Pursuit of Happiness

When I wrote my last blog entry about the conclusion of my bike trip in Iceland, I had every intention of that being my final post. It wasn’t until today that I realized that self improvement is never truly over. It is something that you continue working at by making the decision every day to take steps toward a better version of yourself, so why not continue to blog about it since I seem to enjoy it so much? (And I own the domain until January.)

Since I have been home, I have been given the opportunity to apply all of the lessons that I learned throughout my journey to my real life, and it has been amazing to see the changes in myself that I didn’t know were there until now. The biggest of all of the changes that I experienced is the one I consider to be the most life altering and holds the most power to shape my reality: Gratitude.

Ever since I was in high school, my mom has pushed me to write in a “gratitude journal.” She believed that by focusing on the positive things in your life and expressing your gratitude, that you could become a happier and more joyous person. So I would try for a while, writing three things down every night that I was thankful for. My family, my friends, my health, etc, would all make frequent appearances in my gratitude journal. I read books like The Power of Now, and You Can Heal Your Life, and a myriad of other self help books to get me thinking from a position of gratitude and positivity. I would start to feel a bit lighter, and a bit happier, but the feeling was always temporary, and I would go right back to dwelling on the negative and perpetuating my discontent.

A few months before I made the decision to do this bike trip, before it was even a thought, I remember being in complete turmoil over my life and my inner self. I was in a deep conversation with my mother, crying, expressing to her how badly I wanted to change. I was addicted to television, lethargic, lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated, overweight, and profoundly sad, but change seemed just out of reach. There seemed to be a giant barrier between who I was and who I desperately wanted to be. Change seemed hopeless and impossible, and I wondered if I should just give up. I knew I couldn’t be that person anymore, and if I couldn’t be the person I truly wanted and needed to be, then why even live at all?

I was a vortex of depression and bad energy and even my family had a hard time being around me. (According to my brother I had what he called a “perma-scowl,” and “resting bitch face.”) After another term of school concluded, and I sank further down into the depths of despair at how much I hated my life, I made a decision that I was going to change even if it killed me. I seriously felt like I had nothing to lose. My original plan was to join the military and let them deal with turning me into a respectable person, which I now realize was an attempt on my part at shirking responsibility for myself. I honestly don’t think I ever truly wanted to join, I just didn’t think I was capable of change on my own. The process of changing my life seemed so daunting and overwhelming that it was just easier to decide to pass the buck onto someone else (and get paid for it).

My mother is a dictionary of clichés. Growing up I seriously heard them all. From “the early bird gets the worm,” to “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and the list goes on (and on, and on.) The one she has always used the most, however, is “happiness is a choice.” This concept has always seemed so incredibly abstract to me. How do you manifest happiness simply by choosing to do so? I never really understood what it meant to choose to be happy. Now that I am finished with my travels, I have come to realize just how true this cliché happens to be, but it’s not quite as simple as merely manifesting happiness from nothing. It is a spark that you ignite. My decision to do this bike trip was me igniting that spark. Each day of my journey, each day that I biked to another city, met new amazing people, and had a new transformative experience, was adding kindling to the flame until it grew into a roaring fire of gratitude and joy. I had effectively, one day of biking at a time, taken my prison of despair and depression and burned that motherfucker down.

When I look back at the girl I was, the girl who even at her absolute worst was able to make a decision to completely change the course of her life, I swell with gratitude. I love that girl so much because if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. She didn’t listen to the overwhelming amount of people who told her she couldn’t do it and were sure she would fail. She didn’t let her own fear and self doubt stop her from pursuing happiness. She took the criticism, felt the fear, felt the doubt, and she did it anyway. The overwhelming joy and gratitude that I now feel on a consistent basis will always be with me because it comes from within myself. It comes from the faith in the universe, in life, and in myself that I developed through real experiences that reaffirmed themselves time and time again. I feel it to my core. (And, according to my brother, I don’t have “resting bitch face” anymore.)

I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of the people who helped me throughout my journey. Each person who contributed to my cause so that I could have food and shelter, I will always be grateful to you. Every Warm Showers host, and otherwise, who housed me and fed me, thank you so much for your hospitality. Thank you to my sister for putting up with me for those long hard months, and for never being afraid to tell me the hard truths. And most of all, thank you to my mom. In contrast to the many who did, you never doubted me for a second. You were a beacon of hope and light to me in a time of true darkness, and I will always be grateful for your unwavering faith and confidence in me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thank you to the following contributors: Jeff Davis, Victoria Bolton, Sherry Escobar, Lisa Wright, Michael Henderson, Jimmie Hawkins, Christine Magnuson, Angela Evans, Daniel Evans, Shannon Evans, Lynda and Rick Esaacson, Dixie Langreck, Blake Webber, Janienne Alexander, Hailey Hays, Eric Kang, Becca Freeby, Grandpa John Phipps, Grandma Helen Onorah, and Steve and Adrienne Shifflett.* I absolutely could not have done it without you.

