“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and focus on what could go right.” – Unknown
It’s nine in the morning on the 19th of February and I’m exactly six days into my first ever bike tour. I find myself sitting on the lanai of a woman’s quirky and artsy home in Kealakekua, which is on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii, and in the distance I can see the bay, which is where I’ll be swimming later today. Earlier this morning I had helped myself to some homegrown papaya, organic yoghurt, and gluten free granola, as well as to some freshly boiled local eggs. The woman that I’ve been staying with has already left for work, although she’s told me, “you can stay for as long as you need to today.” As I’m typing, a bright green gecko runs past my feet on the floor.
Before I sat down at this patio table, I went for a walk and picked some flowers along the roadside. I arranged them in a vase, a small tropical bouquet of plumeria waiting to greet my host when she comes back from work.
I felt like it was the least I could do. And I couldn’t help but notice: even when I was collecting things to give to someone else, the island was still giving to me. It was giving me its bounty of colourful flowers. The feeling that had been getting more and more familiar over my last six days here on the island was coming back and it was washing over me: gratitude.
Being on tour on a bike is nothing like I ever expected it to be. Having somewhat of a predisposition to always irrationally expect the worst – both of the world and of myself – I was mentally prepared for everything that could possibly go wrong. If someone has a strange or creepy feeling about them, I’ll just stay away. If I am being followed, I’ll just go ask for help at the nearest corner store/car/house. If I can’t ride up that hill, I’ll just push. If I can’t find a place to stay, I’ll just pitch my tent somewhere discrete.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was for all the positive and amazing things that had surprised me along the way. I wasn’t prepared for meeting another solo female bike tourer, or for getting to spend the next few days touring the south of the island with her. I wasn’t prepared for people to so willingly give me a lift down from the volcano when it was pouring down rain and pitch black and I had no bike lights. I never expected to meet three other bike tourers at the top of the Hawaii volcanoes national park, or to be offered a place to sleep on the couch of their holiday home, or to be fed copious amounts of their delicious home-cooked food. I didn’t realise how much it would mean to me to have people who drove by raise their fists in support when they passed me climbing up a hill. I never ever expected myself to be able to ride to the top of a volcano riding on what was about 80% of my body weight, and I never expected to not only be able to complete that, but to also come to enjoy the pain and exhilaration of climbing a mountain with my bike either.
In a bike touring forum that I follow, someone said, “Cycling solo is one of the best ways to restore your faith in humanity.” After my six short days of being on tour, I feel like I can wholeheartedly agree. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience of the immense kindness, generosity, and openness of the people that I have met, for the beauty of the landscapes that I’ve seen, for the surprising mental and physical strength that has come from seemingly somewhere inside me, and for just how rewarding and fulfilling it feels to be able to trust in other people and in the world around you. I’ve always talked about connection and for the first time in my life I feel the most deeply connected I have ever been – to other people, to the land, and also to myself. Yet at the same time I’ve also been the most vulnerable I’ve ever been too – to accidents, to cars, to loneliness, to rain, to danger. The list goes on. Yet as the list goes on, I’m beginning to think that the two – that being open to vulnerability and therefore open to connection – are somehow intricately, but naturally, intertwined.