Miss adventure

“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” Tony Schwartz

In the days leading up to my departure to Europe, I started this blog to capture the time before the beginning of my hike.

Of course, I had these writing ideas but it never turns out to be what you think. Read on.

I’ve finished work for the next five weeks, all nicely negotiated into my contract. I’m down to the smaller logistics before I fly out. My mind is full of last minute tasks but experience shows some of those will fall away as I let go.

The house is quiet. The fridge emptied and Summer is off on a very long doggy date. The kids are happily with their father in Japan. We are a family that seems to like a bit of travel.

Right now, it seems surreal I have created this next adventure for myself.

The seed was planted two years ago when I was solo hiking the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites. Another hiker at the refugio was chatting about this epic hike she had heard of, but didn’t know the details.

As she spoke, I felt the yes move through my entire body, landing softly right in the centre of my heart. I knew right then, in the middle of the Italian mountains, that I was coming back to do that hike.

I guess you would call that setting an intention.

That left me tracking down a hike my heart blatantly committed me to. Turned out to be the Walkers Haute Route, ranked in the top twenty of the world’s best hikes.

The trail starts in Chamonix, France and ends in Zermatt, Switzerland, and it’s 180kms in length crossing 11 mountain passes. By the end I will have climbed a total of 12,000 metres and descended another 10,000. Ouch.

A tad strenuous, a little mad, or a mighty undertaking. I type that laughing out loud. Take your pick. I don’t mind.

I will be as high as 3,000 meters. At that height your heart connects with how much there is to this life that remains unknown, and all the questions just fall away.

I wondered last time if this was what death would be like? Where all about you just is and it’s all okay, Mother Nature holding you in her embrace. I hope it is.

Back to this earthly plane, to bring this intention into reality, I added the plan. This included the timeline, saving, training and educating myself on the hike.

When your heart knows the way, you trust the calling.

Sometimes living wholeheartedly requires me to defy logic. My pre-frontal cortex does battle with it, and it goes like this, “what the hell GEORGINA are you doing?” This is followed by a whole series of inquiries, and a lot of raised eyebrows from others!

The executive functioning runs amok with trepidation, anxiety and all the things that could go wrong. Well that is its job, the inbuilt safety check.

I appreciate reasoning and sensibility, it creates a basis for making sure I do my preparation, but at some stage I have to depart from my thinking and be who I am.

Quite frankly, it can be a long way from your head to your heart.

Self-doubt has had its fair share of time in my life and I’m not prepared to give it much play these days.

Don’t get me wrong, my thinking has been screaming at me these last couple of weeks. I’ve felt so very raw and vulnerable knowing I’m about to push myself outside my comfort zone.

Again.

Although, that harsh voice would have once immobilised me by undermining my confidence to my very core, it has become just that. A voice. I acknowledge it’s there, playing the tape, but I tend to give it much less time.

For I know it’s not the truth about who I am.

The bigger voice now, which is ironically still and quiet, is based in strength, empowerment and boldness. If want to live from my heart this is the calm voice I embrace.

I am both terrified and excited.

I have first hand experience in what a long distance mountain hike can do.

And this is the part where my planned blog changes.

Thanks to my friend I was cycling with in the mountains of Annecy earlier this week, we were talking about the wilderness. She had just come off the trail from a multi day mountain hike. The word she used was recalibration to describe what happens, this includes the physical body, mind and of course, your soul. We agreed, there can be no other way.

With the sun warming our skin, our legs pedalling to keep pace with the bunch and the feeling of being free, she spontaneously takes our conversation in a different direction. She said, “G, I know you’ve had a tough time personally of late, and I want to say to you if you just keep getting on with your life, something will happen.”

Seems a pretty simple piece of advice, however I’ve never spoken to her about that ache. She just knew. Her timing was perfect, as was her intuition. Such wisdom is embodied in that for me.

Now the reason I write about my friend’s words, is that I had planned to blog about all the things I expected to happen to and for me on this hike.

Except now I’m not.

I had presumed to know based on past experience but I have no idea.

Well….I did actually just buy myself a leatherman knife in Chamonix in anticipation of celebrating the finish of my hike. As my hiker/cyclist friend says, “you need something to cut the cheese.”

Every adventure chick should have one.

This brings me to start of my hike. I’m publishing this blog on the eve of day one. In the morning, at 6am, I hike out for what will be a 21 kilometre day. Rest assured it’s probably the easiest part of the walk. A lovely way to ease in.

As the quote says at the start of my blog, I commit to letting go of certainty and open myself to curiosity, by embracing what the mountains reveal to me.

