THE FINAL LEG: SOLO USA CYCLE
So there I am on day 41, pedalling across the arid Mojave desert with its great sea of tumbleweed and strange looking Joshua trees. Sweat droplets steadily run off the tip of my nose. An unforgiving headwind blows clouds of sand up, caking my face. Fighter pilots train overhead with their almost impossible twists and precision manoeuvres. A mighty show.
Today I am in awe of this place and feeling the real freedom of long distance cycling, soaking up my vast surroundings meter by meter, mile upon mile. It is exhilarating. This is one of those places I will always remember, one where the wilderness dwarfs you, mountains stretch farther than the eye can see and the elements envelop you. The rawness and power of these epic places on our planet really do make you feel alive.
Little did I know that these would be my final days of my cycle across the USA. These last three had been some of my biggest efforts, pedalling into a heaving headwind. But miles needed to be made as my deadline of getting to San Francisco by the 16th December loomed. My left knee had been giving me a few chirps for some time now, but a few niggles here and there are expected from any endurance cycle, I supposed. I’d tried slightly tweaking my seat up a tad, down a smudge, forwards and backwards, but none had made any notable effect. It was when it eventually built up to a pain deep enough that I found myself cycling with only my right leg one afternoon that I knew things had gone into the danger zone. I gave myself 2 days rest and got back on the bike, but after 9 miles I had to stop once again with excruciating pains. Long term damage is simply not an option, so it was time to stop and call for some professional help and advice.
After describing the symptoms to 2 docs, separately, they both came to the same conclusion. There is only so much that can be diagnosed over the phone, but the professional opinion from both was to ‘call it a day and don’t take the risk. Rest up’. A hard decision to face, and especially emotional for me because a.) this is my first solo expedition and the thought of not completing it was simply not an option I ever wanted to consider, and b.) I was within touching distance of the finish line… just a few hundred miles. But it has been one very important life lesson for me. Knowing when to make what is sometimes the tougher and less inviting decision is vital. There is no room for an ego. Calling an end to an adventure so close to the home straight is never easy, but we have one body and it is our temple and needs to be looked after.
I have to say, physically, emotionally and mentally this has been a brilliantly challenging, exciting and eye opening journey.
Part of the greatness of journeying through a country at the pace of a bicycle is being able to see the terrain gradually change every couple of hundred miles. Cycling through remote trails mistaking cuddly big black dogs for ferocious bears, stealth camping in the tall grasses of the Texan wilderness, snaking and wheezing my way up mountains into pine forests and high altitude, being blown clean off the road and into rich red-stained sand ditches by the notorious Oklahoma winds, through vibrant cities where strangers stop you just to hold your hand for a minute and pray for your safety, into deserted ghost towns with the dull, disintegrating remains of what used to be bright communities, past deserts with strange gravity defying rock formations cut over centuries by howling winds. This is all a part of my bank of incredible memories now, and I feel I have gotten to know another small part of this phenomenal planet. You grow both an affinity and a tremendous respect for our Earth when getting to know her this intimately!
Physically and mentally it has been a brilliant journey. I believe that as human beings one of the important things to us is feeling like we are progressing as a person, and that is just what happened for me taking on this challenge. When you are on a solo expedition there is no-one else to help you make the tough decisions, to get you up on sub-zero mornings, to push you when you just want to give up. You have to learn to trust yourself and your decision making, because if you don’t then you may find yourself in trouble. I’ve realised that my limits are a lot higher than I had thought. I’m capable of going a whole lot further and faster than I ever expected. I have a newfound respect for the pace at which our bodies adapt to extreme conditions and slip straight into a super efficient endurance mode. It’s incredible and fascinating to experience this. Usually we blame our bodies for not being able to continue when in fact it is simply our mind that needs to pull its socks up. Mental strength is the key!
I met some of the most genuine and fascinating characters reminding me that, no matter where you are around the globe, people are innately good and out to help the world at large. It is these people who have given this adventure real depth. Give someone half a chance and they’ll show you their greatest colours time and again.
A friend once said to me “run with arms wide open”. So I tried it. You should too. You may just meet a few incredible people, change a few lives and have the most incredible adventure of your life.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this adventure in every way. And keep an eye out for new ones coming around the corner.