*If I forgot anybody, I sincerely apologize! I received an overwhelming amount of support, and I am so grateful.


Yesterday I returned home from my four month long journey to self improvement. I boarded the MAX train with my dismantled bike in a box that was way to small for it, and my giant duffel bag filled with most of the gear I biked with halfway across the country, and I sat there contemplating the sameness of everything around me. I didn’t feel any different. Nothing felt different. The realization of how easily things seemed to return to normal was both amazing and mildly dejecting. I had just completed a life changing journey, but it didn’t feel like anything had really changed at all. When I started this journey I had some pretty specific expectations of change that I now realize were completely unrealistic. I had imagined that I would be a size 6, completely muscular and svelte as fuck. I had fantasized about meeting “the one” and falling deeply and passionately in love, and maybe moving to a new city to start over. I thought that I would have a wildly different personality and come out more mature and adult with a completely new outlook on my life. Some of these things happened to a degree, but the reality of the changes that I experienced are nowhere near what I had built up in my mind before beginning this trip in May.

During my bicycling adventure, life was constantly changing and evolving. Every single day brought something and someone new into my life. I was exercising anywhere between five and ten hours a day, and I didn’t really have the time to stop and contemplate the changes that were happening in me until I would sit down with my iPad every once in a while and write about it on my blog. This blog became a source of introspection and helped me to hone in on the lessons that I learned along the way. After my bike tour of Vancouver Island, I wrote about how I decided to embark on this bike trip so that I could become worthy of the life that I wish to live, and that statement is so much more relevant than I originally believed. Since I boarded the plane home to Portland, I have been struggling about what to write about Iceland. I wrote the entire thing before I realized it was complete shit. Sure it was well written, and it was a great recap of the events I experienced and the people I met, but it didn’t truly portray the authentic lesson that I learned while I was there, which turned out to be the most important one. So now I sit here enjoying a latte, and writing my final blog post with one last lesson to share.

When I got to Boston I went to try on clothes with the full expectation that I had dropped at least a few pant sizes. I practically skipped into the dressing room in my excitement to see how amazing I would look in the clothes I had picked out. But I struggled to even get the pants past my thighs and the shirts clung around my stomach that was still flabby and protruding since I continued to enjoy copious amounts of beer throughout my travels. I immediately burst into tears. It was so defeating and discouraging that I had just biked 1300 miles and was still so overweight. I didn’t understand how that could even be possible. Seriously guys, what the fuck? My heart sank like a stone, and I felt worthless. In my emotional state, I convinced myself that I was somehow a failure simply because I wasn’t thin like I had the expectation I would be and I spiraled into self loathing.

A week later, I arrived in Iceland and I was completely enthralled by the beauty of the country. (There are no words for how truly spectacular that place is and I want to go back so bad.) After I spent my first couple of days with the wonderful family of the girl I met on the flight there, I got settled into a hostel right smack dab in the center of downtown Reykjavik. I really wanted to go out that night to have my first Icelandic beer, so I got a little dressed up, and went downstairs to the bar that comprised the entire main floor of my hostel. I immediately met some folks from the states who invited me to their table. We ended up bar hopping for a few hours until we ended up at a club/bar hybrid. While I was talking to a girl I met sitting next to me, one of the men I had been hanging out with comes up to me and asks, “who are you here with again?” I responded in confusion, “Umm…you guys.” He said, “No you’re not. Beat it.” My mouth went agape and my eyes widened in surprise. “Excuse me?” I asked. “Go. You should leave.” Wow. never in my life had I ever been treated with such douchebaggery. I should have said fuck off dude. I’m staying put, but instead, for some reason that is completely beyond me, I LISTENED TO HIM. I grabbed my purse, and hauled ass out the door with tears in my eyes, completely allowing this piece of shit human being to make me feel absolutely horrible about myself. I seriously cried myself to sleep convinced that I was clearly worthless, and it must have been because I was still overweight. I told myself in my mind that there’s no way he would have treated me like that if I was skinny, as if he would suddenly not  be a fuck face if my outward appearance was somehow more appealing.

