Ride with purpose - [PART TWO] Day fourteen to seventeen || Film and words by Birralee Hassen
DAY THIRTEEN Aug 17th
I didn’t write this morning. So these are evening pages. I feel I have a little to catch up on now because I want to write about yesterday and today. I may even change my tactic and write in the morning and evening, if I can. I feel like I would be giving a more accurate mental account of my day in the evening than after having a sleep. Things always feel different after a sleep. Things are just always feeling different, regardless. I was thinking that today as I rode, how normal it is to have a diverse range of emotions. We can be so sure of ourselves in one moment, and then be feeling/ thinking completely differently the next. And that is ok. We are human and our emotions and thoughts and feelings are going to change.
I’m currently sitting on a log, my pasta starting to boil in front of me, my swag and a creek to my left, my yoga mat and my bike to my right. My laptop out, silver juxtaposed against the green of my surroundings.
Ok, so yesterday. I resented everything. I resented America, and the people who live here. I resented the freeways, I resented Google maps for taking me down a road barricaded by barbwire, I resented the sun shining down on me. I resented my bike, I resented my knee for being sore, I resented me, for ever thinking that this was a good idea.
Once again, I felt scared. I had my head down, at one point, looking at Google maps to make sure I was heading in the right direction. “You’d want to be careful having your head down like that,” said an older man passing the opposite direction, on his own bike “There’s a lot of freaks running around here”. My response, now generic but still sincere, “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t need you projecting your fears on to me”. For some reason though yesterday, this interaction really got to me, and I felt tears running down my face as I rode on. I do sometimes feel scared, but I don’t need someone else to heighten my fears. Fear is ultimately just in the mind, so I can choose to let it live there, eagerly growing when fed thoughts or words by others or myself, or I can choose to put my focus elsewhere and let it wither away.
I had an interesting interaction with my intuition yesterday, the first time that I have heard a voice telling me/had a feeling, to turn back. I was riding around Dorena Lake, taking a bike route that followed the waters edge. I was thinking to camp somewhere along there, as the sun was starting to dim its light. I stopped about 3 or 4 kilometres in, something just didn’t feel right. I should be camping on the other side of the lake. But that meant turning around, covering ground that I already had covered. I deliberated for quite some time, forty minutes passing before I decided that for whatever reason, it felt right to turn back. Everything was fine and I did camp on the other side of the lake, so I’ll guess I’ll never know if it was a justified turn around or not, and I’m quite happy to leave it that way. We all have a little sense inside of us, our inner wisdom and knowing, that can be heard when we listen to ourselves. Strengthened by focussing the gaze, with the eyes closed, between the brows, our intuition will guide us if we allow. The answers are already there.
DAY FOURTEEN 18th August
So at the end of today I would have been on the bike for two weeks. Yahoo. That’s something to be proud of I’m sure. I was thinking last night as I lay in bed about the different places that I have been and seen so far on this bike trip. So often with travelling or with any moments, we look back on them with nostalgia, a fondness that highlights the good times and dims the bad. But I’m doing this right now; I’m sitting right now, with my swag unzipped and my jumper on to keep the morning chill at bay. I’m here, right now, with a gentle haze from wild fires in the region filling the sky. I’m listening, right now, to the sounds of the stream and the morning chirps from the birds. I’m feeling; right now, the tightness in certain muscles of my body and the beginnings of a chaffing right butt cheek. (This I am feeling with a slight bit of resentment – the chaffing butt part isn’t meant to come until Burning Man – not before!) But this is me, right now, living through and in all I have, which is right now.
I haven’t had phone reception for a few days. I probably should have mapped out my route a little better than a screen shot of direction, too zoomed out to have any road names or numbers visible. I stopped at a store yesterday, my last water stop for a while, and the lady used her Wi-Fi to write out directions for me. I must have placed the directions down and not put them on the bike because when I got eight miles in to the road that I was on, I remembered there being an eight mile reference (or am I thinking of a movie title?) and went to get them out to check. No directions to be found. I carried on, passing two old guys who were camped keeping regulations on who comes to the area for mining gold. “You’ve got a hell of a climb ahead of you kid”, he said. “I’m guessing 3000ft. And when you get to the top, make sure you take the fork to the left”.
