Thursday, September 27, 2012

1100 Miles ... 130,000 Feet

Riding up to the Col du Galibier in the French Alps earlier in the month

Wednesday was the end of our two-week Corsican tour and the end of the cycling portion of our European odyssey. Since arriving in France almost a month ago, we have cycled 1100 miles and climbed 130,000 feet in the Black Forest, Switzerland, the French Alps, Provence and Corsica. I frankly couldn't believe it when Mark told me the numbers, based on daily downloads from his Garmin watch.

But the miles and the climbing and the resulting increase in strength and tone (and, I suspect, weight loss) are only part of the story of this trip, which has truly been life-changing for me. Of course, it has been wonderful to see all that we have seen, to be immersed in a foreign culture, and to sample new and different foods. But all of this pales to what this experience has come to mean to me.

Mark's bike outside a shop in Propriano

I think it will take some time to truly recognize and articulate what I learned and how I changed while on this trip,  but a lot of it can be summed up by saying that I have become more comfortable in my own skin as I have continued to shed other skins that I have worn for most of my life. As Mark said the other day while we were sitting on the beach in Propriano, I had forgotten what it feels like to be comfortable in my own skin after nearly 30 years of Mormonism - if in fact I had ever experienced that feeling due to circumstances in my childhood and youth and after spending most of my life in the closet.

Propriano - Mark and I ate lunch at a cafe in the middle of the picture

It was being in the tour group and interacting with people my own age that facilitated this process of feeling more authentic, of feeling more comfortable in my own skin. It was immensely gratifying, for example, to be told by a number of people that they were amazed that I had been cycling for only four months prior to commencing the tour. Mark has told me before that I am a natural athlete, but I had difficulty believing him because I have never perceived myself as an athlete of any sort. Hearing it from other people has helped me to change how I perceive myself.

Another example: I also grew more comfortable in confiding a bit of my own story. Gradually of the course of two weeks, word got out that I have 10 children and was Mormon, etc., etc. I had hesitated sharing this because I was concerned about people's reactions, causing me to feel that I wasn't being authentic (sort of in reverse) and was in another type of closet. But people were not at all judgmental; in fact, those whom I became closer to throughout the course of the trip were very supportive. I was immensely grateful for that.

One of these people was Tom, pictured above - a gay man from Philadelphia who was been with his partner for 25 years. I remember particularly a conversation I had with him while climbing on the day we rode to Solenzara (until I had to drop to the back of the pack because I couldn't keep up with his pace), and he expressed genuine interest in my story, even though it was very different from his own life experience.

As I write this, it has occurred to me that perhaps I became so accustomed to judgment in the Mormon church and community that I unconsciously assumed everyone would be like that. And I also had allowed myself to be defined and judged - by myself as well as other people. In fact, for much of my life, I've needed precious little judgment from others in order to feel condemned; I was quite capable of doing a very good job on my own.

Which gets back to the subject of changing how I perceive myself. That is one of the great gifts of this trip, and it hasn't come from seeing fabulous scenery, passing through quaint villages, hearing church bells or watching sunsets - although I have enjoyed all of those experiences. It has come from the people with whom I have associated these past two weeks and the experiences we have shared together.

Mark's picture:  The view from where we stopped for lunch yesterday

Another one of Mark's pictures, taken during yesterday morning's ride

A lot of these experiences culminated in the time we spent in Propriano, where we enjoyed swimming in the ocean, sitting on the beach, chatting in the evening before, during and after dinner, and imbibing generous amounts of alcohol in the process.

And the person I have to thank for facilitating all of this, for loving me, for revealing me to myself, is my best friend, my partner, my Mark. From the very beginning of my cycling journey which began last spring, he has been patient, steadfast and loving as I turned myself into a cyclist. Along the way, we shared many enjoyable, memorable moments, none more so than on this trip. The following pictures capture a few of those moments:

In the Black Forest

Crepes in the French Alps

Atop Mont Ventoux

Outside Gordes in the Luberon, Provence

Between Porto and Calvi, Corsica

St. Florent, Corsica

A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do - Solenzara, Corsica

Between Solenzara and Propriano, Corsica

Propriano, Corsica. What a memorable night that was, involving copious amounts of Limoncello and a group of us skinny dipping in the Mediterranean

"And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time."

~ T. S. Eliot

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