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.