The Rickshaw Run

The Rickshaw Run:

We started this journey in the South. We were eager and excited about the Rickshaw rally we were about to embark. Sixteen months in the making of this. Countless nights in LA talking about how India would be our biggest challenge. After completing our bike tour in Europe we categorized it as just training for India- this place that both intimated us and drew us in. Now we were here, four days prior to setting off in a rally that would show us up and take us from the southern tip of India to the northwest near Pakistan.

We arrived in Cochin on a Sunday a little nervous excited. Our first night we spent in a mosquito infested hot-box of a “hotel.”  It was cheap and I spent the entire night fighting the mosquitoes as I conjured up ideas on how I was going to convince Jonathan we needed to move to another hotel. Or at least one that would have functioning mosquito screens in the windows.  I was lucky enough that he also spent a miserable night and agreed on the change.

After that we set off “pimping up” our Rickshaw. We had one of the veterans of the pack. She, Ellie our rickshaw, was clocking in 60,790 km. It was not her first rodeo. Only one more Rickshaw in the fleet of madmen and women had more Km than ours.  We asked the mechanics to evaluate our steed. That consisted in a three second glance at the motor and a thumbs up. Being “expert” Rickshaw drivers from our previous 3 weeks driving Ruby we felt we at least had that part down.

The thing is Rickshaws are like cats, or anything finicky really. Ellie had morning moods and mid morning sounds. The shifting changed as the day went by. The sounds and vibrations were always changing. I was attuned to her to the point I felt a different vibration pattern on my ass and low and behold our muffler had detached. She growled and panted up hills and purred in cool morning drives. We were just there to cater to her needs and feed her gas. She was there to take us 2,700 km up a crazy country.

Back to the start though.

We quickly decided our kindred spirits in travel were Cathy, Amanda and Barry from Team “Ewe Only Live Once.” We had coincidently chosen each other and like nervous kids asking someone on a first date we approached each other waiting to see who would make the first move and say “hey would you guys would want to travel together?” They said yes.

After pimping the teams would reconvene to share progress and plans over beers. We were all excited and nervous. Everyone sharing what “extras” one would take- shifting cables, spark plugs, zip ties and oh yeah duck tape (savior of all things). We had a ridiculous New Years eve party. Our DJ, a thirteen-year-old boy and no I am not lying on this, he was wonderfully awful.  In true Indian experience the hotel had two small blocks of  ice on top of a tub of warm beer in fruitless efforts to cool it. We all still drank it. Jonathan and I danced and partied and rang the New Year sweaty, happy and excited of what was to come.

India quickly showed us that we naive drivers had no clue where we really where. I mean this in both ends of the spectrum, both beauty and horror. I was surprised on how different the landscape really looked against my uneducated expectations of the place. Kerala state was lush and green. We crossed bridges and the rivers below bellowed as they glimmered in the sunlight. It was beautiful. It was nothing like I thought it was.

On our first day we were invited to a family’s home and just given the best Banana fritters I’ve had. Then just as the good came the bad roads came after. It just seemed that state highways were in perpetual construction. Off-roading in a rickshaw is not necessarily the smoothest ride and remember these things have no doors or windows. We had to tie down everything inside the cab from fear it would fly out. We did lose a water bottle or two in the shaking.  On our second day we got our second flat just as the sun was coming down and the road just decided to be unpaved, muddy and hilly.  We couldn’t stop, only thing to do was laugh and pray a little.

Why couldn’t we stop you ask? Ellie had such a lovely windshield that if driving in the dark all the lights hitting it would refract and blind you. I love star watching. I do not love seeing said stars come at me 80km an hour honking the colorful horns of a lorry speeding our way. Oh yeah haven’t mentioned Lorries.

Here goes a break down of Indian traffic “laws”.... well Traffic Food Chain in India.

1.    Biggest Lorries- up to but not refrained to 48 wheels.

2.    Big Lorries

3.    Lorries

4.    Buses

5.    Mini Buses

6.    Vans

7.    Cars

8.    Rickshaws- YAY!

9.    Motorcycles

10. Herds of Cows/Water Buffaloes

11. Cyclist

12. Farm tractors

13.  Animal pulled wagons.

Also two lane roads were closer to 5 lanes: Shoulder, lane, middle lane, lane, shoulder. Maybe 6 lanes if you squeeze bike here or there. The directions of said lanes varied at any given time from 2 to 4 ways- even if it was a one way.

There is one universal rule though, HONK! There was a mighty honk we quickly got attuned to, a lorries musical styling. The Lorries just lay on the horn and plow through but their horn is a music horn. You find yourself trying to figure out where the death song is coming from and get the hell out of the way. They will not stop at the sight of our mighty Rickshaw.

Round about- Honk

Intersection– Honk

Straight road- Honk

Passing a car- Honk

Acknowledge the passing car- Honk

Thumbs up- Honk

Get car coming at full speed – Honk

Cow on the road- Honk

Papaya road hand off- Honk (please see video)

For god sake just HONK!

 

Barry, a professional lorry driver in North Ireland, and Jonathan kept us on an early schedule. The best meals were in the middle of nowhere breakfasts and lunch.  Chats with local waiters as we broke down our order only to unavoidably get only 60 percent correct if we were lucky.

Early mornings revealed another side of India. The air down south was cool and offered a reprise from the humidity. The morning “fog” (I say “fog” could it just be pollution) would diffuse the light in the most beautiful beams. The lorry drivers, being late raisers, also didn’t start singing till a few hours into our drive. We would see schoolchildren walk to their early classes. Markets setting up and bull pulled wagons trudging their massive bodies and cargo. The run allowed for us to see the rural side of India that was absolutely beautiful.

Then there were the cities. The traffic was as bad as you think it would be. Actually to take a line from the Real World “You think you know but you have no idea”. The traffic was mental. Cars so close to each other you can reach out and touch them. People coming up to us As we drove into the more populated areas the slums would greet us first as the outliers of the cities.  Piles of trash and abandoned materials served as playing grounds to children. Dogs, pigs, goats, cows all running around in the mix. Open sewage smell wafting in the air mixed with smog, cow dung and spices. However all the bad then India turns around and shows you it’s other side.

After some amazing back door goggling skills Cathy found an unregistered hotel by a beach. No signs, just a little trail directing us towards the ocean. It was a little oasis just off the dirty loud roads. It was paradise. It was a beach straight out of a Pinterest. No one around but us for the 4km stretch of beach, AC rooms, beer and food. We stayed the night and in the morning woke early to go swimming at sunrise. The pink glow reflected off the white sand and wave ripples. If there was ever a “rose color world” moment this was it.

Other highlights included free-wheeling down a mountain as the road was flanked by huge families of monkeys mad-dogging us as we rolled down. That was fun. The smiling faces of kids as we drove by were always a mood booster. Meeting other teams in different locations when we thought we were the only ones choosing that road meant we weren’t the only idiots taking that obscure way.  In one occasion as we accidentally found ourselves going up a mountain range in the search of a waterfall we never found, we ran into team LSD in this mountain resort that resulted in a great evening dinner and chat. As we decided to trail on one day and ended up in middle of nothing town meeting up with others teams was like a safety blanket after the unknown. In Udaipur a rooftop restaurant found itself overwhelmed by an impromptu gathering of Rickshawers needing cold beer.

 

And just like that India taketh away. On day thirteen, 160 km from the finish line: Ellie our loyal steed finally broke down.

Why I failed as a travel blogger.

Well hello there to the 5 confirmed readers. I know, I know.... I kinda suck at this travel blogger business.

Here is why:

I am not a travel blogger.

That is a harsh truth that I am willing to admit to myself now. Yes, when we embarked in this journey I had dreams of grandure of becoming a travel blogger. More specifically be really good at documenting this adventure because I knew it was once in a lifetime. Yet knowing all of this I have failed in all those goals.

Honestly, there is so much that has happened that now I am overwhelmed in trying to think I must write it all down. Yet it would be a shame, for my sake, if I didn't. I know that one day when we are old and tell these stories to our grandchildren having a manuscript of some sorts will help relive the moments we've had.

Here's the thing though, I look at a map and I am at awe. It all feels a little surreal. This whole thing this feels a little foreign. I have to tell myself that I, me, Diana, rode through 7 countries on a bicycle!!! That shit is crazy! That I visited Istanbul for a month and swam in the Pammukkale pools. That I have walked the wall in Dubrovnik and strolled the quiet empty streets of Venice at night. That I now know about the existence of cappuccino freddos in Greece and saw the Caldera in Santorini. I climbed mountains and went down mountains and endured 45C degree heat and saw amazing sunsets and I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that it was ME.