The next morning I awoke to an epic hangover. I was throwing up and the world wouldn’t stop spinning. I forced myself out of bed because it was a beautiful day and I really wanted to explore the city on foot. Using all of my effort to move zombie-like through the streets of Reykjavik, I willed myself to walk pretty much the entire city. (And I’m glad I did. It was incredible). When my hangover never went away, I decided I should head back to the hostel for a nap to try to sleep away the persistent nausea and pounding of my head. I had lain in bed for an hour before I finally started to drift off to sleep. Just as I began entering that half sleep dream state, a new occupant of my dorm began struggling to open the door. I kept hearing the beep of the key card being slid into the door lock followed by the violent shaking of the door knob. After a few minutes of persistent noisey struggle, I got out of bed, irritated and tired, my head still throbbing, and opened the door.

On the other side were two men, one an incredibly old Icelandic man who spoke almost zero English, and a younger man in his thirties, attractive, and toting a backpack that was almost as tall as he was. I moaned a less than warm greeting, and then stumbled back to bed. The younger man chose the top bunk above me, and proceeded to set up his sleeping bag and organize his things. After about 10 minutes he told me he was going to the store and asked me if I would like him to pick anything up for me. “Uhh…no, I’m good. Thanks,” I responded, confounded by his friendliness and consideration for a complete stranger. When he returned from the store, I was in better spirits because my hangover had finally begun to subside. We got into conversation and we told each other about our travels. He told me his name was Fabian and that he was from Germany, as well the fact that he had been backpacking across Canada for the past year and a half. I was completely amazed by him and his experiences and was eager to know more about him. We had a few more encounters throughout the evening, talking to other travelers in the hostel kitchen.

The next morning (technically afternoon since I was still struggling to adjust to Iceland time), I awoke to him peaking over at me from the top bunk. I grunted in exhaustion, and he grunted back in agreement. After I lay there for a little while longer, resistant to the idea of getting out of bed, he thrust open the curtains and hollered in a slightly musical tone and an adorable German accent, “Isabelle! Wake up!” I’m pretty sure I responded with something like, “Ughh…Why do you hate me??” or something along those lines. I finally rolled out of bed and he invited me to go for a walk with him around the city. I agreed, my eyes still heavy from exhaustion, and still slightly irritated (but also somewhat flattered) by his strange and unsolicited concern for my sleeping habits. We continued to hang out over the next day, walking around the city taking pictures of the surroundings. I began to really enjoy his company and conversation, and started developing a bit of a crush. He had noticed during our encounters in the kitchen previously that I tend to eat a lot, and it’s not always the healthiest option. Maybe it was just due to the lingering effects of my sped up metabolism as a result of my bike ride, but I was seriously starving all the time.  So, as we were walking up the stairs of a different hostel so he could get information on staying there at a later date, I made a statement about how hungry I was, and he said “Okay, but you are only allowed to eat a salad.” I stopped in my tracks as the offensiveness of those words punched me in the gut. “Umm..that was really rude.” I told him. Due to my monstrously warped belief that I was fat and worthless, I really did not take that statement very well. I mean, the guy is seriously handsome, and I was already feeling a bit that he was out of my league, so this really didn’t help things. I walked next to him down the street hanging my head in sorrow. I finally decided that I wasn’t going to let anyone make me feel that way, so I confronted him about his tactlessness. He assured me that he didn’t mean it that way at all, and apologized for his lack of tact. I incidentally learned how to say “that was tactless” in German. (It’s Das war taktlos).

We ended up dining at a delicious asian noodle place that serves something a lot like Pho, and is somehow one of the best noodle places at which I have eaten, and in Iceland of all places. Fabian is the type of person who has endless curiosity about people and isn’t afraid to ask prying questions. Questions that some people may find far too personal, but I tend to be an open book so when he asked me about why I felt upset by his comment, it opened a very wide door of conversation. Over our bowls of noodles, I proceeded to open up to him about my extremely problematic self image issues. I told him all about how I was terrified of meeting this really rad guy I had been talking to on Facebook when I got back because I was scared that he wouldn’t find me attractive. I told him that growing up in a society that celebrates skinniness and shames fatness has made it so engrained in me that I am only worthy of love if I am thin. However, I also told him that the thing that upsets me the most, is that I could still have this incredibly warped belief after having accomplished something so amazing. I shouldn’t be so overcome with self loathing because of my appearance. I should be celebrating myself because I am capable of so much and accomplished something that I never knew I could possibly do. Later that evening as we were talking to other hostel guests in the kitchen I said in passing that I was cold. He immediately leapt from his chair and walked off, returning a few moments later with a sweater. He hands it to me, and I accept it in surprise and confusion that he was being so considerate. I guess I’m just not used to guys treating me well because I have always been so convinced that I’m not worthy of the gesture.

