Star Gazer

When I was growing up in my family house in the little town of Milwaukie, OR, my siblings and I would lie out on our giant backyard deck, cuddled up in our sleeping bags while peering out into the stars. We waited with bated breath in our childhood wonderment for the brief but spectacular performance of a shooting star. When it finally happened, we would be overcome with glee for having witnessed one of the universe’s miraculous wonders, and then it would be over. Laying on the deck, giggling in excitement, we would continue to stare eagerly at the sky in anticipation of the next show. No matter how many shooting stars we happened to glimpse, each one was truly special in our eyes, and we lived perfectly and completely in that moment.

For the past few days, I have been pondering the ephemerality of this experience. Looking back at my time in Wisconsin as I am to depart to Michigan in mere hours, I can’t help but be conflicted in my emotions. It is a bittersweet cocktail of joie de vivre, and the subtle ebbing of melancholy that feels strangely reminiscent of homesickness. In the condensed period of less than three weeks, I feel like I have lived more than I have in my entire adult life. Each day and each new town brought with it a new and completely transformative experience. I would stay in the home of a complete stranger, and by the time I was supposed to go I would feel like I was leaving a friend. Incredibly amazing (and sometimes completely random) opportunities would present themselves, which I would seize with enthusiasm, leaving me with the thrill of awaiting the possibilities that were still yet to come.

I am only a quarter of the way through my trip, and I am overwhelmed by the anticipation of what has not yet come to pass. This entire adventure is a meteor shower. Every single experience and new connection made is a shooting star; luminous and beautiful, and completely transient. Not one experience can be recreated and can only be fully appreciated, perfectly and completely, in the moment.

This Erratic Life

In geology, an erratic is defined as a rock or boulder that has been carried a long distance, and then left behind by glacial processes. The powerful ice plucks it from its home in the bedrock, and abandons it in a completely foreign land, totally out of place in its environment, scoured and eroded by the frictional forces from the ice and ground. The boulder has no choice in the matter. It simply goes with the flow, completely surrendering itself to powerful forces beyond its control.

Part One:

Two and a half months ago, I was a stick in the mud, completely stagnant and unchanging. I pretty much never wanted to leave the apartment, and was completely content to sit on the couch all day and waste away in front of the television. Life was happening all around me, but I wasn’t participating. I would peruse Facebook and see everyone living their lives and moving on with great careers, great loves, and great stories, but the only stories I could tell were about what happened on the most recent show I had been binge watching for days in a row. Mostly, the only people I would interact with would be my immediate family, and the occasional friend, since I was almost never going to class. The thirty minute train ride and fifteen minute walk to campus seemed too exhausting to me and I didn’t have the energy, so it was easier to just come up with an excuse to stay at home, and justify my laziness. If I did venture out into the world and talk to a kind stranger, I would feel so proud of myself for having had allowed myself to experience something out of my norm. I was in a persistent state of lethargy, and always seemed to feel sick either with a headache, or some other phantom ailment that would make me obsessed with taking my temperature. I just never felt quite right, and now that I think about it, I wonder if my bouts of hypochondria were a  manifestation of the unconscious belief that if I wasn’t really living, then I must be dying.

My complete lack of exercise made me an emotional basket case. I was reactive and defensive, and would fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. When things didn’t go my way, I would freak out and catastrophize the situation like it was the end of the fucking world that they didn’t have the exact item I wanted at the store. (Ugh. But I drove all the way there…) Going with the flow was an impossible feat for me. I didn’t understand the concept that, hey, maybe this wasn’t really that big of a deal and I shouldn’t lose my shit over something I wasn’t even going to remember in an hour. My emotional extremes put people on edge, and put a huge strain on my relationship with my sister. (Who, I might add, was completely financially supporting me.) She could never approach me with things I did that bothered her because, in my eyes, I was perfect and there was nothing wrong with my behavior at all, and maybe she was the problem. (She wasn’t. I was, most decidedly, the problem.) I had the emotional maturity and entitlement of a hormonal fifteen year old, so calm and adult conversations were pretty much off the table.

