Sunday, October 26, 2014


I miss this!!!!
And nights like these......
I've been home for about 10 days now and I'm trying to settle in, but I have to admit I'm going stir crazy. People wondered how I pedaled 70 miles a day for 14 months and admired my energy, but I don't understand how they don't want to get on a bike and pedal all day. Some friends of mine were joking, suggesting that I organize a bikers anonymous group to cope with the withdrawal symptoms I'm experiencing. Laugh. Call me crazy, but it's a serious problem! Bike touring, like any addiction, becomes a lifestyle, something you live and breathe daily. A physical and mental dependency developed during the months I spent pedaling and now that I'm out of the saddle, I'm experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are ironically similar to someone who suffers from a physical addiction such as alcohol or smoking.

First ride on my brand new road bike, Barcelona 2009. little did I know what I was getting myself into.....
I'm what you might call a bikeaholic. I have always enjoyed being outdoors and riding a bike, but it became more or a serious habit when I turned 30 and bought my first road bike. At first, I just rode my bike on Saturday mornings with my bike club; 80 to 100 kilometers (50 to 60 miles) up or down the coast near Barcelona. Then I started riding my bike more often, going out both weekend days for longer and longer rides. When that wasn't enough, I would ride my road bike to work, and when the bell rang at the end of the day, I'd quickly change in my gear and hurry out after my students had left to go ride in the foothills on the outskirts of Barcelona. On the weekends, I found myself getting up earlier and earlier to go out for rides. When other people my age were stumbling back from night clubs drunk, I was decked out in my bike kit with flashing lights headed out with the gang from CC Gracia to explore yet another gorgeous region of Catalunya on two wheels. Then I started signing up for races, not just one or two, but sometimes three or four a season. These weren't casual race, but Gran Fondos. 150+ kilometer races that took me over mountain ranges, through vineyard valleys on backroads where we hardly ever encountered traffic for 6 to 8 hours until we crossed the finish line.

Puertos de Ribagorça Gran Fondo, Spain 2011.

Quebrantahuesos Gran Fondo, Spain/France 2012

The best summer job I ever landed, ride leading for Thomson Bike Tours

I thought I was hooked back then, but then in the fall of 2013, my habit became even more serious and I discovered I had a real addiction. I started cycling around the world, riding 100 to 130 kilometers (60 to 80 miles) daily, day after day, with little rest, eager to hop back on my saddle every morning. My body adapted beautifully, although I did take an occasional rest day, I was the happiest in motion pedaling. As if pedaling an average of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) a month wasn't enough, I was carrying an extra 45 kg (100 lbs). Sometimes I would go days without finding a grocery store or taking a shower and weeks without saying more than a few words in my native language. Even with the harsh weather in Alaska when temperatures dropped below freezing, I didn't want to stop cycling. When temperatures got as hot as 109F (43C) in the deserts of North American and the rain forests of Malaysia, I sweat so much I was drinking at least 12 liters (3,5 gallons) of water a day, but I continued to pedal. The headwinds were demoralizing at times impeding my progress and a few cold damp descents brought tears on the verge of hypothermia, but I never gave up. Five years after buying my first bike, I can't stop pedaling! I'm hooked. I'm the happiest person in the world on a bike saddle.

I'd go back to the Ha Giang province in Vietnam in a heart beat 

Happy to be going downhill after a month of pedaling in the mountains of Vietnam and N. Laos

But look at me now. All of a sudden I'm out of the saddle and I don't know what to do with myself. I've had 14 months of time to think about my life after this trip, but obviously I didn't. What on earth did I do for so many months on a bike? What went through my head? I don't know!?!? I pedaled a bike day after day, for 417 days and most of the time I had no idea where I would end up at the end of the day. But I never actually felt lost, not like I do now. You could say I'm experiencing a type of culture shock, only it is magnified with an abrupt lifestyle change as well. I feel like a foreigner in my own hometown, a complete stranger around family and friends unable to relate to my present surroundings. Yet I've been here before, I know this place, it's not new, in fact it should be familiar, but I've changed and I'm at a total loss for figuring out how and where I fit in. I could have ended my trip back in Barcelona and I'd have the same feelings upon arrival. I pedaled from place to place, dropping in to observe and experience the lives of other people, their daily routines, their normal everyday life and all of a sudden I've been thrown in to this “normal” life.

How did I not see this coming? Didn't I think the transition would be rough? It never really occurred to me, I guess. Perhaps it was the fact I was so focused on the moment and living in the present I didn't realize the implications of transitioning into life after you pedal around the world on a bike. I was (and am) excited to see family and friends, sleep in my own bed, but it didn't dawn on me that my reality and feelings would shift so dramatically, making me feel nostalgic, sad, out of place, and sometimes numb.