He wasn’t wrong. I started my incline nearly right away, and didn’t get more than 25metres without having to stop to break. This carried on for a while. Ride, stop, ride, stop, push the bike, stop, ride, stop, push the bike, and I’m sure you can use your imagination for the rest. It was hard sometimes to keep going, it felt so steep. A ute had passed me at the bottom, and I was kicking myself for not asking for a lift to the top. “Next car that passes, I’m asking”, I told myself. No car came for about another hour, and there were times when I didn’t want to keep going. There’s a time for being still, and a time for action. There were times when I needed to stop, to listen to the incredible silence that isn’t silent at all, to the trees waving gently in the wind, to the endless vast nothingness that comes with no humans for miles. There are also times when I needed to act, because staying stationary wasn’t going to help my plight in any way and that hill had a lot more incline in it that needed climbing.
A truck came around the corner at the bottom of the hill that I could see. “Can I grab a lift to the top?!” I asked. “Sure” he replied. He pulled over and got out of the car. I had to be ok with this, I needed help to the top, but I also had to be wary about getting in an unknown mans car. As I was putting my bike in the back of his Ute, another car passed in the opposite direction. This made me feel better because someone had witnessed the interaction. My eyes were quick to notice the switchblade on his belt buckle and the guns laying on his back seat as I got in the car, hearing the automatic lock as I shut the door. I got talking as soon as I could, telling him about my brother who hunts back in Australia, my dad who gave me the idea for the bike ride, how I was doing it for mental health awareness, and how I was meeting my friend at the airstrip the following day (Lie, I am planning to meet Mark in a few days time but I felt it better to be held accountable to someone as soon as possible.) He told me how he was up here hunting black bear and cougar.
“Just to the top is fine,” I told him, “the downhills are the fun part anyway”. He dropped me at the top, another car, and the only other one I saw the entire day, passing in the opposite direction as I got out. So maybe not the best situation to put myself in, but also, as we drove up and up and up, I was extremely grateful to Dustin and his truck, because I would have been pushing my bike up for another two hours at least, and most likely would have extremely hurt my body. I felt divinely looked after, and as I zoomed down the other side of the mountain for the better part of an hour, I smiled, knowing that I am protected, I am loved, and that I have angels, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, maybe I’ll just call it Tyler, looking out for me big time.
As I moved through my yoga practice yesterday afternoon the word “trust”, popped in to my head. I had been extremely trusting yesterday, but I have to trust that it is all going to work out fine. It always does. Even when it doesn’t, it does. Placing my trust in something higher than myself, takes the stress off me. I have no need to worry; instead I can just trust that everything is working out, exactly as it’s meant to. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this, and I spend my days making up different scenarios in my head. Ultimately, things happen without my control, what will be will be. So how much better, that I spend my time and thoughts trusting than stressing?
Another stillness-guided train of thought I allowed myself to hear, was “Just be. Stop overthinking everything, and just be”. I easily can spend so much time thinking thinking thinking, when if I just stop, and just be, then a calmness can come over me like a blanket being lifted, shaken and then drifting down to settle perfectly. The best technique that I have found in these moments is first to recognise that the thoughts are running wild. Next is to breathe, deeply, and to consciously exhale. Locating the breath, acknowledging it, bringing awareness into it so that it isn’t happening subconsciously, is the most effective way I have learnt to just be. After the breathe I take my awareness to the external, I listen for what I can hear and I look, truly look, for what I can see. Yesterday I lay on my back and looked up at the trees above me, watching the different patterned branches and leaves move with the wind against the blue sky behind.
DAY FIFTEEN 19th August
Yesterday was a big day. Probably my most physically challenging, so far. I started low, turning east after leaving my camp by the creek. I passed a family and asked them if they knew about road closures due to bush fires. “The 138 was closed east bound yesterday, the fire jumped the road”, the dad replied. “But I mean you could always try to sneak on through”. A car slowed to a stop as I rode towards the smoke “The road is closed down there, they won’t let you through.” I kept riding, willing everything I had to not have to turn around. The closest town back on the main road was 40 miles away, and then at least another 100 to get to crater lake. I arrived at the road block “Please don’t make me go back over those mountains” I laughed to the guys standing there shaking their heads. “Tell you what, we can put the bike in the back of the truck and I’ll drive you the few miles through the fire zone”. So we loaded in the bike, I got a lift a few miles, and then I got to ride the rest of the day with hardly any cars passing me on the highway due to the road block.
