''So, I am thinking of cycling to Adelaide'' I casually said to my friend. The words hung heavily in the air. My friend stared at me mouth agape in disbelief. I should probably mention that at that point in time I lived in Torquay, situated along the beautiful Surf Coast region in Victoria, Australia. While Adelaide lay 850km away in South Australia.
Uttering the words aloud suddenly made them concrete. This filled me with equal amounts of excitement and dread.
Over the coming days, the mention of my cycle adventure was met with two distinct reactions.
Response number 1: ‘That is so cool! What an adventure! You are crazy’
Response number 2: Stony silence. ‘You are crazy’.
Perhaps I should also mention at this point that I had never ever been on a bike tour let alone organize my own, I planned to do this trip on my own, I had zero camping experience, I did not own any camping or biking equipment. Or even a bike for that matter! The list goes on and on. I had a deadline as I had to be in Adelaide for Christmas for a family gathering. This gave me little over two weeks to source everything I would possibly need and make some kind of a plan.
What I did possess were equal amounts of delusion and optimism which made me believe I could actually do this. I rationalized that other humans had cycled this route so it was doable. Furthermore, I am quite a stubborn human being. I would achieve this cycle feat or die trying. Literally.
Two days before the departure came the inevitable freak out. This could also be described as a meltdown. ‘What am I doing?’ I thought. The level of concern expressed by those around me had finally seeped into my pores. Internal stress levels reached hysteria. I told myself it was too late to back out now.
D day had arrived.
The minute I set off all the worries, stress and fear simply melted away. I was amazed by how easily the bike balanced all my possessions despite being packed by a novice. I felt free. Happiness radiated from my very soul. I did not know where I would sleep that night but I was not concerned. I felt alive!
What did I learn from cycling 850km across Australia?
At no point did I feel afraid. My friends and family were concerned for my safety, and rightly so. They believed I was putting myself in a position where I could be attacked or harmed physically or emotionally. In other words, I was putting myself in a vulnerable position.
However, when we make ourselves vulnerable people tend to go out of their way to help you.
When you are on a bike, your intentions are clear. You pose no threat to anyone around you. People feel that you are approachable and will stop and talk to you much more readily than if you were traveling by other means.
For example, one miserable day I got a puncture which I was unable to repair. I sat dejectedly in the pouring rain wondering what to do when a kind-hearted lady stopped and whisked my soggy carcass and belonging back into town so I could fix my bike. As I sat outside the bicycle shop waiting for it to open. ( I had been up at 4 am to cycle as much as humanly possible that day but alas a nail stopped me in my tracks and I was back where I started!)a woman approached and asked me about my adventure. I regaled her with my tale and she proffered some much needed kind words of encouragement and offered to buy me coffee. Among the kind words, the word ‘courage’ stood out.
This leads me to Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher who is her TEDxHouston talk ‘The power of vulnerability’ beautifully deconstructs the meaning of the word courage
…… the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.
When people say I am courageous for cycling 850km I find it perplexing. I did not feel particularly courageous at any point during my adventure. However, on reflection, I did have the courage to be imperfect – to clobber together my trusty steed, strap on some of my worldly possessions and keep pedaling until I reached my destination.
Brene also in her TED talk delves into the idea of connection
‘’….….what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. ……
On my cycling journey, although I met with people very briefly there was a strong sense of connection. I believe that the connections were intensified due to the fact that allowed myself to be vulnerable. This enabled me to show my true authentic self. It also allowed others to be more open and share their stories with me. Even though my authentic self-was a smelly, sweaty and dirty cretin for most of my journey!
Ever since I was young I have been compelled to explore nature. I would disappear for hours in local forests and mountains with my beloved dogs. I can vividly remember family holidays looking out the car window as amazing landscapes whizzed by. While I desperately wished to saunter through the terrain rather than be restricted by the confines of a car. This urge to explore by foot and bike has stayed with me and reemerged in a passion for adventure travel
However, it is not easy to be vulnerable. I have always prided myself on being an independent and self-sufficient human being. Hence, it has taken me a long time to view being vulnerable as a strength rather than a weakness.
It requires much more strength to be vulnerable, and to reveal your authentic self.
It is much easier to hide, to build up walls and act tough. As Rene points out in her TEDtalk
You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.
When we act tough, we create more distance between those around us. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we create the opportunity to connect more openly with others.
It has taken me quite a long time and an arduous 850km cycle to truly learn this lesson.
Being vulnerable requires a great degree of humility and strength. My life and relationships have become much richer as a result of learning this lesson.
I hope in sharing my experience it will give you the courage to live wholeheartedly and embark on your own weird, wild and wonderful adventures!
When we are kinder and gentler with ourselves we can then be kinder and gentler with the people around us.
What do you think of vulnerability and connection? If you have a moment, I’d love to read your comment or story below.