The following evening, Fabian’s friend from Germany, Thorsten (pronounced Torsten) flew in so that they could go on a road trip to see Iceland. I had had a similar idea myself, so I shamelessly invited myself along to share in theirs under the promise that I would rent my own car and follow them. We ended up having an incredibly wonderful time. It wildly surpassed my expectations, and I am so grateful they let me tag along on their adventure. The three of us would share breakfast and dinner with each other every day, and saw all of the incredible Icelandic landscape, sharing in the amazing experience together. It was more than I could have possibly hoped for, and the two of them became very dear to me. I grew to be very fond of Fabian, but I talked myself out of any possibility that he could possibly reciprocate my feelings, once again due to my incredibly warped belief that I wasn’t worthy of it.

One day, Fabian was riding with me in my car and we got right back into the deep conversations. We started talking once again about my deeply rooted problems with self image, and I made a statement in response to one of his prying questions that I have really come to regret. I told him (as an example of my warped belief), “You are one of the most attractive guys I’ve met, and I should have the confidence to think ‘yeah, that could totally happen,’ but I don’t.” He asked, “so, that’s not what you think?” I responded, “No, unfortunately.” I had effectively just told him that nothing could ever happen between us because I would never truly be open to the possibility that it could. Hello, self-sabotage, we meet again.

On the last night of our epic road trip adventure, the three of us soaked in the hot tub watching the northern lights. It was the absolute best way I could have imagined to conclude our trip together. The following day was both mine and Thorsten’s birthday, so we all spent the evening chatting over drinks, teasing each other and sharing in inside jokes that developed during our week together. It was such a great way to ring in my 27th year and I couldn’t imagine having spent it with anyone else. After the two of them left, I was so sad and seriously missed them so much. I still do, in fact. They became two of my favorite people and I am so glad that I met them.

This morning I woke up in my mom’s apartment in Beaverton, feeling empty and sad. I looked back on my adventure and couldn’t believe it was already all behind me. I walked over to my sister’s apartment (in the same complex) where my dad is staying and cried to him about how profoundly sad I was that it was all over. I don’t want to be back home. I told him all about Fabian and how I was so mad at myself for missing out on that possible opportunity because I didn’t believe it was possible that a man that amazing could be into me. He cut me off, saying, “Isabelle. You need to stop this belief within yourself that it has anything to do with how you look. It’s all about your energy. It’s all about how you perceive yourself and the beliefs that you perpetuate. Your belief that you are not worthy is going to sabotage you for the rest of your life if you do not change it. Look at your pattern. You fall in love with every guy who is nice to you because you need the validation so badly. If they don’t immediately feel the same, you let the illusion of rejection overcome you and you wallow in self pity, allowing it to perpetuate this warped belief that you have. It needs to stop.”

That’s when I had an epiphany. I went into this bike trip with all of the wrong expectations. I thought that it would change me into someone who was worthy. But it turns out that it wasn’t about becoming worthy, it was about realizing that I was worthy all along. It wasn’t about losing weight and showing off my hot bod, it was about loving my body for it’s amazing capabilities. It wasn’t about falling in love with a man I would meet throughout my travels that would conclude my story in some insanely romantic way, it was about falling in love with myself. A metamorphosis doesn’t have to be as drastic as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Sometimes the biggest metamorphosis can be something as simple as changing your belief.

The Heart of the Matter

Anytime you push yourself out of your comfort zone you’re bound to be thrown some curve balls. For the most part, it will be a totally amazing experience that you will be overwhelmingly glad you had. But sometimes, every once in a while, something will occur that tests your commitment and resolve. More often than not, these events will be completely beyond your control, are usually the last thing you expected to get in your way, and really put your decision making skills on the spot. Today I am being faced with one of these conundrums.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I felt like I had gotten hit by a bus. Every nook and cranny of my body ached and throbbed with frustrating persistence. All the tylenol and ibuprofen in the world couldn’t help. My arthritic hands could barely make fists, and my knees ached and cracked with every step, but the worst thing was the feeling I had in my chest. It periodically felt as though my heart would skip a beat and all the air was being vacuumed out of my lungs. Then it would subside, and I would feel okay for a few minutes until it would happen again, over and over. I tried not to think about it, hoping that if I didn’t focus on my symptoms that they would go away. I reassured myself that I had just been putting my body through a lot recently so it was bound to experience some changes that were probably completely normal. I gave myself a day to relax, and thankfully had another gracious Warm Showers host who was incredibly understanding and let me stay an extra day. When I got up this morning, the symptoms still hadn’t subsided but I was determined to get back on the road. I packed up all of my things, and loaded my bike while I tried to ignore the persistent discomfort in my chest. “It’s all in your head,” I assured myself, having been so used to my hypochondriac mind creating ailments in the past. My host was getting ready to bike with me so he could lead me the way to the trail, and I thought I should say something, but I decided to let it roll off as we rolled out of the driveway. After about 10 minutes and one small incline later, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and as though I couldn’t fully catch my breath. The weird skips in my heartbeat became so frequent that I could no longer ignore it. Okay…this wasn’t in my head. My gut was telling to go to the ER and I strongly felt that I should listen. But I reeeeeaaaally didn’t want to. I despise the ER. My history of Web MD’ing symptoms and convincing myself I was dying of intestinal cancer would land me in the ER with some frequency when I was in my early twenties. And everytime they would say, “we can’t find anything wrong with you. It’s probably just IBS,” leaving me feeling completely delusional and insane for making such a fuss over nothing. So when I was faced with the decision of going again today it was a huge internal struggle. I was sure they were going to tell me, “we can’t find anything wrong with you, except that you’re a delusional hypochondriac, and we’re going to put you on a 72 hour psychiatric hold.” Okay, maybe not quite that extreme. I just didn’t want to feel crazy. But my gut feeling was relentless. I asked Gregory (my WS host) to stop and finally told him what was going on once the sensation evolved into minor chest pains and a headache. Shit. I really don’t need this right now.

