When you are supposed to leave on a 5,000+ mile journey by bicycle, and your launching point is your comfortable, safe Austin apartment where your fiance and your cat and your dog live… it becomes very tempting to keep pushing the departure date off.
I delayed my inevitable exit for a few days, but finally, Friday the 18th of December, I got my butt out the door.
When my bicycle was all packed and waiting down the stairs and in the parking lot, I went back inside and announced to Addison that it was time. He stared at me from the couch where he was lying in semi-shock, a mix of disbelief, surrender and sadness written on his face.
We made our way out to my 80 lbs of stuff-strapped-to-a-bicycle rig, and took some pictures in commemoration of the day I left Austin, on a bicycle, in hopes that one day I would arrive in the land of Brazil:
When I saw Addison’s eyes fill with tears, I had to find a strong place in me that would enable me to keep smiling and keep moving, rather than pulling him back inside and cradling him in my arms whilst we both wept copiously.
And luckily he had a harmonica lesson he was biking to, so he hopped on his ride and I heaved, hobbled and gingerly mounted mine. I rode with him to his lesson, where we had one more good bye, and then I turned to face the sun and started pedaling.
First stop: Alice’s house!
She was on my way out and I needed to return her Spanish book anyways… 😀
Boy was she surprised to see me at her door in my alien cyclist outfit!
I was in good spirits as I rolled away, waving to Alice and baby Josephine standing in the bright sun. The temperature was 70 at the most, and the sky was clear and bright blue.
It was really nice having google maps guiding me through back roads, neighborhoods and small sections of bike trails (unlike my last bike trip where we had to stop every few miles to check and see if we’d gone the wrong way on the map).
(I was on my way to my friend Morgan’s house, in Cibolo, TX — 60ish miles away)
But I quickly discovered that my phone cannot hold its charge. I dropped it in the toilet a month ago (in preparation for this trip, ya know–ha!) and its battery just hasn’t been the same. I know I would most likely be traumatized if someone dropped ME in the toilet. 😀
Luckily I have this nifty charger pack with me, so I was able to keep the phone on… for a while.
At one point google maps sent me through the backside of a highschool to cut over to another road. Siiri must have not taken into account that there would be over ten school buses lined up along the whole length of the connecting street, and hundreds of highschool students swarming in throngs in and around the street.
After trying to navigate through crowds of humans who seem to only be able to see the nose in front of their face and not much else, I gave up and just started walking my bike through.
Considering how I was dressed, my overloaded bicycle and the gopro mounted to the top of my helmet, the few students who did actually look at me, gaped in a mix of interest and horror.
I heard muttered remarks of, “What the hell?” and “Woah!” and then finally an older man standing at a corner asks me, “Where ya headed? Alaska?” with a laugh.
I smiled pleasantly and told him, “No, Brazil! The opposite direction.”
He was chewing over that bit of fantastical information as I straddled my rig once more and creaked away, pedaling up some momentum to get me down the road. A highschool student sitting in a parked car saw me pass and yelled, “What are you doing??”
I only smiled and kept going.
But that did set the tone for the next hour of my ride as I mulled it over.
What AM I doing? I pondered. And yes, ‘what the hell?’ is right!
Eventually I stopped to eat lunch in the sunshine.
By 5 pm I had only gone 30 miles and my phone and charger pack had both died completely.
I pulled up next to a University stadium gift shop (which was closed) and found a power outlet on the side of the building. I hunkered down and began charging things. I knew I had a place I could stay just 4 miles away, but that would mean not getting to Morgan’s house that night.
Morgan lived another 33 miles south, and she had been very excited to see me because she is also getting into bicycles and touring.
When I called her to say maybe I should stay with the closer host and see her the next day, she continued to be optimistic that I could reach her house at a reasonable hour, and the rest of the ride was on one road, so I wouldn’t need my phone for navigation as much. She was so upbeat and seemed to be really looking forward to seeing me, so I ignored the little voices crying out for mercy in my head and decided to keep going.
I watched the traffic flowing and stopping in the light of setting sun, while my phone charged a little longer.
5:30 pm, I thought, and 33 miles yet to go. It’s going to be dark in half an hour… and cold. Why am I doing this to myself?
I am a sucker for ‘stupid adventures’ (as me, my sister and her husband so fondly call all of the mishap adventures we’ve been on together), and I’ve never ridden a bicycle loaded down with 80 lbs of gear through the dark night on a busy road. A new experience, right? Ha ha.
After packing everything back up, I hit the road and joined the traffic onto I-35 Frontage road.
It was scary.
Big, small and enormous vehicles rushed by me in the dark, some of them slowing down, others speeding up as they saw me. Some people changed lanes to give me room, others shaved by me at close quarters.
It is not my time to go, I reminded myself. This is only the beginning of the journey.
After another ten miles, I had gotten so cold and distraught that I felt I surely must give up.
Instead, I stopped at a traveler’s rest stop and got a big, hot, cup of steamy coffee. I stood in the breezeway with my bicycle and charging phone, as people pushed past me. Some of them looked at me and my gear with curiosity, others just shoved by as quickly as they could without knocking me over.
One guy talked to me at checkout, smiling in amazement when I told him what I was doing.
A friendly Mexican man stopped several times to talk to me about my bicycle, how far I’d come, where I was going, and eventually he offered to buy me food. I was touched by his offer, and reminded that all of us humans are one big family, and even though I am separated from Addison and the rest of my blood family, I’m still not really alone.
I thanked him, but told him I had food and a nice hot coffee. I would have loved to just stop my ride right there and it a big pile of food with him, but I knew I still had another 18 miles to go.
I would definitely take someone up on a ride right now… I thought, as people walked by.
At that moment, a disheveled, sad looking black man approached me.
“You ridin’ that bicycle?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
Hmmm… probably shouldn’t say I’m alone… But what the hay, he seems pretty harmless.
“For the moment. I’m actually about to call my friend who is meeting me on the road.”
He pondered this for a moment.
Then asked, “Where ya headed?”
“Cibolo,” I said. “It’s about 18 miles south of here.”
“You need a ride?” he asked. “I can give you a ride. And I won’t bother you.” He stared at me. “I would love to bother you… but I won’t!”
I smiled. How touching. “That’s okay, my friend is meeting me so I’ll just ride.”
He insisted I take his number, which I did, knowing I would never call it.
When I got Morgan on Facetime, she was all dressed in her cycling gear and even had earrings that lit up and blinked brightly so drivers could see her.
She offered to just start riding towards me so that we could meet up halfway and then ride to her house together.
Even though this wasn’t someone offering me a ride in the car, it heartened me all the same. Misery loves company! 😀
So I put on a hundred more layers of clothes and gloves and then precariously maneuvered my bicycle back outside.
It was 8:00 pm-ish.
After another hour or so, Morgan and I eventually found eachother at a McDonald’s and embraced like long-lost friends, talking excitedly.
And then we rode side by side for the next hour chatting and groaning as we encountered more and more hills.
By the time we reached the intersection that led to her house, I thought I might die. We took a break in the parking lot of a bank and looked at the stars. I could have slept on that sidewalk for all I cared, I was so tired.
We reached her warm, inviting house at 10:30 pm-ish. I was so happy to see her home that I could have hugged every single Christmas reindeer decoration in her yard.
I could have wept over the steaming bowl of pasta she and her family presented to me.
And I could have wept into my hot, epsom salt bath for joy.
I didn’t weep until I was lying in bed, drifting to sleep.
Here are some pictures of the next day. Now I gotta hit the road and keep riding! 😉