I bribed myself as the road went up, and up, and up. When you get to the 30-mile mark you can eat an apple. It was a gradual incline at least, slowly going up to 5000ft. Finding things to be grateful for kept me sane yesterday. Grateful that I hadn’t had to turn around. Grateful for the lack of cars. Grateful for the wind when it changed to cool. The slow incline.
I stopped for lunch at Toketee Falls, a beautiful waterfall that created a pool in the ravine before spilling over the edge into the basin beneath it. I sat for a while and did my favourite waterfall experience, tracing a single drop with my eye as it falls over the edge and following it to the base. It slows everything down.
I nearly cried yesterday as I was riding up one steep part. “I miss you Tyler” I thought to myself as I peddled, peddled, peddled. “You’ve got this darlin’” I heard his voice in my head. A brilliant orange butterfly came and started flying next to me, and stayed beside me for until the road started to bend. It took my mind off what I was doing and gave me something to look at, I couldn’t help but laugh through the tears starting to well in my eyes as I thought of Jed calling Tye “Nature Boy”.
I felt physically shattered as I neared my destination. “You’ll know you’re at Diamond Lake when you get to the 79-mile post,” the guy who gave me a lift through the fires, Brad, told me. At the 78-mile post I stopped, and it took everything in me to go that last mile.
I arrived late, just catching the sunset as it set over the mountains. The sunset was incredible and the whole day was put to rest in the most magnificent Mother Nature show possible. I watched, exhausted and mesmerised as the hazy smoke turned the sky to a pink reminiscent of an Indian morning. Snow on the mountains, the water reflecting the brilliant beams, the sound of waves gently lapping the shore somehow not out of place, even at 5000ft elevation.
Now I’ve got another day of climbing, 7700ft apparently is where Crater Lake sits above sea level. Eeeep. Ah well this is something I have wanted to see for a while, and there’s no mountain that will get in the way of me seeing what I want to see and experiencing what I want to experience. Bring it on - (maybe said with a little less gusto than before yesterday, ha).
DAY SIXTEEN 20th August
Well yesterday brought with it a complete change of plans. But plans that feel good, and right. I rode seven miles (slowly, up) from Diamond Lake and turned right, preparing for the fifteen mile, 2500ft climb to the top. A car was pulled over on the side, and I stopped and said hello to the older lady who was walking around it. We got to talking, she offered me some honeydew melon and coffee, and then a lift to the top! Um... yes. A big fat yes from me. Vicky was her name and we drove to the top and around the rim. There was smoke filling the sky everywhere to our right, and we were expecting it to be smoky inside the crater as well, but it was surprisingly and wonderfully clear. The surface of the water mirror imaged the mountain edges, and the lake water a deep (the deepest in the US actually) blue.
Vicky, who is in her 70’s, was heading back to the coast of northern California, where she lived with her partner of 28 years, Beverly. “You’re welcome to come with me as far as you’d like,” she told me. So here I am, in Vicky and Beverly’s spare bed, going to continue riding my way down for the next week along the coast and through the red wood trees. Yesterday we stopped and saw just some of the gentle giants, which have been silently growing here since the Romans marched on Mesopotamia. Their wisdom can be felt by tipping your head back and looking up, up, and up at their trunks growing straight, their shallow roots holding them steady as they reach for the sky.
I’ll now have to find lifts at certain points to make it to Burning Man on time, but it felt right to go with the flow yesterday, and it feels right to be on the coast, with the trees. I will make it to the desert still I know, and I would much rather spend the week riding here than through a smoky, hot desert on a freeway. Life works in funny ways and here I am and I’m ready for today!
Nobody is more significant or insignificant than another.
That goes for humans and all animals and plants.
Today I felt lonely, starved of human interaction. My apple must have fallen out of my bag, discovered when I was really looking forward to it half way up a hill (turns out it was only the base of a mountain), I smashed my glass jar with my blackberries inside, and the brown paper bag burst quinoa bombs through my panniers. I got stuck on a trail and had to carry my bike across a landslide. I got my first flat tyre, why are there so many hills?
Little things can be exacerbated when there are other things going on in your life. Things like feeling alone and missing friends and family amplify the severity of hardship. Everything feels better when you know you have the support of the people you love, and it works visa versa also. In these moments I have to remind myself of all the amazing people in my life, especially people like Madi. Because even though these shitty things happened I still had a really good day.
It depends how you look at loneliness. You can feel lonely or you can feel alone.
