The impetus of our upcoming Epic Journey is really very basic: We want to live a better life; we want a better story to tell. We want to move away from spending our time and energy reacting to outside forces and problems and just coasting through life. We long to chart our own course, create something from scratch, grow an amazing family and a truly live a full and intentional life. We want to REALLY LIVE.
- “Want Something.” (Okay, I can do that. I want a lot of things.)
- “Envision a Climactic Scene.” (Yep, I can do that, too. I have a lot of cool stuff floating around in my head. Wow, this stuff’s not too hard.)
- “Create an Inciting Incident” (Whoa! Wait a minute. This doesn’t sound very positive. Sounds like it might be even a little painful. )
We have been working on the first two tips for more than five years. Rewind just four years before that to when we were newly married and ready to finish our respective graduate programs: Steve with a doctorate degree in physical therapy and me with my master’s in School Administration and Policy Studies. We’re all in with fulfilling the American Dream.
Living the “American Dream”
Shortly after graduation school we set off to climb the ladder of success. I was moving from classroom teaching toward the administrative route pretty quickly. I was the high school summer school principal one year; I was just 26 years old. The next year I was the principal of the night school program. I was being given administrative duties at my high school. Soon after Steve became Dr. Steve, he started working as a physical therapist with a dream to open his own clinic someday. However, within a year of graduation, he was miserable. He switched jobs a few times and things were good for a few months, but when the novelty wore off, the misery returned with even more vengeance. We both wondered what was wrong with him.
We decided that a big house was next for us. Along with the big house came an even bigger mortgage. It was okay though; we could afford it because I was working mad hours outside of the regular school day as a private tutor, a home-bound teacher for the county, and an administrator. Leaving the house at 6am and returning back at 9pm was the norm Monday-Friday. Then there was summer school to supplement my income. No problem.
All the while, we lived the American Dream as we were quietly yet diligently chugging away at trying to figure something else out. We solicited the help of career coach and author (and now friend) Dan Miller to help us sort through everything. After some time, we got some fresh perspective from Dan and several other “non-traditional work people” and learned that we weren’t wire to be doing the jobs we were doing. We worked to create a new plan. During that time, tip #3, our “inciting events”, happened and turned our normal world up side down.
Our Inciting Events
I hesitate to share really personal information because 1) I’m a relatively private person and 2) I don’t like to feel like I’m being pitied, even when it’s just merely heartfelt sympathy. However, since our story was really precipitated by these milestones, not sharing it would be leaving a huge chunk out of the narrative.
In mid 2007, after being married for six years with the house, two cars, adult toys like bikes and big screen TVs, and “good” jobs, Steve and I took the next step in the “American Dream” and started a family. We timed everything so the birth of Baby Berkey would come toward the end of the school year where I would have late April to June on maternity leave and June-August for summer vacation. We bought all the books. We kept the secret for the requisite three months and had a blast sharing our secret over Christmas. It was my mom’s first grandchild. It was a very special Christmas complete with a surprise ultrasound picture and all.
Then, out of the blue, on the morning I was to have returned to work after Christmas break, I experienced some slight bleeding and called my doctor as a precaution. Long story short, we lost the baby. We were completely blindsided. With it being our first, we weren’t experienced with the risk of miscarriage. I have never known of anyone to have one. It wasn’t on my radar by a long shot.
We struggled for a few weeks, and I walked around feeling like I was stuck in a bad dream, but we were dealing with it. Our families and friends were extremely supportive. Then, just a few weeks later, we got blindsided by another life-altering event.
On a follow up visit to my OB/GYN, I voiced a concern about a mole that I noticed during the pregnancy. Again, a long story short, I was diagnosed with melanoma. Fortunately, it was found very early. My treatment included surgery, lymph node mapping, blood work, and a chest x-ray to make sure it hadn’t spread to my lungs or lymph nodes. Chemo and radiation were not necessary since it was caught so soon.
