Back to the Basics

A month ago today, I was living a very different life. I can pretty much pinpoint exactly what I was doing at this very moment 30 days ago. I guarantee you, I was sitting on the couch, with one leg tucked under the other, slack-jawed, and binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix (and driving my sister crazy). I had only days left until I was to begin this journey, and all I had really done to prepare was getting my bike and all of my gear together. I was still stuck in a sinkhole of depression, with my mind creating imaginary barriers that prevented me from gaining any motivation to actually go ride my bike. My sister, worried that I was setting myself up for failure, consistently urged me to get off of my ass and go for a bike ride. “Izzy,” she would say, “I just want you to be successful. PLEASE for the love of God, start actually doing something to prepare for this.” And, like the perpetual child that I was (and probably still am), I would roll my eyes, sigh, and basically ignore the shit out of her. I was a pretty huge “see you next Tuesday,” if you know what I mean. It’s not easy for me to admit to what a waste of space I was, and it’s even harder to share it with everyone who will be reading this blog, (so, like, 5 people) but I feel like it’s necessary to cop to it as a way of shedding the old me. This experience has been somewhat of a metamorphosis of mind, body, and spirit, and I have to completely shed my old skin in order to become something, or someone, worthy of it. I’m about to get pretty real here, so brace yourselves for the impact of some pretty major truth bombs.

My childhood was definitely not something that would be written into some major Lifetime movie event. It was completely average. Magnificently average. I had two parents who loved me (still do), and two siblings who were basically my best friends (still are). I had wonderfully magical Christmases, and have always had everything that I could ever want or need. I was always an excellent student, made Honor Roll on a consistent basis, and graduated highschool with honors. I even got my Gold Award as a Girl Scout of 12 years. I was all set up to become a successful and accomplished human being, and a high functioning member of society. But it never happened. Somehow I never became the person (I thought) I was meant to be. I started college as a Vocal Performance major, and dropped out after three weeks. I then proceeded to jump from job to job, boyfriend to boyfriend, and back and forth from Portland and Myrtle Beach where my parents were living at the time. I never felt like I had any traction. It felt impossible to get my life on track. I was in a constant uphill battle with anxiety and depression, and it literally showed on my face from years of trichotillomania (the compulsion to pull out your own hair, or eyelashes and eyebrows. Mine is the latter). My bald face is a major insecurity of mine, and has been since I started exhibiting symptoms of the condition at 13. It was a source of ridicule from my peers, and even sometimes adults, who didn’t understand that I had an uncontrollable illness. “Isabelle, why don’t you just stop pulling them out?” They would ask. Genius! What a revelation! The notion had never once crossed my mind! (Queue dramatically sarcastic eyeroll). No, I want to look like a naked molerat. I think I really rock the look.

As the years went on, and I cycled through waves of self-sabotage and…whatever the hell the opposite of “self-sabotage” is, I finally settled at a job with Netflix. I had my own apartment, had ended a toxic relationship, and was finally independent. And it felt great, for the first few months, until my pattern of poor decision making came back to rear its ugly head. Anyone who really knows me knows that I suffered from stomach issues since childhood. Until recent years, when I finally got a competent doctor, I was always diagnosed with IBS, which is basically what they say in place of “I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you. Here’s a lollipop and bill for $500.” Stress always exacerbated the condition, so when I worked at a high stress call center job, I was basically always sick. My doctor sent me home with forms for my work giving me FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act, which basically grants you completely excused time off of work on a monthly basis), and a monthly prescription for oxycodone. I bet you can see where this is going. Giving a chronically depressed, and perpetually self-sabotaging, person a prescription for a controlled substance should be considered gross neglegence. This was the lowest point of my life. Laying on the couch for days on end, not hours, days, taking pain pills, and watching tv shows became my life. I never went to work, and I considered getting off my ass to go to the grocery store to be a productive day. When I would talk on the phone with my sister, I could tell her everything that happened on Ghost Whisperer, but never had anything to say about myself. It got to the point where I was so deep in depression that I would sleep for days, and wake up not knowing the date. And then I’d eat a whole roll of cookie dough in one sitting and proceed to stack on the pounds, and sink further into self loathing.