Even with the world worst road construction, I was happy!

Tell us a story Melissa......We want to hear about your trip, they say. But where do I even begin? I struggle to share and describe the experiences I had in the past year and express how my perspective on the world and my outlook on life has changed. I still visit schools because I miss the classroom. I've had several dinner dates and met up with friends and followers. I enjoy their company and appreciate their interest in my trip. I show them videos and pictures, but I find myself looking on nostalgically, my mind flooding with memories and all of a sudden I'm all choked up and have to hold back the tears. I look at myself in the pictures from my trip and I radiate happiness. But now that I'm home and no longer pedaling, I don't have the same glow and strangely, I feel lost and lonely.

Visiting familiar classrooms, my old high school and high school teacher, Josh Hamill

More classroom visits in Eugene, The Oak Hill School

Can you honestly tell me you were never lonely on your trip? A friend of mine from Barcelona asked upon my arrival. I paused, thought for a moment and answered truthfully, “Never!” Lonely? That word is similar to “bored” in my vocabulary, it is obsolete. How could I get lonely? I never had time to feel lonely. There was always something or somebody around me to stimulate my interests, ignite my curiosity, and fascinate me. I took up random strangers on their offers to have dinner, I let the locals guide me around their town, explored a night market on my own......I was writing blog posts, reading other cyclist's blogs, researching my route, or catching up with family and friends. As I've expressed before, I often found myself needing more down time, more time to just be, absorb my surroundings, and reflect.

Walking around exploring a town in Northern Loas, I joined a local game of volleyball

This same friend from Barcelona who asked me if I was lonely criticized my decision to ride around the world initially. “Only weird people go off on their bike for a year!” he remarked. Maybe he's right, maybe bike tourers are weird, but I don't know any different. Bike touring isn't for everyone, but I am proud to be part of this weird yet global group of society. Now that I'm back, I find myself reaching out to people who've been on similar trips, who share a passion to bike tour. I continue to read other cyclist's blogs so that I can pedal vicariously through them and reminisce together with someone who understands.

I'd meet a few other tour cyclists now and again and we'd share our stories and laugh a lot
I knew myself so well on the bike and now I feel as though I've lost my identity, like I have to start from scratch now that I've been thrown in to a world that feels weird to me! I don't have the patience to go through an identity crisis right now, not after being so happy and at peace with myself just a few weeks back. I like the person I've become after pedaling a bike 14 months, around the world, solo. I've gained confidence and perspective. I have a very clear idea of who I am, what makes me tick, and my vision for the future. The bike has brought out the best in me and now the true challenge will be how to maintain these ideals as I try to integrate into a “normal” world and lifestyle that feels so foreign. The problem is, my idea or a “normal” is so different than the majority of the world, that unless I'm around others who understand or share my values, I do feel alone.

Remember Ly Peng and family?? They took me in just north of Phnom Phen when I had no where else to stay

Instead of facing reality, I continue dreaming. I've been gifted some great books since I've been back, but I can't seem to put down my current reading material: A map of the world. Every night I climb into bed and open it up and start ponder the places I want to go. I look at all the different land out there calling my name just waiting to be explored and the ideas spin in my head. After dozing and nodding off a bit, with the map in my hand, I surrender and turn off the light and go to bed. Ideas continue to spin in my head with the lights off and I have trouble sleeping. This never happened on the bike. It might sound crazy, but when I don't pedal for 6 to 7 hours, I don't exhaust my energy and my body doesn't recognize the need to rest and sleep.

I'm not asking for pity. Believe me, I do acknowledge that I had the most incredible and awesome experience during the last 14 months. As my Dad always says, “Life is a series of choices.” I never understood what he meant by this phrase but now I do and you know what?!?! I'm pretty damn pleased with the choices I've made in my life, especially in the last year and a half. Therefore, I have no doubt that I will continue to make good choices, even if it is difficult, I'm certain I've gained the strength to make decisions that will make me happy. Unfortunately, it all seems like a big blur right now. I managed to do a huge purge upon my arrival and clean out my room at my parent's home. Living out of four panniers makes it really easy to come home and get rid of a lot of extra an unnecessary belongings, thankfully. Shortly, I head east to compete in the New York marathon, the perfect activity that allows me to disconnect and let my mind wander. I'll visit friends and family and see familiar places. Sooner or later I think it will come to me; what it is I want to do in the upcoming year. I have a lot of followers telling me they miss following my trip and reading my blog and believe me, I miss it too! Something tells me I'll be on the road again sooner rather than later......

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