Before you start to think that this trip is full of light-hearted fun and games, or some cheesy but inspirational journey with a beautifully changing backdrop, let me give you an idea of our new reality (has it really been three weeks since we started?). Wake up has been 4:30 AM for the last three days. The high milage (130, 120 and 130 miles, respectively) means we set off on the road an hour earlier so some can arrive at the host at a reasonable time. For the rest of us, the early start allows us to finish. I am physically tired and mentally exhausted.
I’m not saying that we don’t have fun on this trip. I have laughed deep from my gut until my stomach felt close to explosion. I have heard interesting stories, and captivating songs, both played and sung. I feel proud to be even a small part of the affordable housing cause.
Most of the time, though, we don’t look like the adventure-seekers in Patagonia advertisements. Our team is scratched up and a little bedraggled from nights sleeping on the ground. At best, we look like a team of cyclists going cross-country. At worst, we look like a crew of crazies wearing the same red and blue spandex. We don’t smell great, and some of us walk funny. This may be a result of neglected saddle sores or sore legs. Usually both.
Along this trip, I have felt so many different and contradictory emotions. So much warmth and love from my fellow riders and our hosts. An unsettling sense of isolation and loneliness even surrounded by all that warmth and love. Tranquility and completeness in nature. Uncertainty and fear from the ever-taxing terrain.
Some days, the climbs seem to only get steeper, and the temperature increases exponentially as we inch towards the sun. Sweat flows into my eyes, stinging in a way that only a combination of sunscreen and salt can. I feel like a drug addict, panting and straining for that next shot of downhill-induced adrenaline.
Sometimes, on the toughest days, all it takes is a single moment of fixated resolve. Or a memory. Somehow, it helps to dig up those moments of courage and fear, happiness and heartbreak. The ones that make you panic just enough to get your legs going.
Through all this, there is a certain captivating sense of having penetrated a secret space of life-living. The panoramic views at summits are breathtaking, and not just because the ride to get there literally takes all the capacity that my lungs can handle. Looking back at the last three weeks, a lot of things blur together. I have learned a lot, though. From my teammates and leaders. From all the amazing people we have met along this journey. And from the road.