Grappling With Reality

In the last month I have had ample opportunity to face up to my reality. Whether it was the winter weather and roads I faced as I made my way to Portland, or the hurricane my tent and I survived on the Oregon coast, I was constantly aware of my self-inflicted situation. When I was huddled in my damp tent, swathed in feelings of isolation and loneliness, for 12 hours a night, every night, it was then that I most wanted to cast blame on something or someone. The reality is that I could only blame myself. Every compounding decision I have made over the last few months of the trip, or the year or two leading up to it, had set me down with the very reality I was encountering. There was nothing I could do but sit in the dark and feel bad about myself and my decisions. How unfortunate because those same decisions involved great highlights of the trip, like tremendous weather in Alaska, a great side trip to Jasper and Banff National Parks, and some time with friends in Seattle. This adventure was dreamed up to involve a balance of hardship and excitement, self-discovery and earthly discoveries; constantly keeping me intrigued to see what would come next. Traveling by bike started as one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had. Each day and destination is flexible, nothing is binding me to commitments aside from my own desire to move on down the road. How then could that freedom to be the only one in control of my life and decisions be so overwhelming? Why was I huddled in my tent furious at the world for bashing me with the worst coastal weather of recent memory when it was my decision, or consequence of decisions, to be there? And most oppressive, how was I making all the decisions and still finding myself involved in something I couldn’t understand or predict?

As a response to these newly freeing experiences I went about setting up habits and routines that could narrow down the number of free decisions I had to make. My budget, my lifestyle, my interests, all allowed me to regiment the kind of trip that was possible and it became one that was singularly my own. Furthermore, my daily routine and expected destinations continued to narrow the flexibility of the trip, with each day like the last and next. If every day is executed the same, rain or shine, then how will a day in Alaska ultimately distinguish itself from a day in Guatemala or Argentina. As a result, I felt like I was being swept up in a flash flood, getting bashed around, and hopefully being spit out in Argentina. I spent the last month looking for the lifeline to get me out of the situation, aware only of my desperation, floundering and slapping at the water instead of lying back and floating along with it.

During this time, I was constantly thinking about how all I wanted was something to come along and take me away from my self-inflicted reality. The situations I had found myself in, and the pressures I was putting myself under in the name of the trip, were so tremendously overwhelming that I totally lost sight of the freedom I had allowed myself by undertaking this trip in the first place. I realized that for most of us, myself included, we set up our life to be a series of free choices, coupled with an array of dictated procedures. We have the ultimate choice over everything we do, but we are able to narrow the number of choices by relying on jobs, families, and community influences to dictate much of what we actually do. Being free from all of those authors on my life, meant that I couldn’t be frustrated at a boss, or parents, or a spouse for placing me in my predicament. It became apparent that it wasn’t the freedom to make my decisions that was so overwhelming, but the responsibility to deal with their consequences that was so troubling.

I guess more to the point, I was trying to walk, or pedal, through my expected motions of the trip without actually experiencing the reality I had set out to find. I was biking to get away from things, weather mostly, but also my naive notions about the trip and how it would play out. Soon I found myself only pedaling. It had become my life, instead of a means to a life that would pleasurably take me through all the wonderful places, environments and communities along my route. I was starting to see the trip as about the bike, the transportation. As I look back now, from the comforts of my childhood-adolescent home in Colorado, it was playing out exactly like the kind of trip I had wanted to avoid. If I had traveled by car or bus to any of these places along the west coast it would have introduced me to just as much as I had experienced on my bike (with the obvious exception to being constantly soaked and miserable). I was so closed-off, concentrating on the effort of southward progress, that it didn’t matter that I was using such a uniquely engaging mode of transportation; one especially suited, and chosen for this trip, to break down the barriers that blur our interactions with the places we are visiting.

A few decisions have been made, or are still being made, as a result of this last difficult month of the trip. There is nothing more I want in this world, from this world, than to travel all the way down through the length of the Americas. I want to see the changing landscapes and the remnants of the great Mayan civilization, taste the local delicacies along the coast of Baja California or the central foothills of Argentina, smell the damp Central American rainforests and salty beaches, hear the political messages blasted from loudspeekers and the dance music wafting from clubs, and feel the life and cultures of these places become a part of me. I want to capture this experience in photos and words as a means to make sense of the constantly shifting scene before me, and to share this experience with others unable to make the journey with me. I want to complete this trip by bike because, even after all the struggle, it still is the best way to casually travel the world. I am free to make these decisions, and so I am again doing so. I will make this trip happen by whatever means necessary, and under whatever circumstances or timeline is necessary. The biggest restraint towards my unassailable freedom on this matter is my dwindling budget, which was poignantly made clear with a fortuitous meeting of another long distance bike tourer in San Francisco. I am looking into some options that would allow me a few months break from the trauma I found myself in, to take a deep breath and recommit myself to the trip, and also a chance to make enough money to take away the stress of budget and time from the remainder of my adventure. Whatever I do, it is my solid commitment that I will remount my bike and find the fun that I have pictured for this trip; in food and culture and history and environment and most importantly, people. Ultimately, to find the freedom and flexibility the trip represents to set out and find what makes me happy, curious, and passionate.

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