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One morning (or night. They were the same thing at that point) in the midst of another Netflix binge, I caught a glimpse of my reflection on my laptop screen. I looked only half alive. My double chin was resting on my chest, and my eyes were lifeless and glazed over from the hours of TV I had just consumed. This new perspective of myself triggered something in me. I had the sudden and terrifying realization that this was going to be my life forever. I felt completely helpless and hopeless. It felt impossible to change. I had allowed myself to get pulled into the quicksand of stagnancy, and I was willingly surrendering to my misery without so much as a struggle. The reality of knowing that if I didn’t make a change now, I would be stuck like this forever surged over me in a moment of blind panic and haunting clarity. The first thing I did the following day was call up my doctor, and demand that she discontinue my oxycodone prescription. The second thing I did was call my mom. We arranged for me to move back in with her and my dad in Myrtle Beach so I could basically retrain myself to be an adult. It worked, to a degree, but wherever you go, there you are. I made some strides, like saving up money, and applying for college. I had a vision in my mind of who I wanted to be, so I just took small steps everyday to inch my way closer to becoming that person. I got accepted to Portland State, and moved into the dorms the following September. In an attempt to decrease the length of this post, I won’t delve too deep into my college experience. It was definitely a learning experience in every sense of the word. I did really well for the first couple of years, but by year three, I really lost steam. I am probably the most undisciplined person on the planet, (okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but I am pretty damn lazy.) I started using my stomach condition to get out of going to class, or to make up a missed exam. I began losing my sense of integrity and became someone, once again, who I did not like or respect. The cycle of self-sabotage had commenced yet again.

If there is one thing I have learned through my lifetime of poor decisions and lack of self discipline, it is the importance of self parenting. You have to be able to tell yourself no, and more importantly, you have to listen. You need to keep the promises you make to yourself because if you can’t trust yourself, you become someone who is not trustworthy. I became so tired of the ugliness of my character that I decided that this was the time to self parent. This was the time I really needed to come through for myself to end this endless pattern that has prevented me from really living my life. I was acting like an unruly and disobedient child, and what do you do with a child who needs to learn respect for the rules? You send them to bootcamp.

This bike trip was meant to get me in shape for the military, but it has become so much more. I had no idea the struggles I would face, and the spiritual awakening that I would experience. It has already begun reshaping my character, and steering me closer toward the woman I hope to be. A woman who is worthy.

Driving me Nomad

This past week, I was living like a nomad. I would bike to a new town, get settled into a campground, set up my tent, cook my dinner, sleep, and then tear everything down in the morning to move on to a new place. I saw amazing things and met amazing people. The kind of people who restore your faith in humanity by showing you that there are incredibly decent people in the world if you open yourself up a bit. As I sit here, finally settled in on Hornby Island, writing on the back porch and watching the cruise ships pass, just like my father always did as I was growing up, I am thinking about my first day of this little adventure.

Day One:

My very first ride was excruciating. I was hungover from my cousin’s wedding the evening before, and I hadn’t practiced riding with my gear at all. The first time I actually got on my bike and pedaled with my 100 pounds of (probably mostly unnecessary) gear was when I rode my bike onto the ferry heading to Victoria. When we pulled into the ferry terminal at Swartz Bay, I was directed to a bike trail that was supposed to lead right to downtown Victoria near where I had reserved a room at a hostel. I neglected to look at a map, but if I had I would have been more prepared for the 20 mile ride I was about to embark on. I expected it to be a short, scenic, and relatively easy first day, but instead, it was grueling, delirium enducing, and I was thoroughly convinced that I was going to die. My thoughts were on a repeating cycle of “holy shit. What the hell have I done,” and “oh my God, I might die. I might actually die.”

I kept getting lost because there weren’t always signs telling me where the bike trail would go when I met an intersection, and I had no working phone with which to locate myself on Google Maps. I would bike for a few hundred feet, stop and cry, bike a few more hundred feet, stop and cry. After 2 hours it got dark. I was riding on the trail through the woods, over deer poop, with the sounds of the nature night life all around me. The heat radiating from my flushed and sweaty face made my glasses so foggy that I could barely see 5 feet in front of me. I was terrified, alone, and with no means to call for help. My hands were chapped from my bike handles because I ignored the advice of the bike salesman and didn’t buy cycling gloves (always wear cycling gloves!!), I had already eaten the single banana that I brought for what I thought would be a decent snack, and my head was spinning.

When I finally reached some signs of civilization, I saw some guy smoking a joint by the side of the road, and since I was pretty sure I was going to die anyway, I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask this possibly murdery stranger for some much needed help. I didn’t even hesitate. I stopped immediately and in a desperate frenzy shouted “I need you to call me a cab right now.” I think I may have actually frightened him because he quickly ran inside and next thing I know, there’s a taxi pulling up in front of me with its cab light appearing as a light from the heavens. The cab driver and I struggled to fit my bike and gear in the back of his tiny Prius, and after much trial and error, we got it in, and I got safely to my hostel in downtown Victoria. PHEW. I didn’t die. It was a fucking miracle. While I spent days 2 and 3 Victoria, I did some much needed resting, got myself a working phone (thanks, Mom), some real food, and some money for lodging on my trip (thanks supporters!).

