It's been over a year since the day I took my bicycle for a leisurely spin around the block, squeezed my front brake while going 20mph downhill on a 30-degree grade, went flying over my handlebars, and broke my fall with my face.
That stunt left me with three stitches in my left brow bone, an outrageous medical bill, and a newly discovered fear of bicycles.
This morning, back on my bike for the first time since that day and careening down a different hill with bright orange helmet strapped securely in place, I experienced something like PTSD.
Every time I squeezed the brakes, I re-lived the moment I felt my back tire lift, the moment I saw a wall of concrete rushing toward me, the moment of impact, and the moment I realized I was standing in the middle of a busy intersection, dripping blood onto my boyfriend's baseball cap while cars slowed and pedestrians balked.
Traumatizing though the experience was, I had to get over it sometime -- because, for the past few months, Bruce and I have been actively discussing our future plans to ride bicycles from San Francisco all the way to Patagonia, a distance of many thousands of miles. While the departure date is far in the future and nothing is yet set in stone, the plan is getting realer with every Google search I run on gear, routes, weather, budget, sponsorship, and super cute bike shorts.
From thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, I know that I have what it takes to do something so big and so ludicrous. I know that on some level, I am built for just this kind of adventure: the kind that pushes your limits, changes the very fabric of your being, and gives you stories for life.
But before I completed the AT, I had no idea that I would. I was the rare bird who didn't start with the intention to finish; it just became clear, after 10 days on the trail, that I needed to.
And that is precisely how I managed to skip over the whole FEAR part: the part where you imagine, anticipate, fret over, project, and conjure in excruciating detail the terrifying nightmare of all that COULD go wrong, before you've even begun.
I didn't go through all that the first time. Everyone else had months or years to weigh the pros of nature and simplicity and freedom and personal challenge against the cons of grueling physical labor, deprivation of comfort, tremendous uncertainty, probable injury, and many monotonous miles. I, on the other hand, pretty much just found myself there, adapted well enough, realized I enjoyed it, and decided to continue.
Now, though, I have all the time in the world to build up a debilitating story in my mind about all the things there are to fear about an epic trans-continental bike ride, such as:
Rutted dirt roads
Relentless sun exposure
Having to sit on a bike seat for ten hours a day
Steep mountainous inclines
Steep mountainous declines
Having my bike break down in the middle of nowhere
Not having the one piece that could fix it
Getting my hands all grimy while fixing it
Mexican drug cartels
Colombian drug cartels
International drug cartels
Drug cartels I don't even know about!
Lack of water
Having to constantly explain what you're doing to people who can't conceive of why you'd want to
Having to constantly tell your life story to new friends
Having to constantly leave said new friends just when you were getting comfortable
Feeling powerless in the face of real poverty
Feeling like you have a dollar sign tattoed on your forehead
Feeling like a self-indulgent voyeur of other people's lives
Having to apologize for a country that (nearly!) made Donald Trump President
Having to feel guilty and implicated just for being an American
Stinging insects the size of my face
Things that want to crawl into my ear and lay eggs in my brain
Malevolent border guards
Little kids throwing rocks for no reason
Running out of food with many miles to go
Not having leafy greens (or at least the option of leafy greens) at every meal
Strange sounds in the night
... All of these fears (and more!) can combine effortlessly into a perfect fog of subtle creeping doubt that can be summed up thusly:
"But what if I'm just not abike person?"
True story: I am not a bike person. (Yet.)
But if there's one thing I know, it's that we tend to fear what we don't know.
And for some reason, whenever there is a little gray area around what to expect, we tend to tell ourselves the WORST. STORY. IMAGINABLE.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we willingly submit to torture in our imaginations when we have all the freedom in the world to experience the promise of something ELSE? Like the countless moments of beauty and joy that await anyone who has the courage to go out into the world and TRY.
Because YOU know, as well as I do, that as soon as you are out there doing it and (GASP) the worst case scenario happens, what will you do?
You'll adapt -- like humans always do.
The worst part of change is anticipating change. Once it happens, you are just doing what you've always done: the best you can with what you've got at the time.