It is a dream. It is a weird section of memory that even though I am the one that experienced all of those things they in a way feel foreign. I don't know why. And here we are in Sri Lanka. SRI LANKA! The series of events that brought us here come down to trying to use our accrued airline miles the best way possible. That lead to a 4 day journey to Sri Lanka. Which in turn lead to 17 days in a country I hadn't even placed on my radar, driving a tuk tuk to practice for our Tuk Tuk rally in India.

Yeah why don't we throw in a 2,500km Tuk Tuk rally in the mix while we are at it.

You see, it sounds CRAZY! Maybe if I put pen to paper I could grasp all of this and it would in turn feel more mine. If that makes any sense.

We recently went back home for a short stint in between continents. The infamous question of "How was it?" is one I don't know how to answer. I say it was great. In reality no words I can sum up in a digestible sentence would be the truth. I don't know what to say. How do I sum up these past months? How can I even begin to tell friends and family everything we did. How do I tell about the many highs and lows, literally altitude wise and emotionally? How can I convey the feeling of heatstroke after riding for 5 hours in direct sun up an incline? Or skinny dipping in a Croatian cove at night with a sea urchin covered floor? How can I retell these stories and not have blank stares look at me because, just like I was a few months ago, there is no common point of reference. So I say it was great. There are too many stories to tell and so I have chosen to bring them up when and if they are relevant to the conversation. Most likely they will NEVER be relevant to the conversation. Therefore, things are just great.

Another reason why I failed in this travel blogger business is that it ain't my business. Really the more I travel, the more I realize that it being a blogger doesn't really move me. I am not inspired by it all. It is odd to say that because travel IS inspiring. It is inspiring in so many ways. My brain is hardwired to see the world not as a blogger but a designer. I literally have to fight back the urge to buy the saris off the women's body because they are so gorgeous. It would be really odd if a foreigner in shorts would ask a woman to give me the clothes off her back. Then again they might take it as a fact that I got my shit together and finally realized I had to cover my legs. Maybe I should try it and see what happens. The thing is, that I am inspired by the world I see and honestly I am greedy.

I failed because I am greedy. I am greedy about my experience. Sometimes I am not going to lie there were beautiful moments that we were living and the LAST thing I wanted to do was bust out my phone or a camera or anything BUT be present. See, wanting to be present rather than thinking about the business of "likes" is probably a quality of a failed blogger.

Let me share with you a story because I consciously kept it to myself. We were taking the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Being mid October the weather had finally changed to a crisp chill in the wind. We were sitting on the top open deck of the ferry boat. As we were crossing the Bosphorus, it all was perfect. The light hit the water making the tops of the ripple glimmer across the shores. The Bosphorus filled with ships going up the sea flanked by the two sides of Istanbul. The horizon marked by the sprinkled silhouettes of the many mosque minarets. I am not doing it justice. A picture wouldn't have done it justice. I sat there and chose to keep that moment for myself. I breathed in the salty air and heard the water breaking. The seagulls, the engine motor sounds cutting through the wind, the Austrian architecture of the building flanking the shore as it turned into a loading ship freight yard. That moment was mine and I could've shared it. I could've stopped and reached down to my pack and try to fiddle with my expensive camera to TRY to get the moment right but I didn't. I could've shared it on instagram and facebook. Maybe the picture wouldn't have been half bad. Maybe for a little bit you would've looked at it and maybe liked it. Who knows. The point is I just  didn't want to share. I was greedy. I wanted it for me and my memory bank only.  I didn't want for it to escape me as I tried to figure out if I used "Crema" or "Juno." Because If I have learned anything is that moments are fickle things.

Great moments are fickle and they can scurry away from you if you aren't paying attention.  Look down  at your phone and it just might be gone. Because of this I seriously struggle what to do. To document or not to document. The GREAT moments the ones that are blog worthy I am not going to lie I probably don't even have a picture of. We flew down to Mexico to attend my sister's wedding. I have about 5 pictures of the entire thing. Not because I don't love her but quite the opposite. I wanted to be there with her. I wanted to live it and hold it inside. The uninterrupted feeling of me being present with her in this moment than worry about a fussy picture.

Another reason/ excuse why I failed as a travel blogger is that traveling takes a whole lot of time.  Unlike having a secure place to stay and a steady routine when one knows at what time free time will be available, traveling is everything but a routine. Yes we can stay in a place a little bit longer to have a rest from moving around but, the moving, the trying to find a place to sleep, eat, be settled, took a little more time than expected. Once we had a minute to breath the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer and write. The whole living thing took time. Riding took a lot of time and really setting up the computer to write a blog post was at the bottom, scratch that, it wasn't even on the to do list.

However, don't lose hope you trusty 5 readers, I do want to finish the story. I do want to tell it. It will just take a little longer for me to finish. Maybe once I am done there will be one of you standing. It will be done. I want to have it so when I grow older I can retell it to myself. So I can remember that once upon a time I was young and daring. That I crossed mountains ranges and I had a little big adventure.

Why I failed as a travel blogger.

Well hello there to the 5 confirmed readers. I know, I know.... I kinda suck at this travel blogger business.

Here is why:

I am not a travel blogger.

That is a harsh truth that I am willing to admit to myself now. Yes, when we embarked in this journey I had dreams of grandure of becoming a travel blogger. More specifically be really good at documenting this adventure because I knew it was once in a lifetime. Yet knowing all of this I have failed in all those goals.

Honestly, there is so much that has happened that now I am overwhelmed in trying to think I must write it all down. Yet it would be a shame, for my sake, if I didn't. I know that one day when we are old and tell these stories to our grandchildren having a manuscript of some sorts will help relive the moments we've had.

Here's the thing though, I look at a map and I am at awe. It all feels a little surreal. This whole thing this feels a little foreign. I have to tell myself that I, me, Diana, rode through 7 countries on a bicycle!!! That shit is crazy! That I visited Istanbul for a month and swam in the Pammukkale pools. That I have walked the wall in Dubrovnik and strolled the quiet empty streets of Venice at night. That I now know about the existence of cappuccino freddos in Greece and saw the Caldera in Santorini. I climbed mountains and went down mountains and endured 45C degree heat and saw amazing sunsets and I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that it was ME.

It is a dream. It is a weird section of memory that even though I am the one that experienced all of those things they in a way feel foreign. I don't know why. And here we are in Sri Lanka. SRI LANKA! The series of events that brought us here come down to trying to use our accrued airline miles the best way possible. That lead to a 4 day journey to Sri Lanka. Which in turn lead to 17 days in a country I hadn't even placed on my radar, driving a tuk tuk to practice for our Tuk Tuk rally in India.

Yeah why don't we throw in a 2,500km Tuk Tuk rally in the mix while we are at it.

You see, it sounds CRAZY! Maybe if I put pen to paper I could grasp all of this and it would in turn feel more mine. If that makes any sense.

We recently went back home for a short stint in between continents. The infamous question of "How was it?" is one I don't know how to answer. I say it was great. In reality no words I can sum up in a digestible sentence would be the truth. I don't know what to say. How do I sum up these past months? How can I even begin to tell friends and family everything we did. How do I tell about the many highs and lows, literally altitude wise and emotionally? How can I convey the feeling of heatstroke after riding for 5 hours in direct sun up an incline? Or skinny dipping in a Croatian cove at night with a sea urchin covered floor? How can I retell these stories and not have blank stares look at me because, just like I was a few months ago, there is no common point of reference. So I say it was great. There are too many stories to tell and so I have chosen to bring them up when and if they are relevant to the conversation. Most likely they will NEVER be relevant to the conversation. Therefore, things are just great.

Another reason why I failed in this travel blogger business is that it ain't my business. Really the more I travel, the more I realize that it being a blogger doesn't really move me. I am not inspired by it all. It is odd to say that because travel IS inspiring. It is inspiring in so many ways. My brain is hardwired to see the world not as a blogger but a designer. I literally have to fight back the urge to buy the saris off the women's body because they are so gorgeous. It would be really odd if a foreigner in shorts would ask a woman to give me the clothes off her back. Then again they might take it as a fact that I got my shit together and finally realized I had to cover my legs. Maybe I should try it and see what happens. The thing is, that I am inspired by the world I see and honestly I am greedy.

I failed because I am greedy. I am greedy about my experience. Sometimes I am not going to lie there were beautiful moments that we were living and the LAST thing I wanted to do was bust out my phone or a camera or anything BUT be present. See, wanting to be present rather than thinking about the business of "likes" is probably a quality of a failed blogger.

