Once I got home from my bike ride to D.C. I crashed, not literally, but mentally and physically. My friends and family all wanted to know how it went and kept asking me to tell them all about it, but the thing is I wasn’t sure I had anything to share.
By all means being on a bike felt normal. Every day while the terrain and route were new to me the motions and the sound of cars whizzing past were all familiar. Being on a bike felt normal. Every day, while the terrain and route were new to me, the pedaling motion and the sound of cars whizzing past me were all familiar. The days felt a bit mundane.
I was biking through the mid-West, some of the prettiest country, in my humble but biased opinion. But honestly, I felt I didn’t have time to take in the sights, I spent my days listening. I was listening to the frequencies of the cars, gauging with my ears how close they were to me, which lane were they in, and dreading the sound of a rumble strip. I spent my days and evenings being fully aware of my surroundings, but not in a place safe enough to stop and smell the roses.
Biking to D.C. felt like a full-time job. I woke up in the morning ate a hotel breakfast, packed up and biked until I couldn’t bike anymore.
The first week I was finding my rhythm. I had a route planned but after the first day of all the twists and turns that left me always reaching for a map I finally decided to relent and take the straight shot via U.S. 30 as far as it would take me. My brother-in-law Shaun flew to Chicago and biked with me for the first two days before he needed to rent a car to get home for work on Monday. We said our goodbyes on the Indiana/Ohio border and for the next two miles I felt utterly alone. I wiped my tears back, focused on the road and resumed listening to the cars passing by.
Fast forward a few days into Ohio and I got pulled over just outside of Dalton, Ohio. Apparently the highway becomes restricted at a certain point. Luckily, I still had my map and knew there was an alternate route to take but it added 15 miles and my first flat tire to my day. Of course it had to be the rear tire and I had only ever changed a front tire, so I had to learn on the fly about properly taking a back tire off without messing up the gears/chain. I called Danny to express my frustration about the day and in the process changing the tire I fixed it! His ears may still be ringing from my loud exclamations of joy when I finally got the tire back onto the rim with no problems, and in a personal record timing I might add. By the time I rolled into the next town dusk was settling along the horizon and I was behind schedule. I made a quick call to my Aunt Juni to ask for a quick mileage/elevation/hourly weather evaluation. I knew I was on an adrenaline high and I wanted to keep up the momentum if it was attainable. We decided that it might be best to just go for it even though it meant I would be riding in the dark.
I think I underestimated the hills and challenges that I would encounter that night.
After that strenuous day I knew I needed a rest day. I slept the day away while I wrapped up my ankles that were desperately fighting off tendonitis. The next morning I prepared for rain and less than two miles out I got another flat tire. I noticed that with the first flat I got that I had punctured my tire and didn’t think to pack a spare (I had never punctured a bike tire before so the possibility didn’t quite enter my mind). I MacGyvered the tire with duct tape and a dollar bill to force it into being functional but I called Tiffany, my friend in Pittsburgh, to ask that she pick me up that night in Lisbon, Ohio so I could get a new tire. As I continued throughout the day my tire kept losing air pressure and I had to keep refilling it to prevent a pinch flat (meaning that the air pressure gets too low the tube gets pinched between the rim and the ground), but 30 miles away from Lisbon, I got another flat tire, my third of the trip, all within three days. I settled into the side of the road and proceeded to change the flat yet again, but this time in the presence of a German Shepard carefully guarding his territory and barking at me the entire time, thankfully he had quite a nice set up that included a fence.
Two flats in one day pushed back my arrival time and put me biking in the dark yet again. Tiffany and I happened to pull into the same parking lot within seconds and didn’t realize until we got to describing our location. We embraced and I took apart my bike to fit into her car.
Within a few miles of driving, the route that I planned to take tightened, signs advised people to remain in vehicles, the hills steepened and the turns sharpened. While I probably could have done that section of the trip by bike I was glad I didn’t have to and that I could gain an extra rest day in Pittsburgh.
Throughout my planning, I was apprehensive about approaching the Appalachians. I eventually concluded that since I was going to remain on a road bike (very narrow tires) that I should take either a dedicated bike path or the train over the East Continental Divide. But given the season (early May/rainy season) and the fact that rain was expected and the Great Allegheny Passage was all dirt which would turn to mud I knew I might end up camping out in the woods unprepared. So, I opted to take the train to Cumberland, Maryland from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I was supposed to arrive in Cumberland by 9 a.m. but with the delays I got off the train closer to 1 p.m. and I still had 40 miles to bike. The beginning wasn’t too difficult but the hills began to increase in grade. That Mother’s Day I finally found the time to mourn my loss and express my anger to God. I found myself walking and pushing my bike up some of them and wondering how long it would take me if I had to walk the whole way. Yet, I was armed with a new back tire I flew down the hills of Maryland… until I got another flat tire. Again along the side of the road I unloaded all my luggage and flipped the bike upside down to change the flat. Just as I was wrapping up, a dark green Subaru with two bikes mounted on the back stopped and asked if I needed any help. As I had done in the past I thanked them for stopping but politely said that I was just finished and was about to be on my way. They disregarded my remarks and got out of their car to offer me a pump so I wouldn’t have to use my hand pump or waste a CO2 cartridge. The couple, around retirement age, proceeded to tell me that I was on one of the toughest routes in the area and that its only used for intense training. They asked if I would like them to take me to the trailhead of a dedicated bike trail that would be less strenuous, more or less flat but it was a dirt/gravel path. Even though it added another 10 miles to my day I decided to chance the gravel and be grateful for the chance to not walk up any more hills (my tendons and the blisters that my heels were forming thanked them profusely). Donny and Marie dropped me off at a gas station near the trailhead, not knowing just how much I needed that kind gesture.
As the sun began to set I approached the trailhead. I noticed that there were some campers just setting up their site and I slowed to ask them if I was headed in the right direction. They gave me directions, filled up my water bottles and sent me on my way. Within seconds of hitting the gravel path my back tire gave way to another flat, and I still had 20 miles of gravel ahead of me.
Eventually, 2.5 hours later emerged into a small town that would host me for the night.
The next couple days were much the same as before but this time I stuck to the bike paths. I enjoyed being able to hear the birds chirp, the water of the Potomac rushing by, and seeing the deer scamper across my path. But once I finally relaxed, and felt at ease, I arrived.
As I finally crossed the Potomac (from the Virginia side) I saw the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument lit up against the night sky. I let out a few sobs, not fully accepting that my journey was finally over.
I think I expected to have more time to reflect on my journey that infertility has taken me on, but I never achieved that. Perhaps I thought I would gain perspective and clarity on where to go from here, but I didn’t really walk away with any inspiration. Instead of inspiration, I left with a resilience and a determination that I wasn’t sure I had but in reality had been inside of me waiting to emerge all along.