About 48hrs before I was supposed to take off for China, I got a phone call from my intended partner in misadventure, Mel Yule, who had shocking news: she was hit by a boat while swimming in a lake. Fortunately, despite leg muscles damaged to the point where she’s facing six weeks of physiotherapy to get back to speed, she came out of the encounter alive and at least relatively well.
Upon hearing the news, I was completely shaken at how close she came to serious injury. I was also completely gutted at the vision we’d both had for this summer being aborted in the final hours – so painfully close to realization.
Then I faced a choice. I could go on and cycle the silk road alone, or postpone the trip. The pros of just doing it: I’d still be in China. I’d still be cycling. And I’d be taking on a challenge unlike any other I’d ever faced – physically, mentally, emotionally, digestively… Cycling through the remote backcountry of northwestern China with a companion promised to be tough enough, but on my own, the challenge would be taken to the superlative. And there is a lot that’s appealing about that.
The cons: Traveling as a solo female novice cyclist through the aforementioned remote backcountry in a Muslim region might be challenging, or it might just be unwise. The trip wouldn’t be the same trip we’d envisioned and dreamed about for so long. Going alone would complicate everything logistics-wise. My family absolutely didn’t approve. And the Morehead Foundation, the organization funding the trip, was antsy about the idea as well.
After agonizing over the decision for 40 hrs, I decided to put off China until after I graduate in December. This spring, Mel will have recovered, I’ll be free – for the moment – of academic responsabilities, and we can cycle Xinjiang and continue on in a Tour D’Asie of our own design. Rationally, it all makes sense, but I was devastated at the sudden change in plans and, more accurately, at the prospect of spending a summer at home waitressing at a local restaurant.
So instead, I hopped on a plane to San Francisco (that incidentally departed at the same time my plane took off for China) to bike across the USA. My bags were packed, my heart was set on a bike trip, and I had to do something – so Cali it was. I’m biking a route that begins in San Francisco and finishes over 3,000 miles later in Virginia. Along the way I’ll cross the Sierra Nevadas, the deserts of the Southwest, the Rockies, the Great Plains, and the Appalachian Mountains in what promises to be one heck of a leg-burning endeavor. I’m cycling solo right now, but a friend of mine and his crew of high school students is biking the same route, only they started a few days ahead of me, so the plan is to rendezvous at some point.
I’m posting this blog from a library in Folsom, California, where I’ve made it after my first two days on the road. I spent a day in San Fran assembling the bike, running errands, and undergoing frantic last-minute preparations for the journey – also managed to fit in a delicious sushi send-off dinner with Win Chesson. The next morning, after dipping my wheels in the Pacific near the Golden Gate Bridge, I biked through nighmarish urban sprawl, then winding sideroads through farm country, then endless orchard fields, and then I eventually pitched my tent in the backyard of some kind organic farmers just outside of Davis. I was totally and utterly wiped. Who would’ve thought that a bike loaded with all I need to survive would be so everloving heavy? Not my legs, that’s who. Then this morning, after a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt thanks to my generous hosts, I battled headwinds for an hour only to realize I’d gone completely the wrong way. I would’ve been more frustrated if those same headwinds hadn’t whisked me along in the right direction after I turned around. Then I passed through Sacramento (sadly no Arnie sightings) and biked on to Folsom in a long, wet slog through rain (what’s the deal, Cali?). No idea where I’m staying tonight, so I’d better cut this short and figure something out. So adios for now – keep checking back in the next few weeks for updates from the open road, and keep in touch!