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Downhills Don’t Come Free

Downhills Don’t Come Free by Jerry Holl

Ted O’Connell, MD | AIAMC Programming Committee | Former National Initiative Leader for Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Team

Before you read this book review, I have an activity I’d like you to consider. Seriously…

I think it will make the rest of this narrative much more engaging and meaningful. Close your eyes a moment and take four or five deep cleansing breaths. Now think about what you would like to do if you could take a three-month sabbatical from your career to do whatever you’d like. You may also consider what you would like to do in your retirement if that is on the horizon. Don’t limit yourself. Think big and bold. Try to get out of your comfort zone. Is there something you would like to do but perhaps have fears that are holding you back? Once you’ve had the opportunity to consider this, read on to learn about one individual’s story of embracing adventure, finding strength and resilience, and overcoming fear.

Embracing Adventure and Uncertainty

At the age of 57, Jerry Holl decided to quit his corporate career, largely to escape what he calls his fear of a “living death” that involved the tasks and stresses of a job while not truly living life. He decided to pursue an adventure riding his bicycle from Alaska to Mexico on his own. He was not an experienced cyclist and didn’t have a concrete plan for the ride. He didn’t know much about bicycles nor how to fix them. He hadn’t done a lot of long bike rides nor trained adequately for such a pursuit. What he did was embrace adventure and the mindset that he could summon the inner strength, grit, and resourcefulness to complete the journey. He embraced adventure and uncertainty.

“Downhills Don’t Come Free” is the story of Jerry Holl’s solo ride from Anchorage, Alaska to the Mexican border. The book provides the reader on a day-by-day narrative of this 51-day journey, with vivid descriptions of each day’s ride. The author paints pictures of breathtaking beauty, encounters with wild animals, being challenged by inclement weather, and sleeping outdoors in his tent. The author describes the challenges of sustained solitude, finding sufficient sources of food in the backcountry to fuel the journey, and dealing with uneven roads and dangerous trucks. He also covers the discomfort of riding in the face of wind, rain, and cold weather as he grinds the gears up steep mountain roads and speeds down the long descents. He also includes a summary of daily mileage, total mileage, and topography.

There are numerous lessons in this book that can be applied to one’s personal life and work life:

1. Downhills really don’t come free. Effort and hard work are required and lead to the pleasurable fruits of one’s labor. 

2. Getting out of one’s comfort zone now and again can expand one’s horizons, create an opportunity to overcome challenges, test oneself, and lead to joyous experiences.

3. It’s okay to be alone on occasion.

4. We’re all capable of more than we think we are.

5. Planning is important but won’t always account for unexpected variables.

6. The generosity of strangers may be a surprise. The behavior of strangers may also be a disappointment.

7. Embracing challenges can open new frontiers in one’s life.

8. We shouldn’t wait too long to do the things we’ve always dreamed about.

Brief Bio of this AIAMC Member 

Dr. Ted O’Connell is the Director of Medical Education for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He provides leadership and oversees for Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s 21 residency training programs and 15 fellowship programs which include 450 sponsored residents and fellows as well as 1100 visiting residents.  He is a prolific author, currently serving as Editor-in-Chief for Elsevier’s Clinical Key MedEd and oversees all CME programs for TPMG’s 10,000 physicians which includes over 5000 CME programs annually.