66: My Bike Tour Adventures

66: My Bike Tour Adventures

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

My Bike Tour Adventures

I have accepted fear as a part of life — specifically the fear of change. I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back.

~Erica Jon

When I was told that my maternal grandmother, Evelyn, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had only six months to live I was devastated. When I was called only weeks later and told to fly to Illinois immediately to see her, I felt my world fall apart.

I spent her last days with her painting her nails, rubbing lotion into her skin and listening to her talk. She spoke of the power and importance of strong friendships, giving me advice that would change my life: “Be happy. That’s all that matters.”

After my grandmother died I felt empty. As a live-in nanny in New York, despite the fact that I loved the girls I cared for, I felt trapped. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right or be who I truly wanted to be. My life revolved around materialism, paychecks, new clothes and drinking every weekend. I questioned how to be happy; I needed a change, but what? I discussed this many times with Kerry, my best friend. Many times I’d say, “I wish I could just bike off into the sunset!” One day, Kerry replied with, “Well, why don’t you just do it?”

I began researching bike touring and realized that many people do it! I decided to get a bike and ride off into the sunset. In biking, I’d find happiness, I’d travel, and I’d be free. My grandma always encouraged us to travel. I was going to tour alone and I would find me. I knew it was going to be amazing.

Many of my friends were supportive. My family took some time to come around, but once they understood my reasons they became my champions as well. Some people would never understand and I had to accept that.

In February 2014, after eight months of planning, I sold everything, left my job, and flew to Austin, Texas — my starting point. I had my bicycle, dubbed Evelyn, and the supplies needed for my tour: tent, sleeping bag, foodstuffs, and clothing. In total, my bike plus supplies weighed 200 pounds.

Wheezing up the hills of Texas Hill Country, I questioned every day just what I had gotten myself into. I had definitely found adventure! I learned immediately to throw my plans by the wayside — there was no way I could plan how far I was going to go or where I was going to stay. Every day was different; I never knew what it would bring, whom I would meet, if I would be blown over or chased by dogs. At night I would hunt for a secret camping spot and if none were to be found I would ask farmers if I could camp on their land. When they heard my story most people were more than willing to go out of their way to help, like bringing me little snacks, buying me lunch or dinner and sharing their stories.

I found myself meeting people from all walks of life and connecting with souls I would never have interacted with otherwise. One man sold his horse sixty years ago to buy his wife’s engagement ring. Another picked me up when I needed a ride because the winds were forty to fifty miles per hour. We spent a whole day at a museum, had lunch, and he turned out to be an accomplished gospel singer! I was given a Chinese lantern and made a wish as it floated into the night.

After leaving Lubbock, Texas, things were flat for a while… until central New Mexico, where I hit mountains for the first time. That was hard and brought new challenges, but I was still free. I was living my dream!

I biked alone for 1,983 miles through four states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. I saw miles of desert and fields. I camped behind abandoned schools and saw snow-capped mountains in the distance. I woke up to the sound of hail hitting my roof. I ate frozen Clif Bars and wore all my clothes at once to keep from shivering all night. I got sunburned when I ran out of sunscreen, learned not to lick my lips when they split from the wind, and cheered out loud whenever I went down a hill. I learned extreme budgeting and spent only five dollars a day — or less!

I sang every song on my iPod at the top of my lungs and called out cheerful hellos to cows in fields. Snuggled in my sleeping bag I watched the sunsets, followed by the moon shining calmly on me and more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I hiked in Redwoods, took an impromptu ride to Mexico and back with some friendly old men, and felt the power of the Pacific Ocean waves. I climbed mesas, camped in the desert heat listening to coyotes sing, slept in the woods with bears, saw wild horses run past my tent, rolled down mountains at forty miles per hour, swam in canals and befriended ducks, and biked away from a dangerous host one night.

I felt my grandmother’s presence throughout much of my trip: certain situations could have gone much worse than they did and when, seemingly, miracles would happen, I knew my grandma had a hand in that. All the way from Texas I saw signs saying I wouldn’t see Saguaro cacti because they’re only found in the Phoenix area. Rolling down a canyon road and seeing my first Saguaro cactus on a cliff side a hundred feet over my head was unlike anything I’d experienced thus far. It was a feeling of accomplishment so profound that I sobbed on the side of the road. “Look how far I’ve traveled, Grandma. Look what I am doing. You are my inspiration and I do it in your memory!”

Upon arriving in San Francisco I realized I was down to $200. I needed to find work. I landed an incredible job in Arizona starting immediately. I flew to Phoenix to do work that I love. Every morning I wake up and see cacti and little quail families scurrying around together and mountains outside my window! Every night the sky looks like it’s on fire. Again I see my grandmother’s work. I love it here and am so happy!

In letting go of my power and plans, and opening myself up to all things new, I’ve found a way to bring joy into my life everywhere I go. It is so important to let yourself experience the things that make you happy. Don’t compromise on things that don’t bring you joy. When people warn you against doing something because it’s “not done” or that so many dangerous things could happen, ask yourself: Will you feed the fear and let others’ judgment keep you from living your life to the fullest? I feel like I can breathe again, and continue to learn who I am meant to be. My adventures are far from over.

~Maria Dorsey

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