Let me share with you a story because I consciously kept it to myself. We were taking the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Being mid October the weather had finally changed to a crisp chill in the wind. We were sitting on the top open deck of the ferry boat. As we were crossing the Bosphorus, it all was perfect. The light hit the water making the tops of the ripple glimmer across the shores. The Bosphorus filled with ships going up the sea flanked by the two sides of Istanbul. The horizon marked by the sprinkled silhouettes of the many mosque minarets. I am not doing it justice. A picture wouldn't have done it justice. I sat there and chose to keep that moment for myself. I breathed in the salty air and heard the water breaking. The seagulls, the engine motor sounds cutting through the wind, the Austrian architecture of the building flanking the shore as it turned into a loading ship freight yard. That moment was mine and I could've shared it. I could've stopped and reached down to my pack and try to fiddle with my expensive camera to TRY to get the moment right but I didn't. I could've shared it on instagram and facebook. Maybe the picture wouldn't have been half bad. Maybe for a little bit you would've looked at it and maybe liked it. Who knows. The point is I just  didn't want to share. I was greedy. I wanted it for me and my memory bank only.  I didn't want for it to escape me as I tried to figure out if I used "Crema" or "Juno." Because If I have learned anything is that moments are fickle things.

Great moments are fickle and they can scurry away from you if you aren't paying attention.  Look down  at your phone and it just might be gone. Because of this I seriously struggle what to do. To document or not to document. The GREAT moments the ones that are blog worthy I am not going to lie I probably don't even have a picture of. We flew down to Mexico to attend my sister's wedding. I have about 5 pictures of the entire thing. Not because I don't love her but quite the opposite. I wanted to be there with her. I wanted to live it and hold it inside. The uninterrupted feeling of me being present with her in this moment than worry about a fussy picture.

Another reason/ excuse why I failed as a travel blogger is that traveling takes a whole lot of time.  Unlike having a secure place to stay and a steady routine when one knows at what time free time will be available, traveling is everything but a routine. Yes we can stay in a place a little bit longer to have a rest from moving around but, the moving, the trying to find a place to sleep, eat, be settled, took a little more time than expected. Once we had a minute to breath the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer and write. The whole living thing took time. Riding took a lot of time and really setting up the computer to write a blog post was at the bottom, scratch that, it wasn't even on the to do list.

However, don't lose hope you trusty 5 readers, I do want to finish the story. I do want to tell it. It will just take a little longer for me to finish. Maybe once I am done there will be one of you standing. It will be done. I want to have it so when I grow older I can retell it to myself. So I can remember that once upon a time I was young and daring. That I crossed mountains ranges and I had a little big adventure.

Poggio Al Casone

Now back to our regularly (delayed) scheduled programing....

From sleeping on the ground to a four post bed.

Poggio Al Casone is a thing of fairy tales. I had only seen a place like this in pictures. We pulled up the ornate iron gates in our bicycles. We had put on our "clean" shirts in attempts to not look homeless.

The road to the house is lined with perfectly groomed pines. At the house a beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards.  We parked next to an Audi and BMW, yeah we would fit right in. We were greeted by Caroline with a warm smile and she told us we had to wait because our room wasn't ready but, we could wait in the terrace, maybe have some coffee and pastries? YES PLEASE!

She came out with a tray with two perfectly foamy cappuccinos and warm croissants. Yes WARM croissants.  Every detail of that tray was perfect: the classic silverware, the monogrammed china, the lace tray cover. Those croissants to this day hold the #1 place standard to what a croissant should be.... maybe I was just really hungry.

Regardless, as we were were sitting there, enjoying the view and warm croissants, I realized that it had all been worth it. The fighting, the crying, the hills, the defeat. This was the payoff and it was in the form of a perfect little croissant shape.

Then the reveal.

She guided us to what would be our apartment for the night. It had a full large kitchen, with a beautiful 8 seat classic wooden table. The room had a foyer, of course. The bed was four post with a sheer white canopy over it. White pillows and a white fluffy comforter covered the top. Robes laid on top with slippers and our pool towels. I'm telling you, a room you only see in a magazine. I was in heaven.

Caroline asked if we needed something else and because why not, we asked for a second round of croissants and cappuccinos. No shame.

I took a long shower and then just enjoyed the big fluffy bed. We had been invited to wine tasting. We enjoyed the wine and may have asked to take the half full bottles with us after the the tasting and Caroline may have hinted that if we didn't the wine was going to waste. Really we were just looking out for the environment. Pouring wine into the ground makes the acidity levels raise rendering the soil unusable. I promise I read this somewhere.

About two bottles in, we got ready to go out to dinner. Ironically, riding on a unloaded bike proved harder than we thought. Also the wine didn't help much. It was like we are dammed if we are loaded, dammed if we aren't. We got on our feather light bikes and had so much trouble controlling them after now being use to maneuvering steel bricks. We rode down the hill, squirreling around. We made it to the restaurant just a short 2km away. It was a little quaint place decorated in a modge podge style. It was a mix of a country side theme and a french confectionary with an Italian flare.

The dinner was amazing. The night before we had tuna salad sandwiches and now I was having truffle ravioli, which I ordered a second of. No shame. We wined and dined and talked and laughed.Things were finally going well. We had made it to the winery and now we were drunk. The challenge now was the ride back slightly buzzed in the dark. Jonathan had a little bit more than me and I felt the the pressure of getting us home. It was funny more than anything else. We were being silly and riding in the dark. I was unavoidably slightly nervous even if no cars were in sight.

We made it back to the winery and decided to take a stroll around the vineyards. It was straight out of a book. The slight warm wind would rustle the vineyards and the stars were in full display. We walked around for a bit and then went back to the room. We snuggled into bed, white sheets have never felt so good.
 

Hot and Sticky.

Yes my last post is from just the outskirts of Crespina, Italy.

Yes a lot has happened since then

Yes I will write about it.

But, SPOILER ALERT! We made it to Croatia. Actually, we’ve made it out of Croatia.

However I want to write this now while it still feels very current.

You see if you had asked me after THAT DAY if I would be writing from a pension in Mostar, Bosnia after riding across Italy, up and over to Croatia and down Croatia I would have laughed. Yet here I am in Bosnia. To write this makes me feel accomplished in some way. Glad I didn’t give up and amazed that I moved my ass all those miles.

Yet here I am in Bosnia, with a troubled heart. You see now I am beginning to realize that just that sense of accomplishment is not enough. I am struggling with falling in love with this adventure as we stand. I have ridden close to 1000 miles now (Jonathan is over 1000 miles now. spoiler alert: I took a train in Italy. J)

My saddle is well worn in and I know that I can ride up a 6% incline hill... it will be hard but I have done it. Anything past that, most likely I am pushing good ol’ Carl (my bike) up that hill. I have slept on bumpy grounds and have the packing and unpacking of my panniers to a science.  We still take too long to pack up camp but at least I know the order of things. We have a rhythm to those days now. I know what to get to set up my “bed.” My mattress pad is a familiar comfort after long days and the mosquito bites just a constant in my life. 

We move and we pass town after little town with the same architecture.  Don’t get me wrong they are beautifully quaint and picture perfect. These are the scenes I would lust over as I sat in my desk at my job in Los Angeles. Yet I actually told my sister “I longed to see a stop light.” I know it sounds silly but I miss in a sense, the fact that a “village” should be more than 3 houses. I come from a 7 million people city. Went to school in San Francisco. Lived in Los Angeles for 5 years and coming to these villages still amazes me in the fact that THEY ARE VILLAGES!!!! My sense of the world is much different than the one I am exploring.

We keep making jokes about how we assume simple things like a Tourist Information center having information. Silly us thinking it would. All these false assumptions of how the world should work. All these assumptions of how my world USED to work.  All part of travel, right? Left is right and wrong is right and we are the ones constantly trying to figure it all out. I can deal with all of this in a way yet, I am struggling a bit.

The heat has been record breaking, 40 degrees Celsius days that don’t let up until 9 pm to a low 30. We are hot and sticky ALL THE TIME. We took some time in Split and rented an apartment for 5 days. Five days of not moving. Five days of air-conditioning and shelter from the sun and heat. Five days of morning coffee and breakfast conversation with friends. Five days of cold showers any time I wanted. Five days of not having to worry if we have enough water or stocked panniers with two days worth of food. Five days of the closest thing to a “normal” life. They were heavenly. They were eye opening for me.

Those five days were followed by the realization that if we need to ride 7 am is too late to start. Hell even 6 am is pushing it. 5 am gives us 5 hours to ride and that last hour between 9 and 10 am is dangerously reaching the limits of what we can handle. We wake up too late and we are not moving for the day. We still have so much more to go and I can’t seem to put my heart back into it.

Yesterday we stopped at a restaurant to eat and ride out the heat. We arrived there at 11 am. We wouldn’t dare to move till at least 6 pm. The two nights before had been too hot to sleep and we had woken up before dawn. After eating, all our bodies wanted was to sleep, but what to do? We have so many hours to go and setting up the tent in the heat is like laying in a sauna. Now away from the coast, going to a beach to let the hours go by is not an option. We sat there. Jonathan asked the owner if we could take a nap. I haven’t felt so homeless as I did that moment. Begrudgingly, he actually allowed it if we went inside to the back of the restaurant, hidden from plain sight. Also hidden from any fleeting breeze or wind that could come and offer some relief from hot stagnant air.

