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.
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.
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.
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.