Friday, July 11, 2014

Crazy map lady status and other solo ramblings

A funny thing happens on these long-distance trips. I've read about it in trip reports and books. I've also heard people talk about it, yet they are not quite able to articulate what this funny thing is. A friend and former co-worker, Dan, solo-hiked the Long Trail in Vermont (a rugged 300-mile feat) a few summers ago. When asked how it was, he responded, "It was emotional." People laughed, but I vaguely got it, having recently hiked ~150 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail. But now, a week in to my own solo trip, I totally get it.

...none of these pictures have to do with the post itself. They are just pretty sights and selfies.

Let me try to explain from my experience on this trip.

The other day, I mentioned that I noticed I was geographically at the last point south on the journey to conveniently drive to explore Crater Lake, a couple of hours east of Coos Bay. Crater Lake is hailed as the most amazing place in the world by some and ridiculously gorgeous by others. Everyone I mentioned the idea to assured me was more than worth a detour. Their faces would light up when I so much as uttered "I'm thinking of visiting Crater La..." and interrupt me with, "Crater Lake?! Ohmagosh, you HAVE to go!" Even the rental car man, so adorably awkward and gangly, said he would venture to call it "magnificent." My friend Rachel who is stylish, smart, and kind to small animals {aka- I highly trust her judgement} assured me any detour to this place was beyond worth it. Sold. I planned to ride the Crater Lake rim Friday {the 11th}, then drive back to Coos Bay to return my car by 3pm that same day. Little side trip- woohoo! Who could pass that up?

Rest day! Needed after these atrocious views. Ugh. Totes kidding.

As soon as I was in the rental car, Dan's "emotional" response made sense. Thoughts started racing through my head as I tried to remember how to drive {Not like it's been that long, but I've been 100% immersed in biking for the past week, and seeing the road from a new vantage point was a bit odd}

What am I doing!? Staying in a hotel?? Isn't this...cheating? I'd been getting in a rhythm of rising, biking, calorie-consuming, biking more, calorie-consuming more, setting up camp, bantering with fellow riders and doing it all again. And now... a car? A hotel? This just felt...wrong! I convinced myself it was okay and it was only one night away from the route. I almost felt like I needed to explain it to my bike what we were doing! Weird...I'm aware.

It's okay, honey. We'll be reunited very soon.

But alas, surprise thunderstorms rolled in Friday morning, causing me to reevaluate again. Stay another night for the perfect weather at Crater Lake on Saturday, or scrap it and head back to the coast to continue with my ride? The absurdity of this was almost too much. Of course I should stay and see Crater Lake, said my rational mind. But, you're getting off schedule, said the irrational route-obsessed map lady I've become.

Ultimately, I decided I just had to stay. It's just one day and a half, and for the most beautiful spot in Oregon? Come on. Don't be silly, crazy map lady. Plus, by butt and legs would smile on the inside.


With the decision made to stay, I'd now I'd have to debate if I actually had time to ride it {3,000ft of climbing, winding roads, heavy traffic, no shoulders, at 6,000ft} and make it back in time to return my rental at 3pm {and then bike 11 miles to my new campsite}. Even with an early wakeup (I'm staying in Medford, OR for the night), this would just baaaarely give me enough time assuming there was minimal traffic and wind and that the return traffic to the coast {on a weekend} wouldn't be an issue. Driving from Medford to the Park is about 1.5 hours, the ride around the rim itself is easily 4 hours {a conservative estimate... assuming I'd want to, you know, look around every now and again, maybe snap a pic}, with a 3 hr 30 minute ride to the coast to Coos Bay. I'm no math whiz, but the numbers don't quite seem like they could work unless... 3am wakeup? Uhhh.... maybe I actually want to enjoy the scenery on this ride, instead of doing it in the dark and thinking about getting hit by crazy drunk motorcyclists at 430am.
BUT! That means... driving the rim instead of biking?  Would I be a failure if I not only took a side trip and, gasp, didn't even bike!? An entire rest day!? And two nights in a hotel? Who have I become?

....isn't all of that competing dialogue a weird reaction for one to have whilst on summer vacation and having just ridden over 300 miles in the past 5 days? A failure of what? My...self? The ride? Challenged Athletes Foundation? I'm typing it and realizing it sounds nuts, despite it seeming somewhat rational in my head. My mom, bless her heart, tried to be understanding of my feelings of anxiety about it all and assure me that it's okay and even prudent to rest.

Yet, still, I feel oddly guilty for taking a side trip and then not even biking on it. Umm...pardon my extreme first world problems, Universe.

But life is harddd.

Before you write me off as crazy, I know I'm not alone in these funny thoughts. I'm somewhat anxiety-prone anyways, but I've read about similar anxieties held by through-hikers on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails if they have to miss a chunk of the trail for various reasons. This thought of not being a purist or cheating is a real, albeit bizarre, thing.

But why the stress? Why the pressure? Why the worry with solo trips? Aren't these all about finding oneself and discovering strength amongst the hiccups.

It's because solo badasses thrive off of a certain degree of routine to keep motivated through the days. When your constant mindset is tuned to:  "I'm going here on this day, and here on this day, and here on this day. I'll need to stop here for food and here for water and I can maybe make it here by this time, but here's my backup if I don't" and suddenly you are free from all of those thoughts, you can get a little lost.

Or maybe...
People enter these trips with a thought that they must suffer and the rewards will show themselves at the end. Personally, I do feel guilty knowing that my intention of the ride is for charity and a side trip for my own benefit feels selfish! People didn't give me money to frivolously spend time in mountains-- they gave it to me to bike my butt from Seattle to San Fran!

Or maybe...
My stress comes from something I set out to conquer {besides hills and wind} on this trip.

Must. Detox. Silly. Thoughts.

I'm trying to embrace these admittedly first-world challenges, while also rolling my eyes at myself. The solo part of this trip was intentional and for me to face my weaknesses and triggers to stressors, as well as the ability to trust myself and test my mental strength. It's kind of like a mental detox. For example, people who subside off of junk food and crap can go on juice detoxes and while on them, their insides feel like their ripping out and they JUST WANT A FREAKING HOT DOG. They are confused and alone and in pain....but then it all suddenly stops. They stop craving junk food and start craving juice, fresh food, and are excitedly christened into the world of minimally processed food.

So, by this logic... I should be uncomfortable at first. Rather than detoxing junk food, I'm detoxing dependency. Outside of this trip, when things get tough at work, I start to doubt myself and turn to others for help. Asking for help can be good... but I don't want it to be my crux. Out here, I have no cruxes {until I stay in a hotel- bleh} and have to trust myself and my decisions. It's uncomfortable now, but hopefully soon it will become second nature and something I crave.  I've made progress in trusting myself, for sure! It's still a little painful, but I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Giving myself pep talks and a few mantras {like "You're stronger than the wind" ; "You freaking got this!" ; or "Every climb has a descent!"} have helped.

I'll continue to use these mantras along my ride during steep climbs and airy gusts of wind on bridges, but I suspect I'll continue to use them as I test my strength with larger decision-making {beyond Crater Lake} at work and in my personal life.  It's been good to see how I can process the stress, make decisions, and learn to relax in the face of a logging truck just inches away with its log constituents threatening to hurl a piece of their bark at my face at any time. I can only hope to exhibit that unwavering composure when dealing with angry parents or filling out grad school essays.

And, I'm growing up!

Anyway, the journey continues! Get ready for some outrageously beautiful pictures from Crater Lake!


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