We sat there and tried to nap. Beads of sweat literally dripping down my face.   I was so tired that I succumbed to exhaustion for a little bit. After a bit Jonathan got up and just lay on the floor. After that I couldn’t go to sleep so I just sat there, in the heat, in the dark, slowly melting.

I heard him snore and that at least made me happy one of us was able to sleep.  The owner and his wife would periodically walk by and give me a snarky look here and there. Three pm, still had three more hours to go.

This is where I am struggling with now. Is this what we have in store for the next two months? 4 am wake up calls preceded by a restless hot nights. Ride till 10 am and then try to find some reprieve from the heat where we are. Wait for 7 to 8 hours to find camp where it will unavoidably be hot and sticky and filled with mosquitoes?  Debbie downer of here, am I right?

Don’t get me wrong there are moments that still take my breath away. The amazing views we have seen as we climb, the turquoise colors of the water below, the vision of those Dalmatian mountains in the sunrise glow. All these things are moments I KNOW I wouldn’t have if I had simply ridden a bus here. Yet sitting in the restaurant melting away for 7 hours because literally the options are so few is not something I had worked into the equation of this adventure.

On top of it all I am getting tired. Physically tired. My legs feel much heavier after just once day of riding. The hills, as before they felt as little accomplishments and growth now feel just a bit tedious. The down hills are always just too short to feel the payoff.  I am struggling, mentally. As I sat there in that restaurant I kept asking myself WHY?

Why am I in this restaurant? Melting away.

Is this what I wanted? It is general consensus I had no clue what I wanted when I said, “let’s bike there” all those months ago.

Yet I had no idea back then. I had no idea what it really meant to do that.

Lately I feel I do know a little more of what that entails, and honestly I am struggling to keep going.

Yet I am not alone. Jonathan asked me what I wanted. In a make believe world if I were alone, I would probably buy a backpack, ship my bike back, go to Greece, secure myself some AMAZING accommodation, spend a few days there, go to Istanbul for a bit, go home and then follow in my friends footsteps and go spend 2 weeks in Bali in some Yoga retreat. Yes, ironic right? I would go from one hot place to another.  Yet I am not alone.

I shared a dream with Jonathan and it has become his. He is a superhero. This is his mantra. Like we say in Spanish “Este es su mero mole” Sorry no translation. Yes he is hot and yes he gets tired but he wants it. He wants it bad. He wants to ride all the way to Istanbul and have that under his belt. He wants to EARN his arrival. He inspires me and drives me.

You see my “earnings” have always been of the “mental” kind. I was rewarded for my brain not my brawn. Earning something has always been something I have done outsmarting my challenges. This whole physically EARNING something is a whole new concept for me. Honestly, it is a concept that I am not quite in love with. He keeps telling me a cold coke tastes so much better after riding in the heat. Maybe I am blind but a cold coke tastes amazing no matter IF I’ve been riding or not. It is cold and I am hot and it is a little amazingness in a bottle. There is the crux of where we differ.

Here is my Everest. To find love in earning my cold cokes...

I already told him that I want to splurge in a fancy hotel in Greece for my 30th birthday. I will most likely pick a place WAY too expensive. Jonathan will most likely complain of how expensive it is and I will enjoy every minute of that fluffy pillow and infinity pool. (Yes, there MUST be an infinity pool) If we were to just magically arrive in this magical hotel right now, say via a plane, or motorized transportation he wouldn’t have earned it. I wouldn’t have earned it. Therefore I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as if I had ridden to it. I beg to differ. I would enjoy the HELL out of it and in a way I earned the money paying for it so in a different way I did earn it. Even if the money fell from the sky and paid for the whole thing. I hate/love to admit that I WOULD ENJOY IT JUST AS MUCH! If not more because it would be free... but that is another thing.

Anyways, back to the hot restaurant. I am venting but the reality is that I am still in Bosnia. The heat is still going strong. Greece is many miles away. The road is still there and the climbs are higher than we have done thus far. This is where I am and I am struggling. That day in Italy I didn’t KNOW if I could physically do this. Now I have a better idea that I can.

Yes, there is the devils advocate point in a sense that I have NOT accomplished my goal, which was to reach Greece by bike. Therefore I really don’t KNOW for sure if I can. Yes I have not but I have a good idea that I could.  It is now a matter of choice. A more educated one in a way. Before if I had given up so early I wouldn’t have known I can ride these amount of miles. I wouldn’t have known that a 6% hill is my limit and that I can withstand up to 4 days without a shower and knotted hair. I know this now. I know that climbing 400 m is hard work and I have done it. I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know back then.

To digress even a little further:

 I have been thinking about a moment I had couple years ago. I went to NYC and went to the Moma museum. I wanted to go see Monet’s Water Lillies. They are showcased against a stark white wall, perfectly lit with a single bench right in the middle. I sat there and I was immersed. All three large canvases literally glowing in front of me. The layers of paint coming up behind one another. The thick apparent brushstrokes dancing up and down the huge canvas. Trust me, if you are ever in NYC please go see this. I sat there for about an hour alone, amazed and awestruck by these three pieces of canvas with paint. I am yearning to find my water lilies on a bike.

So now what right?

I am not alone. Jonathan wants to keep going this way. Which is totally okay. This was the original plan we made together. I am the only one having second thoughts in the matter. We value different things. I am beginning to realize a lot of things about myself and honestly of the things that TRULY move me. Honestly as funny as it sounds but what does “travel” mean to me.

The romantic notion of a true bona fide adventure is maybe not what I TRULY enjoy. Maybe I am just a certified hedonist. I like art and theater. I like fashion and textiles. I like pretty shinny things. I like good meals and fluffy pillows. I have Museums and Operas to see in my life Bucket list.  I like physical comfort. Yes, yes I do.  So why the HELL did I say those words?

To challenge myself.

Challenge I have. So now I keep going. 

Fireflies

Before we left Pisa we wanted to mail some of the surplus stuff we had. You would think that sending a package wouldn’t be a battle royal of will power.  The post office will surely have a box we thought. It will just be quick, we thought. What we didn’t foresee was that we were indeed in Italy, and what you THINK will be is most certainly not what is.

 After having to search for a box in three different places and about an hour of explaining to the teller that we wanted to insure the package because some of it was actually really valuable, we were finally able to send our stuff back. After we paid for the insurance we realized we were idiots. Realistically if they lost the package what would be the odds to actually get a claim resolved, when the post office doesn’t even sell boxes. Anyways, Ce la vie and we hailed married that it would arrive safely. We headed back to the hostel and prepared to leave to ride the few kilometers we had to Crespina and thus the winery.

I was feeling better. I was optimistic that we could do this and thankful that we were going to make the reservation date.  I asked Jonathan as we were loading up the bikes again if his felt lighter and he barked back that “no indeed his bike actually feels heavier.”

“Jesus!” I thought, “just making a joke” and so I told him “Why can’t you just laugh with me anymore?” That sent him off into a crankier mood. The post office ordeal had set him off and my remark was the cherry on top.

The thing about traveling with someone is that even as much as you think you KNOW a person, you don’t. Not really. There is so much to be learned still and spending 24/7 together is the perfect canvas to get the full picture.  Between him and I this is something I am just beginning to learn how to deal with. Is he sleepy or just cranky? Or both? Or hungry? Do I say something? Do I not? Will I just make it worse? Can I make it better? I still haven’t quite maneuvered the right approach.  I am learning his rhythms and moods and at times I am just lost.  I guess it all goes into learning about each other. I am sure for him is how to close down the waterworks of me crying.  

Oh the beauty of couples travel....

We loaded up and finally set out. A part of our route was a very over grown “bike path.” The path was no wider than probably 8 inches or so. Therefore with my incredible mad maneuvering skills 8 inches was no problem... WRONG. I kept swerving into the overgrown grass and losing my balance and yes falling. At least the falls were cushioned. I kept singing in “just keep swimming” tune was “I’m going to make it. I’m going to make it” and focusing on the path.  The singing actually worked and I did make it.

After a few more hours we were about 2 km away from the winery. We couldn’t arrive a day early and so set out to look for a camp spot. We found one in a small hillside clearing.  It has a gorgeous view and the sunset was breathtaking. THIS was why the falls and crying and crankiness were worth it: to experience these moments.

We set up camp and had tuna sandwiches for dinner. As the night fell, little by little we saw lights start to flutter in the air. Then finally fireflies surrounded the entire area. It was magical. A great pay off to a shitty start.