By being by yourself you learn a lot more. When you always hang around the same people it’s easy to get stuck in conversation habits that follow the same theme. Which, don’t get me wrong can be great, how comforting to know there is the friendship group at home that you can easily slide into effortless conversation with. But being on the other side of the planet, or anywhere new outside your comfort zone, where you find yourself standing around a in a group of new people interacting for the first time, it can feel daunting to know what to talk about.
Every experience is learning, but don’t try too hard to learn that lesson or you’ll miss what’s going on right in front of you. Don’t try to teach others, try to learn from them. But also share some light on dark conversations. Spend your time filling your head with what really matters. Just slow down and listen, to others and to yourself.
I guess I wasn’t really lonely today. I spoke with Vicky in depth today about spying on her girlfriend of 28 years, and the importance of honesty in relationships. I spoke with Madi. I spoke with Cath. I spoke with the guys at the hike and bike camper. It was different kinds of interactions, like with trees and new people and through a phone.
DAY SEVENTEEN 21st August
Well I wrote last night, does that take away from my morning pages? It’s hazy outside my swag, I see limbs heavy with moss and a box where you put your food so that bears don’t get to it. I left my pot of quinoa on the table overnight, whoops. There is a paddock filled with elk, that’s where I got my first flat tyre yesterday.
As I was stopped at a lookout, a car pulled up and was like “Did you drop this?” Handing me a box with a spare tyre tube in it. “No, I didn’t”, I replied. “Well what size tyre do you have, maybe you can use it.” I didn’t know, but turns out the spare would fit mine. “I better not get a flat now that you’ve given me this!” I joked.
I met Cath on the road later in the day, from the UK but living in Melbourne. “I’ve had five flat tyres in five weeks,” she told me. “What do you mean you haven’t had any?!”
It was bound to happen, more talk of flat tyres in a day than I have thought about in the whole time I’ve been on the road, but how perfect that I was given a spare tube just that morning. I don’t actually know what I would have done otherwise. Bumble my way through the puncture repair kit that I have somewhere, I guess. And it’s so lucky that I was with a flat tyre extraordinaire because I haven’t actually changed a bike tyre before. Now I have.
We rode through so many red woods yesterday. Their sheer size is magnificent. A 22m circumference was on one of the biggest that we stopped to look at. It had its very own road sign, pointing in to the forest ‘Big Tree’. I am headed today for Eureka, and just after there is a place called ‘Avenue of the Giants’.
Today is the eclipse. We are not in the line of totality down here in California, but up in Oregon in certain parts the sky will dim for four minutes as the moon moves in front of the sun, creating a night sky for those lucky enough to not be in
I didn’t ride that far today. I stopped at the top of a hill, felt displaced and alone, and started to cry. The hills felt hillier than usual, and my thoughts were not in a good place. It’s funny though, how one moment can seem like it’s the end of the world, and the next it’s all ok. I’m laying now, in my swag, at a hiker/biker camp at Patricks Point, I’ve eaten some food, met two other girls who are also cycling solo, and I’m feeling way warmer, inside and out.
I spent most of my ride today thinking about how I could not be riding. Could I get a lift, could I just stop. I felt unmotivated. I stopped wherever I could, for packaged sugary snacks that definitely added to my waste bag, and didn’t care in the slightest. I then felt frustrated at the amount of waste that I cycled past, watching a car ahead of me blatantly through full bin bags into the bush, and keep driving. Then I felt frustrated at myself, how can I claim to care about these things when I am part of the problem? I felt frustrated that I couldn’t control my mind, one minute thinking I was on the greatest adventure of a life time, cycling right down the middle of it, the next wishing that the whole thing were over. I felt worried, about the coming days and making it to burning man in a week. Then I felt frustrated, because I know that it will all work out fine, so why is it so hard to remind myself of that?
We all know what is best for us. We all know, somewhere within, what works. The issue is being able to remind ourselves of these things in the moments that suck. I did have a moment of clarity today, as I was riding along, thinking that even if parts of today weren’t great, it would soon be over. In the same way that the parts of today, that were great, would too soon be over.
I need to not resist the fact that some moments are hard. It’s reminding myself that they too shall pass. It’s reminding myself that I chose to do this, I chose to be here, and right now this is what it is. I can choose to resent my mind, or I can work with it, knowing that yeah, some moments do suck, but it’s going to be fine. It’s going to be more than fine.