Since I have some time to kill while awaiting a new atm card, I thought I’d add a few thoughts on what riding solo versus with others has meant to my time on the road thus far. Solo long distance touring offers a lot of time to search the recesses of your mind and try to put life events in perspective. Long distance touring with others offers shared experiences that immediately form unbreakable bonds and a needed sense of connectivity. And any long distance tour offers a wonderful mixture of both.
Solo riding offers up all of the expected advantages / disadvantages: decision-making ease; time ease; food ease; route ease / loneliness. Most would easily give up the luxuries of solo riding to share the trip with others. For me, though, getting comfortable with one's own sense of fear and experiencing the ultrarunner’s “onion” are capable only through solo time in the saddle and definitely worthy exploring.
If you let it, solo riding gives you plenty of time to spend with fear. Fear flowed through my veins while I stared out the window as the SF runway rushed beneath. I had just actively upended my life. If things didn’t shakeout as “expected” the luxury of being able to point at someone/something else was gone; it was squarely on my shoulders. The best part of the trip has not been the riding and South American epicness. It was the day I decided to put architecture on hold for a bit because it set in motion a whole series of events I never would have experienced without leaping into the void. With many miles under the tires, I have realized the fear of breaking away from the norms and safety of my life and doing this trip was not the issue. At the core it was a fear of making a mistake and looking dumb in the eyes of others. There’s a great quote by David Icke I have referred to when fear creeps back towards the surface:
“The greatest prison people live in, is the prison of what other people think.”
Fear is a good thing when you don't turn and run from it.
There’s a concept often repeated by ultrarunners about “peeling the onion.” It’s a late race condition when the “outer layers” of running strength, flexibility and stomach calmness have long since vanished and you’re in a slog of forward momentum, trying to mentally shut off the portion of your brain suggesting this is no longer a good idea. If you ignore the mind, the “inner layers” of raw perseverance are exposed and take over in ways that you never thought possible.
For me, the deepest layers of the onion are achieved only while solo, as there’s a certain amount of sufferfest necessary to endure without anyone else to rely on for moral support or shared misery. The stretch I rode along the Argentinian border between Los Antigous and Paso Roballos and then back into Chile through Valle Chacabuco ripped off the outer layers in style. I slogged forward in a ridiculous headwind that mercilessly blew me off my bike time after time for two days straight. But the feeling of sitting atop the lunar landscaped pass in Argentina and then being the only person for miles throughout the expanse of Valle Chacabuco with gale force winds raging day and night was solitarily magical.
I’ve been accused of thinking too much by more than one ex-girlfriend, so mixing in new great friends along the way has been a fantastic offset to lone wolfing. Riding with others and sharing experiences takes on a level of specialness that becomes the lasting memory after all of the spectacular mountain vistas, sunsets and sunrises have receded into the depths of ones memory. The laughter, smiles, glint in friends' eyes become the real soul of the trip.
The night Flavia, David, and I rode back from Operation Penguin generated a shared energy we passed back and forth full of amazement, gratitude, and awe as the sunset continued to grow more and more spectacular with each pedal stroke until the fiery sky slowed to a simmer to let us know what we had experienced was only left to remain treasured in our minds and hearts for years to come. The experience was not simply seeing a beautiful sunset but about the shared energy it created amongst us.
Conclusions? I'm extremely grateful for all the people I've spent time on and off the bike with since Banff and all the people who have lent a helping hand and smile along the way. I'm looking forward to continuing to enjoy what's offered up whether lone wolfing or with others and keeping the pavement to a minimum.