Many bicycle travel blogs are full of stunning photos, stories of adventure, tribulations, and triumphs. We write about the gear we use, the challenging routes we take, the amazing people we meet. All these aspects of travel are important and can serve to inspire many people. What I don’t see very much is expression of doubt, loneliness, and crises of faith. The demons that chase us down the road, no matter how much we ride. They are much harder to write about, at least for me, and harder to share publicly. Given the online culture of putting our most fabulous face forward, we keep our ugly, messy, shameful bits well hidden and offline. When I tell people about my blog, one important aspect I share is about my attempt to share the range of true human experience, not just the happy sparkly things. I’ve not shared much of the dark side as of late. Not because it’s not there, but because I’ve successfully stayed ahead of it through constant movement and new experiences. But the time has come to explore it. So here goes…
The idea of suspending momentum had been crossing my mind increasingly in recent weeks. The cravings for movement, adventure, and discovery are well fed as I continue to explore Mexico’s wonders and make plans for the lands further South. But there are other fundamental needs that have been under-attended to by my current way of being, and they are speaking louder as time passes. The modus operandi for addressing these squeaking wheels as they gain volume is to obsessively keep greasing the other, aforementioned well-oiled parts. Meaning, instead of listening to the internal voices that are calling for attention, I focus on the voices that already are getting it, hoping the others with just somehow resolve on their own. Subconsciously I must somehow believe that if I just keep doing something good for myself, that everything will be okay. But I know this approach is not truly facilitating learning and growth. Having found a very comfortable resting place in Oaxaca with fantastic humans, I’ve begun taking stock of these under-attended needs, and considering new possibilities for addressing them. The first step in unpacking it all is to take stock of each voice that beckons for attention, to understand what it wants, and what it thinks will help it to find peace. So in taking stock, I’ve come up with these (in no particular order):
The desire for community:
Being a part of a group, contributing to that group and growing with it. Celebrating the joys and sharing the challenges. Creating together. Supporting one another. I miss all the fantastic communities of which I was a member back in Seattle. The AfroCuban musicians developing together musically. Alternative healthcare practitioners helping support one another on the path to health and healing. Dancers exploring how to be the most authentic humans we can be through movement and touch. Outdoor people testing the limits of our bodies, seeking the rapture of nature through dirt, snow and water. Buddhists sharing the road of self-study. All these communities filled with strong, passionate and wonderful individuals. There were countless opportunities to connect while enjoying activities I love. Not available to me as I pass from place to place, stopping for mere days at a time. Even the community of bike tourists is largely unavailable to me when I choose the rough terrain of Mexico which rarely receives the imprint of other bike tires. Most other bike tourists remain on the paved roads, and I can count on one hand those bike travelers out here who share my love for rough backcountry travel. I know, I could ride more pavement. But the truth is that I don’t really like bike touring on main roads. To me they’re boring. Too many cars. Too much noise. Not enough of the silent symphonic rapture expressed by the natural world. So, it is a conundrum. By doing this thing I love, honoring the way I love it most, I am most often alone. Have I just not found my Sangha?
The desire for deep relationships:
I have been lucky enough to meet myriad fantastic humans from the onset of this journey. I’ve experienced kindness and generosity both in terms of basic needs (food/shelter) and intimate sharing of each precious moment as it occurs. These interactions can last 5 minutes by the side of the road, at times turning into hours, even days of serendipitous sharing. It is beautiful to behold the possibility of spontaneous connection with every waking day. But eventually I move on, continuing the journey before any budding bond has a chance to develop into a deep relationship — that place where vulnerability, accountability, commitment and work come into the mix over the course of months and years. I miss those things. I miss being truly and deeply seen by those I love, having my bullshit called out. I miss being able to offer the same in return. Facebook, Skype, and email are priceless tools to help maintain my deepest relationships, but cannot do them justice. I feel them slipping away, transitioning from regular contact to occasional check-ins to fading echoes. The dependability of regular physical presence cannot be digitized or substituted.