Since I started this journey in May, things have not always gone smoothly, per se. In fact, there has been many an occasion where things felt like, as they would say in Ren and Stimpy, a steaming sack of protoplasm. When my family took off for Vancouver, BC on May 15th for my cousin Kate’s wedding, my sister and her fiancé were kind enough to transport my bike for me. (Although, I didn’t see it that way at the time. They were doing me a huge favor and I acted like they some how owed me, adding to the list of reasons why I was a shitty human.) During a parking structure back-up mishap, my bike frame got mildly crushed against a cement wall that was in Jimmie’s blind spot. They felt horrible. My sister was a wreck. She couldn’t stop crying and endlessly apologized. I was pretty much inconsolable. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t even left yet, and the universe was already throwing a wrench in my plans. I cursed the universe in anger and frustration and was tempted to not even go anymore. Angela and Jimmie drove all over town until they found a bicycle repair man that could fix it in one day. They seriously sacrificed their entire day before the wedding to help me get this fixed. And did I mention it was Jimmie’s fucking birthday?? Yeah…excuse me while I go try to go make up for being a shitty sister-in-law for the rest of my life.

Since I started the Boston trip, things have been visibly different. Obstacles haven’t stopped popping up at the worst possible moments, but my reaction to them has been considerably different. My outlook on the world has completely changed, and I can’t even recall when it happened. There is a lightness to my being that makes wonderful things come into my life without even trying, and it is the absolute best feeling in the world. In contrast to my previous interactions being only with people I knew, now the opposite is true. Now I only meet new people that never would have come into my life if I hadn’t learned to go with the flow. 

Part Two:

On just this last Friday, while I was cycling through Trempealeau, WI, I was going to stop at Perrot State Park for the night. As I got closer to my destination, I had the sudden desire to keep going. It was so beautiful out, and it was beginning to cool down since it was approaching the evening hours. Google Maps decided to lead me down what I described on Facebook as a creepy murder trail that was constructed out of dirt and densely packed gravel and forged its way through dense woods that I didn’t feel particularly safe traveling down alone.

I made a judgement call, and figured, eh, why not? Down the creepy murder trail I went. As I pedaled over rocks and sticks I wondered if maybe I had made the wrong call. That’s when I approached a small bridge overlooking a river filled with beautiful foliage that was incredibly reminiscent of the Florida Everglades. It was stunningly beautiful, and I was immediately grateful for this detour. As I continued my jaunt down the nature trail, another cyclist, a very attractive man named Lupe, a sexy Texan with a thick southern accent, stopped me to warn me of some wild boar up ahead on the trail. Noticing that my bike was practically buried by gear, he asked me what the heck I was up to. When I told him I was biking to Boston, he was so impressed and fascinated that he gave me his number and insisted on taking me to dinner to hear more about me and my adventure. He rode away and I seriously questioned whether or not I should take him up on his offer. I had no idea who this man was, and for all I knew he was a wolf in sheeps clothing, luring me into a false sense of security before going in for the kill. As I rode toward the less risky campground, I felt like maybe, just maybe, this was a risk worth taking. I was completely covered in dead gnats that had been trapped in my sweat and sunscreen like fly paper, and having to camp in that condition with only wet wipes to clean me sounded disgusting and awful. So I took a chance, and texted him that I would take him up on his offer for dinner, as well as the shower that he didn’t offer. Going to a restaurant looking like a bug zapper didn’t really seem appealing. I pulled up to the front of his hotel in La Crosse when he called me on my cell phone. “Hey, I see you, I’m over by my car, can you see me waving?” He asked. “Umm, yeah I see you. Why are you all the way over there?” I wondered. “Oh, my calf is spasming and I couldn’t ride any more. Come meet me by my car.”

Ummmm…thanks but no thanks? I felt incredibly uncomfortable and pretty creeped out. Why was this guy trying to beckon me away from people to his somewhat concealed car in the middle of a parking lot?  I slipped my knife into my sports bra for easy access and I started walking with my bike toward the direction of his car, when he met me halfway with his bike. “Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to freak you out, I honestly just couldn’t bike anymore and had to lay in the bed of my truck until my calf stopped hurting. I promise you, you are safe with me.” Still not completely convinced, I followed him with caution toward the back entrance of the hotel. “Great,” I thought, “now he’s leading me to the back entrance that may as well have a sign saying ‘this way to Murdersville.'” But still, I proceeded to follow him, my hand spasming in its readiness to reach for my mace hanging from my backpack strap. We walked up to his room where he let me in and helped me maneuver my bike through the door passed the dresser and chairs. The door shut behind us with a clank, and what do you know, he didn’t murder me. “The bathroom is right back there, so feel free to shower. There are plenty of towels.” I jumped in, let the warm water wash away the insect graveyard I had amassed through the evening and basked in the joy of cleanliness.