It was there that I knew experiences like these were ones I could only get doing this trip like this, on a bike, with a tent, with my boyfriend. 

I'm sorry.

I threw up twice before Jonathan woke up. My stomach was a mess. Again all I wanted was to stay one more day where we were. Stay and rest and get better. My ankle hurt. Now I have food poisoning. The last thing I wanted was to get on that bike.

I ate some toast for breakfast and hoped that would settle my stomach. We packed our behemoths again. I left behind a good amount of stuff behind yet my bike was still heavy. I decided to keep the dress and mail it back home once we had a chance.

We had to make it to Crespina, to Poggio Al Casone winery in three days. Jonathan had secured a stay there via his friendship with the owner. We had already lost an entire day of riding because of my breakdown. There was no moving the reservation. It was we either make it or lose it. He had been dreaming about going back to that winery for months now and not making it wasn’t an option. Now we needed to get to the next town, Grosseto, and take a train to Pisa. We hoped we could take a train that would take us AND the bikes.

Stomach turning, we headed out. The hills were still steep. The sheep were still herding. The rolls of hay were still resting on the hill slopes. However, I was different. I was singing and enjoying. I decided to laugh instead of cry at every sign that indicated that I had a steep hill for the next two kilometers. Jonathan was ahead of me and that way I realized I was alone. He was all the way over there and I was over here on my hill. I was going slowly. I was pushing and riding and pushing and singing and I was okay with that. I still got up the hill. He just had to wait for me there.

Then it started to rain. We waited under an overpass but the rain wasn’t yielding. In the distance we could see the on rap and bridge that would take us to Grosseto.  It looked narrow and cars zipping by fast. It was the end of the day and the danger was that once again what if my legs gave out half way up the on rap and then we would be stuck in a tight narrow bridge, in the rain, at dusk as cars are driving by.

Choices:

Go back to a bed and breakfast we had seen two hills ago. Potentially have to pay around 60 Euro for a shitty room.

Go to another B&B advertised about 3 km away and also over pay for something not worth it.

Risk it on the bridge. Get to Grosseto have to then look for a room there.

Camp under an olive tree on a slant and take the bridge in the morning.

We camped. It was dry and it was warm. I was with Jonathan and felt safe. That little tent felt as good as a five star hotel room. We were tired and fell asleep even before the sun went down.

In the morning we took to the on ramp and the bridge and got to Grosseto.  After finding morning cappuccinos and croissants, we headed to the train station.  We looked up at the train schedule see what could work. A bullet train to Livorno in about 30 min, it wouldn’t work. They don’t take bikes. Jonathan kept saying they wouldn’t take any bikes. There was a train to Pisa in an hour.

“Go ask, I’ll stay with the bikes,” he said.

As I was in line I was looking at Jonathan. He was fiddling with his gloves and bags, a look of anger on his face. He wouldn’t look up. He was mumbling something to himself. Probably all the things he really wanted to say to me but was holding back. I was praying they the train would take bikes. I didn't know if I could ever make it up if we didn't make it. It broke my heart to see him like that. I didn’t know how to say, “I’m sorry” anymore and for him to believe me.

All I could do was yell it in my mind.

I’m SORRY!!

I’m sorry I dragged you into this.

I’m sorry I’m slow.

I’m sorry I keep falling down.

I’m sorry my pedal keeps getting caught with my fender and I stumble.

I’m sorry we lost a day and now we might not make it.

I’m sorry I didn’t train more back home

I’m sorry I didn’t train AT ALL

I’m sorry I am basically just learning how to REALLY ride a bike now

I’m sorry I can’t ride around crowds.

I’m sorry I can’t keep to the white line.

I’m sorry I can’t do tight turns.

I’m sorry I can’t navigate and ride at the same time and you have to do it.

I’m sorry I brought too much stuff.

I’m sorry we had to spend 100 Euro in the hotel last night.

I’m sorry I twisted my ankle and it hurts.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’M SORRY!!!!”

I stepped to the ticket window and my prayers where answered. The train took built bikes. Finally, a break.  I told Jonathan and his face lit up. Hope. We could make it to the winery.

Tickets in hand, we waited. Jonathan has to keep doing the heavy lifting because I couldn’t manage to push my bicycle up the stairs. I could see how him having to do this was also annoying him. Everything I do or do not do and I didn’t know what to say anymore. I could just see it in his eyes and feel it on his demeanor towards me.

In the train we talked some more and he asks me how many miles a day I could do. This is a question I had NO IDEA how to answer.  We had reservations till Venice and not knowing how many miles we could do a day is hard to plan if we were going to be able to MAKE it to Venice. I could see how frustrated he was with me but I just didn’t know.

We made it to Pisa. Jonathan was cranky or sleepy or both or just sick of me. I was trying but yet it was not enough. He kept saying that he just needed to sleep. I was still phoneless so I couldn’t even help out to try to find a place to stay. Yet another thing I could tell annoyed him. He found a place for us and we checked in. He showered and went to bed.

I showered and decided I would go for a walk and might as well go see the leaning tower. I needed to move and not fall. I needed to move and realize I could do it alone, that I wasn’t an idiot. That somewhere in there I was still me. My legs were covered in bruises. It was hot I put on skirt and it looked like I was beaten from the waist down.  I didn’t care and I set out.

It felt good to walk. It felt good to enjoy a city and not just go by it. I people watched and got lost looking at the architecture. I really can’t describe how good it felt to walk. It felt like I was holding my breath these past days and I finally exhaled. It was simple, jus walking but it felt so good, like I was finally doing something I knew how to do: Move alone in a foreign city.

I made it to the leaning tower. I laughed as I watched all the couples take pictures of the other as they “held up” the tower. I looked at the families there and the groups of friends engaging in the same activity. I was there alone. My boyfriend was mad at me for my cycling shortcomings. Me, consistently feeling there was nothing I could do to make it up to him.

I wished he would be there with me. I wished we could also be silly together and take pictures of us holding the tower. I wished we could laugh again like we used to so easily before this trip. I felt a little melancholy for my goofy boyfriend. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of days.

And then I saw him.

Blue faded T-shirt and shorts. Holding his bike across the plaza looking for me.

“MARCO!” I yelled

“POLO” He answered and saw me.

And so we took the pictures. We held the tower together.  We were silly trying to get the angle right. We walked around and talked. Had dinner and then took a seat by the river to eat some gelato. We laughed. After hard days we finally laughed again. It felt good to see US again. We could do this I thought, we are still here.

Finally things were going better. We were just about 30 km away from the winery and had a whole day to do it.  

Finally I felt like we could do this, that I could too. 

THAT day.

I hadn’t slept much being it was my first night inside our cozy Big Agnes two person tent. The mesh top let me stare at the night stars. I was staring out into the night sky as I heard the steady rhythm of Jonathan’s breathing next to me. I just kept thinking, please let me see a shooting star and I will make a wish. After some wishing for my wish the star came and so I wished I could make it in this trip.

Day one had been brutal and somehow I had months of this ahead of me? What had I done? No, really. What was I smoking when I uttered the words “why don’t we bike?”

We woke up to the hum of the electric power plant and had our first breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee. Jonathan was in good spirits. I wasn’t.  We were still in Tuscany. We still had those lovely rolling hills ahead of us and we had a deadline to hit to Pisa.

I couldn’t do it. Literally I couldn’t pedal my way up hill after hill, two to three kilometers of a 10% slope. I would pedal and going so slow I would lose control and fall. The bike was a block of solid steel I would struggle to get up right after every fall. The pedals would clip my ankles.  I would get off and I had downshifted so much I couldn’t start on an uphill. I would push up the bike the hill and start again and fall again.

Because I kept swerving into the road Jonathan would yell “CAR!” for me to stick to the side. He would go past me and I would see him pedal up these hills while I was falling every few meters.

I was failing. I was failing HARD. I can’t do this, I thought. We were approaching the lovely Italian town of God-knows-where, and I fell again. I bent over to pick up my bicycle and I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I folded over and the tears just started pouring out. I felt the despair that I wasn’t going to be able to do this trip. All my fears were correct. I am not the person that does this kind of thing. I am not the person that can travel on a bicycle through Europe. I am still that kid with asthma that can barely run a mile. I am 7 years old again and I am gasping for air. I cannot do this. I failed. I failed and now I brought Jonathan into this mess.

I picked up my bike again and sobbing I rode to the town and broke down more. I screamed on the last little uphill to the town. Jonathan kept asking me if I was okay. I was just crying and sobbing. I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. I could see the sadness in his eyes. I could see how angry he was and was holding it back. He didn’t have to say the things that were written all over his eyes.

