Freedom as it turns out, is all about being willing to take risks. I am cycling around the world with my partner. But we give each other a lot of freedom and independence on the journey. By riding alone most days, I give myself the opportunity to go my own pace and stop when I want.
When I am alone, I am more alert to everything around me. I need to be completely responsible for myself. Cyling in Asia, the people are so helpful and friendly and absolutely willing to assist if needed—especially because I am cycling off the beaten tourist path. I am such a rarity, they are thrilled to see me. Even though I feel like I have this underlying support, it just feels different to be on my own rather than cycling with a partner.
It is also excellent for the relationship. It is really exciting to reconnect and learn how each of us managed. We are both on the same (or at least similar) route and yet separate.
Of course there is a risk traveling alone. I might get lost. I might have technical problems with my bicycle. I am vulnerable as a single female (although nearing 50 years old I am starting to realize I am less desirable). In fact, the other day, a scooter drove by and grabbed my boob—hard! At first I was furious, then scared—what else might happen. But I quickly pulled myself together and decided that these few idiots are not worth my freedom. The benefit is far greater than the risk.
The ride to Bukit Lawang is such a good example of a memorable solo journey. I left my riding partner pretty early in the morning because I knew it would be a long day—140 km. But the navigation program said it would be pretty much downhill so I was not too worried. From the very beginning it started to climb but I was enjoying the scenery; glad to be off the highway with all of the trucks piled tall with animals, palm oil, and other goods. After about 30 km, I was to turn left—onto a very remote, extremely bumpy dirt road. I have a Cannondale roadbike with Schwalbe (extremely durable, but also very thin) tires with no shock absorbency.
After about 20 km moving quite slowly, sometimes walking my bicycle on this unmaintained dirt road with very steep inclines and declines, the sky became very dark. I was on a dirt road which meant that it would become a muddy mess when it got wet.
On these long, difficult rides where I have to walk my bicycle and it seems to go on forever, I make a deal with myself. I say, “We (me and the voices in my head) will go as far as we can. If we do not make it all the way, it is okay. We can always stop. If there are no hotels, we can accept hospitality from the locals. If we are in the middle of nowhere, we can make place to sleep outside. No matter what it will be an adventure. It will be a challenge. It will be memorable. These are all things that I value; even cherish.
It seemed nearly impossible that I would make it before dark. But suddenly, the road changed. It became a perfectly smooth paved road—downhill. Maybe we (me and my voices) had a chance. It went back and forth like this—perfectly smooth paved to practically unridable, remote, rocky, bumpy, steep.
But I was pretty happy the entire way because I was finally giving myself the opportunity for what it has been craving—an opportunity to be on my own in challenging and unpredictable situations.
About 40 km left, I got very hot and completely ran out of energy. But I knew I had no choice but to keep riding. Even though I had given myself the opt-out opportunity, there was no choice in my mind at that point. I would get there. I do not always remember how determined I can be. This ferocity and passion fuel me in these difficult times. Maybe this is why I like to put myself in these situations. They show me what I can do and that I am so much stronger than I can possibly imagine.
As night started to descend, I found myself on a dirt road in the middle of an oil palm plantation. There were some men on scooters riding by every now and then but otherwise I was alone. I kept waiting for a real road to appear—after all I was heading for a town. But as it became completely dark and I was still 9 km away, I turned onto an even more remote forest path.
My phone was running out of power. My power banks were empty. My bicycle light was dimming. There was no moon. It was very dark. There was lightening all around me; threatening a massive downpour. At first I decided to walk my bicycle. It seemed nearly impossible to ride it. But gradually, my eyes and body accommodated to the darkness. I started to feel like maybe I could ride. I got on the bicycle and rode. It was such a surreal feeling. Almost magical; I was riding alone in the darkness of the forest. There was no fear. I was in Indonesia, alone, with my technology failing. But I knew I would be okay.
I passed through a couple tiny villages in the jungle. People waved in the darkness. About 1 km before the town, I arrived at a semi-paved road. And the heavens broke open, the rain came pouring down.
As I road into town, I was greeted by one of the hotel owners on a scooter who took me to my partner who had arrived a couple hours before.
I did it. I made it. It was as though something outside of me helped pull me along. To me, this is the magic that drives me to live to my fullest. It is what life is about. I love surprising myself. Showing myself what I can do. It is not about proving anything to myself or anyone else. It is just about the sheer surprise.
I was a timid, quiet, insecure kid. I was the last to be picked for sports. I could not climb the rope or do the rings for the presidential exam. I was not particularly adventurous or imaginative. I did not have high expectations for myself.
So much has changed. I am learning what is possible. And that there is so much more that is possible that my mind cannot even dream up right now. But I will keep putting myself out there. I will keep challenging myself. I will wait with excitement to see how I surprise myself next.