After my shower, he took me to dinner at an Italian Pizzeria across the street, where we ended up having such a great time. As I drank a Dead Guy Ale that I was incredibly excited to find so far from home, I told him all about my adventures so far, and he was particularly intrigued by my experience with Sundance at his farm. It felt like chatting with an old friend, getting caught up over good food and beer. I felt silly having been so scared before. He had a room with two double beds, so he offered to let me stay there for the night since I didn’t have money to get my own room, and I obviously wasn’t going to be biking all the way to my campground at eleven at night. We slept in our separate beds, talking and teasing each other like we had known each other for years, and it was such a blast. There was absolutely no expectation of anything physical, and it made me feel incredibly at ease. He was just a nice guy who wanted to do something nice for a fellow cyclist, and if I had acted on my fear of the worst case scenario, none of it would have happened. It was a completely new experience that I am so glad I opened myself up to.

Part Three:

When I left the hotel, I had decided I should try to make up some of the distance that I had lost when I was at Liberty Tree Farm and bought a train ticket from Tomah to Milwaukee. I was in La Crosse, but I really wanted at least one more day to experience the beauty of Wisconsin, so I opted to give myself another day of cycling before hopping the train. I couldn’t make it all in one go because my legs were starting to freeze up, so I stayed at a super seedy motel in Sparta, (which I named the Dismemberment Motel) and left at six the following morning to complete the journey. As I rode up to the Tomah train station, I was blind sided by the fact that it was a completely unmanned station, with no way to check on my bike and luggage. I called up Amtrak, and they informed me that the closest station that could accommodate my bike was in La Crosse. Where I had just biked 45 miles from. She assured me that there was nothing they could do, so I would just have to wait for the train (which was delayed four hours) to arrive, and beg the conductor to let me take it on. I took a deep breath and reassured myself that everything would be okay, and that it wasn’t that big of a deal. I knew I would figure something out. When hunger pangs started to become an overwhelming distraction from my problem solving, I went on a hunt for a nearby cafe, and decided to dine at the first one I saw.

I plopped myself down in a large comfy booth and enjoyed some much needed coffee and breakfast. As I chatted with my server, I told her all about the train situation and inquired about cheap places to stay in town, and partially jokingly asked if there was any good samaritan that might let me crash on their couch. (It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?) She perked up and said, “Actually, I totally wouldn’t mind if you crashed at my place, to be honest. Just text me if it turns out that they won’t take your bike.” She gave me her cell phone number as I expressed my undying gratitute, and I headed back to the train station. When the train arrived, everyone swarmed the conductor with their tickets at the ready, completely blocking me off to him. I stood there in line, rolling my bike with one hand as I held my two giant duffel bags with the other, sweating due to my nerves and the ninety degree weather. As the conductor approached me and saw me standing there with my bike in tow, he sighed, put his hand to his forehead, and shook his head no. “Please,” I begged, “I didn’t know that I couldn’t bring my bike on board at this station, and I really need to get on this train. I will seriously stand there with my bike the entire time.” After a few minutes of me trying to convince him to bend the rules just a little bit for a customer who could really use some help, he said, “sorry. I can’t do it. I will get fired.” As I stood there watching the train pull away, leaving me alone on the platform, I thought to myself “hmm, oh well. Guess I’m staying here for the night.” I texted Hailey (my server) and she came and picked up my things from the train station and I followed her to her house on my bike. We ended up spending the evening peeling paint off the walls of her new house that she and her boyfriend are renovating while drinking beers and goofing off. It was among my top five fun experiences so far on this adventure, and it came into my life by complete chance.

Throughout this journey, I have learned that things always seem to work out exactly the way they are supposed to. I never know what obstacle might take me on a new adventure, in a new place and with new people. I feel like an erratic. Strong and solid, but still carried along by forces beyond my control, covered in the scrapes and scars of my travels, but in the end tranformed into something miraculous and beautiful. Completely out of place, and yet exactly where I’m supposed to be.