More importantly, as my friend said, “something will happen”, by living my life, and you know I’m going to blog about that!

In the mean time, where’s the cheese? A girl needs to use her knife.

Her Time

“She has been feeling it for awhile now — that sense of awakening. There is a gentle rage simmering inside her, and it is getting stronger by the day. She will hold it close to her — she will nurture it and let it grow. She won’t let anyone else take it away from her. It is her rocket fuel and finally, she is going places. She can feel it down to her very core — this is her time. She will not only climb mountains — she will move them too.” Lang Leav

You know that mother who sacrifices her own wellbeing for the sake of all others? The one who is tirelessly (but is really tired) giving of her time to the family and community. She bakes herself silly, attends infinite amounts of committee meetings, helps out in the classroom, runs the household and the kids around, juggling babies, toddlers and routines.

Somehow, she keeps it all ticking along in some of kind order. She smiles when asked how she is, there is no time to be sick or flat. She just keeps going.  This was me.

I’ve driven my kids to ballet, soccer, basketball, football, book signings, art classes, meditation, softball, karate, the list is long. I’ve taken them camping and hiking, introduced them to the wilderness. I’ve lost count of the concerts and sports finals. I’ve made playdough for what feels like a thousand times, read endless books out loud, built mud pits and mowed cricket pitches in the backyard. The fairies even lived in our garden for years, and you know someone had to orchestrate that too. You get the drift.

No one directly asked me to do this, nor did I think I ever made a conscious decision to do so. I did it because that’s what I thought a good mother was. I didn’t question it. Then one day I tried to peer past what my life might look like after raising children, it was bleak. Nothing in fact. I felt innately unsettled. Is this all there is?

Then everything changed.

Don’t get me wrong. Being with my children has been wonderful, messy, hard, awesome, dull, rewarding, downright hilarious, and challenging. There is so much I’m grateful for. There are moments of pure joy, discovery, fun, horror, struggle, pain and grief. What a mix it has been. I love them with a fierce and full heart.

But I had to get cracking on building something for me. I needed me. Beyond mothering.

Before my great awakening, I recall my brother generously offering me a ticket to Europe after my marriage ended. I was shattered into a million tiny pieces, and I still said no. Can you believe that? A quality problem I realise. I could not imagine taking 4-6 weeks out of my life to just take care of myself. I opted for a quick jaunt to Hawaii instead. You know in case they all needed me back home. Hello girl!

A part of my unraveling was a statement I came across, it simply said here’s to all women who say no to be of service to themselves. I was struck by its simplicity, and wisdom.

My how things have changed. I saw how depleted I was, the juggling as a solo mother of four children, and I started to say no.  Not to everything, my kids still have very active and engaged lives, but I stopped the superfluous busy. Remarkably, this opened up spaces in all of lives to be doing what we all really love, and time in-between to be.

As I’m about to take off for another four-week adventure holiday in Europe, ahem my second one in two years without kids, I am no longer worried that they ‘might’ need me. If they genuinely do, I am two flights from home. Fancy that, they can get by without me for a bit. And these days, I will always say yes to adventure first then logistics later.

I had to sit with the question a few years back about what would make me come alive, and I found it incredibly difficult to answer.

As a result of even pondering that question, new worlds started to open up, and it’s taken some mighty courage to push myself outside of those comfort zones. Letting go of that internalized story of who I should be, and becoming who I really am.

Turns out, I am not that mother. The one who will be cesslessly taking care of her children’s needs. I will always, always be there for them but as they are all in their teens now I am handing more responsibility to them. They can cook, make their own lunches, clean their own rooms, get themselves to and from school, one works casually, they understand how to manage their money and time. They are responsible for their own homework and schedules, and everything that entails. If they forget something for school, so be it. I only help out when genuinely needed.

Recently I added the washing program in, that is they take care of their pile of clothes, or not. This has been comical to watch, and they have now successfully negotiated teams to share the load. One less thing I have to do, and one more thing they are extremely capable of.

All of this has opened up time for me to create a vision in the empty space I saw when I looked beyond my children.

Now, on most days Mumma has gone cycling or hiking and has left the house at dawn.

And I always come back, happy.

And the kids are great.

What made me come alive? That would be the time created by doing less for others. This time is where I am Georgina, not mum, not the trauma counsellor, or the daughter, or sister or whatever to anyone else for anything.

And I find my heart is full. I feel empowered and strong. I’m living a life I love.

This flows back into everything, and ultimately my family have a whole, calm and shall we say, an adrenaline filled mother.

The kids continue to call it my mid-life crisis.