Day 4:

Once Wednesday came around, it was time to trek along once more. I packed up my massive amount of gear and biked on to Goldstream Provincial Park. This ride was hard, but I was already stronger than I was on the first ride, and I actually really enjoyed this trip. I didn’t even cry once. Huzzah! I set up my tent, made my dinner of rice and miso soup, and passed out. Then I got up, teared down my tent, packed up all my gear, and prepared for the arduous journey over the Malahat.

Day 5:

The fucking Malahat. My. God. When I reached the first incline, I was like, “um, hell no,” and the first incline was the easiest, by far. My bike being so overburdened with gear was too hard to try and ride up the mountain. Even in the lowest gear the weight kept it from being able to move upward because my legs were not yet strong enough to overpower gravity. So, I had to walk my bike up 6 miles of steep incline in searing heat, as logging trucks and semis whizzed past me at 70 miles an hour.

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The view from the Malahat
After 4 and a half hours, I finally reached the summit, and it was absolutely beautiful. Even though I hadn’t actually biked up the Malahat, I had still walked up lugging 100 plus pounds, which in itself is an accomplishment. As I was hauling myself up the mountain, my legs kept slamming into my bike pedals with full force. Each time was more painful than the one before it as the already tender parts of my legs were smashed repeatedly, and now my shins and calfs are so bruised they look like a Jackson Pollack painting. (I could seriously just take close up pictures of my legs and sell them on eBay, and no one would be the wiser.) Anyway, I reached the summit! Woohoo! After that, it was all downhill to Bamberton Provincial Park. My incredibly heavy bicycle sailed downhill to the point that I was terrified by how fast I was going. I had to squeeze the breaks so tight that my thumbs now have tendonitis, and I am unsure whether or not the feeling in my index fingers will ever come back, but damn was it exhilerating.

Day 6:

After Bamberton was Duncan where my mom, the glorious and generous woman that she is, put me up in a little hotel called the Thunderbird Motor Inn so I could have a shower, do some laundry, and finish my online homework. Here was where I met two of the sweetest people in the world. The couple who run the Inn, Martin and Maureen, were so amazingly kind. They were so interested in what I was doing and made sure that I was comfortable and had everything that I needed. (If you ever find yourself in Duncan, BC and in need of a nice place to rest your head for the night, stay here). During these few days, I seriously felt the best I have ever felt in my life. I was happier, more positive, and had boundless energy. It’s amazing what an effect exercise can have on your mind. I honestly never want to go back to the way things were before. This is the way to live.

Day 7:

After I got a good night’s rest, I hopped back on my bicycle, bruises and all, and biked about 27 miles to the Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, BC. I had to do more homework after setting up my tent and unloading my gear (thankfully the office had wifi). When I was finally finished, I began my usual routine of cooking my dinner. I hadn’t eaten nearly as much as I should have with such a long ride, so my hands were shaky, and I was dizzy and exhausted. While I was checking on my rice, I accidentally knocked the pot off of the stove, sending my long-awaited dinner plummeting onto the dirt and gravel.

After a mild panic attack, or what I’m sure appeared as a nervous breakdown to onlooking campers, I was finally able to cook another batch of rice, eat some much needed dinner, and get some rest.

Day 8:

When I woke up the next morning, my body wouldn’t move. My muscles and joints were on strike. I could barely sit up, my hips and legs were throbbing, and my crotch felt like someone used it for sparring practice. I called my mommy (because, yes, even at 26 I still need my mommy), and I cried to her for about 20 minutes about how I didn’t think I could do this anymore, and wah wah waahh. She gave me some much needed encouragement, and convinced me to rest for a day. I spent another night at the campground and decided to begin again the following morning. Since the campground had already reserved my site for another camper coming in, I had to move campsites, but got really lucky with an amazing ocean front site. As I was awkwardly hauling a giant bundle of fire wood to my new site, I met two amazing campers, Kathy and Woody (sorry if I misspelled your names) who generously gave me a bunch of their left over food. They went above and beyond by helping me move the rest of my stuff to my new site. Once again, you meet amazing people out there, eh? After I was finally settled in to my new site, I got my fire going, read a book (that I accidentally ended up stealing from the campground library. Oops), and marveled at the beautiful view from my tent.

