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The 41% Rule

Sweat beaded up, ran down my arms and collected under my hands as they clenched the handlebars. My legs kept spinning as the sun burned my skin, making it feel like tight leather. No matter how much air I sucked in, sweat fell like bullets from my face, dripped down my chest and pooled across my stomach.

A few days before I left home I sat down with a good friend, sharing a conversation about the adventure to come. He taught me about this rule from the Navy that got he and his shipmates through the rough and rugged. It's called the 41% rule. He told me that when the pain became real and I felt like I've hit the wall, I still had 41% left of myself to give.

One more ridge to climb to cross over Slovenia and into Croatia. Lydia and I pulled hard from the 41% reservoir. On the other side of those mountains I dreamed of a golden coast, palm trees, a soft bed and a perfect espresso, sipped while watching the sea. We were in pain and stressed now, but it would be sweet relief soon enough.

Whether it's the weekend ahead, vacation around the corner or that comfy couch you dream of snuggling up on after a long day of work; there is something appealing about a sense of relief to look forward to. The struggle of a hard day makes these little getaways look so sweet. Each minute can feel like an eternity because you're not on vacation but chipping away at the grind.

The fabrication in my mind set a mighty expectation for Croatia and its offerings. When the moment finally arrived and the border patrol stamped my passport, another mountain stood right in front of me. Not only mountains, but wretched unpaved roads over mountains.

“Where the hell is my beach and espresso?” I thought.

I kept telling myself the next village would be what we worked for the past 3 months. We found the sea, but each village was separated by more mountains, more sun and plenty more sweat. It just wasn't what I expected.

Days strung together as we plowed through the hills and heat. I really started to curse Croatia for not being the oasis I thirsted for. I was missing the quaint little towns, clear blue seas and unique rock formations. All I could see was a blazing sun, patches of desert and cacti, and the climbing roads separating each destination. The negativity consumed me. It was the classic, “he couldn't see the forest for the trees.”

Then it dawned on me, almost a week into Croatia, that I was the one who made this place so miserable. It began with the list of expectations I had drawn. I was doomed to fail. Instead of letting each day and experience be its own, I cringed every time it wasn't what I had imagined. Croatia is not a bad place, I was just miserable. And it wasn't the heat and mountains that did it, it was me.

Written on the mirror in my bathroom is the phrase, “you are looking at the problem.” As soon as I realized that this misery was a result of my own bad reactions, the liberty to be free of it was given back to me. If I play the victim card then I will always lay victim to circumstances out of my control. If I take responsibility for my actions and feelings, I have the power to change.

My happiness is not dictated by what happens to me, it is dependent on how I react to what happens. Upon this little awakening, in the midst of a 75 kilometer ride, my thoughts started to change. Some positivity crept it. The sun didn't feel so hot, my legs didn't ache so bad and Croatia started to look pretty beautiful!

Up we climbed again on the island of Cres. Hours of uphill in the afternoon, not a cloud on the horizon. I remembered back to my childhood sitting on the floor watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Little Thomas was struggling on a big railway climb up the mountain, but he kept telling himself in this unbelievably positive tone, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” as he ascended inch by inch, all the way to the top.

There I was, two and a half decades later, “I think I can, I think I can.” A smile grew across my face as I looked over the road’s edge down to a cove filled with teal salt water. I see the world I want to see and it begins with the kinds of things I'm telling myself. It also became inherently important for me to not only think positively but to act positively. My attitude has to match my perception. To think, to act and to become.

Rather than saying things like, “Damn, Croatia isn't all it's made out to be.” I can enjoy the privilege I've been granted to be on this adventure. I can be supportive to my travel partner and girlfriend, Lydia if she is having a struggle. Our positivity is useless if it is safeguarded in our minds. It must be shared with others to become real.

Ironic as life is, as my attitude and outlook began to shift, it was only another day until we found a wonderful place to stay on a quiet little island. My mind didn't change the fact that I am still surrounded by mountains, but they look beautiful again.

The poisonous seeds of expectations had destined me for disappointment and resentment. Rather than accepting the hand that was dealt, the expectations grew negativity in my mind and drained my spirit. We've summited mountains and crossed desert valleys. There were times when we had to dig hard to find anything left in that 41%, but it was always there.

Hope seemed a luxury of other folks, but we've never given up on each other or ourselves. I'm grateful for that conversation with my friend; you never know how the little things you share can greatly impact someone’s life. A conversation, a story, a small thank-you or a good luck - all in the spirit of uplifting care.

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