I call this my mid-life.

And I found me in her time.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Her heart knows the way

“You have seen my descent, now watch my rising.” Rumi.

My 11-year old daughter swings the car door open, leaps in and greets me with “hello adventure Mum!” She makes me laugh. She has been at her Dad’s house all weekend and we catch up on what’s been happening for her. She asks after my weekend, I tell her about my 7-hour solo hike across the Cathedral Ranges, the 60kms of riding in the hills and a 30km recovery ride afterwards. And then there’s a work day thrown in, and before picking her up I smashed out 100kms on the bike.

Just because it was my day off. Who wants to do housework right?

She turns her head towards me, her beautiful eyes wide open and she exclaims, “Oh mum, I feel like I don’t know who you are anymore!” I look at my baby girl, trusting me wholeheartedly as only a child does with their mother, and respond with a big smile, “oh bella, but I sure do.”

Yep, it’s taken me many years and so much life experience to bring me to the place where I know and trust who I am. And I like that person, a lot. This is my mid-life and Mumma is playing hard. And my daughter, I can see her rolling her eyes, but at the same time I’m aware she’s observing how I live my life. This is the paradox for her, she knows me as her mother but who is this wild woman emerging? You’re not going to fit that into a box anytime soon.

The next day, my daughter was playing her basketball game, and a mother whom I had only met once before sat next me. She seemed a little nervous. As I was wondering what I was sensing, in her broken English she tells me she found out last week I have four children. I chuckle and confirm. What else can you say? This is a common query always coupled with disbelief.

Next thing I know she is reaching into her hand bag and pulling out a trinket, it’s from China, and represents peace and happiness for women. She offers it to me. Maybe she thinks four kids means less tranquility, but I know differently. My inner life is usually still. The most used word to describe me is calm, but rest assured the adventure mum reputation is a current work in progress. And those four kids, my family, are some of my greatest spiritual teachers in that journey. I thanked her for her thoughtful gesture and felt grateful for her random act of kindness.

As we continued to watch the game together, my daughter made a pretty bold move, intercepting the ball. Again, this mother turns to me, clapping her hands and cries, “Your daughter…. fearless.” That makes me so happy. I love hearing people describe my three daughters, and it’s a constant wherever I go. Words defining gutsy young women, including brave, determined, independent, strong and my favorite, feisty.

One man even described my oldest daughter as having some strong feminist views, and I know when he said this, by the way he said it, it was terribly confronting for him. Of course, I asked what his point was? I wish for them a powerful voice and a self-belief where they stand in their own lives knowing they are valued, supported and loved for who they are. So far, so good.

The day after basketball, I arrived at work to a gift and a card from a colleague. Reading it made me laugh out loud. The card said, “congratulations on raising four children, getting the word ‘lycra’ into your bio and riding the most kilometres.” And yes, I did manage to get both cycling and hiking mentioned in my professional biography. This must of been the week for small gifts and women lifting me up. I’ll take it.

The other irony is I never set out to be this woman in her forties who is compelled to be way outside her comfort zone. Yet the more I do, the more I know I am home. The societal rules about how a solo mother with four kids should be are unravelling for me. And yes, sometimes I wonder when enough is enough. The answer isn’t forthcoming so I just keep turning up.

Mostly, what I am called to do cannot be explained in words. I just have to go. My next adventure is in four weeks where I’m taking on a 180 kilometre hike in some big European mountains. I know this is what makes me come alive, like I am breathing deeply into this precious life, really living. This is uncharted, letting go of a life expected of me, and being here instead.  With that, I feel this mantra resonating through me as my constant guide: her heart knows the way. And so she does

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Smashing it out

“They won’t tell you fairytales of how girls can be dangerous and still win. They will only tell you stories where girls are sweet and kind and reject all sin. I guess to them it’s a terrifying thought, a red riding hood who knew exactly what she was doing when she invited the wild in.” Nikita Gill – Girls of the Wild

With my inherent love for the mountains, how could I say no to our friends asking us to leave town a week before Christmas and camp. Get away from the lead up and the madness? Hell yes. The alternative of staying in the city felt untenable for many reasons. And who could knock back days of swimming in the lake? I was enormously grateful for the invitation as we packed up and left. I had no idea when we booked I would soon be holding a heart laden with grief. This kind of heartache in me belongs in the wilderness, where her tenderness soothes more than any other place I have ever known.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m a girl who honors the call to be somewhere out in the wild, and sometimes that shout out requires some serious logistics to pull it off.  In recent years, I’ve woken up to how vital it is for me to put my oxygen mask on first. I spent years putting myself second, and um, very last, with everything. Turns out those airline safety announcements have actually come in handy!