Here’s the blessing in disguise: the pregnancy alerted me to the cancer. I would have never known had I not been seeing a doctor regularly. I hardly ever saw a doctor; I didn’t even have a PCP. We call that baby our Angel Baby whose purpose was to alert his/her mama to the cancer that was growing in her. Obviously, we wish we would have had the baby, but God’s ways are not our ways.
The miscarriage and the cancer were the two worst things and, at the same time, two of the best things that ever happened to me because they shifted my perspective on life and my purpose. I vividly recall Steve and I having to make the decision about how much time he could take off of work to be with me after the miscarriage and before the pending cancer surgery. His time off was limited, but our sorrow didn’t follow the same schedule. I desperately wanted more control over my life. Some things you have little control over, but others you do. I wanted to tap into those areas and regain control.
In May 2009, we were blessed with the birth of Elijah, another inciting event. Literally overnight, climbing the professional ladder and working long hours to afford our house and our lifestyle lost its luster because I was exchanging my time with Elijah and Steve for a shell of an existence. (I won’t even venture into my thoughts on the challenges and frustrations of working within the constraints of a large public school system and trying to make a difference in the lives of high school students.)
When we continued to evaluate our lives, we found that money was always the barrier that kept us from having more freedom. (I know…. shocker, huh?) We decided to deal with the house situation. After all, it was the biggest money pit for us. After I came to the understanding that our house was only a physical structure and not part of my identity or a status symbol, all of the other pieces started to fall into place.
Our plan was to move to a less expensive house in a nearly town and rent for a few years. We’d continue to grow our family and keep chugging along with the long-term plan: Steve contracting two days a week at a PT clinic and working on the business on the other days, Elijah being lovingly care for by a babysitter turned friend for those two days, and me continuing to teach. Then, one more inciting event came along and served as the ultimate tipping point. On October 13, 2011 I experienced a second miscarriage, and this one had complications that led to another surgery and a few months of follow-up treatment.
This tipping point brought forth a whole new level of gazelle intensity (as Dave Ramsey would put it). We envisioned growing our family in our new house. By this time, if all had gone as planned, we’d have a two month old infant and be on course for our 5-year plan.
Things didn’t go as planned. Instead, here we are; we’re on the eve of the day that will change everything. Up until now, the majority of our inciting events have been thrust upon us without our input and we’d been left to deal with the fall out. But now, we’re engineering our own life-changing event. For better or for worst, we’re going for it. We’re ready to live a better story.
The Epic Adventure
The Epic Adventure officially stated when we both “retired” from our jobs in mid June. We packed up and moved out of our rental home. Many of our possessions have been sold, given to friends and family, or donated to Goodwill.
We spent the past two weeks spending time with our families in Pennsylvania. From July 2 until mid September, Steve, Elijah, and I will be traveling the country. We’ll be camping, staying with friends and family when we have the opportunity, and when we can’t stand the smell of each other anymore, we’ll spring for a hotel room for a good night sleep and a hot shower. We’ve been lovingly referred to as nomads, hippies, vagabonds, dreamers, adventurers, and crazies depending on each person’s perspective.
In any case, we refuse to continue an existence, as Theodore Roosevelt so eloquently put it, within “the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”. We’re going all in, for better or for worse.
Our travel, while fun and adventurous, will serve a specific purpose: to grow 90 Revolutions. We’ll be meeting people, both within and outside of the endurance world and hearing their stories. We’ll use the opportunity to create a documentary of sorts to capture the passion of others. Steve will be riding scenic cycling routes and capturing the footage to turn into training software. We’ll be operating out of our comfort zones and taking the road less traveled. It will be amazing.
The end of August will bring with it my last paycheck from my ’11-’12 school year contract. We figure by then, we’ll be fresh out of money. Being the responsible adults we are, we have a plan. Steve will pick up a 13-week traveling PT contract at a location to be determined. He’ll work to fill up the coffers, and we’ll head out on another round of adventures until that money runs out. Rinse and repeat. Our hope is that 90 Revolutions is self-sustaining by the spring.
So…. bring on the adventure. Bring on the uncertainty. We have a life story to write.