The ER entrance felt like that of a penitentiary. The guard collected my belongings as he led me through a metal detector, then confiscated my knife at the door. I checked in at the front desk, and was whisked away by a nurse within one minute. (They put me in a bed next to a woman who was clearly psychotic, wouldn’t stop yelling at the nurses, and straight up pulled the IV out of her arm as she tried to make a break for it before she was escorted to the psych floor. It was palpably more peaceful after that.) As I lied there hooked up to the heart monitor, I watched it in fear and with expectation, wondering if anything would show up. I felt weirdly torn about what I wanted to see. I almost wanted something to be wrong with me so it would justify my trip to the ER, but I didn’t want there to be something wrong that would stop me from continuing my bike trip. It was a very strange conflicting emotion. But there was something. Apparently I was experiencing something called PVC, or Premature Ventricular Contractions, which is when one of your heart ventricals fires out of rhythm for no reason. It can be caused by a number of things, like drinking too many energy drinks, stress, or over exertion through exercise. Ahh. It was all making more sense now. The day before this started, I had pushed myself insanely hard, biking in hot humid weather in a thermal jacket all day because I was out of sunscreen. Pushing over hill after hill for sixty miles until I had sweated through my waterproof jacket, leaving salt deposits in the seams. I had completely depleted my body of its salt and electrolytes without immediately replenishing them. I had done this to myself by pushing myself too hard. One thing the nurse and doctor found to be strange was how intensely I could feel the PVC because most people can’t feel it at all and don’t even know it’s happening. “But am I going to be okay? Can I continue with my bike tour?” Which was really all I wanted to know. The doctor responded, “If it was me, I wouldn’t continue. There’s just no way to be sure that there isn’t more going on here, and I don’t want to tell you that something bad won’t happen while you’re riding because it could.” My prematurely contracting heart sank into my stomach. That wasn’t really the reassurance I was hoping for. I was hoping more for a “Oh yeah, definitely! Yours is the healthiest heart I’ve ever seen.”

He told me to rest and relax through the weekend and see how I feel, but as I lie here in a strangers home, my mind going over all of my options, I don’t feel very relaxed. The sensation in my chest has not diminished in its frequency nor its intensity, but I have come too far to stop now. The heart of the matter is, continuing my bike trip could damage my heart, but stopping my trip would break it.

The Joy and the Tears

One of my favorite high school teachers had a favorite quote. “Only through suffering comes enlightenment.” I always took those words to mean that in order to truly appreciate your life, you have to have had come close to losing it, or at least something to that degree. While I sat in his massive drama class, surrounded by other young thespians and disciples of the late Steve Quinn, I marveled at his words. I never thought, however, that I would ever attain such clarity in my life. That was a privilege that was reserved for those far more deserving than me.

A few months ago I could not imagine I would be where I am right now. I don’t just mean my physical location on a map, but where I am spiritually. I had no idea that this kind of elation existed with such persistence and consistency. I only knew joy in small doses, usually the inauthentic kind brought on by some kind of substance. Alcohol, the occasional pain killer, and food would all bring me brief moments of bliss that were sudden and intense, but never real and never earned. They were a welcome release and distraction from my perpetual depression and lethargy that had plagued me for years like a houseguest that comes for a few days but keeps extending their stay indefinitely. (I’m sure my sister can relate to that analogy). I don’t think there was ever a time in my life in which I ever truly felt joy in its most pure and untainted form. That is, until now. This journey has been far from easy. It has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the absolute hardest thing I have ever done, and possibly will ever do, in my entire life. And it is because of this fact that it has been the most rewarding, most incredibly fulfilling and miraculously enlightening experience as well. It is more than I could have hoped for. Even the bad parts are good.

