This past week, I was living like a nomad. I would bike to a new town, get settled into a campground, set up my tent, cook my dinner, sleep, and then tear everything down in the morning to move on to a new place. I saw amazing things and met amazing people. The kind of people who restore your faith in humanity by showing you that there are incredibly decent people in the world if you open yourself up a bit. As I sit here, finally settled in on Hornby Island, writing on the back porch and watching the cruise ships pass, just like my father always did as I was growing up, I am thinking about my first day of this little adventure.
My very first ride was excruciating. I was hungover from my cousin’s wedding the evening before, and I hadn’t practiced riding with my gear at all. The first time I actually got on my bike and pedaled with my 100 pounds of (probably mostly unnecessary) gear was when I rode my bike onto the ferry heading to Victoria. When we pulled into the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay, I was directed to a bike trail that was supposed to lead right to downtown Victoria near where I had reserved a room at a hostel. I neglected to look at a map, but if I had I would have been more prepared for the 20 mile ride I was about to embark on. I expected it to be a short, scenic, and relatively easy first day, but instead, it was grueling, delirium enducing, and I was thoroughly convinced that I was going to die. My thoughts were on a repeating cycle of “holy shit. What the hell have I done,” and “oh my God, I might die. I might actually die.”
I kept getting lost because there weren’t always signs telling me where the bike trail would go when I met an intersection, and I had no working phone with which to locate myself on Google Maps. I would bike for a few hundred feet, stop and cry, bike a few more hundred feet, stop and cry. After 2 hours it got dark. I was riding on the trail through the woods, over deer poop, with the sounds of the nature night life all around me. The heat radiating from my flushed and sweaty face made my glasses so foggy that I could barely see 5 feet in front of me. I was terrified, alone, and with no means to call for help. My hands were chapped from my bike handles because I ignored the advice of the bike salesman and didn’t buy cycling gloves (always wear cycling gloves!!), I had already eaten the single banana that I brought for what I thought would be a decent snack, and my head was spinning.
When I finally reached some signs of civilization, I saw some guy smoking a joint by the side of the road, and since I was pretty sure I was going to die anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask this possibly murdery stranger for some much needed help. I didn’t even hesitate. I stopped immediately and in a desperate frenzy shouted “I need you to call me a cab right now.” I think I may have actually frightened him because he quickly ran inside and next thing I know, there’s a taxi pulling up in front of me with its cab light appearing as a light from the heavens. The cab driver and I struggled to fit my bike and gear in the back of his tiny Prius, and after much trial and error, we got it in, and I got safely to my hostel in downtown Victoria. PHEW. I didn’t die. It was a fucking miracle. While I spent days 2 and 3 Victoria, I did some much needed resting, got myself a working phone (thanks, Mom), some real food, and some money for lodging on my trip (thanks supporters!).
Once Wednesday came around, it was time to trek along once more. I packed up my massive amount of gear and biked on to Goldstream Provincial Park. This ride was hard, but I was already stronger than I was on the first ride, and I actually really enjoyed this trip. I didn’t even cry once. Huzzah! I set up my tent, made my dinner of rice and miso soup, and passed out. Then I got up, teared down my tent, packed up all my gear, and prepared for the arduous journey over the Malahat.
The fucking Malahat. My. God. When I reached the first incline, I was like, “um, hell no,” and the first incline was the easiest, by far. My bike being so overburdened with gear was too hard to try and ride up the mountain. Even in the lowest gear the weight kept it from being able to move upward because my legs were not yet strong enough to overpower gravity. So, I had to walk my bike up 6 miles of steep incline in searing heat, as logging trucks and semis whizzed past me at 70 miles an hour.
After 4 and a half hours, I finally reached the summit, and it was absolutely beautiful. Even though I hadn’t actually biked up the Malahat, I had still walked up lugging 100 plus pounds, which in itself is an accomplishment. As I was hauling myself up the mountain, my legs kept slamming into my bike pedals with full force. Each time was more painful than the one before it as the already tender parts of my legs were smashed repeatedly, and now my shins and calfs are so bruised they look like a Jackson Pollack painting. (I could seriously just take close up pictures of my legs and sell them on eBay, and no one would be the wiser.) Anyway, I reached the summit! Woohoo! After that, it was all downhill to Bamberton Provincial Park. My incredibly heavy bicycle sailed downhill to the point that I was terrified by how fast I was going. I had to squeeze the breaks so tight that my thumbs now have tendonitis, and I am unsure whether or not the feeling in my index fingers will ever come back, but damn was it exhilerating.
