On my way through Washington, I stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. It was 90ºF, and I had been detoured 10 miles out of the way due to an unexpected road closure, and had managed to get myself lost (yet again, to the surprise of no one), and was now 85 miles into what was meant to be an 80 mile day. I pulled up and parked my bike against the side of the building, then headed in to replenish my water and sports drink supplies. When I approached the counter, the lady behind it asked me where I was headed. I paused just long enough to feel awkward, trying to decide what the correct answer was.
"Seattle," I replied, finally. It was only a couple hundred miles away, but she looked impressed and launched into a series of questions.
"That's so far! Aren't you scared? I would be scared. SO many big trucks out there! And you're so little! What about cancer? Are you wearing sunscreen? Your right here"—she gestured at her nose and cheeks—"they are a different colour! In my home country, they wear a covering. Maybe you should wear a covering, too."
I laughed a stilted laugh, replied that I was scared but also excited, assured her that I was reapplying sunscreen as often as I remembered, and exited stage right as quickly as I could politely accomplish.
Conversations about my trip are a bit awkward for me. It's not that I'm not excited about it so much as it is that I'm so excited that I fear I'll end up being that person who just drones on tirelessly about themselves. I also don't want to sound like I'm bragging about this totally awesome thing that I'm doing. At the same time, lying about it would be a bizarre and inappropriate response, and there's this part of me that really wants to brag about this totally awesome thing that I'm doing, so when people ask me about it I find myself hesitating. What do I say? If I say I'm on a bike tour, do I tell them I'm heading to whatever place I'm planning to sleep that night? To San Diego? When I consider it, the ego in me wants people to know that my trip to San Diego involves a large, easterly detour, because "just going to San Diego" seems like this normal thing that everyone's doing these days, and I want it to be known that I am a unique snowflake. My life is hard.
There are two main lines of questioning you get when doing something big in your life, and so far it seems to apply to any major life choice you make:
1) Practical questions. What are you doing? How long will it take? What kind of preparation is involved?
If someone is well acquainted or experienced in whatever it is you're doing, they might have advice or more specific questions and thoughts for you, but this is the crux of almost every conversation you have the moment your life comes up. Be prepared for the fact that your adventure is, well, adventurous, and people want to know all about it, maybe to gauge how certifiably nuts you are, maybe because they think it's cool, or maybe because they're working up the courage to embark on their own adventure.
2) Fear questions. Aren't you afraid? I'd be afraid, they often tell me. What if you die? What if you get raped? What if you get attacked by a bear? (Ok, that last one probably doesn't apply to all major life choices. But maybe it could!)
And here's the thing: of course I'm afraid. Of course I think about the possibility of death, or what things that could befall me that might be worse than death. There are rational fears, rational fears that I worry about beyond the borders of rationality, or with more frequency than might be healthy, and there are less rational ones, like the concern that everyone in my life might forget that I exist in the few months that I am not in the vicinity.
So I prepare, like any reasonable person would, and keep an eye out for potential disasters. I stop at stop signs, listen to my gut when something feels unsafe, and check for cars before venturing into shoulder-less sections of road. I carry bear spray and people spray, too. But I do not hold back.
Consideration of fear alone results in a terribly skewed decision-making tree which, in my mind, would lead to a mad reclusiveness within padded walls built (and disinfected!) entirely by oneself in a wide open plain away from any/all trees. I don't even know how you'd go about eating food. From a less ad absurdum perspective, it still seems like a colourless world devoid of meaningful connection, and it breaks my heart.
I am afraid. Afraid of all of the things that could happen to me out in this massive, unrelenting world that wouldn't even skip a beat if it lost me. I am afraid of the day when everything seems to go wrong, when I'm sitting on the side of the road, out of water, bike mangled, in tears, alone. I am afraid, and there are moments when I am tired and think about catching a train to the next place. I am afraid of not being good enough, in all the ways that one can be not good enough, which is a lot of ways, especially when you are the critic.
I have not bested these fears. I don't stare them down with an epic determination that is generally accompanied by a soundtrack and a 90-minute resolution. I don't have advice on finding courage or being unafraid. I am not an avid cyclist who can't imagine life without a bicycle. I am a girl who is sometimes afraid, sometimes giddy with glee, who is alone but not quite as alone as she imagines. I am a girl who has decided to ride her bike for a while and see what the world has to hold.