I borrowed an old road bike for this camp to decide if I would take on this cycling gig back home. From our site, I watched my lycra-loving friend take off to ride and up down the mountain. I was filled with both curiosity and envy about what it would be like to do this kind of climb on a bike. The thought was enticing and incredibly overwhelming, it had my attention. I already felt its pull.

Already climbing on foot with hiking, I knew the joy and exertion in reaching a summit. As I watched my buddy ride off, I recognized a glint of excitement in in his eyes, and I vowed I’d be back to ride up this mountain as my first serious cycling goal. I hadn’t even brought my bike yet. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. Another wild call.

The next directed step just appeared. Why am I not surprised? I registered for the women’s supported ride up the very mountain I set my intention to climb. Yep it just came up in my newsfeed. Three months into my cycling life I found myself standing listening to the briefing, softly sinking into the muddy autumn earth filled with the same sense of adventure that draws me out hiking.

Nothing is ever straight forward when you’re a beginner, there seems to be so many small fine-tune ups to this cycling. My very next lesson involved having so much mud in my shoe I couldn’t clip in. I didn’t discover this until I was in the bunch riding. Oops. I had to drop off once I realized what the problem was. Did I mention rookie? Yep.

As I stood on the side of the road trying to fix my problem, more bunches rode past asking if I was okay. Internal groan. There is so much humility in cycling. I needed help. And then he appeared. A very loud and Irish ride marshal ringing his cow bell at me. Couldn’t we just do this quietly? Apparently not. Mr. Charming handed me the bell and instructed me to shake it at the bunches coming. You know I smashed that out. Cool, so that’s now off my bucket list.

As my shoe was inspected, he decided we needed a pointy object to service it. He reached for his pocket and said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, I giggled as he got to work.  As the next bunch came along the now Mr. Swordfighter yelled out, “I’m just seeing if the glass slipper fits.” What a dude. With my problem solved, I declared him my hero for the day, and took off to smash out my first real mountain.

As I cycled up, I called out to another rider to let her know I was passing. Spinning her legs, she puffed, “yep, another person going by me, I think I’m close to last now.” This is where all that math came in handy from high school, I churned the numbers in my head, we were probably in the middle, not the fastest, not the slowest. There was a heap behind us. She seemed relieved.

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Fascinated, she told me about a serious bike accident she had just two weeks ago. I told her she was pretty awesome and gutsy. She immediately tried to rebuff it with negativity. I wasn’t having that. I had also come off my bike a week before on the tram tracks. We were both doing our thing climbing that god damn mountain. That’s worth celebrating. And so is reaching the top.

Taking a quiet moment, I acknowledged my efforts to get to this day, and how I am no longer that person who allows fear to tell me what I can’t do. Interestingly, I quickly label fear but I’m starting to see it’s actually excitement. My inner commitment is to find and do what makes me come alive. The strong hold gripping me for years caring about what others might think has all but gone. Now I am motivated by what I believe of myself. This keeps my life continually opening up to more adventure. Bring it on. My part is allowing myself to be a beginner and learner, and that makes me one hell of a happy girl doing her thing.

After rocking that first mountain climb, there was an optional much longer ride the next day so some of us took off early morning. To say it wasn’t daunting or I was very ginger on the huge descent is understatement (think tram tracks) but I still did it. As I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone, I had to trust in the training coupled with the enthusiastic voices I carry within me of my loving friends, and of my own heart knowing I’m doing what I love. The magic for me is in the turning up. Not just with cycling, but everything in my life.

Going back to the top of the first day climb, another cyclist wanted to ride beyond to see what was there. I knew already. I jumped at the chance to ride a few extra kilometers, actually I always do, and yes there were a few eye rolls when I declared a recovery ride for myself later that afternoon. The sun was shining, we were coming down at a cracking pace and there it was, the lake, I almost squealed. I was returning to a place that knew me well. A few months ago, my tears had softly fallen upon this earth and the lake met me exactly as I was.

And here she was again, holding me in another time where my heart was whole and opening to love. This time she received my happiness. I was on my own bike and was reflecting on how I can never know what will unfold at any moment. Through turning up in the messiness, I knew I was finding my way back to trusting in life. I thanked her silently for I suspect she already knew how the timing of my life is always, always perfect.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

The right people

“We’ll be friends forever because you already know too much.” Unknown.

