Life has a confusing and often harsh way of teaching you lessons.
June 18, 2013: Porpoise Bay, British Columbia to Saltery Bay, British Columbia. Today was the epitome of this.
My cycle began at Porpoise Bay Inlet and if I followed my guidebook, it would end with a ferry ride from Earls Cove to Saltery Bay where I would camp. My guidebook, however, did not prepare me for an entire day spent in anxiety because of the route between Porpoise Bay and Earls Cove.
Why this anxiety you ask?
Yesterday, I rode up the worst mountain I have ever cycled. The mountain took me about 45 minutes to complete, had two false summits, was long and so incredibly steep. In order to get through the climb, I yelled at the mountain twice and ultimately convinced myself that I was walking. It was a huge wake-up call on the first day of my cycle tour.
This is not a story about that mountain, which I totally conquered. This is about how my feelings for mountains were decidedly different after that first one. My guidebook has graphs depicting the elevation I’ll encounter each day. My guide depicted the big mountain from yesterday as:
My guide depicted the three big mountains from today as:
Note the dark shaded areas at the top of the mountains—those shaded areas were what gave me the anxiety.
Last night I went to bed convinced I would take today off.
The forecast was for rain and I was pretty sure that I was not ready to conquer those shaded mountain bits. I felt a wave of shame and disappointment at this decision, but I needed to be compassionate with myself.
In the morning it was raining, but I didn’t want to spend another day in Porpoise Bay; my soul wanted to keep journeying and keep the momentum. Leaving camp late, I told myself I’d only cycle as far as I could and be proud that I made it out of camp.
After a grueling set of climbs, including summiting the first big mountain, I pulled over and grabbed a snack in the shade. A man came out of a nearby house. His name was Ryan, he restored old boats and his family lived in Madeira Park, a town located between the second and third massive mountains. He showed me the route to his family’s house and said I could camp in their backyard. I was so grateful for having met him. I was saved from conquering three shaded mountain bits in one day! I rode on with added enthusiasm.
The second big mountain wasn’t so bad. It didn’t have a false summit, and took only about 10 minute to climb. Plus, it was the last shaded mountain bit I planned to conquer that day. It could eat my dust!
Around 2:30 p.m., I ate lunch next to a waterfall and reviewed my maps. I was already at Madiera Park. Celebrate! I decided not to camp at Ryan’s parents’ place but instead continue on to Garden Bay where the massive last mountain would wait just beyond for the next day.
Garden Bay came and went and still, there was no epic mountain. My anxiety was mounting. Where was the third mountain? What did it look like? When would I encounter the telltale dip in the road and the sharp steep incline that arcs into the tree cover?
My anxiety was dominating my thoughts, especially because I could barely handle the cycling I was doing. It was truly intense.
Continually rolling hills that weren’t extremely steep seemed endless. It was uphill after uphill. And the downhills that looked like but didn’t feel like downhills made me breathless. What was going on?
I started shaming myself for struggling on the rolling hills and began doubting my resilience.
My internal dialogue was going crazy. I felt I was failing! I didn’t have enough touring experience. I wasn’t strong enough. I’d never cycled on BC mountains before.
Then, after the hundredth hill, I was on a descent that was massive and so steep! It wound around cliffs, creeks, trees and waterfalls and kept winding downwards. Suddenly it clicked: that whole time I had been riding on the massive third mountain!
Like having a bucket of cold water thrown on me, I experienced a release that was sublime. I yelled out,
“Yes! This is it!”
I saw a sign that noted 6 kilometers to Earls Cove and laughed aloud. I think I even did a fist pump.
I had to laugh at myself for being my own worst enemy. I had doubted my abilities and said “I can’t” all the while physically succeeding where I believed I could not. In retrospect I am grateful for that experience because it taught me a lesson:
Don’t “can’t” that which you have not tried. In fact, take “can’t” out of your lexicon.
My only regret of the day was that I wasted a lot of energy on negative thoughts. I could have used that energy to open my ears more, smell the forest more and appreciate each mountain instead of using each summit to measure my strength.
As well, I’ve stopped looking at the elevation guide. I know I can cycle up mountains. It’s everything else that I’d like to focus on.
Earls Cove, BC. What a way to celebrate a triumphant cycle!
Carol Burbank is a cyclist, yogi, hiker, feminist, lawyer, lover and trickster. Born and raised in Toronto, she spent summers on an island in the Shawanaga Inlet on Georgian Bay, in a cabin with an outhouse and no electricity. She quit her job practicing Labour and Human Rights law to cycle the Pacific Coast of North America.
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- Assistant ed: Cat Beekmans