I Chose This

Not all days on this trip are as glamorous as the pictures might make them seem. Today was a particularly difficult day for me.

We woke up in a small stand of trees amidst cow dung, a location that we had chosen the previous night, because it was somewhat sheltered from the cold rain that had been pouring down. We had eaten dinner in the tent, ill-advised if you are bear aware, but we had been soaked and shivering and eager to get out of the rain.

This morning, the rain had stopped, but heavy clouds still hung in the sky. We packed up and set off, on pavement to begin. For a short time, the sun made an appearance, and we were able to shed some of our layers.

We reached a turn onto a dirt road. The map had cautioned that this road might be impassible when wet, but besides a few puddles here and there, the route looked doable to us. Not wanting to miss out on any section, we decided to give it a try. At first, all was well. We crossed into New Mexico, a new state for both of us!

Soon, however, the skies once again became ominous. For a few more miles, we continued, with only a light sprinkling here and there to cause us to look up, wondering, at the sky above. We made our way up a large climb, towards 10,900 feet high. I began to struggle when we hit a steep section covered in large, loose rocks that resembled a stream bed: “The map says you might want to walk this section. I won’t be upset if you do,” Chris informed me. If he was going to ride it, though, I’d be darned if I didn’t, too.

As I huffed and puffed my way up, pausing frequently to let my breathing slow down, I was overtaken by a couple in a side-by-side. As I struggled to catch my breath, they paused long enough to comment, “That looks like hard work!” before they sped upwards and onwards. As I watched them go, a little enviously, I reminded myself: I chose this; I’m proud to be on a bicycle.

Finally, the road leveled off slightly and the number of rocks in it lessened. The sun refused to show its face, though, and soon we had to duck into some trees as torrential hail poured down around us. It turned the ground white, and we worried about what it was doing to the road. As we stood there under the trees, shivering, I reminded myself, I chose this; I chose to be here on this ride.

As the precipitation turned from hail to cold rain, I remembered that it was Labor Day. I imagined my friends and family, dry in their houses, enjoying their day off. I chose this, I told myself, they will all have to go to work tomorrow.

I imagined them later in the day, climbing into their warm beds, with their thick blankets, after taking a hot shower. I thought of how I would climb into an already-damp tent, for the fourth night in a row without a shower, with sweat and dirt clinging to me, curling up in a sleeping bag that had proved for the past few nights that it was not warm enough, with my shoulder and my hip digging into the ground that my narrow pad failed to protect me from. I chose this.

The storm refused to move on, lingering above us. As I stared down at the rain soaking my shoes, I realized that I could no longer feel my toes. I poked my hand out from my jacket and noticed that my fingers were also losing feeling and functionality. To me, they looked like five tiny, shriveled white corpses. I chose this.

I closed my eyes and imagined that I was at my parents house, under a pile of blankets on the couch, a fire roaring in the fireplace, my mother making me a mug of steaming hot cocoa. I opened my eyes, and I was still shivering in a cold rain in a strange forest, miles and miles from any shelter. I chose this.

A bolt of lightening followed almost immediately by a sharp crack of thunder caused me to jump and then cower, shoulders hunched, muscles tensed. I chose this.

I couldn’t stop the tears, then, and soon they turned to sobs. Chris tried to find a solution: “Do you want me to just set up the tent here?” I shook my head no. “Do you want a snack?” I shook my head no.

“I’m just fr- freezing and- and w-wet, and I’m hav- having a hard d-day,” I blubbered through tears.

“Do you want to keep moving?” I nodded yes; I wanted more than anything to get out of this numbing rain, for just a sliver of sunshine to poke through the dark clouds. I also thought that maybe moving would bring some sensation back to my fingers and toes. I didn’t think that I could operate my brakes with my numb fingers, though, so I told Chris that I was going to walk for a little bit.

He said OK, and rode ahead.

The road was a mess. I tried once to get on my bike, but slipped almost immediately in the mud, slamming my knee and soaking half of my body and my bicycle in a dirty puddle. The crash started the tears anew. I cursed the sky, the cold, the mud, myself, as I thought, “I chose this.”

As I trudged along, the rain began to slow. I finally saw Chris ahead, hurrying towards me. He took my bicycle and pushed it ahead to where his bicycle leaned against a tree. He handed me a piping hot cup of coffee to cradle in my frozen hands, and as I stood there, the tears began to ebb. A small ray of sunshine dared to peek through the clouds, and I stood in its path and shut my eyes, absorbing it’s light and warmth. I opened them, and Chris was taking a picture of me. “You’ll always remember this cup of coffee!” He said. And then, as I allowed the corners of my mouth to curl upward just the tiniest bit, I remembered, “I chose this. Along with you.”

Major kudos to all of the solo bicycle tourers out there; I often think I might just give up and go home if I didn’t have Chris here with me to pick me up on these few really hard days!

22 thoughts on “I Chose This”

  1. Thanks for talking about the unglamorous side of riding. As you wrote, you two are great riding buddies for each other. Having someone there when you are feeling low to bring you back up is huge. I got cold just reading your post. Let’s hope it warms up a bit when you drop some elevation!

    1. Thanks for always reading, Jason! Yes, I am super lucky to have Chris here with me… and it has warmed up quite a bit in the past few days! πŸ™‚

  2. crazy stuff!!! But you are survivors of the highest degree! Nice work with the hot coffee Chris, you are a sweetheart

  3. Rachel you are strong an amazing. I feel your pain an am praying the weather improves. You will feel a lot better when your not fighting the horrible weather conditions. We love you an Chris. Stay strong with positive thoughts. Love Linda an Tim

    1. Thank you for the prayers and encouragement! The past few days have been much warmer, if not drier! We love you, too!! <3 :-)

  4. I wish I could have given you hot chocolate and warm blankets, but you made it … Chris you are sweetheart.

  5. Wow, my heart goes out to you reading about such an incredibly tough day!! Every fire in a fireplace, or cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the future will be more precious as you remember this day. It’s great that you have each other to spur you on and I hope you feel my hugs!

    1. Thank you, Aunt Bonnie!! I appreciate the love and support! You are so right; I will cherish every hot drink and fire much more now. Sending hugs back to you!!

  6. Rachel, you guys are amazing! I LOVE reading your posts.They are so descriptive and so well written. Hang in there you two. You are both AWESOME!

    1. Thank you so much, Sydney! After a nice hot shower and motel room in Abiquiu, we are both feeling very much revived. Thanks so much for the encouragement and for reading our posts!!

  7. Hey, thanks for the great post, Rachel! Just so you know, Labor Day here was sweltering and miserable, Luke and I were wishing for a hail storm. New Mexico already and you guys still look strong and healthy! except Chris is starting to look like Grizzly Adams.

    1. Ha! You made us laugh out loud with the Grizzly Adams comment… which is spot on πŸ˜€

      I sure wish we could have swapped some weather!! I hope that it has since cooled down for you guys!

  8. Aw Rach!! You guys are doing great and that will be the best coffee you will ever have!! Mmm. This blog was written so well – I was very captivated and picturing it every line!! So impressed by you two. Fancy coffee on me when we can meet up again :).

  9. Oh, Rach!! You will look back and laugh and appreciate that you have your favorite person with you, which makes every adventure worthwhile! Sending warm hugs through the cosmos… love you both!

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