Friday, July 25, 2014

Reflections After Eleven Months on the Road

Just a few weeks ago you saw me in a picture with a birthday cake with the candles 1-5-6-8-1 all nicely placed on the confetti white frosting.  Now, there's another reason to celebrate, or should I say another excuse to indulge in a sweet treat......What’s the occasion? Another big milestone on The Loong Way Home!

Just shy of 11 months, I celebrated 15,000+ miles on the road in Gillette, WY

I left Barcelona on August 23, 2013 with absolutely no idea if what lied ahead of me, from Barcelona to Eugene, Oregon except for 30,000 kilometers (20,000 miles) of tarmac.  I was accompanied by a few of the members of my local bike club, Club Cicliste Gracia, for the first 50 km, after that, Viçens continued on with me for the first week, also a CC Gracia companion. I had one flat tire that week, the first in my cycling career.  We stayed with one host, treated ourselves to hostels and luxurious campgrounds, and didn’t dare to camp in the wild!  I said good-bye to Viçens in Nice, France and went off on my own to explore the world on bike.  Now, eleven months later, I’ve spent more than 150 nights with hosts, changed 6 more flat tires, and refuse to pay for a campsite!  I’ve made it 27,000 km (16,800km) around the world through 4 continents and 25 countries.

The morning I left, several CC Gracia members ride with me up the coast

Viçens joined me to Nice, France, not a bad destination!
A few days ago in Bozeman, after telling one of my host’s friends about my trip he said, “Cycling around the world for a year would be the last thing on my bucket list! In fact, it would go on the list of things I NEVER want to do in my life!”  It made me laugh, and of course I didn’t take it personally, but the funny thing is, it has been the most fulfilling experience of my life!  As I’ve stated many times throughout the year, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a year (or more) of my life.

A lot of people ask me why I’m riding; what inspired me to set off on my bike around the world.  Time and time again I get ask if I’m raising money for a charity.  When I tell them I’m not, they follow up in a sympathetic tone and say, “Oh, I see, you are doing some soul searching and trying to figure out your life!”  Nope, not doing that either. I figured that out long ago, which is exactly why I decided to quit my job and leave my life in Barcelona and set out to cycle around the world.  I know precisely what makes me happy, what I like to see, eat, and experience.  I can identify my preferred scenery, know the “must see” locations along the route, and still manage to keep an open mind for all the unexpected encounters and experiences in between.  I thought I knew myself well 11 months ago before I set off, but now, let’s just say that I am exponentially happier pursuing my interests and discovering new places after all this time on the bike!  My day-to-day life on the bike keep me motivated to continue pedaling, thankfully, as I still have approximately 5,000km (3,500 miles) to go over the next 3 months.

What’s next? I know a lot of you want to know.  Maybe a visit to Susan “The Spiritual Consultant” is in order, but I don’t really care to know, I’m too busy enjoying today!  I used to be a real planner and have all my future calculated down to exact dates.  You could probably saw I was somewhat of a control freak, and not to say that it doesn’t still permeate my personality, but I can confidently say that I now truly understand what it means to live in the moment.  There is a big picture out there for me, but my priority at the moment is my trip, whether it be organizing my stay with upcoming hosts or my specific route over the next couple of days.  Other times it’s an even more immediate focus like the climb that is 5 miles in front of me, or the 12% gradient slope that I am foolishly trying to conquer with an extra 90 pounds of weight.  I’ve got a short-term vision right now and that is what I cherish the most about my life at the moment.  I am living in the present and soaking up all of that is around me and comes my way. 

I waited and waited and waited for their arrival at Adventure Cycling.....

Adventure Cycling rarely sees cyclists going around the world, it was a big deal and a BIG photo shoot

Ironically, today, July 23rd, is also the day that I have met up again with a few of my fellow CC Gracia companions.  Exactly 11 months after we departed from our usually  club meeting point in Gracia, I met Nuri and Viçens in the tour cycling hub of The United States, Missoula, Montana.  Missoula is home of The Adventure Cycling Association, America’s experts in bicycle travel.  It was an emotional day for me.  For the past week, I’d been envisioning this moment, when they would find me on the streets of Missoula or the road leading into town.  I get excited to see a lot of people on my trip and enjoy the company of others.  It is a unique experience to have my Barcelona world collide with my transient world on a bike in my native country! 

CC Gracia Club, group photo 2013 

My entire cycling career has been in Barcelona; it is where I started road cycling. For four years, the Gracia Cycling Club took me, “the permanent tourist” as I like to call myself, under their wings.  They showed me the best of the Catalonia region on the smallest and most picturesque rural roads.  We spent countless hours climbing Catalan mountain passes, riding winding coastal cliffs, farm roads, and competing in epic Gran Fondo races all over Catalonia, the Basque region, and France.  When I joined the club, I practically doubled the club’s women membership.  However, four years later, there are a good handful of us, although many are also foreigners, like myself.  I started out in the “B Group,” the first season, but lasted little time there.  I quickly wanted to ride just a little bit further at a faster pace (sound familiar)?  I joined the “A group”, the first woman to do so in the club, and found I could keep up with the slower riders in that group, who called themselves the “A2 Group,” without any problem. We differentiated ourselves from the “Super A” group, the guys who ride with their tongues out lucky to hold on to the wheel in front of them.  For me, there is no enjoyment in riding that fast, it is beyond what I consider a good workout!

CC Gracia members after a gran fondo race in France

Without a real family overseas, CC Gracia adopted me.  Perhaps you could call CC Gracia a religion, comparable to a church community for those who attend Sunday morning mass, we had our own devote rituals on the bike every Saturday and Sunday morning.  We’d meet at the crack of dawn and ride anywhere from 100 to 200 km at a pretty fast pace all around the Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, and Lleida counties.  Some of the guys in the club nicknamed me The Radio because I like to talk while riding.  The guys do converse, from time-to-time, but their conversation revolves around power meters, heart rates, wheel profile, all the boring stuff!  I liked to talk about other stuff like their family, friends, travel.  To keep things clear, let me just add that I never let my talking slow me down. In fact there was nothing that would upset the guys more than passing them on a climb while chatting with another member!  What can I say, I liked to form a relationship with the people I rode with.  I wanted to learn all that I can about the Catalan culture and it helped me feel grounded in Barcelona.  It didn’t take long before I would have dinner parties with the guys, their partners, and friends.  I made big Thanksgiving feast, celebratory meals after a few races, and would meet them up for beers on occasion.  For me, CC Gracia was a lot more than a bike club; it was my family overseas! 

Wearing our CC Gracia Barcelona jerseys with pride!

Exposing them to all the good American customs, including S'mores

Which explains why I’m so ecstatic to be reunited with two of my CC Companion as we cycle from Missoula, Montana, USA to Jasper, British Columbia, Canada during the next two weeks.  I can’t wait to show them where I’m from, see their reaction as they cycle through picturesque places over here, try out some of our typical meals, experience North American hospitality, and get a glimpse of this culture.  Nuri is also an elementary teacher and an outdoor enthusiast, like myself, who has traveled the world.  She is one of the most carefree and happiest people I know!  Viçens, has one of the biggest hearts I know, always there for his friends.  For the past year he has dedicated a lot of time and energy to my trip, compiling videos and updating certain parts of my website.  Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to document my trip in near as much detail nor in such an entertaining format!

Nuri, Viçens, and myself have an established history, a common bond, many in fact, and I have no doubt that we will have the most wonderful time pedaling together for the next two weeks.  Today, eleven months after I left the gardens of Gracia, I’m excited to set off on a different stage of my trip with my fellow Catalan cycling companions!  It is a memorable milestone indeed!

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