Cook: On the road again

Cook: On the road again

July 7th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.

- Jack Kerouac

Chris Janda is 38 and lives in North Chattanooga. He's married with two kids, a mortgage and a waist a touch wider than it was 20 years ago.

"Taco Bell," he said. "Probably 200 times a year."

Janda loves his life. But every now and then, the feeling comes -- you may know it -- when the everyday routine gets a little humdrum. Not a depression or the blues, but an itch. An itch for something ... bigger.

On Monday morning, Janda's going to scratch it.

"At 7 o'clock, baby," he said. "I'm getting on an airplane."

Flying to Denver, he'll catch a ride with his aunt to the nearest Dick's Sporting Goods to buy a new bike. Not a fancy pants titanium job, but a blue-collar, yeoman, $300 set of wheels.

Then, he'll bungee-cord some rinsed-out Gatorade bottles to the back of his bike, load up a pannier bag with an extra shirt and shorts, his cellphone charger, toothbrush and wallet, find the nearest road headed east ... and start pedaling back home.

"Eighty miles a day," he said.

Traveling with him is his buddy Gene Haman. Their plan: 20 days on the TransAmerica Trail, a route of highways from the West Coast to the East. Thousands bike it each year; few do it the way Janda and Haman are doing it.

Neither has been riding a bike. Haman doesn't even own a bike helmet.

"And I don't wear spandex," said Haman, who owns a hardwood flooring company here. "I'm coming right off the couch. I've been doing the 12-ounce curls ... for exercise."

Before bed, Janda does toe lifts and squats. Some nights, he walks laps around the neighborhood. Goes to the park to pitch baseball with his son. There, in a reverse of the ancient father-son ritual, Caleb throws his dad the grounders.

"I'm running all over the place," Janda said. "Kids at the park are like, 'What is this guy doing?'"

Think the trip will squash them like bugs? Think again. The two have gobs of something worth far more (OK, worth almost as much) as aerobic conditioning.

Motivation.

Wanting to get healthy and keep alive a fire that seems to grow dimmer the closer we get to 40, Janda and Haman are like Lewis and Clark in the days of fast food and craft beer. Their trip represents the struggle we all face between 21st century meaninglessness and adventure. Not leg-shaving Lance Armstrongs, the two are modern Everymen, searching for something more than a plain-bagel kind of life.

Plus, this trip ain't their first rodeo.

At 19, Janda rode his beach cruiser bike from his Virginia Beach home to North Carolina, carrying on his back a duffel bag full of blue jeans, his cassette tapes and a boogie board.

"I heard there was a go-cart track in the Outer Banks that would hire anybody," he said

At 21, he rode from Chattanooga to Daytona Beach. Then to Virginia, with $20 in his pocket. Wasn't long before he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

In 2000, he and Haman rode from San Diego all the way to Hilton Head.

"Every last mile," said Janda.

I met Janda years ago, when he was a mechanic with a garage in Red Bank. With his miles-wide kindness, humor and street smarts, Janda was the exact opposite of the stereotypical wrench-slapping crooked mechanic. (More than once, I thought the bill he gave me was unfair. Too high? No, I told him, not high enough.)

In 2009, he left the garage for real estate. The blue-collar sweat of lifting tires and pumping jacks was replaced by something else -- the open road soon began to call.

"He works hard for our family," his wife, Mandy, said. "It's time he had an adventure."

Time more of us did as well.

"We're going to do some soul-searching and step outside of our comfort zone," said Haman. "Get in shape. Get away from the daily grind."

Live deep and suck the marrow out of life, Thoreau exhorted. Janda says it differently.

"I want to go to bed every night worn out and satisfied and fulfilled," he said.

Godspeed, fellas. Next time, let the rest of us go with you.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.