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!