After Bamberton was Duncan where my mom, the glorious and generous woman that she is, put me up in a little hotel called the Thunderbird Motor Inn so I could have a shower, do some laundry, and finish my online homework. Here was where I met two of the sweetest people in the world. The couple who run the Inn, Martin and Maureen, were so amazingly kind. They were so interested in what I was doing and made sure that I was comfortable and had everything that I needed. (If you ever find yourself in Duncan, BC and in need of a nice place to rest your head for the night, stay here). During these few days, I seriously felt the best I have ever felt in my life. I was happier, more positive, and had boundless energy. It’s amazing what an effect exercise can have on your mind. I honestly never want to go back to the way things were before. This is the way to live.
After I got a good night’s rest, I hopped back on my bicycle, bruises and all, and biked about 27 miles to the Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, BC. I had to do more homework after setting up my tent and unloading my gear (thankfully the office had wifi). When I was finally finished, I began my usual routine of cooking my dinner. I hadn’t eaten nearly as much as I should have with such a long ride, so my hands were shaky, and I was dizzy and exhausted. While I was checking on my rice, I accidentally knocked the pot off of the stove, sending my long-awaited dinner plummeting onto the dirt and gravel.
After a mild panic attack, or what I’m sure appeared as a nervous breakdown to onlooking campers, I was finally able to cook another batch of rice, eat some much needed dinner, and get some rest.
When I woke up the next morning, my body wouldn’t move. My muscles and joints were on strike. I could barely sit up, my hips and legs were throbbing, and my crotch felt like someone used it for sparring practice. I called my mommy (because, yes, even at 26 I still need my mommy), and I cried to her for about 20 minutes about how I didn’t think I could do this anymore, and wah wah waahh. She gave me some much needed encouragement, and convinced me to rest for a day. I spent another night at the campground and decided to begin again the following morning. Since the campground had already reserved my site for another camper coming in, I had to move campsites, but got really lucky with an amazing ocean front site. As I was awkwardly hauling a giant bundle of fire wood to my new site, I met two amazing campers, Kathy and Woody (sorry if I misspelled your names) who generously gave me a bunch of their left over food. They went above and beyond by helping me move the rest of my stuff to my new site. Once again, you meet amazing people out there, eh? After I was finally settled in to my new site, I got my fire going, read a book (that I accidentally ended up stealing from the campground library. Oops), and marveled at the beautiful view from my tent.
The next morning it was back to the bicycle. Aaaaand also back to the crying. I was so tired and in so much pain. My thigh muscles were starting to spasm, my shoulders were blistered and sunburned because apparently sunscreen sweats off even if it says it doesn’t, and you need to reapply that shit, like, 50 times a day.
As my backpack chaffed against my sunburned skin, my tailbone sent shooting pains across my rear, and the damned wind pushed against me so hard it counteracted all of my pedaling efforts, I broke down into tears on the side of the road. I had reached a point where I just wanted to throw my bike off a cliff, or let myself get hit by a car. It was the lowest point of my trip. (And my stooopid ukulele. Why in the hell did I bring my stupid ukulele. I can’t count the amount of times I wanted to smash that thing on the pavement, but I can count how many times I actually played it while I’ve been on this trip: Zero). After my little pity party, I forced myself back on my bike and rode until I had to cry again. Once the endorphins finally kicked in, I felt great. (Seriously, endorphins are amazeballs. Do they sell them over the counter?)
The next day I was dead set on making it to Buckley Bay, a 36 mile ride, which was either due to this experience turning me into a more self propelled person (see what I did there?), or the insanity was starting to set in. I have a feeling it was both. The slightest hill felt like a mountain as my body grew more tired and achey, but I was determined to get there. I finally made it to the ferry terminal at Buckley Bay and was so relieved and proud of myself for having pushed myself so far. Then I realized I had no more money (money does not go very far in Canada. Sheesh), so I didn’t have enough to pay for a night at the Denman campground. There was no way I was going to make the last ferry to Hornby on a bicycle, so I hitched a ride the rest of the way with a really nice man named Lazlo. (Who was also quite the conspiracy theorist and went on about how I needed to “read the internet”).
Now that I have finally arrived on Hornby, I still feel like none of this is real. I feel like I’m really in a coma and I’m imagining this entire experience because I can’t believe I really did it. I have a newfound respect and love for my body and its amazing abilities because it completely surpassed my own expectations. (Way to go, body!) I feel so much more capable, and I have a faith in myself that I never thought I would have. I am so grateful for this little adventure that I had. With all of its ups and downs, both metaphorical and literal (and there were many), it was the most incredible experience of my life so far. As I use my next few days on Hornby to recuperate, I look forward to heading into the next leg to Boston wiser, more realistic, and much more prepared.