We went into a restaurant to have lunch as a bike tour pulled into the same spot we had parked our bikes. There they were unloaded beautiful bicycles and people smiling as they reveled about their leisure rides around. The support van just a few feet away. I was jealous of them. They were enjoying the ride and I was just suffering. They had unloaded bicycles. They had a place to stay. They had lunch and water and everything taken care of for them.

As we sat in that restaurant, I felt the defeat. I had tried and these two days has proven I couldn’t do this. I had been an idiot to think I could. Jonathan and I sat in silence. He finally asked me, “Are you done? Do you want to stop?” and I answered I didn’t know. A part of me, a very familiar part of me, wanted to say yes. To say how sorry I was I brought him into my mess and I now knew I couldn’t do it. I wanted to scream and shout and cry and just curl up in a ball and let it all just go away. Another part of me was holding onto this dream by the fingernails.  Going back wasn’t an option but moving forward like this might have not been THE option for me.

Then Jonathan’s eyes watered and his tears came too. That hurt more than all the falls and the twisted ankle. I didn’t know what to do. What could I say when I was the one that got us into this mess.

On top of this my ankle was swollen and hurt.

Jonathan went out to talk to the bike tour and ask for help. They said yes. I would ride in the support van. They could take my bike in their trailer and we got a room in the same hotel their group was staying. Jonathan wanted to keep riding. I felt relief when I heard I could ride with them. I will forever in debt with them for saving my ass that day.

As we waited to leave the bike tour people came back and would ask us where we started? Where were we going? How where we traveling with all this weight? Once again I saw the same look we used to get in the cruise; awe at us but relief it wasn’t them. All I wanted was for me to be THEM: to have a support van to carry all my stuff, to have neatly printed instructions on where to go, to have lunch arranged for me, to have a place to stay each night and just be able to ENJOY the ride.

As I rode in the support van I started to talk to one of the tour guides. He kept telling me how the beginning is the hardest, that thing would get better. All I thought was, well these past two days have been horrible. If these days are indicative of what is to come I don’t have any hope on it getting any better.  He was so confident that yeah we could do this. This was just a rough patch. I wanted to believe him.

We passed the bikers, older men and women. Maybe some retired already, I don’t know but older than me. I saw them just pedaling away happy almost effortlessly. And here I was 29 years old and I COULDN’T DO IT!!! I felt even more like a failure. Here are people probably twice or more my age and they can go up the dam hill but I CAN’T?! Granted they had unloaded bikes, still in my mind I felt that I SHOULD be able to do it. If they can, I can too.

Some got into the support van as rain started to fall and started to ask me more about our trip. It felt good to laugh with them. It was comforting to have them empathize with me. It was also a little weird to realize I liked socializing with other people. We hadn’t been with a group of people since the cruise and just chatting with different voices felt good.  They gave me hope I could do this.

We arrived at the hotel and we said goodbye to bike tour. I checked us in and then I went to work immediately. I needed to get rid of more weight. My load was just too much for me. And so I started purging anything and everything non-essential. Extra shirts, pens, medicine, face creams, lipstick, hair clips. I was determined to make it work. I couldn’t give up. If they could do it, I could too. I could do this. I was hopeful all I had to do was get rid of more weight. A second life purge.

It was an odd feeling. My life was already reduced to the capacity of my panniers and yet again I had surplus. Yet again I had to redefine what I needed, almost who I was. The dream of having cute lipstick and a hair accessory had to go. It was either lipstick or my original dream. It was either the version of myself I knew or this new version I needed to become to make it happen. I picked the new version. Again, carefully examining everything I was carrying to reduce as much weight as I could.  It felt like I was chipping away at a part of me that was holding to idea of comfort and security.  How funny so much meaning goes into a lipstick.

I had a dress with me I loved. I put it on as I purged knowing I might have to give it up to. I thought I would wear it one last time at least before I have to throw it away. I made a paper sign for the door with my bright pink lipstick I was purging for Jonathan to find the room. “Over Here” I wrote in sticky pink letters. “Fuck I thought, might as well use it for something.” I had already given up my home, my friends, my security, my comfort, now I just had to give up more. 

Then in the kick you while you are down ways of the universe, I finally checked my email to find bad news. Our landlord made up stupid charges and so kept more than half our original deposit. AWESOME. I would get no money back. I was miles away and my roommate was trying to fight the landlord. What could I do from far away? What could I do when I had bigger things to worry about now?  I can only hope Karma gets that landlord back because what they did was not only unethical it was severely illegal. I was just too far away to help fight them and I felt it wasn’t fair for my roommate to do it alone, so I just let her keep the little amount we got back.

And then just to hurt my ego just a little more, the airbnb host from Barcelona had sent an email. He was just giving “constructive criticism” about how he had felt we had taken over his terrace. Terrace that we had ASKED if we could use. Terrace he said, “please feel like at home.” Terrace that we used while they were out working and we cleaned once we left.  And how my hair was in his drain. His shower was clogged from DAY1. I know I am venting now but to get an email like that once moral was already down was like a kick in the shins after falling on my ass.  I don’t know, it just got to me that day.

I wanted to write a mean email back, about how their apartment was so dusty I had the worse allergies and how for fucks sake how do you live with a kitchen that looks it belongs in a hostel. Do you have a knife? A cutting board? Really don’t advertise that you can have kitchen access WHEN THERE IS NOTHING TO USE IN THE KITCHEN!!!  Anyways.... Must take a deep breath. I will never see these people again. I will never “take over their space” ever again. Move on, I thought.

I was down. Defeated. Exhausted. Scared. Sorry.  I felt weak and most importantly I didn’t feel like me. I called my emotional 911 line of friends to talk. I needed to get out of this funk if I was to keep going.  They talked sense into me. I just had never failed quite so gallantly as I was before and it sucked. I was not used to feeling like this. Most importantly really what did I expect? Run a triathlon without any previous training? I laughed and cried and took a deep breath and realized I needed to keep my feelings and attitude in check. If I was going to WALK up the dam hill or RIDE the hill it didn’t matter I was still just going up the hill. I would still get to the top. Why was I so hung up on HOW I go there anyways? I was there.  I kept telling my friend that this wasn’t me. I still did not identify with the person that “bikes around Europe.” Those words aren’t the ones that I feel described me. He said something that was true. I was that person. I was doing it and I best start believing those were my words now.

Jonathan finally got to the room a few hours later. I am sure he needed a break from me. 

Honestly that day I didn’t know if I could genuinely do this and so I started to look at other options. I could be his support car vehicle. I could take trains over the hard parts. “You want to buy a car?” he asked with disdain in his voice and eyes. I had the money. I wasn’t ready to give up, but maybe this way wasn’t the way for ME. I had no problem driving behind him. Cheering him on. I could enjoy that too.

I kept apologizing I had dragged him into this with me. I really meant that but he was just sick of hearing it. Sick of seeing me cry and angry at the situation we were in. I don’t blame him. He hadn’t signed up for this. I hadn’t either but I again I had no idea what I had wished for all those months back. 

I wished I were traveling alone. It would’ve been easy to get myself out of the mess I had put me in. Honestly after that day, if I were alone I would be driving through Europe. I would’ve shipped my bike back home. Bought a tiny car and headed on my way. I would’ve been okay with that too. I wasn’t alone and Jonathan wanted the accomplishment of riding a bicycle as we had planned. I could be okay giving it up for myself but I couldn’t bear making him give up on HIS dream.

After talking and crying more and feeling sorry for myself just a little longer it was nighttime and really there was nothing else to be said. The day was done and uncertainty on our future loomed for tomorrow. I took a shower and I made a choice to stop fucking feeling sorry for myself. Enough now. I would get up the dam hills. I would keep going, one more day for me, for him. I would choose this again, at least one more day.

Jonathan went to bed and I crawled into bed beside him as he slept. I felt I couldn’t even touch him. I had already hurt him. I figured all he wanted was to be away from me. I went to my side and tried to sleep and yet as exhausted as I was I couldn’t. I was nervous again. One last try, I thought.

Finally exhaustion took over and I slept.... only to be waken up by nausea.

YAY food poisoning.

Day one 2.0

Day one, after almost a moth of traveling.

We had made it to the ferry.

We had made it out of the ferry.

And finally it was here. The real beginning.

The bed of that mobile home camp site was surprisingly really comfortable. Our aspirations of getting up early and hitting the road before the heat died with the comfortable mattress. Maybe deep down I was just trying to stahl just a little longer. 

We loaded up once again. We redistributed the weight and I was able to steer with my own panniers.

We were off onto the Italian roads. 

The morning was great. It felt great. The road was easy. I felt more confident and at least I was able to steer.

Or so I thought. 

We had to be on a small portion of a fast freeway. Somehow the bike trail directions we had gotten put us on this 80 miles and hour freeway. We had to do it. Stay close to the line and don't stop. I took a deep breath and hoped it was flat.

