Pat gently held my arms and forced me to look at her. I dreaded the words she was going to say. I stood there shaking. Then she said, in a calm but firm voice “Kellie, we are not far from the campground. Ed is going to set up camp and you and I are going to get a taxi to the nearest urgent care center. You don’t have a choice in this. You need medical attention.” I burst into tears. Those tears that opened a floodgate of emotions. I was standing there with the right side of my face so swollen from two mosquito bites that I could not see out of my right eye. My left thigh had an infection from a spider bite that I had gotten while riding my bicycle the previous day. I knew I needed medical attention. I also knew that I would not be able to finish the ninety day adventure of a lifetime: a bicycle trek across the northern border of the United States. Those were tears of failure
We had started our ride three weeks earlier in Bar Harbor Maine. Now were in upstate New York and had traversed three mountain ranges spread over four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. But we had really started our trip a few years before the actual physical start of the ride. Pat and I have been friends for over seven years. We met during a 2006 7-day bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I knew right then we were going to be friends forever. Pat began to share her dream to ride across the United States, camping along the way. I told her that I hoped she would be able to find someone to join her because I don’t do camping and I couldn’t take off work three months for a bike ride.
God however, (insert the universe, fate, or whatever works for you here) has a funny way of working in my life and apparently he wanted me to learn to camp. But first I would have to answer my very seriously ill Mother’s call for help in the final few years of her life, then I was laid off from a lucrative IT contract in 2010, and next I fell with what was ultimately diagnosed as mixed connective tissue disease: an autoimmune disease that left me very weak and wracked with chronic pain in my joints and soft tissue.
The pain was so debilitating I was unable to work. My husband and I moved to a much smaller house. We had to learn to live off of one check, and that meant giving up one of our cars as well and learning to use our bikes as transportation. The wonderful irony of this was that riding my bike gave me relief from the pain and helped me learn to better manage this challenging condition. Pat has Rheumatoid Arthritis and has helped me by immeasurably by implanting a vision of health and hope within the confines of my diagnoses.
Pat was so talented with this vision implanting that she talked me into a short trip from Los Angeles to San Diego to try out bicycle camping and to see if we were compatible travelers. Even with my new health challenges (or perhaps even more so because of them) she was determined she and I would someday ride across the U.S. together. Everything that could go wrong went wrong during that short trip but we always worked together to solve our situations (not problems!). At the end of that trip, I knew I could make the much longer trip and be okay with self-contained bicycle camping. We chose 2012 to make our trek because in 2013 we would both turn 60. Happy birthday to us!
Let’s go back to upstate New York. After seeing a doctor in the urgent care center, I convalesced for a week than flew home. I also shipped my bike and camping equipment home. I had a hard time swallowing my failure but I changed my heart and mind when I considered one of my favorite quotes from the Bible in Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Good things came into my life because I was home early from that trip to receive them. I met Melissa Balmer, who introduced me to the bicycle advocacy community and recruited me to be a part of Women on Bikes California and PedalLove.org. She was instrumental in getting me a scholarship to become licensed by the League of American Bicyclists to teach bicycle safety classes. I realized quickly that my years of experience as a trainer in the IT realm were skills I needed both in teaching bike safety classes and engaging more of the community in bike advocacy. Since then, my new vocation and how it helps me successfully manage a chronic disease have been featured in American Bicycling. Momentum Magazine and several local newspapers. I now teach bicycle safety classes for adults and children. I have even been able to earn income from my love of all things bicycling, and this fresh new career is just getting started.
My risk paid off in teaching me that not finishing what I started does not mean I am a failure. It only means that I didn’t finish. I also learned to listen to God and trust that his plan for my life is ultimately much better than the plan that I had in mind. Pat and I will be getting together this September for our annual California coastal bike camping trip. Stay tuned and I’ll share next how city girls can learn to love camping by bike. Questions? I'd love to hear from you! Write to me at Kellie_Morris (at) hotmail.com.