I photographed Brayden for the first time when he was 4. This summer, I had the privilege of playing with and running after him and his two sisters.
This session, showing the bond between Kaila and her niece and nephew, makes me smile so hard.
We sought shelter from one of the hottest days of the summer by stopping for ice cream and then proceeded to climb and run our hearts out at the playground.
This kind sir makes me feel free just by watching him dance. He taught me a few good life lessons, introduced me to Sunday Fundays and showed me the culture that lurks beneath the suburban facade of the city we shared for a month.
Being alert in an enormous landscape has confirmed that the day-to-day, small things matter most. Knowing the names of trees. And people and what moves them. Noticing the subtleties of the weather and the gradual turn of the seasons. The look of the land at different times of the day and how it’s textures and smells change with the angle of the sun.
A homestyle vegan meal at Cornbread Cafe with my very good friend Shelda to fuel the final day of my journey.
The afternoon that I rolled up to the sandy beach of the Oregon coast was sadly anticlimactic. I didn’t have anyone to high-five or cheer with. No one knew that I’d just finished the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps the hardest thing I will EVER do. I laid my bike down in the sand and sat, watching the waves for a bit. When envisioning how my finale might look, I thought I might cry. I didn’t. I thought I might cheer. I didn’t. The whole thing was rather Forest Gump-like. I was glad to be done riding.. but mostly happy to be done being alone. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m pretty tired. I guess I’ll go home now.” Wherever that is. I stayed for a while because I felt like I should, and then biked to the highway to hitch a ride bike to Eugene. To HELL with riding my bicycle a mile further than I needed to. I’ve been on a bicycle exactly once (a painful, humid cruiser ride in South Carolina) since finishing #k8bikeswest.
In the weeks since I’ve completed my “roadtrip”, friends and family have been asking me about the lessons I learned along the way. It took me a couple weeks to even come to terms with the fact that I rode my bike 2,500 miles, through 20+ days of rain and over countless mountain passes. I’ve been using the writing of this blog to help myself process through all the memories and little lessons learned. So, now, 38 days later, I’m finally attempting to put into words how this 56 day adventure changed me.
I’ve mulled over these words for the last week, feeling like 6 lines can’t possibly explain how this trip changed me. Yet, I don’t think there is anything else for me to add.
Stagnant and comfortable sameness? Not now. Not me. I’m not interested in “easy” and I’ve learned I DO have what it takes to kick the hard shit straight to the curb. This trip has been the final act of my former life. A pivot point. A turn in the road. It’s been about creating time to change my life. It’s shown me that the obstacle is the path and the chasing IS the dream. Because I had the courage to embark on this journey, I’ve become a little louder. A little more shameless and a whole lot more of the Katelyn that’s always been lurking below the surface. I can’t imagine ever fully returning to life as normal. I’m writing a different story than the one I imagined all those years ago, growing up in Central Kansas.
My heart continues to be the best compass I have.
By week 7, I’d settled into the solitude of the open road. I had a wonderful break from myself in Ketchum, Idaho where I detoured to ride 96 miles of Idaho mountain gravel in Rebecca’s Private Idaho. I made many connections and a few new friends. The race allowed me to see some of the best parts of Idaho and it BLEW MY MIND. I’ll spare you my own write up of the race and send you over to Linda Guerrete’s blog and Eric’s Adventure Monkey site to see more incredible images from the day. Thanks to both of them for letting me borrow a few images to share.
As I prepared to roll out of Ketchum and tackle the 29 mile, 3200ft climb up to Galena summit I ran into THE REBECCA RUSCH. You know, the woman behind Rebecca’s Private Idaho and world-class, podium-dominating mountain/gravel cyclist, book author, Queen of Pain and absolute badass. We chatted about my journey to Ketchum to ride her race and continue to the Oregon Coast and Linda Guerrete snapped some photos that I later learned she’d use for this little write-up of my tour. As I left them, I felt confident about muscling up the mountain pass the day after a nearly 100 mile race. Also on my mind was the thought that my giant, ass-covering panties were hanging from my rear pannier throughout the entire conversation (see above). I traveled with one pair, washed them every morning and let them dry in the wind as I rode. No shame.
