Monday, October 10, 2016

Traveler



People have asked me: How was it? My recent bicycle tour, JOGLE, John o’Groats to Land’s End, top of the UK to the bottom, 1,100 miles over 19 days. Stiff, upper-lip Brits were high-fiving me at the airport, the check-in lady shook my hand, the guy at TSA was impressed—how was it?—he asked. I realized I sounded sort of pissy when saying, HARD. It wasn’t one thing, it was a hundred. Mostly it changed me.

Comfort zone. Just by leaving home we are challenged, exchanging certainty, security, the known for round-abouts, metric, showers with extra knobs, electrical outlets with unwieldy prongs, brown sauce (?). Immediately I am thrown off-balance. And this was in England, where people speak English.

Yet stopping to ask for directions I am aware that I am only able to take in half of what they are saying—hoping the second half will kick in when I need it, when I get to that part. Suddenly, the most common place experience sets my stomach into panic. ATM (cash machine), ordering a tea at a café, paying (when I remembered to do that) with coins that all look the same (except for the pound, I could easily recognize that one, the rest made absolutely no sense, I’d hold out a handful of change and ask them, just take what you need). This teetering feeling of—Where am I?

Some of this was legit. I was lost a lot.

Which all contributed to self-doubt, a continual self-evaluation, Can I make it? What have I gotten myself into? There is a huge difference between the Jane sitting in front of her computer and planning an itinerary, a route to the disheveled woman straddling a bike by the side of a busy A road checking her phone, looking at the round-about options and feeling like a foreigner.

I also heard a lot, You’re brave. And, I wanted to say, There is a thin line between being brave and being stupid. Ignorance causes us to step out. If we actually knew the odds, the analytical risk, we might revise our next move. At the same time there is little distinction between folly and discovery. Things happened, outside of my control (like most stuff, if I can be honest), and suddenly I was faced with beauty, revelation, a climb, a descent, a winding forest road, a wind-swept grassland sloping down to the sea, a castle.

I biked everyday in my Team CCO T-shirt in support of a homeless shelter in Chicago. I, in fact, felt homeless, definitely like an outsider. Sweeping into a café with wet clothes and hair sticking to my head, shoes squish-squish on the floor. Absolutely shattered from exhaustion, sitting on someone’s wall by my bike, taking a rest. I am starkly aware that I am a nomad, no one knows me here.

I am vulnerable, stripped of all the parts I used to know in Chicago. I am reduced, unrecognizable. So much smaller than I thought. Scared.

This is what travel does. We have to check ourselves at the airplane door, throw away expectations, assumptions. Tread lightly. Yet, we return, hopefully, a different person. One who knows what she is capable of, one who knows she can book a hostel on her phone, even buy a SIM card, one who can navigate a round-about with 4 feeder lanes. Now I just have to figure out what brown sauce is. 

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