“I hate pedaling on pavement,” I muttered, throwing my bike down and sitting in what little shade the bushes offered.
This is dangerous and stupid. American roads were made by bastards. Why is there no shoulder? Heaven forbid a bicycle lane be installed. Cars don’t move over. People don’t slow down. People don’t care! Assholes, all of them!
My first meltdown of the trip happened on Highway 89.
This is not wilderness. It is, but it’s not enjoyable! It’s loud all the time, even when you sleep. Engine breaks and motorcycles revving and cars speeding. It’s constant. Fourteen wheelers whipping by threatening to rattle me off my bike. Side mirrors almost swiping my life away. This isn’t safe.
I didn’t fill up full all of my water at the creek this morning. The map showed we’d be following water all day. We haven’t been following water. The creek beds are dry. I’m almost out of water. If a car doesn’t kill me, thirst will.
In reality, this meltdown looked like a shutdown. I stood there, shaking and silent. My breathing was shallow standing still. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. Hot tears pooled in my eyes but didn’t burst. My palms were sweaty, yet cold. Goosebumps moved up my spine and my jaw was locked.
I was frozen.
My thinking brain said, You’re frozen. Take a deep breath and get back on that bike! Why are you just standing there? Move!
My primal brain, the part that was in control, did nothing. It stood there with wide eyes, a stiff back and concrete feet. My thoughts were not words. There was no actionable plan. I would stand there forever and die if I got back on my bike.
Slowly, I began to thaw.
I ripped off pieces of juniper leaves and smelled them. It grounded me. I tried to breathe deeply and get air into my lungs. Eventually I sat down. I complained and Ian listened. He told me he would wait and not leave until I was ready, but made it clear there was no other option than getting back on that bike.
My thinking brain coached me back to reality, Drink water. Breathe. Eat a blueberry Pop-tart. Get back on the bike. You got this, and you are safe.
I don’t know how long we sat there in silence. Eventually, I looked at Ian and laughed at myself. “What are you waiting around for? Let’s ride,” I joked.
Ian rolled his eyes and we got back on our bikes. We pedaled uphill for another five minutes and hit the first gas station/sign of civilization since yesterday. I laughed at myself for melting down five minutes away from cold water and barbecue chips. Classic.
We chilled in the shade of the gas station. While Ian changed the tube of yet another flat tire, I fell asleep in a hard metal chair. My nervous system had revved up and crashed.
While this frozen moment was a brief part of the day, it was powerful. It stuck with me.
When I’m scared I blame and hate and make my own life hell. I lived in a head space of hating hypothetical people of the past for not thinking of making a bicycle lane. I thought anarchist thoughts like taking all of the glass on the side of the road and throwing it in the middle of the road, hoping for a crash or car pile up traffic jam that would stop all incoming cars and leave the road open for us. I thought about one of those traps with a tiger at the bottom of a hole that I could set up for all the cars. I wanted everyone in their plush air conditioned cars to feel pain and fear like I was feeling. I wanted them to slow down and give me snacks or pick me up and take me home. I didn’t really want any of these things, but this is where my mind went.
Biking exposes me in all of my glorious grit and beautiful bullshit. It rips me out of my comfort zone and I either step up and show up or I don’t. Biking reveals how I deal with pain and what I chose to focus on in the face of uncertainty. This is a grand thing to witness.
Through bikepacking, I can say now with more confidence that I am strong and gritty and determined. I’m a badass. I can also say that I’m a beginner, I’m scared and I am dependent on those riding with more knowledge. I don’t know how to fix a flat or replace brakes. My typical avodiant patterns would be to gloss over this detail, hope nothing bad will ever happen and never buy a repair kit or watch a YouTube video. This is unreasonable, going big in the backcountry. Bikepacking has reinvigorated my desire to learn. It is pushing me to develop new patterns: to attack the unknown with absolute positivity and to dive head first into an unknown world of specialized knowledge.
The bike humbles me. It teaches me to trust in the curves of the road and the strength in my legs. It has taught me when to let go and let it rip and when to hold back, assess and move slow. Bikepacking has humbled me back into experiencing the beginner’s mindset. My ego doesn’t like to listen or ask for help because it already knows everything. The bike pummels my ego into the ground. My ass gets handed to me on a daily basis biking 30-50 miles on downhills with sharp turns and lose rock, steep uphills with ten false summits, and heavy unbalanced bags. The bike shows me microscopic mechanical pieces that I can’t even name, but assures me that I could learn if I’m up to it.
There is so much beauty in what a bike can teach us. The bicycle gives and gives and gives.
Beyond the glorious sunsets and downhill doozies, what I really get out of biking trips like this is growth. Growth comes from not knowing what the shit is going on, not liking what the shit is going on, but doing it anyway and coming out the other side feeling like The Shit.
Grateful for…sitting in the cold Sevier River, yellow blooming rabbit brush, mountain lion tracks, water filter, barbecue chips, tall grass, exposed red rock, ponderosa pines and spruce and fir trees, clean air, open sky, the milky way, Ian’s patience, hot coffee, broken barbed wire fences, tall sage, aquaphor, zinc sunscreen, Spongebob DreamPants
Continue reading The Bikepacking Diaries…
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