The desire for intimacy, love and partnership:
This somehow feels like a taboo subject to write about. Even though I’m pouring out all my scary and vulnerable stuff here, this one feels somehow inappropriate to write about publicly. Perhaps it’s because I had a wonderful partner back in Seattle who deeply loved me and I let her go for selfish reasons. Perhaps it’s because it’s just always been hard for me to express this basic human desire without some sense of shame. Either way, it’s an important part of this internal exploration. Having experimented a bit with casual connections along the journey (very rarely has the opportunity presented itself), I receive repeated confirmation of something I’ve always known: I’m just not into casual intimacy. It is always followed by an intense emptiness and painful anxiety, like I’ve tarnished something sacred. And the dream of meeting another inspired traveller out here who wants to share a life of exploration is not yet coming to fruition.
All in all, these three similar needs all funnel my thoughts to the same conclusion: I cannot create the types of relationships I cherish most without some stability that fosters regular contact. I cannot both stay somewhere and being traveling at the same time. So given the intensity of these feelings, why have I not already chosen to lay down roots again in order to address these needs? Well, there are other needs. Other things that keep me out here. I don’t truly know what they all are, even after a year of travel. More to unpack still somehow. But one thing is for sure: Choosing to continue on this journey requires a conscious knowledge of those intentions which are important enough to supersede the needs for relationships for the time being.
To me, this means living in a way that maintainable: physically, financially and environmentally. A broad question about sustainability of lifestyle for me is: Could I keep living like I am doing right now, indefinitely? Or am I temporarily making sacrifices which I cannot endure much longer? Certain things about living on the bike make sustainability challenging and anxiety producing for me. Physically the challenge takes the form of nutrition. I tend to justify eating poorly based on all the calories I’m burning, but it’s not how I want to be eating for the rest of my life. I cannot carry many fruits and vegetables. I get lazy with cooking and end up eating cheap street meals. This issue dovetails into the environmental issue. Much of the food that I can carry and store at high temperatures comes with a lot of packaging. That means producing a lot of plastic waste. Even worse, many tiny town stores only offer drinking water in the form of 1.5 liter bottles. So when I can’t fill up from a reusable water jug, I’m producing a lot of plastic waste there as well. Not good. Financially, I’m burning through my savings right now, much more going out than is coming in. I could go on like this for a while before running dangerously low on money, but of greater concern is the knowledge that this way of traveling is not sustainable. I’m consuming more than I’m producing on various levels, and that just doesn’t feel good. Not sure how to address this one as of yet. And again to take a step back, I don’t feel like I want to live like this forever.
SENSE OF PURPOSE:
This is the hardest need to explore and write about. Perhaps because it’s the issue that has haunted me most throughout my life, the one which I’ve had the least success in resolving. During my first big bike tour of the Continental Divide route in 2013, I regularly felt a sense of peace which I’d never previously experienced. I’d found solace from the cacophonous chorus of self-criticism which has followed me as long as I can remember. I has continuously reminded me of how I am not enough. How I fail to sufficiently offer my own unique gifts to the world. How I’ve not yet expressed my truest purpose for being. Riding the bike through beautiful and silent country with sole focus on where to sleep, what to eat, and where next to ride consumed enough attention to escape the critical voice for the sake of the present moment. The experience was compelling enough to warrant letting go of my life in Seattle to explore if I’d actually found lasting freedom from the critical voice on the saddle. It was a selfish choice. But the shame of perpetual inadequacy had become to painful to endure. It’s been hard to acknowledge that the voice has resurfaced in certain ways during this journey, at times even amplified. And so the search continues….