My friend wraps her arms around me, it’s her 70th birthday celebration, without fail she always finds something so loving to say to me when I’m in her embrace.  She is an awesome woman, lived an incredible life with so much dignity, grace and hard work. The smell of her perfume lingers on me for the afternoon as I race about picking up and dropping my kids from the school fair to basketball finals. For some reason, the fragrance gets me thinking about the incredible friendships I have in my life.

Odd how the brain works sometimes. Maybe it’s actually the heart.

As I move with the family’s events, I find different friends popping into my mind with love and appreciation. These friendships span a great number of years and over many, many life events. We’ve travelled, celebrated, grieved, laughed, danced, walked, partied, explored and spent endless hours talking and hanging out. There is a history binding us together underpinning who we once were and who we are are now.

Fair to say I’ve lost a few friendships too, that happens. At times, you just outgrow each other for a number of reasons and I’ve learned the art of letting go. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t hurt or I haven’t experienced the loss but, as I’ve become older I accept that not everyone is meant for the long haul.

And sometimes I’ve even felt enormously grateful they’ve gone.

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Having children changed the way I experienced friendships too. There was no longer the time there once was. I’m pretty sure that cost me a few mates. Having four children in five years pretty much put me in ‘unavailable-just getting by’ mode for quite a time. Then there were the years of post-divorce survival and intense study as I transformed my life.

One friend left telling me I had changed. They were absolutely right, how could I not? I think they might have been saying they needed me to shrink back to the way I was to them. I actually didn’t ask, the attack came thick and fast and I decided to step back, let it all go to the wicket keeper and see what was left. Nothing apparently. As another beautiful friend always says, onwards sister.

These long-time friends have been the kind to not demand my time when I was running on limited output. They are the people who I can call at any time and I know they will not only answer, but have my back to the end of this earth, and then some. They can experience me emotionally unkempt and jagged as I grapple with what life may have thrown at me for that day, month or year.

They can distinguish my sobs on the end of the telephone long before I’ve thought to say it’s me.

Even as I unravel in tears they will at the same time have me gasping for air by making me laugh as we face life on life’s terms together. They can hold me in all my despair, joy and grief but also do not feel obliged to find my answers or solve my problems. We have learned to be there without co-dependency enmeshing itself to our souls. We are free to disagree, to share our wild and fierce opinions and dreams, and even if we don’t really understand why, we will back up in each other’s lives anyway.

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“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” Winnie the Pooh

These are the people who don’t think twice when I tell them about what my next adventure will be. They are the ones who believe I can do what I set out to do. We celebrate who we are: gutsy, wholehearted and true to ourselves. We don’t tell each other to stop, reign ourselves in, or roll our eyes saying, “you should have this sorted by now.”

There is a calm acceptance of where we are at, and sometimes that is at the seemingly bottom of the barrel facing a struggle, maybe a thousand times over. We know life is shockingly difficult at times, as we’ve faced destruction and deep loss, both unexpectedly and by the decisions we or others have made. We have never given up on each other.

We know we are messy as we strive to live this beautiful life, and we just hope it’s not all of us of the same day. So far, so good on that one.

We are an interesting bunch, all ages, spread across many places, with extraordinarily different education and careers. Some of us have kids and we understand what it is to parent day in and day out, to lose your stuff and feel like we’re failing. And we also get to share when we ace it too, and everything in-between.

Some of us were unable to have children, and we’ve walked with each other whilst facing the unbearable loss of both miscarriage and the opportunity. Some have decided to not have a family, and we’ve celebrated this decision as well. Us parents might have put them off!

The mix is rich, the variations are deep, and that is our bond.

These people are the ones I trust when I lose my equilibrium, when all about me seems unfathomable and shaky. We understand there are times where we find ourselves in the darkness and we call to each other so we know we aren’t alone there. Sometimes we pull up a seat and a coffee and sit there, in silent support. This can be enough.

We trust in each other’s goodness and ability to find our way through. We respect that sometimes one of us is not available, perhaps reached emotional or physical capacity, and there are times of retreat.  Other than checking we are okay, we don’t take this personally, and if we do, we talk about it when the time is apparent.

We are not perfect, but I know we are no longer striving to be. We have ditched the rule book and found ways to be who we are in relationship, without drama and emotional chaos. Quite frankly, we have full lives and there isn’t much time for that. I am not talking about a hundred friends, but a good few who have become a part of me for all of time.

They are the ones who have left footprints on my heart and very bad jokes on my voicemail and inbox. They will tell me the truth, even if it hurts, but that same breath will be backed up with love.

These are the friendships I cannot live without.

