The trip has ended, but the journey is just beginning.
Sometimes the ideas in our heads don’t play out the way we imagine in reality. The way we view ourselves may not match the way that we really are. It can be very difficult to reconcile these differences, but the only way to move forward, to learn and grow, is to accept the reality that you see and experience. Failing to do so leads to stasis, ignoring the desire for change, and simply going through the motions because it is easier than confronting reality. I had spent years doing that, so was not eager to repeat the mistake.
The reality was that I wasn’t having fun. I kept finding myself in compromising situations in the middle of nowhere. Exhaustion so deep that I could hardly even move. The day I started to realize it was over, I rode 75 miles up and down short, steep inclines, into one of the fiercest headwinds of the trip. After a mere 35 miles, I was completely exhausted, and this was after a day off doing nothing but resting and eating. It was an exhaustion like I’d never felt, lifting my arm to try to drink water was difficult, eating was a chore, I had no appetite, and my eyelids kept getting stuck in the “closed” position. It was a very difficult 150 miles to the next town of Steamboat Springs, CO and I was carrying barely enough food to get me there. My options were:
1). Lay down and go to sleep for the day. I didn’t have enough food to do this.
2). Turn around and go backwards, which meant riding 70 miles to nowhere, only to turn around and ride the same segment for a third time.
3). Continue. Fight through the fatigue and exhaustion, alone and completely unmotivated. Then sleep as much as I could and hope I felt better the next day.
I didn’t feel better the next day, despite sleeping for 12 hours without moving. And I didn’t feel better the day after that. It was three incredibly challenging and draining days. I only made it through force of will, and my will was waning.
I didn’t feel better after an amazing 8 day break sleeping, eating and recovering in Boulder. After one day of riding, I was once again completely exhausted, just like I felt getting to Boulder. The difference was, my will and spirit were not there. And that was that. It wasn’t fun, I was torturing myself, and my route was unforgiving and potentially dangerous. So, I hitched a ride to Denver. It snowed at elevation that night. I made the right call.
The trip wasn’t entirely what I imagined, but it was incredible. I learned a lot about myself. I thought I would be capable of doing a solo trip for a year or more, but I’m not. I thought I could live on a shoestring budget, but I can’t. These are valuable lessons to learn for future travel. There were other, subtler lessons, but I will keep those to myself, but trust that those were not the only two things I learned.
I was at a running film festival not too long ago, where the last few minutes of one of the films was the subject of the film pondering how he would convey what his journey was like to people who asked. He seemed legitimately agonized by the idea that people would ask deep questions about what it was like to go on this running trip and he wouldn’t be able to explain the trip in a way that would fully tell the emotional, physical, and spiritual story of the trip.
I found this laughably absurd because it is completely impossible for a variety of reasons. For one, a long distance hiking, running, or biking trip is so far removed from 99.9% of people’s normal existence that they either don’t particularly care about the specifics of the trip or simply can’t fathom what it means to ask a poignant question. Those that have done a trip like that still don’t ask the kind of questions that this guy was afraid of getting regularly because they have experienced it firsthand, even if they may not be able to articulate the experience. Instead, the conversation is more about trading stories.
And that is completely fine! If you undertake a journey like this for other people, it will inevitably lead to a failure for any number of reasons. Ultimately, the reasons I chose to leave my former life behind for the unknown are my own. I can try and explain them, but probably not well, and I fear that I was unable to fully convey those reasons to many in my life that are close to me. Similarly, the experiences, growth, and learning I experienced on this journey are mine alone. Those that get it, get it. Those that don’t likely never will. To those that don’t fully understand it, I would simply say: That’s fine. You don’t need to understand. To those that may have dreams to try something similar: Do it. There is risk, but with risk comes great reward. I’ve never met a single person that has said, “I really wish I hadn’t gone on that trip.”
So, while I didn’t get to where I’d ultimately hoped, I got to where I am. It’s a place where I’m excited about the future, and ready to continue to explore and adventure, but on a smaller scale for now.
Hopefully, the stories and photos I’ve shared along the way have given you a glimpse into a daily life far outside your comfort zone. If it inspires one person to follow their own dream, that is awesome. If it makes people laugh, even better. And if it made people jealous, well that is the best. After all, that was actually my only motivation.