This post is inspired by Eleanor Moseman’s excellent article “Ni haipa ma?” Are you scared?
“Aren’t you scared to ride alone?” I get this question, or some variation, almost daily. My usual answer is a definitive No. But that’s the short answer, for short conversations. The real answer is more complicated.
A few months ago, at a Writing by Writers conference in Boulder, CO, writer Pam Houston revealed that one of her greatest fears was being bored. What a wonderful thing, to hear that my favorite author and I shared the same ultimate fear. I have carried a terror of boredom since childhood. My father used to tell me, “Only boring people are bored.” This became the worst of insults, to be considered boring by someone whose opinion mattered so much to me. I think my fear of boredom is one thing that kept me from quitting drinking for so long, that sobriety would transform me into an un-fun, anti-party person.
I am scared of having a boring life, so I am compelled to doing crazy things like riding a bicycle across America. The thought of having a regular life, with a regular job, with regular hours, sounds like soul-sucking death to me.
I am scared of living with regret. Regret of dreams unchased. Every few days, I meet someone in a campground who gazes at my loaded bicycle with that look. Then they’ll tell me about that one trip they did that one summer, how it was the greatest trip ever. Or how they always wanted to take a bike trip and never got around to it, and now they’re too old or unhealthy or busy to do a thing like that. “It’s never too late,” I tell them. “You can still ride a bike.” To me, that sad shaking head of regret is such a tragedy. Something inside me wants to holler at them for giving in.
All right, I’m a little scared of big weather. Having lived in Asian typhoon country, I shouldn’t be so surprised by the power of storms. But I’ve never camped in so much weather. The day I tried to ride in a snowstorm in Wyoming, the night I tried to camp in an almost-tornado in Minnesota, all that crazy wind in South Dakota: I’m pretty sure that’s what I came for. To break down the four walls of protection. To not be numb to what’s going on outside. Being scared is better than being bored.
On past trips, I’ve been scared by men. Cycling solo in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, I occasionally got harassed by men on motorcycles, or men in hotels. Mostly boys that were looking for some entertainment, but once in awhile I’d encounter someone with frighteningly bad intentions. I haven’t felt that way once on this trip. I don’t really know how to explain this. Luck? Confidence? Certainly there’s no lack of men on motorcycles in America. I suppose a woman alone, living outside the bounds, is not such a target here. I am an object of curiosity and amusement, yes, but so far not harassment. This is the sort of surprise lesson that I appreciate.
There was a time when wild camping scared the beans out of me. Pitching my tent outside of a campground, away from any signs of civilization, I would huddle with my flashlight and knife, wide awake and ready for monsters and killers to attack. A few months of practice and I am finally over it. Now it’s a game, to find a good free camp. If it’s got a roof and a nice view, all the better. (Although, I am still plagued by the occasional zombie dream.)
One windy, hungover morning in South Dakota, I huddled in my tent, wondering what was the point of this whole insane trip. Do I even feel anything? I found myself wondering? Then the buffalo herd wandered into camp, surrounded my tent. I stared at the huge animals, defenseless, dread filling my stomach like sour milk. For a raw moment, I was in absolute fear. And when the herd moved on, a rush of gratitude was my answer.