Colombes Today the little kid in the street nailed it when he pointed at me and shouted ” look, it’s a phalang!” That’s exactly what I feel like. A guava. Pink-faced, rough bruised skin, slimy with sweat. I feel less human these days and more like a feral wild woman. Even after a shower I feel grimy, my exposed skin stained brown as much from the dust of the road as the sun. My fingers look like they have been dipped in chocolate sauce, a permanent ring of black under the torn fingernails from changing tubes and pumping tires. My hair resembles straw from daily washes with bar soap supplied by cheap hotels. The two sets of cycling clothes I switch between stink of damp from rain and never quite drying overnight.
I feel inhuman, unattractive, the furthest thing from female a girl could possibly feel. When clean, fresh-smelling women pass me in little dresses, strappy shoes and shinning hair, I feel like the mangy, flea-ridden street dog when a well-groomed thoroughbred goes by. Those are the times when I just wish to feel like a woman again. Hell, I’d settle for human!
I stroll back from the 7/11 store with some dried fruit, an icecream and a beer. Back to the solitude of my hotel room and a fan throwing around stifling hot air. I should be completely used to it by now, the solitude.
I steal my mind and tell myself that everything is temporary. I’m cycling the world! What did I expect?
To be honest, I set off without any expectations, because that’s the surest way to ruin an experience. But I did go into it knowing there’d be days like this, when I’d question the whole thing and my motives for doing it, when I’d think the hardships and struggle outweighed the good times. The facebook updates only show the highlights, snapshots of interesting or beautiful moments. The reality of cycling the world are the long inbetween times of tedium, loneliness and dealing with daily challenges.
Every great challenge changes you in some way. When you are forced to tap into your inner reserves of strength, you find out what you are capable of enduring both physically and mentally. Spend enough time alone and you learn a lot about who you are. Without the usual comfort and safety of a familiar environment, the support of family and friends, you have no one and nothing to rely on but yourself. When life is stripped down and minimised like the few belongings you carry, to the absolute essentials, you learn what you are able to do without and what is truly important.
Things always seem worse at night when I am tired and hungry from a day on the road. Morning brings with it fresh courage. This is a test of endurance and it’s true what they say: you are always stronger than you think. I’ve gotten this far. What’s a couple more months in a lifetime?