All images via Pinterest
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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

For the love of lycra

With everyone sound asleep I leave the house at 6am. The streets are mostly still. I rely on the bike light as I cycle towards trendy Beach Road. The only sound is the changing of my gears against the backdrop of birds singing the world awake. It’s Saturday morning and I’m avoiding bunches who usually start at seven. I figure if I’m out early I can ride quietly and not be overwhelmed by numbers.

As I roll to a stop, giving way to a small group barreling down the road, the silence is shattered by the sound of each rider saying good morning. I look around to see if there are others behind me. No, it’s just me. I’m taken aback by their friendliness and impressed they can even speak at the speed they’re going.

This is how my day begins, riding beside the ocean with the sun rising and the sound of the cyclists all wishing me well as they fly on by. Yeah kind of shows you how fast I am not going. There is something about it, almost intangible as I peddle along, that is pulling at me with each greeting. There is a kindness in such a simple gesture. There are some who don’t say a thing as they pass but the ones who make the effort impress me. It doesn’t take much and it creates a connection, even just for that moment. Reminds that I am not alone. I feel happy.

I am seeing connection everywhere these days. Worlds opening up. The support has been incredible and the enthusiasm for a woman getting on a bike is second to none. I’ve been out riding with a couple of different women’s groups, learning skills and increasing fitness. There has been nothing but encouragement, and a lot of laughter.

As a side note, how awesome are some of the clothing kits. Wild. Just quietly I don’t mind a six foot man in lycra. Am I allowed to admit that? Now I’m a lycra girl with nowhere to hide.  However, here is a tip, you should never refer to Rapha as Ralph in the bike store, it stops conversation. No need to thank me.

Back to my new efforts, most of my life I have suffered from black and white thinking, my mind doesn’t seem to like the middle ground. To my credit, through the years I have learned to see when this polarized mindset kicks in and to ignore the initial cognitive assessment. This was once again evident when I borrowed a 17-year-old bike from a friend to see if cycling was a hit before I brought myself one. Gosh if Sister Lorraine and Father Michael could see me now, so sensible.

This borrowed bike was the clip-in-your-shoe-on-the-pedal kind so that took some getting used to. Yep I took a few falls. My shins, hips and hands covered in bruises for a good few weeks. Ouch. I’m glad one my cycling friends gave me the heads up about not unclipping fast enough. He laughed twice, first when he warned me that falling over was all part of learning and all riders do it. Thanks buddy. I didn’t feel so stupid when it happened. And again. And again. And secondly, he was amused when I reported in with each fall but he also tempered his response with be safe out there, and seriously, what about a bike path? Now that was a good idea.

Three falls in fact, each with embarrassment written all over them. One was outside a building site, and yeah you can imagine. My last one was on a two-laned main road. I had traffic behind me, I timed the turn really well, coaching myself in my head, you’ve got this G and then some pedestrians stepped out onto the road. I needed to stop suddenly and couldn’t unclip fast enough. Yep, I just fell sideways, in what felt like slow motion, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I happened to be wearing bright pink so you couldn’t miss the chick cyclist falling. What was I saying about wild kits?

As I lay there humiliated with cars and trucks stopped behind me, that black and white thinking kicked in. Blow this, I quit, it’s too hard and I do not know what I’m meant to be doing. I pulled myself up, utterly frustrated, and limped off the road to safety with the voice of a kind driver asking if I was alright. I wanted to scream back I’m not alright, this was a stupid idea but I forced a smile and thanked her for asking. My thoughts continued to swirl, why wasn’t I getting this cycling gig? Surely at 46 this is just a ridiculous undertaking! Um, hello girl, you’ve been on this bike for two weeks, on your own. Get help. Sometimes I annoy myself with missing the obvious.

Now weeks on, yes it’s still early days, I’m riding my new bike, it’s a brilliant red by the way, and that help continues to arrive. I have joined a cycling club that runs an awesome beginners group. You know that means more rowdy kit. Facing my fears, I’m learning the skill of riding in a bunch and meeting so many great people. The polarized thinking has relaxed a little now that I am not on my own. I have a couple of cyclist friends who have been so generous in riding with me, and teaching me how to ride safely and confidently on the roads, and cycling paths (yes I took that suggestion on board too).

On my first beginners bunch ride, an older gentleman with the kindest demeanor rode beside me for a time. He asked if he could give me some advice, sweet. Sure, I said. He told me that my bike was my friend, it wanted to help me so how about you stop strangling the handlebars, and relax your shoulders a little. He had me laughing. He was right. I was murdering them with tension.