What I know so far is that this sense of fulfilled purpose cannot be reached through generic actions. Being kind, generous, respectful, honoring, and inquisitive of my fellow humans are all vital to my health, but we all must find our ways of doing that. Purpose is the unique expression of our most profound talents and gifts, integrated into actions which maximize their dispersion to the world outside ourselves. I’ve explored this issue in a variety of ways during my journey, my first curiosity being whether I could find it through random acts of generosity. While I loved the creative spark this fostered within me, the actions I took lacked focus and commitment. This revealed the need for the purpose to be something I could build upon over time, something that would not wilt with my continued movement. I next tried to take the pressure off of the system, asking if it might be enough to just let my purpose be living a life full of joy, freedom, exploration and connection while traveling. This too clarified a need for more structure. Without it I am wandering about, accumulating wild stories and experiences as I get to know more of the world I live in. But the pattern gets old. So just riding the bike solo with no end, discovering the world, is not enough. One thing is for sure: purpose and a deeply embodied intention must be my guides from here forward. Without them this emptiness will consume me.
But wait, what if I’ve already found it? That is, what if my work as a health professional and educator are indeed what I’m supposed to be doing? It took me 20 years of intense searching to land on that profession and while it was not perfect, it was indeed the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was at times offering of my deepest self. I decided to test all these needs by growing some temporary roots: A layover in Oaxaca.
I spent an entire month enjoying the immeasurable hospitality of the Wiskind family. Adam, Meg and their 4 year-old daughter Graciela not only opened their home, refrigerator and schedules to me. We opened our hearts to each other. We talked about conscious living both inside and outside of Western standards. We talked about following our dreams and fulfilling our purposes. They introduced me to many other lovely conscious people living there, both Mexican and other. Adam brought me to a conference on the subject of sustainable business. I also connected with 3 different local mountain biking groups and met quite a few really interesting people on various group rides. To explore bodywork again, I posted an ad on an Oaxaca ex-patriots Facebook page describing my bodywork, just to see what interest I would get. To my surprise I immediately got quite a few messages, and within 3 days had already found a space from which to offer sessions complete with massage table. I ended up giving about 10 sessions over a couple of weeks. It was… lovely. I forgot how good it felt to be specifically helpful and useful in the world, to offer skill set that I believe in and something I’m good at. Without the constraints of needing to make a specific income just yet, I had the freedom to do exactly what I wanted with those sessions without a need to meet anyone’s expectations. Not every session was magical. But some were. It was a huge gift to touch that feeling again.
After 4 weeks living with the Wiskinds and 2 weeks of working, I saw the same old choice staring me down: Stay or go? If I chose to stay, I could easily see how my practice would develop in Oaxaca. I could begin paying rent to Adam and Meg to stay in their home, or look around for my own apartment. Oaxaca is a lovely city, one that I could easily imagine living in for a while. But would it be so different than living in Seattle? I’d still need to make enough to support cost of living, which given the lower wage would not actually translate to working a whole lot less than I did in Seattle. I’d still be very far from my communities back home, and still have the limitation of the non-native language barrier no matter how good my Spanish got. So was Oaxaca so much more amazing than Seattle to warrant this choice? I wasn’t so sure. Enough so that I decided to continue on. In part I wasn’t ready to confront the issues inherent in a stable life somewhere just yet. But I learned an important lesson: I still like doing bodywork, and I still feel like I have something to offer. Plus, I learned that it’s not all that hard to start a life in a new place. The option is open to me if I choose to take it. But again, not just yet.
SO NOW WHAT?
The truth is that I just don’t know. I’ve learned a lot out here. I know I could learn much more. I don’t want to stay on this journey just because I don’t know what else to do… but… I actually don’t know what else to do. Currently my goal is to remove as many things I can that dull my senses. I must sharpen all the receptors so that I can interpret any messages I receive right nowl, asking hard questions and waiting for the answers. I know I still love riding the bike, and am deeply curious to experience more of the world through this means. But I now believe won’t go on forever like this. How much longer remains to be seen. All I can do is keep all the antennas open, and see what comes…