Life is good life is tough life is good life is sad life is lonesome life is good
There’s a strange theme in the photos that I took in the first couple months of the ride. Each photo seems to hold a sense of longing, of vast separation, and many don’t even show a human face. And, to be honest, they parallel almost exactly how I was feeling during this time of transition.
Getting on an airplane and flying away from everything I’ve known was the most surreal-feeling, gut-sinking, nervous excitement—plane rumbling and taking off. Your sense of space, family, home, relationships is shattered. Everything disappeared at once. Everything mentally and physically unnecessary was removed from my life. It was freeing, emptying, but because of the time frame, 18 months, it felt extremely daunting, uneasy. And there we were plopped at the tip top of Alaska. North of the Arctic Circle, surrounded by nothing but vast tundra on all sides, closed off by the Arctic Ocean, at the beginning of the longest stretch of service-less road in N. America. We had 15 days of food with us, camp stoves, water purifiers, some clothes, sleeping gear, and cameras. I also had, as gifts of protection, a bag of rocks and a glow in the dark alien necklace stuffed at the bottom of my panniers. What followed was the most excruciatingly mental, physical, and spiritual journey of my life thus far (and it’s only just begun).
In those beginnings, days were blurry and long. As I had almost entirely procrastinated training rides back in Austin, the Dalton Highway was my training camp. And damn, was it tough. Our bicycles weighed in at over 100 pounds, and physically I started wearing down. The days hold on to you and carry over. Most muscles were sore and tight, knees about to fall off. It’s impossible to describe unless you’re there living it. Even now, looking back, it seems almost easier because the time’s past, but this was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
Climbing hills with a fully loaded bike through gravel and mud is insanely tolling. You’re going along at a snail’s pace, with a headwind, blood pumping, heart thumping banging in your chest, and you reach the top of the hill only to see five more hills immediately after, steeper and longer than before, mountains in the distance. It can really get to you. It did get to me. It crawls under your skin and through your head. On the bike you’re forced to face the darkest edges of your brain for ten-plus hours a day. You must accept that the hills will never end and learn to love them for their challenge, their gravitational opposition to you. You must overpower them, grow stronger, BECOME AN ATHLETE!, then race down the other side again. You have to reach another level mentally. At times I felt manic. Having visions of hell and eternal nothingness, not wanting to be there, wanting to fall instead into the tundra and die, just wanting to stop pedaling and fall over sideways. Who do we think we are? What’s the point in all this anyway? Waste of time.
But I learned to counteract those thoughts, learned to pull myself upwards, high, to moments of extreme freedom and bursting inspiration: good tears streaming cold down my face in the morning sun, and true love for everything. It’s these hills, the ups and downs, the damn dumb roller coaster of being alive. It’s how it has to be. And I realize now more than ever, and can stand tall and enjoy what’s tough rather than dwell on why ‘it has to be‘. Things get good get bad get everything in between and I love that.
Last and separately, I apologize for being slow to post in the journal. I’ve been inspired—writing, and collecting thoughts, images and sounds—but feel somewhat nervous to share them. I’d prefer to share with you in person, but I’m coming to terms with this sharing of my soul online. This reluctance is due in part to my ego and to being scared of what people will think, and partially to my idea of the internet as a big invisible trash pit. I will, from now on, make a point to share more of my journey (life) with you all and would love to hear about your journey (life) as well.
(Photos by Riley Engemoen)