For the past couple of days, I’ve had a toothache. The worst-kind-ever, keeps-you-up-at-night kind that leaks searing pain into your whole head just to prove a point. I’m here, it keeps reminding me as it hides not-so-subtly all the way in the back corner of my mouth. If toothaches could laugh, this one would snicker.
A few years ago, my dentist told me that I wouldn’t need to have my wisdom teeth yanked like so many of my friends did. They could stay and grow in at their own pace, and I was so relieved. But now, here they are, cutting through my gums, and while I’m lying awake in pain I have started to wonder: Why do they call them wisdom teeth? If I get to keep them, I think they’ll need to be renamed because most days, I am certain I don’t have ANY wisdom to offer.
On one hand, my life is, basically, pretty together. I have a job and general goals (run a half marathon in March, have a house by 27, be happy!), but on the other hand, I spend most of my free time asking myself the same questions everyone else my age is also thinking:
What the fuck is my plan here? What am I actually going to do with my life?
To answer that, let me proclaim here on this blog on January 26, 2015 that I have no freaking idea. I’m not sure what job I want to have in five years or what grad degree I should pursue, I don’t know where I want to raise my kids or even what to wear to work tomorrow, but I think that’s ok. Because three months ago, on the side of the road in Cape Cod, I learned a very important lesson about life the hard way.
Sometimes, life serves you up certain situations solely because they were meant to be written about. In October, one of these situations landed in my lap in the form of a very long and very grueling bike ride through Buzzard’s Bay. Every fall, the Buzzard’s Bay Coalition hosts the Watershed Ride, a charity ride through the Bay that raises money for preservation. Riders have to choose between two different routes, a 75-mile ride or a shorter, 35-mile one. I like to bike, but more as a hobby than a sport, so I opted for the latter. I slacked on training but figured I’d be fine. When race day came, I wheeled my mountain bike to the starting line, ready to go.
I was only a little nervous until I looked around and realized I was the only one riding a mountain bike (read: DUH) because doing 35 miles on a heavy, cumbersome mountain bike, I would quickly find out, is no fun. At all.
Mountain bike or not, though, it was time to go and there was no backing out. So I swung my leg over and started pedaling, feeling really good and even passing some riders at first. But then, slowly, those riders started passing me back and I found myself alone on the road. Just me and my bike, going through (literal) ups and downs together.
Fast forward to about mile 15 and mistake #1 as I hit the Cape Cod Canal, where we were supposed to bike for approximately two miles and then turn off to cross the Bourne Bridge. Key words–supposed to. Instead of taking the turn, I thought it would be fun to miss it and not realize my mistake until I hit the Sagamore Bridge where I pulled over and called my dad in tears.
“I think I’m lost, Dad,” I mumbled out, choking frustrated sobs back. When he assured me that yes, I was definitely lost, I turned around and headed back in the right direction, ultimately adding an extra six miles onto my already-long ride.
After a while, I took the right turn and headed for the Bourne Bridge, where we were instructed to dismount and walk our bikes over for safety reasons. Wanting to make up for lost time, I tried to hop off my bike while it was still rolling and…mistake #2…fell. Pretty hard and very embarrassingly. My face flushed as red as my skinned knees, I jumped up before anyone could see and kept going, determined to get over the bridge and get the ride over with. On the other side, I started pedaling again, feeling great and ready to finish, waving to my parents who were parked in a lot nearby cheering me on.
For anyone who might choose to do the Watershed Ride after reading this post, a word of advice: the bridge is NOT the halfway point. Like choosing to do the ride on a mountain bike, I learned this the hard way. What happened on those back roads after I crossed the bridge was not pretty.
I tried to keep pushing, giving myself pep talks (headphones were not allowed during the ride), but after a grueling hill I would pull over and cry, almost vomiting. A few times I even pulled out my phone and dialed my mom’s number, ready to quit. But I never pressed call, and I always got back on the bike. I pedaled and pedaled, usually while swearing at the sky, but I kept going. Even though my quads felt like they were tearing and my back breaking, I kept pulling over but getting back on the bike, blubbering like a baby but always pedaling.
Around mile 36 (for lost little me), I heard cow bells and thought This is it. I finished. The finish line is right around the corner. But–you guessed it–mistake #3. I still had five miles to go and had never hated a sound so much for getting my hopes up.
Eventually, I heard the real final cow bells and crossed the finish line, my parents grinning and cheering for me as I rolled to a stop and collapsed off my bike and onto the ground, feeling a pain even worse than my wisdom teeth growing in. But aside from the pain, I felt overwhelming pride. I didn’t finish first (or last, thank you very much), but damnit I finished and that was all that mattered.
I kept pedaling even when my mind told me to stop, even when I didn’t know what mile 28 or 39 was going to hold. I didn’t have a plan other than to keep going and blindly hope that everything would work out. And guess what? It did.
Here is the only wisdom that has come poking through my aching gums today: make a mistake and move on. Fall off your bike and get lost for six miles or nine months or a year, and when you feel like dropping your kickstand and staying put, take a drink of water and turn the fuck around. Fix it. Keep going. Because you can,
I promise you can and because you have time–more than you know.
I don’t know if I’ll ever commit to a grad degree and all I know about 2016 so far is that I really want to go to Disney World but that’s ok, I’ve got time. The wind still blows against me sometimes, making my nose run and pedaling harder to do, but once and a while it stops. It turns into a nice warm breeze that cools me off under the hot sun of being 21 and having no idea what life has in store for me. It whispers an important truth in my ear as it swirls by, calm and reassuring.
“You will figure it all out. It’ll be ok. It has to be.”