Start Before You’re Ready and Other Cycling Wisdom

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Despite my bravado in biking solo on the other side of the world and the perception you may have on what kind of girl does that, I had no idea what I was doing. Before I booked my ticket to the antipodes and set out to cycle around Tasmania and the length of New Zealand, I did not speak bike. I planned to watch maintenance videos at the airport, but the wifi was out, and I voted to sleep on the plane instead of study up.

The only other time I’ve done anything that could be remotely considered long-distance biking was in college when my roommate and I, carless and desperate for a change in scenery, decided to use the only transportation available to us and bike to Canada.

We started riding about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and about two miles down the road noticed that Jaime had a flat tire. Of course, we didn’t have a pump or spare anything, so back to the house we went. This left a really strong first impression on the sub letter who had moved in earlier that day. So anyway, we really pedaled off about 2PM, not considering much of anything apart form Canada’s drinking laws turning us temporarily legal. We had our passports, money for snacks and unchained spirits. What more did we need?

Padded bike shorts would’ve been a nice start. Headlamps, a cell phone in case anything went seriously awry and maybe reflective vests or more spare tubes after that first mile would have been nice to add to the list, too. Other things we didn’t consider: liquor stores being closed on Sundays, shooting our dreams down like we imagined we’d be shooting down swigs of whiskey with Canadian lumberjacks. How 80+ miles actually feels on a bike, versus in a car. Only mapping our mileage after we got back, not digging deeper than knowing much more than Canada was north beforehand. What time the sun would set. (After all these years, my maintenance and planning still largely looks like this).

On our way back, about 12 miles away from home, it was past dusk when we reached the first stop light since Canada. I had been fighting back the urge to scream or cry at how badly my ass hurt, and when Jaime pulled up alongside me and asked, “Do you want to take a break?” I was pulling off the side of the road before she finished asking the question. We both eyed a large hemlock log to sit on.

“Does your butt hurt?” Jaime asked.

“Yes!” I cried, as we simultaneously sat on the damp log and fell right through it, bringing us both to tears from despair and then from laughter from our naivete. Mostly the tears were from how pathetic we were in that moment, but our butts really hurt. It hurt to sit.

When the tears and laughter subsided, we stood up to push through the last few miles, the determination for food and the promise of a soft couch cushion momentarily masking the damage we’d done to ourselves that day.

We never once thought about quitting or that we couldn’t make it home. Fueled by stubbornness and a knowledge that we got ourselves into it and only had one way of getting out of it, we eventually crawled back onto our front porch well after the sun had set. The moment I locked my bike on the porch, I wanted to reverse time. Suddenly I didn’t want the day to end. I wanted to get back out there. The moment I made it home that first time, I was hooked on the special kind of suffering a long day in the saddle brings.

I walked in to find Jaime on the kitchen floor with the refrigerator door wide open, sifting the contents for a beer, aware that even though we couldn’t legally purchase it ourselves, these things had a way of showing up in our fridge. From the back middle shelf, Jaime held up a beer like one would a heart from his enemy and I cheered. It had a maple leaf on the cap, brewed in Canada. How fitting. We’d gone all that way to find what we went in search of right where we started.

But that’s always how the story goes, isn’t it?

My point is: Start what you really want to do before you’re ready. The rest, you’ll sort out along the way. Unless you want to spend eternity rotting away with the logs, you’ll have to.