It has been exactly two months since I returned from my cycling trip across Europe. I remember arriving into Tallinn, my final destination, as if it was yesterday. It was a very rainy day. My husband and I were exhausted. Colin had joined me for the last two weeks of the trip. We spent hours finding a place to stay for the night. I didn’t really have any special sense of accomplishment. Cycling 100 km per day had become a normal everyday thing for me. I just wanted food, a shower, and to get some sleep like I did every night for the past 61 days.
When I finally got home to the UK, my mother-in-law told me I must feel very proud. I didn’t really. I was just happy to be home.
It has taken two months, but it has finally started to settle in.
After the trip, I focused on settling back into my normal home routine. There were days when I struggled, but generally it was an easy and comfortable transition. Now that I am properly settled, my mind has sometimes wandered off, remembering all those days alone on the road. The one thing that really triggers the memories is when I consider getting on my bike for a short ride. I haven’t been on the bike since I got back. I’m finding the thought extremely intimidating. “Cars are dangerous,” I tell myself. “There are lots of hills in this area and you might skid and get hurt,” Little-Man-In-My-Head convinces me. I’ve always been like that. Those thoughts are not new to me. I eventually overcome them to start training for something new. But when I consider that those are my normal thoughts and that nevertheless I managed to cycle myself across the whole of the European continent…well…DAMN!
I now realize that I have it in me to find enough inner emotional strength to overcome my sometimes-debilitating weaknesses. The fact that I know I can do that helps me get through my days. It also makes me believe I can do almost anything I set my mind to no matter how intimidated I might be.
Every morning on that trip, especially in the first three weeks, I would wake up with intense anxiety about the day ahead. Even so, I forced myself to go through the motions of getting ready, washing up, packing everything away, eating my breakfast, and putting myself back on that bike. My anxiety went away the moment my foot found its place on the pedal. I remember all that now when I set about doing normal things that cause me anxiety. I tell myself, “Just do it. Put aside the negative thoughts. They will go away soon. Just do it.” The negative thoughts usually do go away. When they don’t, I just work through them because I know I can.
I have tried to go on one big adventure a year ever since I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009. Each adventure is special to me in its own unique way. But my cycle across Europe is a bit extra special: It lasted the longest among all previous adventures and I did it completely on my own. I feel such intense pride about that last part. I did it completely on my own. I cycled across Europe completely on my own. No one helped me train. No one helped me organize my trip. No one accompanied me over the course of the two months except for my husband who joined me for the last two weeks.
I have absolutely no idea what my next adventure will be. I don’t know when I can next afford one. But that doesn’t matter. I’ve already started training myself to get stronger. Running has always been one of my greatest challenges. So for now I am focusing on improving my running skills. I hate running. I detest it. I am so incredibly slow at it. A few weeks ago a blind lady passed me during a 5km race. Every week I run that 5km race lots of 60- and 70-year-old men and women pass me. Today a little boy passed me who could not have been older than seven-years-old. That is how slow I am. I am focusing my training on improving my running pace. That might not be a great adventure to you. It certainly is for me. Every single time I beat my personal best time for that 5km race it is the greatest thrill in the world. I can see myself getting just that little bit faster. I can feel myself getting just that little bit fitter. Little boys are still beating me in that race, but not for long!
I have even started thinking I could represent Egypt in the Olympics one day. I’m 45-years-old and that’s how crazy my head can get sometimes. A 40-year-old man who was overweight only seven years ago and started running in his 30s recently ranked tenth in the Commonwealth Games marathon in Glasgow. Another 40-year-old, a mother of two, recently won a gold medal at the European Championships in Zurich. I don’t need to win a medal. But how great would it be to represent Egypt in the Olympics at the age of 49? I realize how unrealistic that dream is. But I don’t care. I’m keeping it. It will probably never happen. But I love that I can dream like that. I love being able to dream!