Sunday, December 7, 2008

Taking The Plunge

You may be asking yourself, “why?” Why ride your bicycle from Anchorage, Alaska, of all places, to Tijuana Mexico of all other places? Or for some people, “why all the way to Panama!?” “Why to Tierra del Fuego!? I mean, have you SEEN a world map!?” In all seriousness, I think you have to be just a little nuts.

When I was eleven years old, my dad and I took a trip out to the Pacific North West. We saw Mt. St. Helens, we saw the Columbia river, we saw the lush rainforests, and we saw the incredible rocky coast. It stuck with me. I always wanted to go back. It stuck with my dad as well, along with something else. When we were driving down highway 101 in Oregon, we saw a good handful of cyclists with their bikes all loaded up with gear. There are also signs marking the Oregon Coast Bicycle Route, and that really stuck with my dad.

In 2002, we returned to Oregon, but this time on bicycles. My dad, my friend, and I rode from Astoria, Oregon, down Highway 101 to the California border, just past Brookings, Oregon. Wow, what an incredible ride. We had no idea what we were doing, but boy it was fun after I got into it. My dad had planned our route from guidebooks and pre-set routes used by commercial bike touring companies. All I had to do was get on my bike, and ride each day. Two years later, it got in our blood again, and we rode from Victoria, British Columbia, back down to the California border, but something happened that trip.

At a campground in Oregon, we met a Japanese fella who had been riding his bike down from Anchorage, Alaska. My jaw dropped when he told me that. My life changed when he told me that he was going all the way to Tierra del Fuego. FIRST of all, it didn’t even occur to me that it was possible to start that far North. As far as I could figure, the further North you went, the wetter and colder it became. Like many, I had this image in my head of Alaska being a flat, permanently frozen tundra. He told us about dirt roads, lots of rain, and lots of mud. I imagined him riding through this half frozen flat and muddy tundra with no civilization in sight. It did not sound fun to me at the time. SECONDLY, I couldn’t even imagine being on a bike for THAT LONG. I had a vague conception of how far he was riding, and all I knew was that he still had a long, long, long way to travel. I never heard if he ever made it or not. It didn’t really matter. To me, he did it, which meant that I could too.

In 2006, we planned another bike trip, this time from Victoria to Mexico. Doing the California stretch would more than double the distance of our past trips, and would also make things more difficult with finding routes through the big cities, and finding places to camp. After making some rough plans however, I bailed on the trip. My dad had decided to take my then 13 year old brother on the trip, and it would be his first bike tour. I really didn’t know if he could make it, but neither did my dad. He decided that they would just ride until it wasn’t fun any more. I pulled out at the last minute because I didn’t want to start a trip that had no definite goal. I also had other plans that had me distracted that summer, and it was for the best that I didn’t go. 45 days later, they made it to the Mexican border at Tijuana. Can you believe that? Well I had a new-found respect for my dad, and particularly my little 13 year old brother, Mark.

After returning from his trip, hardly anyone actually believed that Mark rode his bike that far. Certainly none of his peers at school believed him. There is something very difficult about trying to tell people about these kinds of adventures, especially when people do not believe you. There can be an incredible loneliness created by the lack of validation of your peers, and even a diminished sense of being. To them, what he did was impossible, and insane, and therefore he could not have actually done what he said he had done. But I knew.

At the very end of 2006, I was riding my motorcycle in Salt Lake City, and I was “T-Boned” by an SUV. The guy backed out into the street, and just didn’t see me. I tried to dodge him, ended up behind him, and he clipped me square on. I did a “superman” over the handlebars, then I blinked, and I was trying to walk out of the street, but then my left leg collapsed out from under me. I dropped, but my heart hit the floor. I knew right away that my leg was seriously injured, and that I would be out of commission for a long time while it was recovering. I found out that my ACL and my MCL were mangled. They both had level III tears, which means completely severed. Not only that, but my MCL looked like hamburger. I was already dealing with depression, but my injury added another level. From that depression, however, I had a major rebound.

Something caused me to become defiant in the face of my injury. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I know I made some big decisions after watching a slide show about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. About a week after seeing the slideshow, I decided I was going to hike the trail someday. Not just someday, but someday in the near future. I decided that there were a whole bunch of things that I was going to do. I started making a list. I decided that before I turn 30, I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, climb Mount Everest, and bike from Anchorage down to Tijuana.

I realized that it was incredibly lucky that I wasn’t more seriously injured or even killed in my motorcycle accident, especially since I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I felt like I had been given a second chance at life, in a way. My frame of mind had veered away from the societal norm. I think most people would consider those goals I had set to be harebrained, or utterly senseless, but they made perfect sense to me. It seemed to me that I had just as good of a chance of randomly getting injured or killed in every day life as I did on an extreme adventure, and I’d much rather die attempting something incredible than dying by freak accident at home.
I was determined to meet these goals, and I began my recovery. I started to prepare myself mentally for the Pacific Crest Trail by reading books and learning as much as I could about it. I was planning on beginning the trail in spring of 2008, even though I was still in a leg brace. I invited my dad and my brother to do the trip with me. Mark was enthralled that I would invite him, and he agreed to do the trip with me. My dad on the other hand, decided that it was too much for him. He wanted to do another bike trip that summer, and he thought it would be our last chance. And it very well may have been.

I changed gears, so to speak, and started plotting my bike trip, instead of a hike, and I decided that I was going to start in Anchorage.


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