Sunday, July 5, 2015

More thoughts on grieving.

And then there was the elephant in the room.  My grieving had barely begun when the tour started and I really didn't understand some of the effects it would have on me.  It didn't take long before everyone on the tour knew of my loss and I was surrounded by care and concern.  But because I am an intensely introverted person, that in itself was sometimes hard to deal with - and though it helped me enormously in ways big and small, it didn't give me much privacy for dealing with my grief inside my own head.

I've mentioned in previous posts how totally unexpected it was to find that my brain had changed in ways that become rather important when riding a bicycle over many miles of new terrain. I thought I was managing ok, with help from my friends.  My riding companions knew I was having trouble with the cue sheets and they made sure I made all the right turns, either by calling them out, being close enough for me to follow or waiting at the turn for me to catch up.  I slowed way down on the rough roads because I knew my reaction times were slower.  I used the van, sag stops and rest days to manage my energy.  And then one day I almost turned myself into road kill.  

I'm still not sure exactly what the problem was, impaired depth perception, time distortion or just poor judgement, but the clear shot I thought I had into the SAG stop was very close to being the last decision I ever made. It shook my confidence, it made me feel even more vulnerable than I had before and made me wonder if I was endangering anyone else and whether I should be on the tour at all.   I became hyper-vigilant and even more concerned with the kinds of challenges that each day's ride posed.  I withdrew into myself even more as I tried to make sense of things and as a result rode even fewer days/miles. I distanced myself from others both physically and psychologically as I tried harder and harder to be "normal".  

I tried so hard not to burden my companions with the depths of my struggle that I was unable to share their triumphs as much as I would have liked.  I moved between being numb and being totally overwhelmed.

And of course I was being "normal".  All of my feelings, all of my struggles, all of my reactions were and are "normal".  At least that's what I hear from friends, relatives, counselors.  But it isn't my normal and I don't like it one single bit.

Now that I am home I can measure my reactions and perceptions against familiar backgrounds and that is helping me realize just exactly how far "off" I am in time and distance and adjust for it.  Here I have more control over how much solitude and how much social interaction I have and it's easier to manage my energy levels. But I don't have the same sense of direction and purpose that I had on the tour - I miss that and I miss the women I shared it with.

I am moving forward though and right now, that's good enough.

Now what?

The tour is over and done and I have been home for several weeks trying to figure out what it all means/meant to me and where I go from here.

I'm glad I went, it was rewarding in all the ways I expected it to be and I now have new friendships to enjoy.  The community of women on these tours is rather magical as our biking bubble sustains us during the trip and somewhat insulates us from the larger world.  We share a monumental adventure and yet we each experience it in our own way and we each get something different out of it.

We experienced the Atlantic Coast (and its inhabitants, human and otherwise) at people speed - fast enough to cover the miles, but slow enough to really relish the journey.  Some of our experiences filled our souls and some scared us half to death.  Some days were exhilarating and others more of a slog.  But each day was different and each had its challenges and rewards.

There are some downsides of course.  Two months is a long time to be away from home, even with today's ease of communication.  The tedium of daily routines is different from home but no less tedious - get up, pack up, load up, each day in a different place - it makes you wish for a house elf.  The suppers in the parking lot on plastic chairs (one of the best ways of getting to know each other) make you yearn for a real table, a flat place to set your drink down and maybe even a cloth napkin.  And while this mobile community gives some shape and stability to everything, a different bed every night, a different roommate every night (added on to the exertion of the day) takes its toll on your sleep.

BUT.  Those are also the shared experiences that make this type of travel so rewarding and bind us into such a close sisterhood, so I wouldn't change them at all.

So it wasn't the tour I expected, it wasn't the tour I planned, but it was the tour I was on and I did indeed learn and grow from the experience.  I had to laugh at myself as I contemplated this post - I found myself thinking that I only did 800 or so miles (out of 2600).  ONLY??  ONLY??  Five years ago I couldn't have ridden 80 miles in seven weeks, much less 800.  I rode more than I would have had I been at home and more than most people my age ride at all.  So yeah, since I did the best I could at this time and under these circumstances, it has to be considered a success.  

Random pictures from a wonderful trip.