Last Wednesday (I think it was July 29th just for the sake of keeping an accurate timeline) had all the markings of an epically shitty day. It was over ninety degrees and about ninety percent humidity already at eleven in the morning. I was exhausted and was quickly approaching a dangerous level of hunger and thirst, yet again. I had just found out that someone very dear to me was in the hospital in critical condition (for the sake of their privacy I won’t mention their name), and I was still recovering from a medical issue of my own that had put a lot of strain on my body. While I was riding (at about mile 40 for the day) I passed a church and thought maybe I should just go there and see if they would let me camp out on the grounds for one night. I just really didn’t think I could go another twelve miles to my original destination. I couldn’t make up my mind in time so I just rode on by. I made it another mile when I decided to stop at a convenient store for some Vitamin Water to replenish my electrolytes. The shopkeeper took one look at me in my helmet with a fountain of sweat pouring from my face and asked, “are you okay? Are you really biking in this heat?” I explained to her what I was doing and she said, “well I can totally drive you to your next destination. I mean, if you want. It would be no trouble.” I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure my response was a resounding “FUCK. YES.”

All I had to do was wait for her to get off of her shift in thirty minutes, so I gathered up my two Vitamin Waters and went outside, plopped myself down on the hard ground by my bike, and began quenching my thirst in large desperate gulps. But what was I going to do for a half hour sitting out on the concrete in the suffocating heat? I decided to call Sundance since we had been keeping in touch and had had a few great thirty minute long conversations over the few weeks since I had left the farm. This time was different though. He didn’t answer with his usual enthusiastic “hey Izzy! How’s it going?” Instead I was greeted with a hushed, and confused sounding “…hello?” I announced myself in response, “Hey Sundance, it’s Isabelle.” Not quite getting the reaction I was hoping for he said, “Oh…hey.” I immediately knew something had changed. Just a few days ago he seemed excited to hear from me, and our conversation flowed effortlessly. Now I was straining to get any kind of conversation going at all. I filled him in on my travels and the recent events in my life, and he could not have sounded any more disinterested. My heart was breaking with this sudden and drastic change in our dynamic. I couldn’t ignore it so I asked, “Is this a bad time for me to be calling? Or should I still be calling you? I’ve been trying to keep in touch because you said that you still wanted me in your life and you wanted to continue to know me, but I’m kind of getting a different vibe.” He explained that it did make Sarah feel uncomfortable and that they were working things out (basically meaning they were back together), and that it wasn’t exactly “a simple yes or no answer to my question, but it was certainly a conversation we should have,” and so on. I swallowed my real feelings, trying to take the high road and said with a lump in my throat, “it kind of is a simple yes or no, Sundance. If me calling you is causing problems with Sarah, then I should stop. Like you said, you are working things out with her, and I don’t want to do that to you guys.” He said, “Well, how about this. Instead of you calling and wondering if it’s a good time, or where I’m at with things, how about, if there is a time in my life where it makes sense to call you, I will call you. How does that sound?” With this statement, I could feel all the color leave my face, and my heart drop like a stone into the pit of my stomach. I was getting the old “don’t call me, I’ll call you” speel. “Sure, of course, absolutely,” I replied in sickeningly overcompensated enthusiasm. He went on to say, “Okay, Izzy, well have a wonderful adventure.” I concluded the conversation, with the full and painful knowledge that I was never going to hear from that man again, by saying, “have a wonderful…uh…life…I guess.” (Smooth.)

