Vulnerability, Warts and Whiskers

Vulnerability isn’t a topic I thought I’d be exploring on this trip; though it’s an issue on every trip I’ve ever taken. Anytime we step out of our comfort zones we push against our personal boundaries; whether they be physical, intellectual, or emotional.

The physical vulnerability I anticipated. Living with epilepsy and brain injury I knew they would offer their unique challenges. Sharing the roads, often shoulder-less, with semis, logging trucks, people texting and driving, and holiday traffic, can be jarring and wear on your nerves. Most drivers give me space, every so often someone will crowd me to make a point. Tourist traffic on Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula was so prolific that the sound of cars steadily passing became numbing and energy sapping. One of the perks of towing your canine companions in a trailer is it is much more visible than a bicycle, and you can decorate it with reflective decals, flags, and flashers. It’s also three times as wide as the bicycle and motorists will give me a wider birth, most of the time.

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Crossing the Astoria-Megler bridge connecting Washington and Oregon.

Intellectual vulnerability: challenging your preconceived conceptions, expectations, route planning, and the soundness of your intellect. I thought I planned well; this trip has been bouncing around in my head for years. Despite being familiar with the route, I couldn’t control the weather or prevent several heat waves from hitting B.C. and the Olympic Peninsula. I was happily anticipating the cool misty weather of the northwest. It laid waste my expectations on how many miles I could cover. The heat zapped me, and I ended up taking quite a few extra rest days and covering fewer miles. Then, there’s Houston, my effervescent and unpredictable brain. He’s most mischievous when I’m tired or in a stimulating environment, which includes: bright or fluorescent lights, noise, and people. When Houston is tired, he’s a trickster. More on Houston and his shenanigans later.

Emotional vulnerability has ended up being by far the most challenging and unsettling. I know I have health limitations, and I work hard at compensating and managing them, really hard. It often feels like a full-time job. Sharing or admitting I’m struggling isn’t easy for me, and I often wait until it’s too late, I’m drained, confused, completely inside my head, and shut down emotionally. I become a befuddled old grandpa, chasing kids off my lawn. Intellectually I understand it’s better to fess up before it goes too far, but, even if I’m willing to let my guard down I often don’t realize it even if I’m not consciously trying to push through something. I’m not a lot of fun do be around when I’m in my catatonic state. When I get like that while on the road, I pull over, break out napping paraphernalia, and the girls and I will take a siesta. When I arrive in camp: pitch the tent, walk the girls, feed the girls, feed me, walk the girls, and crawl into the tent. I’m in bed sometimes by 7:30 pm, up at 5:30 or 6:30 am.

When I’m not touring I usually plan carefully: monitoring and managing my energy levels before I’m out and about in public. I’ve lived alone most of my adult life; I’m used to just being me, warts and whiskers when I’m home. At the end of the day, I have enough energy to do the basics and crawl into the tent.

Receiving help and support isn’t something I’m comfortable with either. I receive it awkwardly. I take it as a sign of weakness; people might find me needy, annoying, and pitiful. I also didn’t want to be a burden. I’ve lost a lot to the brain injury; my fierce independence and shredded dignity are all I feel I have left.

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Cape Lookout State Park was magical. I stayed on for four days to recharge my mental and physical batteries.

This trip so far, 625 miles, has had so many layers to it. Intense joy, so overwhelming I feel like I’ll burst, to such intense emotional turmoil that it opens the floodgates. I’ve cried out of joy and sorrow more on this trip than I have in years. I’m not a crier, though I might have to reconsider that belief. I find cycling hypnotic and meditative, soothing and restorative emotionally and physically. I wonder if that’s what’s causing my hardened shell to crack?