Now when I ride I have his calm voice in my head. It has been like that with each person who has taken the time to help me. I am grateful I didn’t quit on that last fall, and my next goal is to climb Mt Buffalo, and a few others (wink, wink) before I head to Europe mid-year to hike. Hopefully, I might be able to meet up with others and tackle a mountain or two on a bike. I wonder if there is a kit for that?

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I never thought I’d see the day she photographs her own bike!
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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace

Being too much

Courage is not shaped by a Wonder Woman cape, it is an everyday girl facing that which terrifies her and saying yes anyway.” Quote unknown.

Two years ago, at age 44, after completing only two overnight hikes of around 20kms each I was compelled to travel to the Italian Alps. Originally, I looked at a hike in Sardinia but June was going to be too hot. Look up North they said, the Dolomites, there are some good walks up there. The Alta Via 1 is around 150kms. I never questioned my ability aside for a few jokes with my friends, I just took it in my stride I would do it.

In hindsight, when you are hiking a path of this scale, it might have been prudent to buy the topographical maps first and have a look. I cannot explain to you the drive that propelled me to choose this one. I did not question the call and I booked my flights. In the end I think my hike was about 200kms. You’ll read why.

I make myself sound like I didn’t do any research. I read a lot. I put out a call on Facebook and sure enough a friend of friend had done it the year before. Awesome. He sent me a billion photos and answered my questions. Did he use a compass? Was the trail hard? Trail markings clear? Problems with altitude? He answered in word, sending more photos of him hanging off cliff faces, holy crap, he looked fit.

I found a reputable tour company and booked a self-guided walk. This meant people knew I was out there and I was expected nightly at each Refugio. Perhaps the question ought to have been, should a gal who has been hiking less than year take on this trip solo?  Maybe subconsciously I knew what the answer would be so I never asked. I refused to listen to fear.

Of course, I trained, well what I thought was training for this hike. I took hikes with a hiking group who all reassured me that I could easily do the AV1. A few of them had done it but I failed to see they did it in a group. I added in stair work and hiking on sand, and for the record that did not prepare me for snow, nor did my regular Bikram yoga classes. Damn it, the snow was a hard slog.

However, as always, yoga prepared for me the mental anguish and despair I faced. I had learned to not give up, acknowledge the pain, name the struggle but keep on going. I also hiked amazing routes above Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast before the AV1, covering many kilometers with steep ascents and descents. The rest of the fitness came on the hike.

A handsome Italian guide, Andrea, briefed me on the maps marked out with highlighter, saying it was easier to follow and he did it for all his clients. Looking at the map, I thought maybe he was just sick of going to search for lost hikers. This was not just one straight path, it was crazing making spaghetti like trails. The map was a one big mass of green and grey with trails of blue, red and a little bit of orange. What the hell do they all mean anyway?

I was about to find out. I have a friend who talks about waking up bit by bit when you’re on a spiritual path, and maybe this was true for your first real hiking path too. There is no argument I wasn’t awake about how demanding it would be. The alarm was about to scream so loud I would be fully awake soon enough.

Back to Andrea, he asked if I had hiked before, um yes. Was I okay about being out there on my own and did I understand that people die on this trail? Sure, I said. I mean the hotel receptionist just called me the adventurous type. I guess that was the Italian assessment of my hiking ability. He said I could call him any time, as long as there was phone range, and if I needed him he could come to me.

He then cheekily suggested meeting me at the end of the AV1 for some via ferrata (Italian for climbing route instead of hiking). I nearly choked on my food. I remember thinking he definitely had an element of likable crazy to him. He laughed, said it would be fun. I did wonder if that was opposed to this not being fun. You know I’m so going to try via ferrata next time!

Had I thought this through? Yes and no. I believed a hike in the Dolomites would be spectacular and beautiful, pretty meadows, stunning mountains and cow bells. What I didn’t know was it would push me beyond all my physical and mental limits, allowing me to witness courage, exceptional fortitude and to uncover how self-doubt can easily rob me of encountering how capable I actually am. This was mighty girl stuff.

There’s a lot out there about moving outside your comfort zone, well this hike took me to a totally new level of discomfort. I experienced a few utterly desperate moments where I just had to surrender and lapse into absolute powerlessness. Paradoxically, I then watched the magic arise through bravery in action: making decisions, finding solutions, losing my temper and returning to a calm state once again. I nearly threw my hiking poles over the side of the mountain at one point. Not helpful.

With mountain after spectacular mountain, both majestic and daunting, I had many moments of awe in the vast spaces I found myself in, I had to stop walking to take it all in. There was fear bordering on panic when I took the wrong trails, like I could possibly lose my mind at any moment. Well some might have argued I had already lost it. At my lowest moments, I just wanted lie down on the trail and take my last breath. Dramatic I know.

