By Lukas Brinkerhoff –
My eyes explode open. There is nothing but darkness and the hum from the fan on the wood burning stove heating the house form the front room. My body is tense. I’m perspiring. I glance at the phone charging on the nightstand. It’s 2:13 AM. Typical. I know I won’t be able to fall back to sleep till around 4:30, about the time that Kathleen gets up.
My mind wanders through the cavity of my head on an adventure to find all my insecurities. The moment it finds one, I worry about it. I roll over trying to put it to sleep. It hops off that train and immediately runs for another. I roll back onto my back, arms and legs crossed because feeling like I’m in my mummy bag is the most comfortable position for me. My head itches, I resist until my brain won’t leave it alone. I itch it.
This particular night is leading up to our trip to Baja. The endless possibilities of things that could go wrong and ruin everything are on shuffle and repeat. What if the airplane is too small for our bike boxes? What if one of our bikes just doesn’t show up? What if a forget my one chamois I plan to wear for the whole week? What if I get saddle sores that bleed? What if my Spanish absolutely disappears the moment I step off the plane? What if our passports for some reason get us blocked out of the country?
For three weeks leading up to our trip to ride the Cape Loop, this strand of endless, illogical worries keeps me up for hours every night. The only thing that is out of the ordinary is the focus on Mexico.
40 million adults in the United States are affected by anxiety according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). That equals out to about 35% of us walking around and 1/3 of you reading these words. It isn’t any comfort that I am not alone and I assume it doesn’t help you keep your mind from reeling to know that there is a good chance the dude next to you is dealing with the same mental struggles.
Fast forward a few weeks. It’s 7ish PM. The sun has dropped below the horizon and twilight is quickly fading into a long winter night on the peninsula. Mama Bear has been asleep for an hour already. Typical. It’s been a couple of days since we attempted to make it to a normal time to go to bed. The conversation dies, those of us still awake waddle around and make our way into our sleeping bags.
Normally, I’d be sure to stay awake well into the night to ensure that I can sleep through the night. It might seem a bit redundant, but I get anxious about going to bed because I always wake up worrying about stuff. That fear faded after day two.
I lie down. After jotting down some notes for the day, reading a few pages from Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, my eyelids get heavy. I turn my phone off to save the battery and I close my eyes. The next thing I know, it’s 6 in the morning. The first light of the day is thinking about peaking over the tops of the trees. I roll over and get the stove going for coffee and force my way out of bed. I may have slept on the ground, but it was some of the best sleep I’ve ever had.
If I was to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that a good part of the motivation to move under my own power for extended periods of time is the ability to sleep.
The ADAA recommends regular exercise to help manage stress and anxiety. They cite studies that show that exercise, in some instances, can be as effective as medication in controlling anxiety and depression. They claim, “One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.”
Works for me.
About a week prior to our departure, I got an email from the airline we had booked flights with. They informed me that the flight they had sold me no longer existed. We had two options, cancel the trip or fly back via a different airport that was about 100 miles south of where we would be ending. After arguing in Spanish and English, calling various times and wasting about an hour of my life, we had to accept the change.
Outside of making some inquiries on possible reservations and taxi rides, the fact that we would be ending our ride and then have to get to a completely different town, never bothered me or my sleep. It was just something in the future that I would have to deal with. In stark contrast to the weeks leading up to our trip, my worries were at bay. Held behind a dam that I can only attribute to moving all day, every day. I slept wonderfully, almost always on the ground.
For ten days, we pedaled from La Paz around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and back to La Paz riding over 300 miles almost entirely on dirt. We camped on beaches, slipped through small towns where the store was someone’s garage with only a few things for sale and drank our fair share of watery Mexican beer. The only fear that had kept me awake that came to fruition was the bleeding saddle sores. Caused by what was a bad batch of chamois cream, it made the ride interesting, but you couldn’t have slapped the smile off my face for those ten days.
Once home, the only thing that kept me out of the deepest of despair was knowing I would be doing it again soon.
The Cape Loop is a 283 mile circuit around the tip of the Baja Peninsula and is part of the Baja Divide. The route was created by Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox and is provided free of charge at https://bajadivide.com/
For info and tips about managing anxiety and depression visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America at https://adaa.org/
Lukas Brinkerhoff blogs about mountain biking and life at mooseknuckleralliance.org.