The view from my tent at Living Forest
The view from my tent at Living Forest
Day 9:

The next morning it was back to the bicycle. Aaaaand also back to the crying. I was so tired and in so much pain. My thigh muscles were starting to spasm, my shoulders were blistered and sunburned because apparently sunscreen sweats off even if it says it doesn’t, and you need to reapply that shit, like, 50 times a day.

As my backpack chaffed against my sunburned skin, my tailbone sent shooting pains across my rear, and the damned wind pushed against me so hard it counteracted all of my pedaling efforts, I broke down into tears on the side of the road. I had reached a point where I just wanted to throw my bike off a cliff, or let myself get hit by a car. It was the lowest point of my trip. (And my stooopid ukulele. Why in the hell did I bring my stupid ukulele. I can’t count the amount of times I wanted to smash that thing on the pavement, but I can count how many times I actually played it while I’ve been on this trip: Zero). After my little pity party, I forced myself back on my bike and rode until I had to cry again. Once the endorphins finally kicked in, I felt great. (Seriously, endorphins are amazeballs. Do they sell them over the counter?)

Day 10:

The next day I was dead set on making it to Buckley Bay, a 36 mile ride, which was either due to this experience turning me into a more self propelled person (see what I did there?), or the insanity was starting to set in. I have a feeling it was both. The slightest hill felt like a mountain as my body grew more tired and achey, but I was determined to get there. I finally made it to the ferry terminal at Buckley Bay and was so relieved and proud of myself for having pushed myself so far. Then I realized I had no more money (money does not go very far in Canada. Sheesh), so I didn’t have enough to pay for a night at the Denman campground. There was no way I was going to make the last ferry to Hornby on a bicycle, so I hitched a ride the rest of the way with a really nice man named Lazlo. (Who was also quite the conspiracy theorist and went on about how I needed to “read the internet”).

Now that I have finally arrived on Hornby, I still feel like none of this is real. I feel like I’m really in a coma and I’m imagining this entire experience because I can’t believe I really did it. I have a newfound respect and love for my body and its amazing abilities because it completely surpassed my own expectations. (Way to go, body!) I feel so much more capable, and I have a faith in myself that I never thought I would have. I am so grateful for this little adventure that I had. With all of its ups and downs, both metaphorical and literal (and there were many), it was the most incredible experience of my life so far. As I use my next few days on Hornby to recuperate, I look forward to heading into the next leg to Boston wiser, more realistic, and much more prepared.

Preparation and How to Avoid it

If you are anything like me, you have likely heard all of the warnings about proscrastination from concerned friends and family more than once. Way more than once. I think my personal favorite–from my mom, no less–was “procrastination is a lot like masturbation. It feels good until you realize you are fucking yourself.” And, if you are anything like me, you have blatanly ignored these warnings as if you are somehow the one person in the entire world that can bingewatch Grey’s Anatomy for two weeks, and then just jump on a bike and ride across the country like it’s nothing. Well, let me tell you, no one is that person. Not even Lance Armstrong, who juiced it up all the live long day, is that person.

I tend to be the type of person who jumps in head first with her eyes closed. In other words, I am a dumb person. (But, dammit, if I am not a dumb person with guts!) Two months ago I had the vision of biking halfway across the country from Minneapolis to Boston. It seems like such an amazing idea in theory, (and by golly, I am going to fucking do it) but I wish that I had been more prepared. And not just for the sheer physical pain that I am currently in while I hold an icepack to my crotch where my bike seat bruised my womanhood, but for the things that I had no idea I would even have to be prepared for. Things like my bike breaking in transport and needing immediate repair; not having a working phone in a different country because your service provider told you lies (lies I tell you!!); having to change all of your campsite reservations an hour after making them, and having to forfeit all of the fees; and a myriad of other mishaps that ate away all of your travel money in order to remedy, sending you reeling into despair.

Solo travel is the hardest and most amazing thing I have ever done, and it has literally only been three days. Three of the most emotional rollercoaster-y days of my life. Packed into this incredibly short time has been obstacle after obstacle, testing my resolve at every turn, as well as empowering me to take on the next challenge. The people I have met so far in my travels have all been so incredibly full of a thirst for life that I envy and aspire to.

Awesome waterfront artist, Ian Cooper, from transientvisions.com
Awesome waterfront artist, Ian Cooper, from transientvisions.com

Walking alone along Victoria’s beautiful waterfront just after sunset erased every worry from my mind, and reminded me why every challenge and every obstacle is completely worth overcoming. Afterall, nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy.

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