Self-doubt was ever present and dominating, screaming through me at what I loser I was to be out here. Ironically, it is the first time I looked at my self-doubt and knew with absolute truth it was a liar, to be pushing my boundaries like this does not take a loser, it takes a warrior.

Surprisingly, I write that with sarcasm, getting lost was a combination of some poor signage and let’s face it my own inexperience. I felt both enormous joy and sobbed my heart out, sometimes at the same time. My toes caused me excruciating pain in the last few days making me cry even more. I lost five toenails in the end. In contrast, my body was astounding and powerful as I walked up, down, over and through knee-deep snow, mud, massive boulders, little rocks, pathways, streams and meadows.

Climbing heights to 3,000 meters where it became this mystical realm beyond the world as I knew it, in-between layers of cloud, where anything seemed possible. I wandered through green valleys to the sound of only cattle and goat’s bells, curiously raising their heads to watch the lone hiker walk on by as they grazed in the morning sun.

Alone for hours in my own company, with both peaceful thoughts and dark, desperate ones. Forced to find my way when I just wanted to give up exhausted. I distinctly recall climbing one mountain, sobbing, and unreasonably wishing for someone to appear before me and hoist me off the mountain. At the same time, knowing to the contrary the only person who could save me was myself, you know be your own hero, by taking step after step to the top. Relief flooded me as the hut came into sight each day (which also meant a macchiato and Italian cake) as I navigated my way along those trails with wonder, doubt, happiness, confusion, agony, aches, energy and a force I never knew I had.

One of the days I hiked with a gorgeous young lady, Allannah, who was taking the same route, she was a perfect companion and geologist, very handy.  Day eight I hired a local guide, Roberto, knowing I was bordering on physical exhaustion with an 18km trek over five snow slopes, one mighty peak and severe descent. I remember the snow easing the pain in my toes. He even carried my backpack, a hiker’s dream. I declared I loved him in Italian. He couldn’t stop laughing. He spoke very little English but he said the mountains were in his heart. I could tell.

As I followed Roberto I remember thinking this is an exquisite walking meditation as I didn’t have to think. Asking for help was totally unplanned but instinctively the right thing to do for that day. Some trails were busy, some were remote, and regardless I kept on until I found myself grief-stricken with sadness on the last day, not wanting to leave these mountains both holding and changing me.

There were two common questions on my return, “did you know what you were getting yourself in for?” Ha, I have sufficiently answered that. Secondly, “what did I learn from my hike?” I saw both a contradiction and an erroneous belief, I thought the more vulnerable I felt the weaker I would be, but as I pushed myself into the most self-exposure I have ever known, the more robust I became.

Interestingly in this state where my thoughts grew dark I discovered I could hold myself in those spaces, indeed I was strongest in what I would once have labelled as pathetic. Essentially, it did matter how I treated myself in those moments, in dropping into extreme vulnerability I found resilience and self-compassion for the tenacity it took to be on the trail on my own. Experience and living in the unknown, the part that is beyond the plan, is where I found the magic, the inexplicable depths of who I am.

Back at home, I was recounting my tales to a woman in her sixties, with my then 10-year-old daughter snuggled into my side. I was a few months into a new relationship and the question was raised “with all this adventure, do you think you will be too much for him?” Well aware my daughter was listening to every word I replied kindly but fiercely, that I didn’t care about being too much for anyone because this is who I am. I realised how far I had come.

I have spent a great portion of my life pleasing others and thinking I am not enough, and now I was being presented with the idea I might be too much. I know this woman had good intention, I love her dearly, but I also understand this is no longer my story. I do not have to tone myself down for anyone nor do I even have the slightest willingness to do so.

In the relationship mentioned, we had talked about the possibility of hiking the Walkers Haute Route together this year. Little did I know this was going to be our last conversation, a few days later we ended abruptly and for good reason. This was a few months back and with my heart broken open, I booked the flights anyway. I am now happily planning my return back to the mountains of Europe, solo. This time I will take with me confidence and the experience I have earned. I’ve even mapped the route myself!

And that girl cuddled into me, well she is one of three gutsy daughters, and I also have a great son. I know they watch very closely in how I live my life. There is no space within me to give up on my dreams because I am on my own. I am busy seeking adventure and daring myself to keep on turning up to life in a mighty girl way. Some may label that too much. I would call it wholehearted.

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A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See https://leaning-inwards.myshopify.com/products/youve-got-this-necklace