Jonathan was behind me. The cars were speeding beside us. Very little to no shoulder for us to ride. My heart was pounding. Jonathan behind me yelling me to stick to the line. I was trying my best to do so. He urged me to keep pedaling faster up a bridge but I couldn't. He was at my heels and my speed was making it harder for him to stick to the white line. I was putting us both in danger. The wretched white line. Scared, we made it to our exit. 

Then the beautiful Italian Tuscan hillsides hit.

Oh Tuscany! The rolling hillsides! Wine vineyards and those quintessential rolls of hay calmly resting on the gentle slopes. The lovely herds of sheep and the tiny towns on top of hilltops.

My legs have never felt like that before. I've had leg cramps but none like this. I felt them start small and then all of a sudden I could not move my legs. My thighs were solid blocks. I couldn't bend my legs. It was the most intense pain I have felt ever. I didn't know what was happening at first. It felt as if I moved I was surely going to tear the muscle fiber. 

I stopped the first time they happened and massaged them out. Then they hit again as we made our way up a hill in a quieter one way street. My screams startled the family in the house I had unavoidably fallen in front of. They ran out, thinking surely someone was dying. I couldn't move. I couldn't bend my legs. It was worse this time and there was a truck coming. Jonathan begged me to cross the street to safety, the truck was coming. I couldn't. I couldn't move it felt I would snap my muscle in two if I did.  I didn't care. "let it hit me, I can't move" I thought. 

The truck passed somehow and I finally was able to move to the other side of the road into a small clearing. Between falling more often than not and the cramps my fears grew. Again what had I done. I couldn't do this and now I was endangering Jonathan and myself.

At the end of the day we were met with one last small uphill around a corner. A blind corner in the road and my legs started to cramp again. "Keep going" Jonathan urged. I couldn't, my bike wouldn't change into the small gear and my legs were giving out.

"Keep going, we are going to get hit by a car" He yelled. 

I got off my bike to push it up and the cramps hit once again in all its glory. I forced myself walk up that small hill as my legs cramped out. I hurt even more. I could feel my muscles shake and refuse to bend as I pushed my bike up. 

Then I remembered as a kid the magical powers of "walking it off" I told myself,  "Just walk it off Diana. Your pain, your fear, just walk it off and keep going" 

I made it to the top and onto safety. 

Day one had begun great and now it had beaten me to my core. Maybe all my fears where correct. Maybe I can't really do this.

We looked for a quiet spot to camp for the night. Our first wild camping spot. A part of me was scared to get caught and a part of me grateful the day was over. We made camp in a tall grass field next to an electric power plant. The humming sounds of the generators lulled me to sleep. 

I woke at night to see Jonathan sleeping. I stared into the night sky and saw a shooting star. I was scared for tomorrow. I was scared for it all and now after one day I was too weak to pull this charade off.

So now what?

 

 

Arriving at night

The Ferry left 3 hours late. That meant that our 7 pm arrival to Civitaveccha with sunlight was now  10 pm in the dark. Amazing. 

The ferry ride was spent eating all the food we had! Literally we needed to get rid of that weight and apples and oranges are heavy. It was a pause. Yet again I felt fear inside me brewing. I would now have to ride in the dark to our first stop.

Jonathan tells me he needs me on my A game. "What do you think I have been trying to do? B or C level?" I thought. My A game is just subpar at the moment. I can see how my lack of skills are starting to annoy him. Or at least this is where they first start to show. 

The ferry exit was clumsy but we got out. Lights on and a Hail Mary.  We could see semi trucks and huge trailers drive in the freeway. 

Once again no room for error Diana. No time to be scared. No time to chicken out. Lights mounted we set out in the dark. A turn here. Look forward. Try not to hit a large bump on the road and fall.  Some cars in the dark whizzing by us. Then all of a sudden no lights but ours and fireflies. Like a welcome party the fireflies flanked the sides of the road as we arrived to the camp site.

After a game of charades map instructions with the night guard, we made it to our mobile home camp. Unload the bikes and make food. We were both hungry. Again it felt normal. I was happy I had passed the first test. We were here in Italy, safe and sound. After the rough start maybe tomorrow is a better day. Maybe tomorrow will show me why I chose this and it will be easy.

Maybe.... but I really should stop saying things will be easy. 

Fear

I twisted my ankle that first day. I was nervous on my bike. A stop and a small crowd in front of me cause me to break, not get my foot out of the holster on time and topple over. Of course! What's the best thing to do before going on a biking trip? Hurt yourself!

Those first days of riding my unloaded bike were eye opening. I felt nervous every time I came to a stop sign. People crossing I held my breath. I knew how to ride a bike. I rode a bike in Cambodia. I rode a bike in Asian traffic, I told myself. Yet pedestrians and designated bike lanes were testing me. 

Now my ankle was hurt and I was scared. It was bad. Really bad but I couldn't let Jonathan know. We couldn't afford to stay in Barcelona for it to heal. We had booked dates till Venice. If we stayed everything would go down the drain because of my lack of literal stopping power. 

We decided to stay an extra day in Barcelona. I rested, he rode. That day I remember thinking how this had been a mistake. I had a twisted ankle and now this adventure was a day away and I had no clue what the hell I was doing. I had unsuspectedly dragged Jonathan a long with me and now there was no turning back. 

He came back from a day of riding alone. Happy and sweaty telling me about how he was trying to find an empanada with no success. I felt guilty I had dragged him into this with me.

The next day was D day for me. 

The last dash to get things done and pack up and ride to the ferry that would take us to Italy. 

I had never ridden on a weighted bike.

I had never ridden on a weighted bike in a city.

and it was raining.

I had naively bought too much food for us. My two front panniers designated for carrying our food were full. Literally this was the first time I felt the weight of what I was trying to do. The bike was around 70 pounds. It was a solid brick I would barely move walking.

Jonathan knew this was going to be hard and we planned for a couple of "laps" around the neighborhood to acclimate me to a weighted bike. Right from the get go I couldn't do it. I couldn't steer. I couldn't get control of the bike. I fell and crashed. Try again. Jonathan holding the back of the bike to give me a push like a child and again I crash.

I can't do this. I physically can't do this. I can't steer that bike. We are fucked. We have three hours to get to that ferry but I can't ride to it. And now what? I can't ride a loaded bike? All of this and I can't do it. This is where the dream dies? I can't steer the bike. Now what?

I felt fear. Finally it had hit me. True fear of realizing I can't do this. All I had been fearing was true. It wasn't an idea. It had materialized. I really couldn't do this and now I would have to give up before we even begun. 

I went to upstairs to the apartment one last time to use the restroom and I prayed. Maybe it is hypocritical of me to have done this, being I am not a practicing anything but, I prayed. I asked my grandmothers and "mi angelito" and god and the universe and anything and anyone out there to help me out.  To give me strength. I was scared more than I ever have. I could feel the tears well up inside. I could feel the knot in my throat threatening to break me. I knew that if I started crying then it really was over. I couldn't let that happen.

This was it. I needed to somehow figure out how to steer a loaded bike in the next ten minutes or this is as far as I got. 

When I got back down Jonathan has switched his lighter front panniers with my food loaded ones. His bike was a monster. Carrying my stuff and his. I didn't know how he could do it. After failing to carry the weight myself, seeing him carry all of it and then some amazed me. He was so strong. Strength I didn't even know he had. I got on the bike one more time and I was able to ride. Bittersweet success.

That ride to the ferry I just focused. Just get there. Don't  break down. You can't. You need to make it. You need to stop and go when you need to and just go. I was holding it all in. I was petrified inside and yet I was moving. I was making myself move. My ankle hurt and my fear kept threatening a break down. I couldn't let myself go there. I just had to get there. 

When we arrived to the harbor Barcelona has a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing to the sea. I looked up and saw it and laughed. How appropriate to have it point out to sea as I go on our own adventure to the unknown. For a brief moment there I even felt a kindred with Columbus. I was scared. I wonder if he was scared sailing into the horizon himself.

After the rain, the falls and the fear we had made it to the ferry and were bound for Italy. 

Picking the bikes up

 

This was it. I was finally going to see my bike for the first time. Oh did I forget to mention that? I had never really seen my bike fully built. Nor had ridden it. Little detail.

We arrived to Green Bikes to pick them up. Shiny and new they were delivered and now it was the true test.  

Sure, I can ride a bicycle. With no one around me, no stop lights, no traffic and no sudden turns. Crowds are my hell. It was quickly apparent our bike skills did not match. Jonathan was zipping and turning around the hoards of crowds as I stayed behind trying to not hit people and topple over. I felt nervous. Just like riding a bike was a sentiment that maybe shouldn't apply to me. 

