Oxygen Blazers

Celebrating the brave, bold and beautifully wrinkled men and women who are living life with style, creativity, humor, and both a deep respect (and a reckless disregard) for what it means to get older.

 

Oxygen Blazer # 1: Dave Harris

The Last Ride of the Pony Express

by Bill Apablasa | September 13, 2017

“I’m doing it for the shirt.”
Dave Harris

On August 29, 2017, at 8:35 in the morning, Dave Harris jumped on his 25-pound bike, already weighed down with an additional 31 pounds of gear and began cycling 2,270-miles of the Pony Express route. Yes, people do that. But not many. Especially when they’re pushing 60.

Dave started in St. Joseph, Missouri and expects to end in San Francisco, California on October 5, 2017, one week before his son’s wedding. At least he better. Otherwise, he has been advised by his wife to keep on riding to Alaska.

Let me tell you something about Dave.

Dave has done a lot in his short 60 years of life. He’d be an easy guy to talk about at a retirement party if he were the kind of guy who actually retired, which he is not. You could talk about how he moved up the corporate ladder at Adobe, or the $200 million in revenue he brought in. Or you could jump ahead to his time at Timberline, a company he bought then completely reinvented, bringing high tech into the adventure travel business. Of course, Dave would much rather you talk about his award winning chili, or his life-long love of the Red Sox and Patriots. Even better, you could talk about his wife, Kisa, and how lucky he was that she met him before she knew better. And, of course, you could always talk about his six kids. Dave has always called them his greatest accomplishment. And not because of their smarts or work ethic or success, but because, as he proudly puts it, “they’re simply good human beings—the kind that will actually make the world a better place.” That’s Dave’s bar. And it’s a good bar.

Yes, there are lots of noteworthy things you could say about Dave and no shortage of folks who would love the honor. But there is something about this crazy and improbable bike ride that defines who he is. It’s also what makes Dave our first Oxygen Blazer. Quite frankly, he ticks all of our boxes.

First of all, Dave is no spring chicken. We like that. And he clearly doesn’t look as good in his bike shorts as he did twenty-years ago (and those were his wife’s words, not ours). Fortunately, Dave no longer has the keen eyesight to notice or the ego to care.

But none of that matters. What matters is that Dave found this race at all. Finding real and meaningful challenge is at the heart of the Oxygen Blazer lifestyle, second only to the bravery one needs to accept the challenge.

Think about all the times in our lives when we come across something that piques our interest; makes us stop cold in our tracks with excitement, or scratch our head with wonder. All those “what if” micro-seconds of possibility. I’m talking about the golden moments of opportunity when a door opens, and the universe stares you in the eye and says “I have something that just might change your life.”

Of course, we all know the paradox of such potentially life-changing moments. They can be oddly unsettling. They require change, shifting, and overcoming limiting beliefs. They require us to dig deep, persevere, and perhaps walk a different path from those around us.  More than that, they involve stepping out onto a limb and taking a risk.

And therein lies the real challenge. We may want change, but many of us are not willing to do the real work that will bring this change to our lives.  We’d rather stay in our pajamas. And so we brush away these moments like gnats—useless bits of nonsense that have no place in our sensible lives.  And before we know it, we become blind to these moments of possibility. Doors close. Windows shut. Moments of opportunity stay safely hidden from our view, buried beneath the mortgage, behind the dishes, the new car, the big deal, the bonus check. Soon, we forget what it’s like to dream. To scratch the itch.

Back to Dave Harris—a man who knows how to scratch the itch.  A man who isn’t afraid to put his dreams into action.

It was a few years back. Dave was doing a Timberline tour on Route 66. A few ultra distance racers were talking about a new route they were biking. The Pony Express. Most people might wonder why someone would want to ride a bike across the Pony Express trail, especially in the age of FedEx and Amtrak.

But, not Dave. Dave was intrigued by it. The romance. The history.  The whole idea of the ride made the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. His interest was officially piqued. But instead of letting the crazy idea camp out in the back of his head where dreams go to disappear, Dave quietly entertained the idea. He let it simmer and brew and boil until all he could think about was riding this trail through wide open states like Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada.  He had always wanted to undertake a long ride, and here was the perfect opportunity.

Now, Kisa has spent a lifetime listening to Dave with one ear, but this was different. When Dave told her his plans, she knew he was going to do it. And no amount of “you’re too old and sad looking” from her or the kids was going to change his mind. In fact, not even a pinched nerve in his back was going to stop Dave from riding the 2,270-mile Pony Express trail.

Dave knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Much of the ride was on gravel, which by most calculations, made the riding 50% harder than normal. Carrying the extra weight on his saddle added another 20% difficulty. And with a great portion of the ride out in the middle of nowhere, mechanical issues could be critical. And, for that matter, just how much Preparation-H would this ride require? There were lots of questions to be answered. And obstacles to overcome.

But, here’s where the true Oxygen Blazer shows his cards. Difficulty is never an excuse to stop…it’s a path to reinvent, learn, overcome, and discover exactly what ingredients one is made of.  The fact is, an Oxygen Blazer lights up when faced with a challenge, knowing that the challenge is exactly where meaning and purpose will be found. And, of course, you only needed to listen to Dave for ten minutes to understand how excited he was by all the planning and training. Of course, after eleven minutes you’d have to turn away because, quite frankly, nobody wants to hear about his dual-flexed carbon bicycle chain.

All summer long, Dave trained. He road 100-200 miles per week, with more than a few centuries thrown in between (rides over a 100 miles). He planned each stage of the ride carefully and meticulously, along with how he would design his pack system so it would be light enough to carry, but loaded enough to handle anything that would come up on the trail. Logistics. Food. Hotels. Camp sites. Water. And legs strong enough to bike across eight of America’s largest states.

Dave planned for it all.

And this is exactly why, as of September 13, 20127,  Dave is on day 14 of his Pony Express ride. Right now, he’s in Wyoming, where he just rode 98 miles from Casper to Jeffrey City. He’s spending the night in some shack. I’d like to imagine he’s eating from a can of beans he opened with his buck knife. But, if I know Dave, it’s probably some vegan soufflé.

You could say Dave’s ride today summed up his entire journey.  98 miles in the high heat, on gravel, against a fierce headwind, and mostly uphill. But, as Dave put it in a text he sent to friends at the end of the days ride, “It was all worth it when I finally got my photo of a pronghorn antelope.”

I don’t know what that is. But, Dave does. And that’s all that matters.

Ask Dave why he’s doing this crazy ride, and he’ll dryly tell you. “I’m doing it for the shirt.” But, don’t listen to him. He’s on this ride—this adventure of self-discovery—because it’s who he is.

Dave Harris is our Oxygen Buzz reminder that when we’re not afraid to climb out on a limb in pursuit of our dreams, we may just find our own pronghorn antelope.

 

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