She’s Leaving Home

When I first left Portland to begin this adventure, it was bittersweet. I was so excited for what I was about to experience, but I was also so nervous and terrified by the gravity of what I was taking on. I was a little bit sad to leave, but I had honestly been incredibly relieved at the same time. I was no longer going to be a burden to my sister and her fiancé, and I was going to be completely free and on my own for the first time in a very long time. I didn’t really feel like I was leaving my home. I felt like I was leaving to find it.

Part One:

Last Friday, I set off once again to begin my journey from Minneapolis to Boston. Having had ample time to relax since leaving Victoria, I was brimming with energy and felt stronger than ever. Even with all of my gear overburdening my bike, I sailed uphill as my She-Hulk thighs pushed and pushed. It took a while to get out of Minneapolis by staying on the bike paths, but before I knew it, I was on the highway once again. When I imagined biking through the midwest when planning my trip, I just assumed it would be flat. I had an image in my mind of endless corn fields as far as the eye can see. The reality, however, is much less ideal. Endless rolling hills depleted me of my energy, and forced me to utilize every ounce of willpower that I could muster to make it a mere one hundred yards at a time. I had mapped out the longest route that I had so far up to this point due to my misguided assumptions about the topography. (Seriously, will I ever learn to actually prepare for things?) I had made it forty miles before I began to feel stalked by death, and see the acid-trip-esque distortion of the world around me.

I still had another seven miles until my campground, but I knew I wouldn’t make it on the mere six hundred calories I had ingested for the entire day. I decided to hole up in the closest (and cheapest) motel that I could find. With only a smoking room available on the main floor, I suffered through the inhalation of toxic chemicals, flattened myself onto the bed, and buried my sunburned face into the pillow. A monsoon of tears poured from my eyes and painful sobs tore through my esophagus. I could only lay on my stomach because my tail bone hurt so severely that any position other than that one sent shooting pains through my body. The only person in the world I wanted to talk to was my mom, but I couldn’t get a signal in my room, and since I had opted for a motel on the cheap, I couldn’t call long distance on the room phone. My loneliness consumed me and my soul felt like a deflated balloon. I continued to sob and cry until my dehydration prevented the production of any more tears. As I lay there trying to console myself, I decided to start planning my ride for the following day.

I poured over Google Maps desperately trying to find a town with a campground within a reasonable cycling distance. Everything that turned up in my search results was either far too pricey, or all booked up for the Fourth of July. After much deliberation, I finally found this seemingly obscure place called Liberty Tree Farm just outside of the small town of Stockholm, WI. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “It says it offers camping, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a campground.” I decided not to take any chances and dialed the number that was listed. On the other end, an incredibly kind and enthusiastic voice came on which belonged to a gentleman named Sundance, and I inquired about camping at his establishment. He said that they don’t usually allow camping, except during events, but as luck would have it, he was going to be having one that day since it was the Fourth of July. He continued to paint a picture of an incredibly epic celebration that I wanted more than anything to attend. The only pitfall was that it was forty-seven long and painful miles away. I decided to take on the challenge because the last thing I wanted was to spend the All-American holiday alone in the woods.

