Cycling Before Dawn: Notes on Crossfit, Consciousness, and Comparisons


Home for a month before setting out on a new adventure, I resolve to make some changes in my life.

It starts with exercise. I’m a committed runner, a casual yogi, a beginning swimmer, and every week or so I head to the gym for an unfocused session of strength training.

In other words, it’s too random—so I resolve to change it up.

I now wake up at 5am, usually without an alarm. Am I that well-rested? Not at all … I’m just paranoid of being late for an appointment, worried I’ll sleep clear through to 8am if I don’t constantly wake up throughout the night to check the time.

I answer a few early emails, say hi to everyone on Twitter, and then fly out the door on my bike in the pre-dawn streets.

My appointment is 6:10am, outside an apartment building next to a storage lot and Portland’s own Voodoo Donut. From there I’ll meet my friend J.D. Roth, and we’ll hop in his car for a 20-minute drive outside the city to a small gym in the interior of a parking garage.

The first day I made the appointment, I also made a big mistake—no jacket. Yikes! Icicles formed on my legs and two of my fingers become frostbitten on the short ride to J.D.’s place, or so it seemed. The next day I put on the jacket and switched my running shorts for tights. Much better.

J.D. and I go to the gym to do Crossfit. The interesting thing about Crossfit is that it will kick your ass… and you’ll go back again the next day. You’ll spend 50 minutes warming up and learning various exercises, and then 10 minutes getting hit by a truck.

You will gladly pay $200 a month for this ass-kicking. You will hobble out the door feeling vaguely nauseous, and you’ll say, “That was great!”

On the second day I went and didn’t feel it was that difficult. No truck! Yeah, I’m tough… it was just that first day that killed me; I must have still been a little jet-lagged from the last trip. But then I returned on the third day, and the truck was right there waiting for me. Bam!

Set one of the routine was tough. If it was my own self-directed workout, I would have been done after set one was over. I would have congratulated myself for pushing it and had an extra slice of pizza that night. Yeah, I’m hardcore! But no—I still had two more sets.

By the end of set three, I was the last guy in the gym to finish the workout. Everyone else was cooling down and cheering me on, which I hate. It reminds me of running marathons, where complete strangers call out your number on mile 22 and say that you are “looking good” when obviously you aren’t.

“Excuse me, do I know you? Why are you cheering for me?” I always want to ask.

Apparently some people feel that this kind of support is helpful, so to be polite you are supposed to smile and wave.

At Crossfit I somehow manage to finish the hardest 10-minute workout in the world (Truck 1, Chris 0), and then I collapse on the ground. I finally stagger out to the car to meet J.D., who doesn’t look tired at all and has been glancing at his watch while I bring myself to a near-death state on a workout he has already mastered.


The next day I run to my regular gym and swim laps. Then I do yoga. I’m going all-out, exercising 40 days in a row and choosing active over passive whenever possible.

It’s not so much about getting fit, although that’s certainly a good thing.

It’s also that I am trying to make more conscious choices. Making conscious choices means that I ask myself conscious questions.

Do I really want to eat that cookie? Do I need a second drink? Can I switch the mid-morning coffee to herbal tea?

These choices matter. If I really want the cookie or the extra drink or extra coffee, I’ll have it and won’t feel guilty at all. But if I don’t want it, I won’t do it out of habit.

In just a few weeks, I’ll be back on the road, hitting up almost one city a day. New York, Boston, Washington, Arlington, Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Miami, Houston… and so on.

Until then, every day I come home from exercising and think, what needs to happen today? Which actions will take me closer to achieving my goals?

I have a spreadsheet with 2,800 data points so far—names, addresses, scheduled media, pitches in progress, etc. I do interviews and write posts that will go live next month. It’s fun and intense.

Whether exercising or emailing, I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s philosophy:

I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.

Riding my bike over to J.D.’s at 6am, I feel alive even when I’m freezing. Planning a big project, I feel alive. Hearing from friends and readers around the world, I feel alive.

Back at home, I lie on the carpet of my office for 15-minute cat naps. I get up and complete two more tasks and drink more water. I write the answers to another interview. I keep filling up the spreadsheet with more possibilities and confirmations.

Keep your head in the game, I tell myself. The actions you take now will determine the options available to you in the future. Plan, act. Work smart, but also work hard.


One of the questions I am asked in an interview is, “Why has your blog been so successful?”

Fair question, but it’s hard to answer it directly. First of all, there are plenty of blogs that are much more successful. Comparison on any level is poisonous. There will always be someone with more. When you focus strictly on more, you instantly set yourself up for failure.

At the same time, not focusing on more doesn’t mean you abandon the whole concepts of goals and success.

I have very real goals for what I hope to achieve with next month’s launch. The stakes are high. I need to deliver for my publishing partners and for everyone who is pitching in to help.

The real reason this project has been successful, such as it is, is that it took two years to figure out what I wanted to say. Most people give up much earlier; I kept going.

Remember: to have more luck, take more chances. To become wiser, take more risks.

I take more chances by getting up before dawn and riding my bike through the empty Portland streets. I take more risks by challenging myself to go further, in exercise, in career, in relationships, in the quality of what I offer to the world.

Flawed as the finished product may be, I will keep taking chances and risks. Wherever you are, I hope you do the same.


Image: Jesse

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