Well, that was certainly not how I expected that conversation to go. I was in a mild state of shock as the lady from the convenient store, having finished her shift, came out to retrieve me. (Well, at least it made the half hour pass quickly.) As I stood up and all the blood rushed to my head, that’s when I felt the depth of my sadness. I burst into tears, completely catching the shopkeep lady, and myself, off guard. “Can you actually just help me find a place to stay in town tonight? I just need to go somewhere now. I need to bury my face into a pillow.” She and the other shopkeepers teamed up and called around in an effort to find me a place to stay while I stood there numb with tear stained cheeks, staring at the floor in shame of the fuss I was causing. Over a guy. The nice lady told me that they had contacted a church down the road and that she was going to drive me there now so the pastor could find me a place to stay for the night. She helped me load my bike into the bed of her truck and ended up drivng me right back to the very church I had passed on my way into town. Considering there were, like, three other churches that were even closer than this one to the convenient store, I thought that was a bit of a coincidence. Josh, the Pastor, helped me unload my things and showed me around the church. I decided to sit in the sanctuary while I awaited my fate about whether or not I would have shelter tonight. As I sat there in the sanctuary of the church, I was surrounded by silence, the kind of peaceful silence that seeps into your soul, and I began to pray. Not necessarily to God in the conventional sense, but to the universe. I was praying to the void. I began asking for clarity. I wanted to know that things were going to work out for the best. I was really crushed to know that my hopes for any kind of reunion with Sundance and his farm were just snuffed out of existence. Clarity on this subject had been something I had been silently yearning for for weeks now, and that’s when I heard my own voice inside my head assuring me, “but they are working out. Don’t you see? You got exactly what you are praying for.” My voice was right. I had been wanting to know if I should hold onto my feelings for Sundance or not, and I just got my answer. I had been wanting clarity, and things were pretty damn clear now. I felt a warm blanket of relief wrap around me like a swaddled infant. My body relaxed, and a long breath escaped me along with all my troubles. I was at peace (at least for a few minutes). Josh the Pastor came in to find me almost asleep in one of the pews to let me know that he had found me a place to stay with a really nice couple who lived just out of town. They came and retrieved me just as a giant thunderstorm rolled in unloading an ocean’s worth of rain on top of us. Thank God I wasn’t going to have to camp in this.

Steve and Adrienne, the couple who took me in, turned out to be two of the most interesting, generous, and pretty much just all around badass people I have ever met. As I listened to them share their stories about their years worth of adventures and traveling I felt a rush of excitement that I was finally amassing stories of my own (and a tinge of jealousy at the sheer epicness of theirs). They made me my first pastie (a savory meat and potato filled pastry popular to Michigan), and gave me a warm bed to sleep in and a shower. They offered to drive me to Marine City the next morning so that I could have a day out of the horrible heat. I didn’t have anywhere to stay in Marine City because the only Warm Showers host in the area was unavailable, so I booked a room in a motel. A motel that I had absolutely no idea how I was going to pay for. I had just enough money in my bank account to cover the stay, but it would mean sacrificing food for a good long while. Shit. As we pulled up to the motel, Steve and Adrienne and I said our goodbyes, and Adrienne handed me forty dollars. I could not do my gratitude justice. I was so surprised and humbled by their generosity that I wanted to cry. I went into the motel office and began checking in. The motel owner saw all of my stuff on my bike and inquired (as people often do when they see my bike) about what I was doing. After telling her my story, I told her that I didn’t have a lot of money on my card because I live off of donations, but I had forty dollars cash, so could we split the amount between the two. She looked at me for about thirty seconds and said, “how about this. I’ll take the forty cash and the rest will be my donation.” I couldn’t believe her generosity either. I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I felt like I was glowing.

These events were the beginning of a completely new chapter of this journey. That feeling of joy and gratitude has not left me for a moment since. I am so incredibly in love with life that I am overflowing. I have so much faith in the universe to provide that I almost never worry. Every day that I get on my bike I have no idea where I am going to stay, but I always end up with shelter. I am always fed. Things tend to come into my life exactly when I need them to. Sometimes it’s the things that hurt us in the moment that lead to more happiness in the future.  Getting closure with Sundance ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me, and I see it as an enormous gift. It was a major weight that was lifted off of me that I hadn’t even realized was so heavy on my heart. I was no longer emotionally tied to anything or anyone, and I was able to completely let go and open myself up to new possibilities. It was a pivotal moment in my journey that was absolutely necessary to allow me to get the most out of this experience. It may not always feel like it, but even in moments of pain and hopelessness, or even just mild disappointment, the universe may be giving us exactly what we need. After all, “only through suffering comes enlightenment.”

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.

Cardboard Sign

If anyone supports what I am trying to accomplish and would like to contribute to help me along in my travels, my PayPal email is ijevans@pdx.edu. Anything helps to guarantee that I always have food and lodging, and funds for emergency situations. Every donation will be received with my endless gratitude.

Thank you so much!