I awoke the next morning to a hollow feeling in my heart. I wondered if I wanted to keep going. My body was broken and tired and limp, and it took conscious effort to move any part of it. I thought of the Independence Day celebration at the farm, and a small glimmer of excitement ignited in my soul. I held onto that thought as I packed up my gear, and let it rest in the back of my mind as I headed out the door. I stopped for some breakfast to refuel me, and then slowly lowered myself onto my bike to try to prepare myself for the stabbing pain in my tailbone. I immediately knew I wasn’t going to make it. My legs were like wet noodles, and no matter how much effort I used to push my pedals, I could barely propel my bike forward. The rolling hills were murder. My bike chain kept slipping off of my chainwheel, and I lost a lot of time having to stop to repair it. I made it fifteen miles before I called it. I was done for the day. No July 4th celebration for me. There was a sign for a nearby campground only four miles away, so I headed off, away from the promise of fireworks and patriotic celebration. The signs led me down a terrifying and murdery looking gravel road that went on forever. My bike tires being built for touring, and not mountain biking, kept slipping on the loose gravel and I would topple to the hard ground with my massively heavy bike trapping my leg. An embarrassing amount of time passed before the obvious thought occurred to me that I should be walking my bike instead of remaining in this raging battle between my bike and the poorly constructed road. I walked until the very end of the road when I approached a “no trespassing” sign depicting a myriad of awful things that would happen to me if I didn’t turn back. But where the fuck was the campground? I turned around and walked my bike back the direction from which I came, glaring at Google Maps on my dim phone screen. “What the hell? It should be right here!” I exclaimed in frustration and panic. Tears, again. All of the tears. I had reached a point of exhaustion from the heat and humidity, as well as my dangerous lack of food. I was sweating out water faster than I could take it in, I was getting dizzy, and I could not stop crying. I gave up on the campground and starting searching for help. I knew if I didn’t find it quick, I would more than likely end up passed out on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Who knows who (if anyone) would find me, and getting raped and murdered would have been extremely inconvenient. I went back in the direction of a park I had passed about a mile up the road where I met my literal saviours, Jug (as he introduced himself) and Margaret Anne. They drove me the rest of the way to Liberty Tree Farm, and refused to let me give them any gas money, even though they drove, like, thirty miles out of their way. On the drive up, I looked around at the remoteness of where we were going. When I thought about the fact that the guy putting on the event was named Sundance, I started to wonder what kind of weird cult I was about to stumble into.

We finally pulled up to the farm where I was greeted by the amazingly kind and helpful volunteers, Kate and Grady. I peeled myself from the backseat of the car, and Kate and Grady lugged my things to my campsite. Completely forgetting my social skills, I stood there uselessly watching as Kate proceeded to set up my tent, and I occasionally and awkwardly tried to be “helpful.” She told me that when I was ready, I should come down and hang out and have a beer. After spending about an hour staring into space in my suffocatingly hot tent, I finally summoned the strength to try and interact with other humans. It was a holiday after all, and I had literally almost died trying to get there. I went down to the area where the party was happening, and I was pretty amazed at the spectacle. There were a least a hundred people already there at that point, sitting and watching a band playing in a giant barn with the wall cut out of it and converted into a stage. The bands that played were sensational, and everybody I met was so incredibly kind. I really wanted to meet the organizer of this amazing event, so I asked around about where I could find Sundance and introduce myself. “Oh yeah, he’s the guy in the straw hat,” a guy told me (which surpisingly did not narrow things down that much). Finally someone pointed him out to me, and I approached him with a smile. The moment we shook hands and made eye contact I felt an immediate connection, and an intense attraction. I tried to introduce myself and hold intelligent small talk, but I could not seem to string a coherent sentence together. My heart was racing, and I felt dizzy in his presence. I couldn’t hold his intense and soul penetrating gaze for longer than a few seconds. I was in trouble.

Part Two:

Still reeling from my encounter with Sundance, I returned to my picnic table with a beer in hand that a generous party guest had bought for me. I sat and socialized with several other people I met throughout the night, but I already couldn’t get Sundance out of my mind. I felt like a teenager, and it was ridiculously pathetic. I kept looking around for him and would constantly see him running around getting ice for the bar, and just generally working his ass off to make sure the evening continued without a hitch. When I wasn’t looking around for him, I would bump into him on my way to the bathroom or to my tent. I would look up at him and his smile would make me blush like a freaking school girl. It was so embarrassing. He let me charge my phone in his house, and just him inviting me to walk up there with him made me want to melt. I don’t know if I could describe Sundance in a way that would do him justice. It really has nothing to do with what he looks like, and everything to do with his energy. He is one of those people who have such infectious positivity and sincerity of spirit that you are just drawn to him. And I wanted him. In every way, I wanted him.

