memorial service in his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the United States. In that speech, I told how the phrase "pedal harder" was Glen's mantra for a bike trip we did in 2002, and how it expressed his approach to life.
He didn't just live this phrase himself, though. Glen also had a way of convincing others that, at least for a time, this could be their motto, too. Since his death, it's been no different.
Glen's go-hard-at-life approach has become inspiration for those who wish to carry his spirit forward. There's been a "Let's go!" editorial, a Pedal Harder bike ride through late-October Lancaster countryside, a blog post from a fellow hiker on a years-ago Chile trip, and people from teachers to artists to adventurers telling how Glen's persistent endurance and caring sacrifice has encouraged them.
But, while he taught me to pedal hard on our 2002 bike ride across the US, Glen also shared the value of being good to yourself. Early in our trip, soon after we rode out his front door in Lancaster, Glen taught me a catchy little phrase: "Eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty."
Newbie bike-tour rider that I was, I blinked twice at this. I'd always thought you should listen to your body, not indulge it.
Glen explained that, with the high energy output we'd be daily asking of our muscles, our minds might have trouble keeping up. And so, if we waited until our brain cried out "Thirsty!" or "Hungry!" that meant we were already past the point of need.
It's like you're a newborn, and if you're already crying then milk should have been at your lips twenty minutes ago. Sometimes you have to baby yourself.
A couple weeks back, since I don't live in Lancaster, I did my own Pedal Harder ride here in Ghana. I cycled about 60 miles north from Accra, Ghana's capital, to the Akosombo region at the bottom of Lake Volta.
There were no Amish buggies to pass, no autumn leaves in reds and yellows, and gloves weren't necessary against the morning chill. No, in this nearly-equatorial land it was so hot that my "drink before you're thirsty" catch-phrase meant my two water bottles were always nearly empty. I did get to ride through acres of mango orchards, though, take in the reds of drying chilies, sit in blessed shade along the lazy Volta River, and enjoy forested hills rising from an expanse of dark blue water.
Along the way, I stopped (before I was hungry, of course) to eat at a roadside shack, the By His Grace restaurant. Stepping across an open ditch, I entered a room barely ten feet square. A rusty refrigerator hummed beside shelves that held a row of metal pots, next to two small tables with a few chairs squeezed around them.
Just the kind of place Glen might have appreciated.
I sat and ate a plate of chicken, with a spicy sauce and rice, out of one of the pots. As I ate I thought about my three month ride with Glen across the US. I remembered the frigid day in North Dakota, in the middle of nowhere, when Glen insisted we pull over for a snack. It was too miserably cold to stop, I thought, but Glen knew our bodies' need.
We ate some graham crackers and peanut butter, then, shivering on the windswept roadside. And the peanut butter made it better.
Later in my ride to Akosombo, my water bottles needing a refill, I pulled over at a small storefront. Sitting in a dusty plastic chair on a dusty concrete patio, I drank a cold Sprite and watched the store owner nap under a nearby tree.
As I sipped I thought about the late November day when Glen and I had just finished pedaling a 16 mile trail along California's Lost Coast. It had taken two days to do this hiking path with our loaded bikes, not one day like we had hoped. The night before, for our Thanksgiving dinner we had eaten a cup of rice each, with soy sauce. We were completely out of water, and the nearest store was still miles ahead.
Glen, ever resourceful, flagged down a passing pickup. He artfully coaxed the driver, then, into giving us a little water.
So, here's the lesson: Eat, Drink, then Pedal. And while you're pedaling hard through life, remember to reach for the peanut butter before your body screams for protein. Don't be afraid to ask someone for a drink. And, now and then, baby yourself.