My friend Brian and I rode our bicycles home from Memphis to Kansas City the week after Thanksgiving. I knew it was going to be a tough week because we only had six days to make the trip before I had to be at First Friday to do the rolling bicycle health fair display booth for Poetry for Personal Power. Even though some times I have trouble getting up in the mornings, I knew we would have to be on the road about daybreak since we were riding through some of the shortest days of the year. I also knew it would be tough because we’d be riding through the Ozark mountains. The mountains were a lot steeper than we expected. One time I got up to the top of one of them and said to Brian, “I want my mommy.” Brian laughed. Brian laughs a lot.
On the fourth day we left Theodosia, MO and rode towards Springfield. We had planned to ride all the way to Carthage, MO and spend the night with one of my friends, Edward, but we got so tired that about sundown we decided to stay with Brian’s friend Tonya from Springfield.Here’s the sunset we saw while we were talking to her.
I’d been talking to my boyfriend every night on the phone (Brian is my touring partner and Rod McBride is my boyfriend.) I was so tired I told Brian, “I’m not even going to call Rod tonight.” I was so tired I was starting to have hallucinations.
Brian said, “Yes you will.” Brian loves to argue.
We got to Tonya’s house and when we walked in the door and hit the warm air, I instantly felt crawling on my skin like I have a fever. That’s one of the first warning signs that my mental illness is kicking in. All the early mornings were taking a toll on me. Then as we got settled in, Brian was right, I made a short phone call. My lungs were irritated from climbing mountains in 35 degree weather and breathing cold air too deeply. I was coughing on the phone, and Rod said, “Are you getting sick?”
I said,”Yeah, but it’s the kind of sick that happens when I don’t have enough sleep.”
The next morning I was so tired that I felt nauseous during breakfast and had a hard time eating much food. The road was pretty flat until we got around Truman Lake. I was still having hallucinations here and there and my lungs were hurting every time I went up a hill. I kept thinking, I’ve got to do this all day long. We still have 120 miles to go today.
Once we stopped to get grease and Brian said, “You’ve been pretty slow on those little hills.”
I said, “Nothing feels like a little hill today.” Then finally we passed Iconium, MO, where there is a convenience store across from a boy scout camp that sells soft serve ice cream that’s been stored in freezers. I got a cheeseburger and split Brian’s ice cream and was so hungry I almost ate it all without him. Then I went and bought another cheeseburger and scarfed that down. I was still feeling kind of sorry for myself.
We were on the same route that we’d taken home from Lake of the Ozarks a year and half ago and we recognized this barn that had been covered with these mysterious silvery leaves. In the winter all the leaves were gone, but I started to remember where we were. I knew that we’d be passing the smiley face really soon. Then finally we came to a big hill up the bank of Truman Lake and I was so tired and puny that I was afraid I have to walk it. I geared down and gritted and got angry at the hill. The hill hurt so bad to climb it, with the burn in my lungs and legs from five tough days of riding, that it totally pissed me off. I got to the top of the hill and passed Brian and said, “I want your mommy.” He laughed.
I was so pissed off and fired up and proud that I’d made that hill that I completely stopped feeling sorry for myself in that exact moment. The hallucinations went away instantly. From that point forward I was able to put on some gas and really pull hard and Brian said my pace picked up noticeably. We got the 80 miles from Bolivar to Clinton with only three stops the whole way. We both wanted to make it all the way back to my stepdad’s house in Freeman, MO that night. I was fired up all afternoon and that day we both set our personal records, with 134 miles, fully loaded with touring gear. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the one moment that I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
I keep learning that the one thing that makes mental health problems worse is being scared that you might be really sick. This is one reason why I work so strongly against the medicalization of normal emotional problems.