In the morning he had laid out an incredible breakfast with an assortment of fruits and pastries, and the remaining campers indulged themselves in delicious foodstuffs and conversation. With my body still weak from the past two days, I decided to ask him if I could stay for an extra day to recuperate. He graciously agreed even though the campground was closed because the guy is just that amazing. Well, one day turned into two on account of thunderstorms, and since the weather report called for two inches of rain, he invited me to stay in the house and sleep on the couch. He was such a gracious host I couldn’t believe it. He made me a breakfast in the morning that was so freaking insanely good that I would have given it all up to him right then and there. (There’s just something about a man who can cook, am I right?) When he returned to his work after breakfast I decided I wanted to show my appreciation. (No, not the way you’re thinking. I did the dishes. But I seriously would have done anything he wanted if he had asked). As I stood at the sink, my hands covered in soap bubbles, gliding the sponge over a surprisingly heavy plate, he came up behind me, put his hands on my waist, and tenderly tucked my shirt hem into the top of my jeans. “What are you doing?” I asked. In a seductive tone that made me weak at the knees, he replied, “It’s so I can get a better view.” I realized he meant my ass, and I blushed bright red. Now, I realize that this is beginning to read more like Fifty Shades of Grey than a blog post about a bike trip. But this is part of my experience, so I am going to share it because honesty is something I strive for, and well, oversharing is just something that comes naturally. So, sorry if you feel like this:

With my legs trembling and my heart racing, I could not stop the continuous smile on my face from peeking through. I was so into this guy. And I really wanted him to get into me. (See what I did there?) He was just so heart crushingly sexy to me. Our chemistry was palpable, and incredibly intoxicating. I hadn’t felt like this since I was an inappropiately aged fourteen year old losing my virginity. I finally got what Madonna had been singing about all these years. I stood there trembling, continuing to wash dishes with this unstoppably sexy man staring at my ass. I heard him get out of his chair, walk towards me, and felt him press himself against me. He grabbed my waist and started kissing my neck. I turned around and we kissed with such passion it shook me to my core. And then he stopped. Aaaahhhghhoijasefkjnossdj. (Keyboard smash). Later in the day, when the rain had subsided, he took me on a small (sort of) hike to the bluff overlooking Lake Pepin. We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We shared such an intense attraction to each other, it was everything we could do to control ourselves.

The next day, as I helped him unload cases of beer into storage for his next event, he said “I think we should have a discussion about Sarah.” (His recently ex-girlfriend from Minneapolis). My heart sank into my stomach. I could tell already that this was not going to have a happy ending for me. He told me that we needed to press pause on anything physical until he sorted things out with his ex. He was angry and confused at her suddenly popping back up in his life with expectations that he wasn’t going to try and move on, but he also still really cared about her and didn’t want to hurt her, and she was clearly hurt by our connection. He went on to explain that he didn’t feel right about starting something up with me while he was still partially emotionally invested in his past relationship, and he didn’t want to spoil whatever potential we had together by tainting it with negative associations. My disappointment gnawed at my stomach. All I wanted was to be able to physically express how I feel about this amazing man, and now I couldn’t. And now that I couldn’t, I wanted to more than ever. (Fucking psychology, man.) It took every ounce of our will power not to act on our mutual attraction. He continued to interact with me in such a devilishly flirtatious way, it made it impossible to think of anything other than grabbing him and pressing my lips to his.

On Wednesday, while we drank beer on his porch, we talked nonstop for hours. He wanted to know all about me, and I wanted to know all about him. I could seriously listen to this man talk forever. And that is very rare for me. I am usually such a chatterbox that no one can get a word in edgewise. But there was just something about the way he spoke that mesmerized me. He detailed his life with such fervor that I hung onto his every word. I felt comfortable and at ease sitting there on his porch facing his gorgeous property that it felt like home. It felt like this is what I had been biking toward, and I knew immediately that leaving this place would be the hardest thing I have ever done.

As the evening progressed, we consumed more and more beer, talking and laughing for hours. When I returned from a trip to the bathroom, he grabbed me firmly, pulled me into him and began kissing me. Despite my attempts to remind him that he didn’t want to do this, I caved. I am a weak woman. We didn’t go all the way, but I was certainly intimate with him, if you get my meaning. We hopped into the shower together and just explored each others bodies. Then I pulled away. I didn’t want to go any further until I knew what this meant. He had been so adamant about not wanting to get physical yet because he thought it would screw things up, so I was confused by his behavior. He suddenly got visibly upset and sad, and I didn’t know what to do. He said he felt ashamed at himself for having been weakened by his intense attraction to me that now he felt like he didn’t have any integrity, now everything was ruined, and that we should end things now. I was crushed. I felt utterly rejected and heartbroken. I wanted to leave immediately. I was so humiliated and angry that I had let myself fall so hard for this guy and allowed myself to be vulnerable. What was I thinking? I went into this bike trip to find myself not a boyfriend. It was time for me to go.