I made it up the pass without too much suffer and took this photo partway down. Just after pulling back onto the road, I was within several inches of being hit by a vacationer pulling his 5th wheel. I didn’t realize until later in the day that I had chosen the day after Labor Day weekend to ride on a shoulder-less mountain road. I didn’t know what day it was for most of my tour, and this time it was a dangerous error on my part. The details of the too-close encounter aren’t so important and honestly, I don’t recall everything that happened. But, it was one of those THIS COULD HAVE BEEN IT moments that freaked me out in a pretty bad way. Through what could have only been adrenaline, I made my way through the long descent to level ground. I found a pull off , laid my bike down and just sat with my head between my legs. After 20 minutes (perhaps as the rush wore off) I decided that I couldn’t possibly ride another mile further. I stuck my thumb out (hitch-hiking with a bicycle is as difficult as you might imagine) and hoped someone would stop. Several minutes later a calm, kind, off-duty firefighter stopped to ask if I was ok. When I told her what had happened, she immediately turned off her car, got out and proceeded to check me over and make sure I wasn’t in too much shock. Only when she was certain I was truly ok, did she load my bike into her van and ask where I needed to go. I remain grateful for her rescue.
The day after I nearly died (or maybe just really hurt), was a turning point in my tour. It sounds cliche, but after experiencing what I did, I felt a new appreciation for the sometimes delicate nature of human life. I woke up that morning to frost-covered ground, indulged in homemade sourdough bread french toast, pulled on every warm item of clothing I had (it was 30 degrees!) and set out with a new perspective. I chose to say YES! Yes to singing my heart out while cruising down the highway. Yes to dancing on the side of the road. YES TO LIFE. The rest of my time in Idaho was dream-like.
HOT spring waterfalls? Check.
Jumping into freezing cold river? Check.
Hiking and sunbathing in my underroos? Check. (The water flowing of the orange stuff is near boiling hot)
Second hot spring waterfall in a more secluded spot where I sat alone for hours? CHECK.
Ride bike to Oregon? Have man living under the bridge take photo? Check. Check.
Marvel at the Deschutes River. Check.
Hike with new friends that I met while at Rebecca’s Private Idaho and whom invited me, so generously, to stay with them in Bend. A GREAT BIG ENTHUSIASTIC- CHECK!I was also so privileged to spend some time with my friend, Cedric- who I met while staying in Florence, Italy for a few months. It was such a treat to spend time with this beautiful man. Who, I might add, built his own tiny, straw bale home. SWOOON. (see b/w photo below). He taught me how to shoot a gun, we enjoyed a scrumptious, healthy picnic on top of a mini mountain and watched the sun set behind the Cascades.
And I woke the next morning to hot coffee and a homegrown, homemade breakfast. I know some pretty great people.
The art and lessons of being alone.
As I left Wyoming for Idaho, I found myself suddenly and frighteningly alone. I set out on this bicycle tour to ride the entire thing by myself- never imagining that I’d meet SO MANY other bicycle tourists along the way. Before I knew it, I was 6 weeks into the tour, having only spent a handful of days by myself. I’ve never spent more than a couple of days 100%, completely alone and the first few days were nearly debilitating. I don’t have many photos from this portion of my journey and for days my friends and family had no contact from me. Somtimes it was all I could do to wake up and get on the bike.
I found myself riding and hiking through the Arco desert and Craters of the Moon with tears stinging my eyes. I pedaled and cried and thought a lot. I felt strong and weak at the same time. Then, finally, it became so blatantly obvious that I chose to leave on this trip, not just for the adventurous hell of it, but because I needed to completely wipe the board clean. It took me awhile to become aware of this, because for 5 weeks, I’d had the wonderful distraction of other riders. But with just a few days of riding alone, I realized this was my quest to refuse the desire of filling those empty pages as quickly as possible- with familiar words and characters and plots.
Being on my own forced me, even if reluctantly (and maybe even once, screaming) to seek comfort in being with my self. For 2 weeks, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. I didn’t have anyone to tell about my day, nobody to whisper sweet nothings to, nobody to hold me when I cried, or take care of me when I was sick. Nobody to high-five with after a giant hill or laugh with at the absurd thoughts that pop up during long days of riding. I learned that empty is the most profound discomfort- bottomless and deep. It left me feeling naked and searching for cover. But being empty can also be the one thing that releases you to a freefall long enough to know where solid ground is.
Don’t be afraid of being alone, embrace it. Face the darkness that you feel when you are completely alone and be one with it. Walk right into it, fearlessly. For it is by being one with it, that you will eventually conquer it and start to see that you can fill your own heart with light.
Taste the freedom of THAT. Revel in the attention that you give yourself. Gather it all to you and welcome it home. Experience deeply your autonomy.
I did it on a very long bike ride. How will you explore this freedom?