There are times on this trip when I question my abilities. Am I really capable of doing this? What are we even doing here? Why am I doing this? What is the value of this? These thoughts generally make a pronounced appearance when we are somewhere that feels like the middle of nowhere.
As we lay in our tent this morning, still warm in our sleeping bag, surrounded by mountains, miles from the nearest village, rain began to spatter on our tent and I suddenly felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. The roads we'd been riding were barely passable in good weather, but in rain, I didn't see how we could continue at all. Even the push up the steep path, back up to the real "road" would be impossible.
We'd be stuck out here, at the mercy of our surroundings, for god knows how long. Though we just stocked up on food and had enough for several days, being trapped in the mountains was another story. We would sit, stuck in Romania, slowly watching our supplies dwindle down to nothing. At which point, we would waste away and die.
Tyler, with a finely-honed sensitivity to my every mood immediately said, "I feel a heaviness coming from you. What's your deal? Come on, spit it out." And I had to laugh, and thank the heavens I found such a perceptive partner, who knows when something is up with me, sometimes before I can even articulate it.
I told him about my fears, and he laughed as usual, and re-assured me as well as he could. Thankfully the scattered drops stopped, and did not create mudslides, avalanches, or other causes for distress. So we packed up camp, ate breakfast, checked email, filled our water bottles, and got ready for the big push out of the bowl we had camped in.
Yesterday's pushing and subsequent search for an elusive cave, involving every ounce of courage to climb up and down rock faces, ford swiftly-flowing streams, etc. had pretty much sapped me dry of any desire to go adventuring. It was all the adventure I could handle for the time being. I don't feel like the type of person who climbs mountains, who comes careening back down, poised and looking cool on their mountain bike.
This whole encounter snapped me out of my funk and reminded me why it is that we go slowly, why it is that we take the rutted track through the mountains instead of sticking to pavement. Suddenly the steep pushing and the rocks and the mud were all worth it.
Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen visited Romania as part of an epic world bicycle tour spanning two years and twenty five countries. To read the second half of this story, visit their website here: http://journal.goingslowly.com/2010/04/universe-provides
As we began the very, very steep push, I longed for a clean, quaint, orderly downtown, where I could sit outside at a restaurant and order some nice sandwich with turkey, tomato, and avocado on a crusty white loaf, with a side of sweet-potato fries, and a lemonade. Then a bookstore with deep, cozy armchairs where I could sit all day reading cookbooks and novels with smooth, colorful covers, relishing the feel of each page as I flipped them, sipping on a ridiculously overpriced hot-chocolate in some horrible-for-the-environment paper cup with a plastic sippy-lid. Oh how blissful that would be.
As we worked as a team to heave our bikes up the steep, rocky slope we wheeled down yesterday in search of a cave, I couldn't help thinking, this is a fricking ironman workout. This isn't biking, this is insane. With the two of us pushing we still could barely make it, and we had to take multiple stops to rest, holding tightly to our brakes so the bike wouldn't go toppling down the hill. Was the cave really worth all this heaving? Was it really worth it to go the extra mile, off road, just to see a fricking cave? And why do we have all of this STUFF anyway. It would be a lot easier if we were "ultralight" cyclists. But I couldn't think of a thing I would care to part with. Up and up and up we pushed. Who needs the gym, just bike around the world, jesus. Nevertheless, it was beautiful. With so many trees, and the sun filtering through them, it reminded me of a place where elves would live. We were in Rivendell. A steep, Romanian, rutted Rivendell.
At long last we reached the top, already exhausted and having gotten nowhere. The riding day was just beginning and it felt as though we'd climbed a mountain. We reached the top and were now faced with a decision. The "road" was almost as difficult as the path had been, rocky, rutted, muddy, and basically impassable by car. Should we backtrack, out of the mountains, and to the town of Drobeta Turnu Severin, or should we continue into the mountains for the 50 more kilometers we had planned on to go visit a monestary, a 50 kilometers that now felt like 5,000 because of the terrain.
Tyler, of course, wanted to continue, but left the decision up to me. In the end, I agreed to carry on, though neither choice seemed particularly inviting at the time. After all, the "road" was crappy all the way down the mountains as well, so we might as well keep going. Besides, this was an adventure, right? I tried hard to convince myself of that fact, but all I felt was that we were being foolish, and I wouldn't mind if I didn't have another adventure again in my whole life. This isn't fun, I thought, this is stupid. I wasn't made for this. But what the hell, we might as well keep pushing.
Soon after the choice was made, the road curved sharply upwards and I immediately regretted the decision I already loathed. The road was basically unridable, so we were forced to push. And push we did. A lot. Forever. Averaging three kilometers an hour or less, we really would be stuck in the middle of nowhere in Romania forever. The end. Goodbye Tara and Tyler. Tyler managed to keep me together by prepping me ahead of time for the steep pushes with things like, "okay we have a 200 meter climb up ahead, but then after that it all levels out". He also gently reminded me of our favorite bad-mood mantra, "you are not your thoughts." Though I appreciated his valiant efforts, I was beyond saving.
I was my thoughts, and they were all kinds of hateful thoughts. I was busily cursing these god-forsaken roads in this godforsaken place, when we saw an old woman up ahead tending her cattle. We said hello, she said hello back, and then I saw that she was knitting! I immediately took my knitting (a hat just like Tyler's, a special request from his dad) out of the handlebar bag and showed it to her. She was tickled, and though we were speaking different languages we could understand each other.
I admired her hand-knitted garments, all thick and warm, though very itchy, and she told me she was currently making a skirt.
Our conversation was put on hold for a brief second when one of her cows strayed onto the road, and she took out her switch and snapped the cow's butt, yelling at it and cackling. We resumed talking about knitting. This whole encounter snapped me out of my funk and reminded me why it is that we go slowly, why it is that we take the rutted track through the mountains instead of sticking to pavement. Suddenly the steep pushing and the rocks and the mud were all worth it. With a sparkle in her eye, she took my smooth, dirty hand into her rough, weathered one, held it to her face, and kissed it as she wished us a good journey.
My heart was filled, overflowing with love and gratitude. All was right in the world.
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