The next morning I arose to prepare for my departure. I was numb all over. I was heartbroken and sad to be leaving, but it had to be done. As I sat there sipping my coffee, I felt as though I wanted to melt into a puddle like Alex Mack and never take solid form again. My feelings were irrational and completely illogical. How could I feel such intense feelings for a place and a man that had only been in my life for five days? It was silly! I was silly. I felt foolish and embarrassed. I needed to snap out of it. Despite the events of the previous evening, he still got up early to cook me breakfast. My heart was in shambles. I tried to play it off as being “tired” when really I was suppressing tears. I couldn’t let him see that. He would have thought I was an overly attached crazy person, and it wouldn’t’ve been a completely inaccurate assessment. I forced my eggs and potatoes down because I needed the calories, and even though they were delicious, I felt too nauseated to eat. We made small talk throughout the morning, and I forced a smile and feigned my contentment.

He offered to drive me into Pepin since he had to go there anyway for gas, and I could make up a bit of the mileage I had lost while staying on the farm. We pulled up into the gas station and I followed him inside so I could fill up my water bottles in the bathroom. During one of our long conversations, I mentioned in passing that I was a bit of a gum addict. I am seriously always chewing gum, not unlike Violet Beauregard in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So when I walked out of the bathroom to find that he had bought me, like, seven bucks worth of Trident gum, I was so touched by the small and thoughtful gesture that I couldn’t stop smiling. He had told the people in the gas station all about me, and they wished me luck in my travels.

As he pumped his gas, he watched me load up my bike and was impressed by the amount of gear I could fit onto the thing. I hugged him goodbye and silently hoped that I would get on my bike and it would be irreparably damaged so I might be stuck there a little longer. When we broke our embrace, he said, “Goodbye, Izzy. I’m so glad you walked into my life for five days.” My heart swelled. So was I. I got on my bike, and much to my dismay, it worked flawlessly. I rode away from the man of my dreams, and didn’t look back. As I ride farther and farther away, my heart feels attached to him and his farm like a rubber band, stretching and stretching until it will eventually snap. It feels like leaving home.

Making Connections

My life so far has felt like a series of missed connections. It’s never the guy I want to call who calls, not coming up with a good comeback until hours later, or not having the guts to speak up for myself when it could have made a difference has pretty much been the theme of my entire life. I was always pretty shy. I had to force myself to emerge from my impenetrable shell by overcompensating with forced and feigned confidence. I always wanted that to be my genuine self. Strong, carefree, and with zero fucks to give. But it never really was. Although I portrayed an outgoing and sanguine exterior, I was actually usually filled with nearly petrifying social anxiety and insecurities that always made it difficult for me to fully be myself. I was so good at putting on a façade that it became second nature to me; however, when I think about it, there are very few people who really know the real me. In fact, it wasn’t until I started this journey that I even began getting glimpses of understanding who I really am.

If you had asked me 6 weeks ago who I thought I was, I would have looked at you wide eyed, tripping over my words with drool collecting in my lower lip. I honestly had no idea. I knew what was: lazy, apathetic, unmotivated, and with a very strong desire to change. But who I was was a very different story. It was an autobiography I wasn’t ready to write because I knew I was not yet who I wanted to be (I’m still not, but I’m certainly closer). Since I started this journey, I have begun to realize that getting to know yourself takes a  lot more work than what normal life allows. It requires taking yourself way out of your comfort zone and completely surrendering to the flow of the universe. To quote Sheryl Strayed, you need to “put [yourself] in the way of beauty.” Doing so also requires that you resign yourself from the need to have control. To put it simply, in order to gain control of your life, you first have to relinquish control completely. The only thing that I am in charge of is making the decision everyday to get my ass back on that bike and start pedaling. Everything else is out of my hands.