The Cycles of Cycling

When you are cycling, you go through many cycles. This may just be my own personal experience, and I probably shouldn’t speak on behalf of all cyclists, but I imagine this is at least true for other beginners. There are times when you feel like you are on the top of the world, looking down on creation and the only explanation I can find…whoops, sorry, that’s a Carpenters song. Anyway, there are times you feel stronger than ever, like nothing can get in your way, and you sail over the road like a speedboat going downstream. Then the wind changes, blowing against you, and it’s like you’re a dull knife trying to cut through butter that’s been in the freezer for a month. You start cursing the wind in abject frustration because even the slightest breeze in the wrong direction can make it impossible to gain speed, making all of your efforts utterly fruitless. Each hill that previously felt like another challenge to pridefully accomplish now feels like the universe shitting on your pillow. (The good pillow. You know the one I’m talking about). Your thighs burn and your crotch feels like you walked through a lake of sulfuric acid (like that scene from Dante’s Peak where the grandma jumps into the acid lake to save everyone in the boat? Don’t pretend like you didn’t see that movie and that it wasn’t freaking awesome).

I was warned about the troubles of chafing, but even with chafing ointment, that shit can get pretty severe. Seriously, I have blisters where no one should have to suffer having blisters. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. (I’ll give you a hint. They’re on my vag). As endorphins begin coursing through your fatigued and broken body, you go back to feeling invincible, which can make you do questionable things, like running a yellow light because it’s at the bottom of a hill, and you don’t want to have to stop and lose all of your momentum. You kind of start to feel like you rule the road, and cars are merely there for decoration. But, no, those things will kill you. Respect the cars.

On my first trip up Vancouver Island, I was in terrible shape. I couldn’t bike over an anthill without feeling the burning in my thighs, and the frightening rapidity of my heartbeat. In order to get over an incline of even a modest size, I would have to walk my bike up to the top. Once I got more used to hills I still could only bike up for about twenty feet where I would have to stop and rest for thirty seconds to a minute so that I wouldn’t pass out into traffic. My eyes would warp everything around me like I was surrounded by funhouse mirrors. I would finally reach the top and would finally get to coast downhill, but I was so frightened by the speeds I would reach that I would squeeze the breaks like my life depended on it (which I actually thought it did). Doing this prevented me from ever gaining enough speed and momentum to tackle the next hill, so I would have to slowly and lethargically pedal over it, twenty feet at a time.

My three week stay on Hornby did not go to waste. After the first week, when I had finally finished my online classes, I was able to focus on staying in shape for the next leg of my trip. I biked everyday for at least 10 miles. It was really strange at first to bike without all of my gear. It felt like riding on a tin can; it was so light. When I embarked on my first ride from Buckley Bay to Qualicum Beach, I thought that having the gear again with the added weight would make me revert back to being weak and tired, but it didn’t. I could go up large hills like they were nothing, and without stopping! It was incredible. It was like I had grown new cyborg legs or something. I would soar downhill without fear and would bask in the exhileration of traveling at warp speed. I completed the twenty-two mile trip in two hours, which was a record for me.

By day three, though, (which was yesterday) I was exhausted. I made the trip from Nanaimo to Duncan, which was only 30 miles, but it was against the wind. As I mentioned previously, wind is, like, the Regina George of natural phenomena. It can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy, depending on its mood. And it’s a fickle bitch, I’ll tell you. A strong tailwind is the best gift nature can provide to a cyclist, and a strong headwind is a metaphorical slap in the face. When I had reached Chemainus (which is a town about two thirds of the way to Duncan) I had made it over about five large hills without having to stop. Google Maps said that the rest of the way was “mostly flat.” Well Google Maps is a fucking liar. There were several more hills, albeit not large ones, but they were still hills. I was in a state of exhaustion, starvation (basically. I had only eaten a 450 calorie breakfast for the entire day), and thirst, because I had run out of water. I reeeaaally didn’t want to stop because my endorphins would deplete, and they were the only things keeping me from feeling the extent of my pain, so I pressed on, tired, hungry, and thirsty. When I would make it over one hill, there was another waiting for me. With no momentum to keep me going, I reached a point of, actually, I really don’t know the word for what I was feeling. It was a cocktail of sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and rage. Tears began flooding my eyes, and I felt like a couldn’t breathe. My esophagus was tight, and I was gasping for air. I figured that was probably the time to pull over. I had to calm myself down or I was going to pass out, or die or something. I focused on taking slow deep breaths until my breathing began to normalize, and my heart rate steadied. After a good five minute rest, I sat back down on my bike. Pain. Searing, burning pain. No more endorphins to mask the extent of my chafing injuries, and my sore tailbone. I looked up how much farther it was to my destination. Only two more miles! Excitement and happiness surged over me. I was back on a high again. I pedaled and pushed harder than I had all day knowing that food, rest, and a bath was in my very near future.

In a day, I cycled through thirty miles of hills, and about thirty different emotions. At the end of the day, however, I always end on a high because every moment of pain, struggle and veritable defeat is completely worth it, and has taught me just how much I am capable of overcoming.