We walked into the dimly lit pub, our clipless shoes glancing off the concrete floor. As soon as I set my bags down at our table, I limped directly to the bathroom. I gingerly peeled off my bike shorts, trying to be gentle with the sores. I whimpered, and shed a few tears, as my piss stung the blisters on my labia. I cradled my head in my hands as I let the last drops fall into the bowl, and gently patted dry. At least there would be a beer waiting for me at the table, even if I couldn't sit straight on the stool.
We were twelve days and 277 miles into what would turn out to be an 1800-mile trip through Canada, beginning in Anchorage, Alaska and ending in Whitefish, Montana.
Before beginning this trip I hadn't trained a lick, let alone ridden more than 20 miles in a single day. But I started the trip for two reasons: 1) my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to, 2) I couldn't see any reason why not.
There is one big positive to not preparing particularly well for a trip, and it’s that you don't run the risk of over-preparing - of waiting until you know you're "ready" to launch. You can read all the blogs, pack all the maps, exercise all the muscles, but if something can truly be prepared for, then that "something" can’t possibly be an adventure.
The cons, on the other hand, are obvious; you run the risk of getting lost, or finding yourself without food or potable water. Maybe your gear fails you, and you find yourself with a flat and no patch kit in the middle of nowhere.
Or maybe you find out three days into your 45-day trip that you are paired with an ill-fitting bike saddle.
Day one: 40 miles.
Day two: 60 miles.
Day three: 90 miles.
It was almost 11 p.m. on our third day when we finally rolled into the podunk town that was our destination for the night. An exhaustion began to set in that was far more than physical: I was zapped to the very core of my being. Part of it was that I was promised an easy time finding lodging once we got to town, and this turned out to be very much not true. But on top of that, my bum was so fatigued that getting on and off the saddle while we were hunting for a place to camp was just shy of torture.
There are some things you'd rather not learn the hard way.
Once we found a site, I was too dejected to eat; I crawled into our tent and began to weakly peel off my layers. When I got to my bike shorts, I realized something was wrong. I pulled out our tiny compact mirror and looked at my nether regions...
For the next nine days, the pain got progressively worse, but we still managed to average sixty miles a day. My best defense was to stay on my bike for as long as possible, since getting off and on was the hardest part. I developed a strict schedule of stripping off my bike shorts to air out my junk at every lunch break, and again as soon as we rolled into camp at the end of each day; of eating too much ibuprofen; of asking Alex for assistance with applying Gold Bond in the places I couldn't quite reach; of slathering on Vagisil before reapplying my shorts, it being the only substitute for Chamois Butt'r I could find in the desolate northern region of the Yukon Territory.
The first town with any amenities beyond a gas station or a post office was Whitehorse. Whitehorse had a bike shop. Whitehorse was my Mecca.
The owner of the shop (shoutout to Cadence Cycle) kindly let me install a couple of saddles for a test ride around the block. I swung my leg over the top tube with a wince and pushed off, settling myself cautiously onto the seat.
Instantly, I began to cry.
I was overcome with a combination of relief, joy, and exhaustion. The saddle actually made room for me, for my body and my pain. I may as well have been seated on a cloud, I was in such ecstasy.
We rested for three days so that my sores could scab over and the swelling could go down. When we left, I was playing a whole new game.
Was it worth it?
Most of you won't be surprised to hear me say that it absolutely was. In fact, I wouldn't even say that this was the most difficult part of the tour.
What may surprise a few more of you is that I wouldn't trade any of those devastating, debilitating, physical, emotional, humiliating experiences if I had the chance.
(At one point I even found myself crying under my bike as I lay on top of an actual pile of horseshit.)
Anyone who thinks that the word "adventure" is synonymous with "good time" has probably never been on one. Of course adventures are fun, unforgettable, and life-giving, but just as much because of the low times as the highs.
Even though I’d never been on a bike tour before, saying “yes” to going wasn’t out of character for me. I'd made a practice of putting myself in new and uncomfortable situations for years. Applying for jobs in new industries, going to parties where I didn't know anyone, or even giving speeches at weddings were all ways I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned that when you say "yes" to uncertainty, you say "yes" to ensuring that you will come out of the experience having been challenged, made uncomfortable, and having grown. And that, my friends, is the heart of adventure.
Say "yes" more often, take more risks, and invite the unknown to become a regular part of your existence. However, please do test and break in your saddle before going on tour. There are some things you'd rather not learn the hard way.