My bicycle was loaded with clothes, food, water, camping gear, electronics, and lots of other heavy crap. I mounted it and started pedaling. I kept pedaling until I came to a steep hill. I got off and pushed. I mounted it again and pedaled again. The paved road turned to gravel. I got off and pushed the heavy crap up a not-so-steep hill. The cool air turned to fire. I pedaled slowly. My rock hard determination turned to mush. I stopped pedaling.
I dismounted and let the bicycle fall at my side. My face contorted and wrinkled shamelessly until tears were summoned. I rubbed my eyes and wiped my snotty nose with my dusty fists. I reverted to my three-year-old persona, in hope that the landscape would take pity and apologize for being so harsh. I thought the land might grant me a slow downhill or a shady stretch of flat, paved road.
But the land showed no compassion. My defeat turned to rage. I cursed the damned hills. I cursed the gravel road. I cursed the tourists who drove by in air conditioned bubbles and stirred up clouds of dust that settled inside of my lungs, leaving me wheezing for clean air. Besides the physical struggle was the challenge of coping with some newly discovered colors of the emotional spectrum that I was not particularly keen on experiencing at the moment. I just wanted to feel numb.
I have been in taxing situations both at home and while traveling, but I have never been at the mercy of the land. I’ve never felt the aridness of the desert without a gallon of water by my side. I’ve never slept unprotected in a damp jungle of insects. And I can hardly say that I was totally at the mercy of the land on that stretch of the bicycle tour, as I was armed with food and water and sunscreen and an SOS button on my GPS.
But at least I felt the impact of topography, unlike the car tourists who bumped along in their cushioned seats and reveled in expansive ocean views and quick stops at deserted beaches. Although I only had three miles until my destination, I wouldn’t make it there before sunset. I avoided the sight of the glittery ocean below me as it was a reminder of my thirst. I didn’t have the time or energy to stop at deserted beaches.
So I do not leave the Nicoya Peninsula with pleasant memories of sun and sea. Instead, I leave humbled, with a cognizance of the strength of the land and my relative weakness. The ruthless and generous earth deserves respect, as does everyone who has figured out how to survive on it.