I have just returned from Guatemala and El Reto del Quetzal, just under a week ago. Wow. The thoughts are there… so many of them… but it will take some time to process so many experiences into tangible sentences and paragraphs.
In this blog post (Full Circle), I talked about my journey from professional vagabond to professional athlete, and my dreams of traveling the world in a different way. I also talked about my fears… there were so many of them. And I left you with this quote from Goethe:
"Until one is committed...
there is hesitancy...
the chance to draw back...
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans...
That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising on one's favor all manners of unforeseen incidents, meetings, and materials assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it: boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."
Well, I committed and threw myself all in with my eyes and heart wide open. And Goethe’s words certainly rang true for me.
I started my travels five days before El Reto began, when I arrived into Antigua, Guatemala. I went into my trip with trepidation, shaken somewhat by words of warning from well-meaning people and consequently trying to control too many variables last-minute so that I would feel safe. And at first, though every second of my five-days before the race was planned and prepared, I did not feel safe. I was on edge.
Then, things going not exactly the way I had planned or wished them to compelled me to spontaneously cut my ties to my perceived veil of safety and control, and jump. I jumped out of my plans, commitments, and hotel reservations, and onto a pickup truck of all places that took me out of the city and up into the hills, to begin the experiences that I was supposed to have, that life had waiting for me in Guatemala if only I would let go and listen. And strangely enough, I felt more safety and peace when I set myself free than I did when I was holding on to control.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware…” - Martin Buber, philosopher
If you let go and listen… to your heart, your intuition, the person you met in the cafe who gives you a random idea or recommendation, to the sounds of your wheels on the cobblestones… you will, no doubt, pass through those secret destinations of your journey. Being fully present and conscious of your footsteps, even if you started this journey with no intentions of having a life altering experience, fate may shock you… "your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.”
I love my life. LOVE it. I love the direction I have created and I feel no need to change a thing. I did not begin this journey expecting, wanting, or needing a life-changing experience. I know myself, my strengths and my weaknesses, things that continually challenge me and things that come blissfully easy to me which I can freely share with others. I know that I am strong, capable, and independent. I am not trying to “find myself" as I did when I was younger and on the road. Still… travel, especially solo travel, has a way of creeping in and getting under your skin to bring greater clarity to your self and your life. It may not change your life, but if you are open to it, it may change you.
I saw and felt experiences and emotions I never would have dreamed of. I ran the full spectrum between the dichotomies of strangling fear and pure love. I raced my bike through the Guatemalan countryside, through tiny villages and big cities, through fields and mountains, up and down the steepest roads and trails I have ever seen in my entire life. I had the experience of being the only female racing sola, alongside and against strong and talented men from Guatemala and around the world.
And I was reminded, once again, that the best things in life aren't things.
I experienced moments during the race itself that would never, ever happen in the USA, wild and beautiful and yes- scary. I plunged headfirst into a type of riding in one stage- urban downhill- that had kept me awake at night with nerves, and trusted my skills and my instincts to get me through. I hung on for dear life and turned myself inside out at the end of a long hard day of racing as local athletes, now friends, led me safely through a busy Guatemalan city at warp speed.
I experienced moments of giddy post-race happiness and also shared vulnerability with a young and talented Guatemalan female athlete, a raw connection around the struggles we all share through simply being humans, though we had only just met and only kind-of spoke each other’s languages. So different- but so similar.
I felt clarity, once again, on what racing my bicycle truly means to me and why I do it. I was psyched to finish 8th place in a competitive solo field of all men- but as I turned myself inside out on the tough climbs and rode with intense focus and aggressive finesse on the wild descents, I realized I wasn't really racing them, or the times of the other women in the duos race, or even myself. I race because it brings me life. It shows me who I am.
I made my way in a completely foreign culture on my own. I functioned in a language I hadn’t spoken in a decade. I gave my trust to people I barely knew. I put my trust in myself when it really mattered. And I learned how much love, power, and inspiration I, and others, were truly capable of giving and receiving.
I came away from this time of travel both inspired and humbled by the people I met and the experiences I had, both in the race and in my time of solo wandering. I have much to share, when the best way of sharing it comes to me. Some on this blog, some through photos, and some, with any luck, through avenues that may reach more people than the scope I have alone. Stay tuned.
And what for the questions I had about my “end goal” of traveling abroad to race being met, fulfilled, and satisfied? Not even close. This experience only deepened my love for the beauty of the world and all its freaky people- to paraphrase Michael Franti. And riding and racing my bike is, for me, the way I experience myself and the world most clearly and completely. As long as this chapter in my book remains open, I will continue to write page after page, until I decide it is time to pull the curtain.
I will give only one piece of advice: If you are considering traveling for travel’s sake, or chasing your passion across the world, but have fears of doing it or doing it alone or even of not doing it and regretting it… just go. Find a way… there is always a way. Find your way, whether it is by bicycle or backpack, with others or alone, and go, with your eyes and heart wide open. The world is still a wild and wonderful place, and people everywhere are still full of love… and so are you, even if you don’t know it. Go. You will not regret it.
Special thanks to: Heights Performance, Griggs Orthopedics, SOMA Wellness, Tomichi Tire, Skratch Labs, Rock n' Roll Sports, Fatback Bikes, Marzocchi Suspension, Irwin Guides for supporting my ambitions and making this adventure and this life possible. Thanks to Jason Hilimire for putting the idea for El Reto del Quetzal in my head so many years ago, long before it was even a possibility for me. I looked at that website so many times over the past few years thinking "what if...someday??" Thanks to Netzer Quan for heading up such an amazing race experience, and for your help in making this trip happen for me. Thanks to each of you who crossed my path in Guatemala- the locals and the internationals- for making my experience so special. I am truly blessed.