Spontaneity has always scared me. I never liked the idea of making a “leap of faith.” I always needed to know the possible outcomes, and that strong, unadulterated need to know and control every situation has made me live in fear my entire life. I always had trouble with relationships because I couldn’t trust. I struggled to make any kind of decision because I was terrified of making the wrong one. I never allowed myself to do the things I desperately wanted to do in fear that, somehow, the worst case scenario would happen, and I would end up full of regret. All of these things weighed me down when I decided to embark on this journey to self improvement. Every. Single. One. Unwanted feelings of self doubt, and questions of what might happen to me clenched in my chest. People telling me, “I’m sorry, but no one really thinks you are actually going to be able to do this,” and worries of my own that I may not be successful were constant sources of anxiety for me. I would lay in bed at night, and panic would rush over me with the sudden realization that my normal comforts were about to be stripped from me, and I was going to be doing something I seriously doubted that I could do, and was completely out of my comfort zone. But then I thought to myself, “Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it anyway.”

By deciding to do something, drowning out the voice in my head telling me I should be afraid, I was already successful. I had already accomplished change. The bicycling part has actually turned out to be a very small part of the big picture of my metamorphosis. Sure, I have changed physically, and I have gained the ability to force myself to do things that are good for me, even when they freaking hurt (let’s see if that lasts…), but that’s not the change I am most proud of. I am most proud of the freedom and openness of spirit that I am beginning to develop, and my newfound thirst for saying “yes” to life. (Can you believe I couldn’t find a good Yes Man meme to accompany this post? It just feels like such a missed opportunity).

Last Thursday, my first full day back in Victoria, started out like any other day. I forced my heavy and crusty eyes open, and sat up in bed until I got my bearings. I was exhausted since the previous day was a really long one. I was so tired that I figured maybe it wouldn’t hurt to allow myself a day of laziness and relaxation. Afterall, it was the first day in a week that I had access to WiFi, so what could a few hours of Netflix hurt? First, however, I really needed to force myself to swing my limp and sore legs over the side of the bed, walk down the hall to the kitchen, and cook myself a much needed breakfast. With my metaphorical gas tank running on fumes, I pushed myself out of my daze, collected my foodstuffs, and stumbled into the community kitchen that was shared with the entire hostel. When I got there, there was only one stove available for cooking, and I timidly prepared my food in the shadow of a couple of intimidatingly tall (and, dare I say, attractive) men. For some reason, I felt the need to continually apologize for my presence there, as if I didn’t have just as much of a right to be there as they did. (Unnecessarily apologizing for myself has always been a nasty habit of mine). As I stood rigidly over the sink freeing my breakfast potato of its skin, I felt uncomfortable in my own. Silently, I prepared my breakfast and coffee. When another young woman entered the kitchen, I immediately felt more at ease. She was boiling porridge with apples (her words) when I began making conversation. I offered her some of my coffee and we began telling each other about ourselves. When we were finished cooking, she sat alone at a table in the common room. I stood there in my social awkwardness not knowing which path to take. Should I sit down at another empty table and go about my Netflix filled day, or should I sit down at the table with this kind stranger and see where the day could take me?

I finally overcame my awkwardness, and decided to make the less comfortable, but overall more exciting decision, and sat with her. While eating our very different cuisines, Bibi (from Germany) and I talked nonstop until we decided, why not explore the city together? We walked until my thighs were tight, and my feet were blistered, and decided to relax on some rocks on the beach facing Olympic National Park. It was an amazing view.

image image

As we sat there, basking (and baking) in the sun, and enjoying the treats we had bought during a spur of the moment trip to the Dollar Tree, we were interruped by another solo traveler requesting to join us. Fiona, also from Germany, made us a group of three random travelers who would never have met in any other circumstance. We ended up having one of the most incredibly fun days I can remember having in my adult life because it was completely unexpected. While I was cooking us dinner at the hostel, a fourth traveler, Abdullah from Saudi Arabia, joined us, and we decided to make a night of it.

Fiona (left), Bibi (right) at Rooftop bar in Victoria, BC

Bibi and I marveling at our epic sunburns.
Bibi and I marveling at our epic sunburns.
It was a day and night that I will not soon forget. By completely opening myself up to the universe, and not letting my fears get in the way of saying “yes” to life, I ended up making a connection with not one, but three people that will probably last my entire life. You never know where the day can take you unless you let it. So if you, like me, find yourself resisting life in fear that things may not turn out the way you want them to, are too scared to release control, or maybe you just don’t have the confidence to believe that you can be successful, trust me when I say, you should do it anyway.

A blurry post-beer picture of the whole gang at Spinnaker’s in Victoria, BC.