We met up with Adam and Laura and went to see the crazy Batlo Casa Gaudi. Just two years ago I had gone to Barcelona alone. Jonathan and I, having been broken up at the time. It was an odd feeling to revisit this place with him in such a different trip, like I was getting a redo.

The time with Adam and Laura came to an end and once again saying goodbye was hard. Like the last string of home was getting cut and now I was on my own. Well Jonathan was with me but he had no idea.

but then again neither did I. 

  

Back to Barcelona

 

Bus it back to Barcelona. Now we knew there was no train back. No surprises, it should be easy. We made plans to meet up with friends in Barcelona. They were traveling to Barcelona to meet up with us. Take the 9 am bus get in at 5, easy!

The night before I ask Jonathan, "Should we buy our tickets now or there?" We'll just get them there.... Again with the rookie mistakes. 

We get to the bus station 8:45 am. Dragging Monster and Beast through the metro systems again. In an attempt to help Jonathan pull Monster through he doesn't see me and Monster is slammed into my foot. I knew it right there... it's bleeding. His temper has been extremely short fused and at times I don't know what to do. I now know to maybe just get out of the way. He doesn't see his surroundings when he is in that state and now I have a broken toe nail. AWESOME.

We are desperately trying to find the bus. We split up. Jonathan you go to the door and I will buy tickets. He leaves and as I try to figure out the self service machine I see all the buses are sold out till noon. I RUN to Jonathan screaming "Don't get in the BUS it's sold out." I see him standing looking left and right trying to find which bus was the 9 am one and I deliver the bad news.  Fine noon it is. Why would we find it easy? We both ask ourselves why do we keep making these rookie mistakes. It almost feels like this is our first trip out of the country. We keep stumbling and nothing seems to be going right.

The bus ride there was fine. However we had once again to drag Monster and Beast around the cobbled sidewalks of Barcelona. FUN. Sweaty and cranky we finally made up the 3 story walk up we had secured for the time. We changed quickly and went to meet up with friends, Adam and Laura.

It felt so good to see familiar faces. It felt like I could rest. I didn't quite expect that feeling. It caught me of guard of how much seeing someone we knew was so comforting. After the transport days we had we needed something to go right and seeing them was like a breath of fresh air. 

We needed the mental rest we were going to pick up the bikes the next day. 

  

Madrid

 

Madrid:

I woke up early for my US consulate appointment. I got ready in the dark hostel room and left Jonathan sleeping. A part of me wanted him to come with me. Hold my hand once again. In reality him going would do nothing and we had  a long day the one before. 

It was easy moving alone. It was easy to go through the motions of finding my way in my own way. No glitches no problems. It was almost reassuring. like "oh right, I do know how to do this alone." I maneuvered the metro system just fine and everything felt normal.

The appointment went fine and the consul happily told me my US tourist visa was granted. I sighed of relief. There would be no real apparent reason as of why I wouldn't be able to get it but there is always that risk. However how small that risk is there and I hated the idea of coming back with bad news. Not bad news after a bad day, it would've made the whole ordeal useless.

I felt responsible. We didn't want to go to Madrid by choice we HAD to go because of me. Because I needed a visa. Dragging someone else into my immigration status life has always been an issue for me. It's like what poor soul will be dragged into dating me and all the paperwork that entails. Well now I had dragged Jonathan to Madrid and not getting the return visa wouldn't have been the end of the world but I still felt responsible for putting us there. Luckily that wasn't the case. All we had to do was wait for it to be delivered in two days.   

Madrid was going back to work. We needed to "build" our website and try to streamline what we are trying to do with this adventure. I found a library that had free wifi access. 

Why a library doesn't have A/C is beyond me. The next two days were spent sweating in that library trying to figure out logistics and design. Settle dates for places without really knowing the reality of what it takes to get us there.

The most memorable thing about those first two days was seeing Jonathan in the Hostel. I know that sounds odd but this was a place he knew how to maneuver expertly. It was also my first taste of talking to young traveler kids. Mostly all where graduated college about to enter the "real world" and here we were, the two of us having left the "real world." It was a funny feeling to talk to them and giving them advice. 

The last day we decided to actually go see more of Madrid than the walk to the library and back. We went to the La Cathedral de la Almudena and the Royal Palace. We went up a small hill to see another "attraction" but it was closed so we decided to wait it out in the surrounding park. There was a group of people with a guitar and beers drinking and singing. I reminded me of my friends and I going to Santa Monica beach for a day. Everyone just enjoying. The flamenco that was being played was familiar to me and instead of being the creepers just a few feet away mooching on their music we decided to just go join them. It was a birthday celebration we had crashed. We told them about our trip and again it was met with awe and wonder. In the pit of my stomach those words still didn't fit. It was a small moment that made the afternoon that much sweeter.

Most importantly in those days in Madrid I made a choice for myself. I needed to find my new normal real quick. I no longer had my own room. My own bed. My own bathroom. My own kitchen. I could spend the next year of my life yearning for "my own...." or settle into carrying my toiletries every time I shower the sooner the better. That was the choice I made. This was my new normal. This was my new home: ever-changing, with dull hostel knifes, small showers and noisy roommates. I was home.  

GOING BACK TO WORK

05/08/15

It's ironic but I feel my vacation is over. We have two days left before we get to BCN and it feels like I am going back to work. Somehow I struggle with the idea of what is to come as work. No more spa, no more 10 course dinner with our amazing waiter Alex, who unavoidably always brings the pasta dish for us to share even though we've already had 4 appetizers and said no. We still eat it though.
        It feels like my vacation is over and yet this adventure is but merely two weeks in. I feel that what is to come is so unknown to me that it will be a struggle. That it will be work. There are still moments when we retell the story for the 25th time about this trip that I wonder what fuck we are doing. Why? This is isn't me. I am not the bike across Europe on my own kind of person. I am SPA days, manicures, 4 pillows minimum, good wine, good food kind of person. I guess at my core I am a life cruiser.
        A cruiser as I am learning are those who like the comfortable life. They get the beverage package in life. That beverage package is the ultimate comfort/ disregard of a budget or limit. A beverage package basically says, I rather not wonder how much a drink is for the entire trip and potentially not even drink the necessary amount of alcohol needed to make such package worth the cost than be bothered with math/ budgeting/ thinking. Maybe in my core I am just really working towards being a beverage package buyer.
        Yet, I am two days away from the cozy comfort of 1536 inside stateroom. Having no windows has made it feel like a cocoon. A safe haven for Jonathan and I to be us. It has now been upgraded with, not one, but two drying lines and 4 extra pillows. 1536 has jolted us forward in relationship in ways we both knew were coming, but did not quite imagine. I haven't laughed so much as I have these past few days. It still surprises me how much of a kids we are.  Yes fart jokes are still funny even at 30. Having no window after said joke... is well unescapable. Maybe this is sharing too much but, that is exactly what Jonathan and I were thrown into: Sharing it all. It has made me realize how much of each other we are still to learn. Our moods, our rhythms.
        We are two days away from Barcelona and I am sad. Sad we leave our cocoon of comfort, pitch black darkness and laughs. It is only now that the concept of being homeless is just starting to sink in. We left our homes to create something and these past two weeks we've had a "home." It has been easy. It has been familiar. It has been all the parts of myself I already know. Now I am going towards parts of me I don't know. Travel in a way I have never done.
        Bike our way to Istanbul. We have said that sentence a couple dozen times as we encounter my fellow cruiser kindred. They look at us in awe and congratulate us for doing such a feat. Most of them are retired with a bum knee or a bad hip and yet here we are among them. Two kids in their eyes telling them about this adventure we are attempting. We speak those words and at times they feel solid. At times I see myself in our listening spectators. The cruisers the comfort seekers, spas and massages. I see myself in the retirees! How ironic. I see myself in them because I see the look they give us, a look of wonder, disbelief and relief. Relief they aren't the ones about to go attempt this. I see myself in those eyes because I see that look staring back at me in the mirror.   Maybe I am just a comfort junkie blue hair (as jonathan calls them) at heart.
        An yet once again a date is fast approaching. I can feel Barcelona closer. 700 and something nautical miles the captain announces over the intercom. Fast forward our watches as we cross another timezone. The days get shorter and I can feel Barcelona closer. I can feel the chaos and fear of this adventure closer. How are we going to get these bikes from the port to the bike shop? In a desperate attempt we attempt to contact our network of people. Maybe someone will be willing to help. So far no luck

As I write this literally overlooking the ship pull out from the port of Cadiz, glass of wine to my left, warm sun at my back with the groomed lawn of the Celebrity Equinox Lawn area teasing me to lay on it I realize that my vacation is over. It has been amazing. Screw first class to Europe, take a TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE.  I am scared. I am much better rested. At times still wondering if I will be able to pull this off. At times confident I can do it. One thing at a time. One little purple post it: We can do this.