Over a month later since finishing my bicycle tour along the Mississippi River and I find myself on a flight back up to Alaska for another at-sea contract. I needed the month long time off to reflect on everything that I had learned, gained and experienced out there in order to recount what it all meant, can still be and will become.
And yet I can’t even begin to explain the magnitude of the ride. For starters, I crossed paths with some of the most amazing people – those who helped me to keep going, those who offered their company and presence on my ride, those who gave more than I could imagine or ask for, and those who inspired me without even knowing it. This trip was really about making connections and seeing the greatness in individuals as well as learning how to trust my instincts and regain my faith in humanity.
It’s true that you hear a lot of horrible stories or may know of someone who has been abused, taken advantage of or worst, tragically had their life taken. There is no way to forget or turn a blind eye to these occurrences. And it’s so very sad that they exist. Traveling alone as a female, by bicycle in areas I had never visited before, presented a hard reality and a reaction of fear from friends, family and strangers that I met along the way. Many didn’t understand why I had chosen to be out there the way I was and one gentleman flatly told me: “I would NEVER let my daughter venture out like you are doing. Are you out of your mind?” I didn’t need anyone to understand my desire and drive to ride my bike every day from New Orleans to Minneapolis – it was for me to figure out and know. But I can see why he felt the way he did. Still, I did get impressed reactions and I often wondered if many took bets on whether I would make it or not. Well, I can proudly say that I did! But not without the help from great road-side Samaritans, Warm Showers hosts, campsite hosts, other cyclists and of course, Rolf.
I crossed paths with Rolf in Natchez, Mississippi and had the pleasure of riding side-by-side with him for 3 weeks before we went our separate ways. He taught me everything too! In fact, the night I met him I thought I was done with my tour. I was about to give up entirely. My left knee was in bad shape and I felt a severe sharp pain in it every time I pedaled. This was a result of pushing too hard on the first 3-4 days of my trip. As well, I had encountered two flat tires in the first 3 days and was concerned that I was in over my head with no prior training or understanding of how to do a bicycle tour. When I met Rolf, a wave of relief swept over me. He introduced himself and I learned that he was an avid cyclist with 14 years of touring under his belt. I about cried for joy when I heard this and began pelting him with questions and concerns on finishing my first tour. And he patiently told me everything I needed to know about riding long distances while offering insightful reminders: “be kind to your body” and “what’s the rush?” From that point on we decided to ride together. We laughed about many things, shared lots of stories about ourselves, and relied on each other for advice in different areas of life. After two weeks of being his “MRT apprentice”, I had grown strong both physically, mentally and psychologically thanks to our conversations and the experiences we shared and discussed together. And then it happened, like a baby bird ready to fly from its nest and make a life of its own, I found myself ready to part ways with him when we reached the Quad Cities near Davenport, Iowa. This gave me a week’s worth of riding on my own the rest of the way to Minneapolis.
I needed this part of the trip too. It was during those moments when I was able to put everything that I had been learning and gaining from Rolf to the test, which meant I had to rely on myself and decide which roads to take to get me to my daily destinations and how to pace myself to make it. It was a blast! The amount of self-confidence I gained from this experience has never been heightened before. And then it happened. On June 17th at 3:50pm, I ended my 1,890 mile bike ride (including “getting lost” miles, backtracking miles, and joy ride miles) in the driveway of Trish and Rob Anderson in Golden Valley, MN (near Minneapolis). It was both bitter sweet and surreal. I knew the day would come while I was planning the trip back in February 2014 and I especially knew it would happen while I rode every day and got closer and closer to Minneapolis, but I could never anticipate that successful feeling I had when I dismounted my bike and took off my helmet for the last time on the trip. Nothing else can replace the feeling.
Many pictures were taken along the way, as well as videos of certain moments that captured the essence of the biking lifestyle that I was living for a little over a month. They will serve as great reminders of a dream come true. The take home of this experience is that we are all capable of surprising ourselves every day (big or small) and we can accomplish anything that we set out to do because there is plenty of help and lots of encouragement along the way, whether you’re looking for it or not. This all goes without saying that I encountered a handful of set-backs too, between 6 flat tires total, overcoming a painful knee problem at the beginning of the tour, getting lost almost every day, arriving in three different towns expecting a campsite or place to stay the night and plans falling through, bug problems and bee stings, blistering sun burns, riding into headwinds and climbing difficult hills under the sun on countless days, having my rear rack break halfway through (which I was able to replace), and on and on. And yet I smiled and pushed through with staggering faith that they were all a great part of my story of “Feeling Free on the MRT”.