October 3, 2015 Ellsworth, Maine. On a comfy couch at Flexit Cafe, sipping a split-shot latte.
I didn’t think about it at the time, but the instant I threw my leg over my motorcycle in April 2013 I begin the process of chasing my limit. I had such little experience that I could not conceive the depth of my limit in this sport. Having been “home” about a month after riding the Backcountry Discovery Routes I can claim that it was, without a doubt the biggest physical challenge I’ve ever faced. Not sure how I had the audacity to attempt four consecutive BDRs in the summer heat with little off-road riding experience. I like adventure and taking risks, but this was above and beyond any adventure I could conjure in my mind. My partner Shal and I set this goal of a BDR marathon for our enjoyment, growth, and to raise money for Women’s Funding Alliance.
Throughout most of my life, every couple of years I would find myself exploring a new activity which would involve a challenge – or even fear. Downhill skiing, lacrosse, paragliding, bungee jumping, meditation, yoga, Burning Man,
EMT certification, writing memoir, backpacking, new relationships. In all those endeavors, physical or emotional, that limit was slippery and elusive. How do I know what my true limit is if I quit or scale down the activity when I become disinterested in learning more, afraid of getting hurt (physically or emotionally,) or become interested in something else? I don’t think I ever met my limit face to face. Until now.
Riding my motorcycle in the backcountry for over three months in mostly 90 and 100 degree heat – hoisting the 580 lb beast off the snot slick mud; keeping upright in 8” deep volcanic sand for several miles; tossing my body off it and down an embankment; or climbing a steep jeep trail with dizzying drop offs a couple feet away – I, for the first time got intimate with my limits. One sign that I’ve reached my limit is that my body shakes uncontrollably, I freeze in place, or I cry. Sometimes, all at the same time. If I had a nickel for every time that happened to me on this trip…
The first day into our first BDR, the Arizona, the challenging terrain, and lack of advanced skills left me seriously wondering if I was in over my head. Shit. We were only a few miles into our nearly 4,000-mile goal. Yeah, I was in over my head.
Why did I continue? Traveling the scenic, peaceful backcountry and experiencing quirky small towns would be a unique way to explore the US. From experience, I trusted there would be rich lessons to mine. And – I needed to accomplish the goal, and succeed in our fundraiser. Mostly I needed to accomplish the goal to prove to myself that I could follow through on a goal. I was going to slam the door as I walked out on my mid-life crisis party. Not completing my goal was not an option – barring injury, death, or splitting from my partner. I had a lot to prove to myself and I was going to beat my mid-life crisis to its final death – come hell or high water crossings.
When Shal and I set the goal of riding four BDRs the conversation went like this – mind you, we were sitting on the couch in the comfort of our beautiful housesitting home – “The past 15,000 miles around the continent were awesome but it’d be great to ride more dirt.” “Yeah, I totally agree.” “Hey, why don’t we take the BDRs home? They have routes already set up.” “OK.”
I’ve been trying to be that self-aware person who listens to her body’s signals to guide her decisions. For the years before and after my divorce, I dove into alternative healing, spirituality, and astrology – I wanted to understand myself. I wanted answers and I knew deep down that I could unleash the power within, if I only read the books, went to workshops, meditated, got counseling, and practiced enough. It was all fascinating and helped inform me of what I want. One thing I learned was that discomfort could be informative in all kinds of ways. I once sat in meditation for 11 hours a day for 10 straight days. I experienced a lot of what they called “sensation” in my knees, hips, and back. Sensation, aka PAIN! This was one method to practice equanimity to become less reactive, and more in touch with my inner knowing. From there I was supposed to choose the signals of my body over my mind to guide me through difficulty. I made a lot of progress, but more often than not, I let my mind control things. Unraveling 50 years of training was going to take a lot longer than a few years of this stuff. Sitting on a heavy motorcycle paralyzed in fear offered another opportunity to practice equanimity. I had to nip it in the bud, for once I found myself in that deep fear, there was no turning back. The tears and anger would rise to the surface and I had no control over it. Somehow I trusted I would survive. I was pretty sure that by continually putting myself in that intense state I would be left with a deeper understanding of those dark places in myself. It would lead me to a something rich and deep. And – it showed me where I still have work to do. And still, I trusted that I would survive and
Sitting in the paltry shade from a 4’ tall scraggly pine tree about half way through the 750-mile AZ BDR, I told Shal “My body isn’t going to be the same after this.” I didn’t have an injury or even much soreness at that point. I knew that experiencing fear nearly every day for the next three months would have a lasting effect. I felt the energy getting sucked out of me by the heat. I dropped my bike 25 times in just the first two BDRs. My bike floundered uncontrollably through sand. But I kept going. I needed to accomplish the goal even if it meant forcing my way through these routes. At first I thought, “If I can just get through this part maybe it will get easier. Maybe the temperatures will drop.” No such luck. I learned quickly to not get attached to those wishes. It made life easier to drop the expectations. The majority of the time I was actually happy, at ease, and enjoying the riding. A good chunk of the time I wanted it to be less challenging. The endless magnificent scenery provided some inspiration to continue.
You might wonder if putting myself in this extreme challenge was worth it. Yes, it was worth it. I’m proud that I followed through with the goal and was part of a team of two to do something no one has ever done before. The experience strengthened my relationship with Shal – we were often thrown into stressful situations and that’s where we really starting to learn about each other. I have stronger riding skills. On the other hand, it was my selfishness, stubbornness, and help from my partner that got me through it all. It took all of that to succeed. It wouldn’t have been as interesting to me if it were easy.
Continuously pushing myself to my limit on this journey has left me with Graves Disease, the worse than it sounds cause of hyperthyroidism. I’m tired of the symptoms (weight loss, shakiness, weakness, insomnia, pounding heart rate, etc.) but I’m under the care of an Endocrinologist and on the mend. Now I have a new goal – one predicated on resting and being kind to my body. This will be a challenge with a more important outcome.
Have you found YOUR limit? Do you want to? What’s the point?