Waking Up Alive

A tinkling song pulls me from sleep, hauls me to my feet, and sends me staggering through the darkness towards the dresser. My sweetie flicks on a light to aid my progress. “Thank you,” I croak. Or maybe I just grunt. It’s 5:40 am.

There’s no reason for me to be awake. My job starts at 9, and it’s a fifteen-minute bike ride away. But a few times a week, this guy that I’m madly in love with works an early shift at the gym, and love makes us do dumb things. Heroic things. Questionable things. So a few mornings a week, I stumble around and make Alex coffee.

I wish I could say it’s only love, pure and angelic, that drives me into the kitchen at that hour. But it’s guilt, too. Because I have some shortcomings as a girlfriend, a roommate, an individual. And a few times a week, I get to make this display of generosity towards someone I love, someone I’ve hurt a little. The ever-present scoreboard in my brain looks better after I make Alex coffee. I’m not proud of that fact, it’s just the truth.

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And I remember all those mornings, on all those solo adventures over the years, where I woke up saying thank you.

But this morning, somewhere between squeezing honey and coconut oil into the mason jar and waiting for the coffee pot to finish its magic, I had a thought. “I’m alive this morning,” I observed, staring at the counter through half-shut eyes. And that was it, really. No giant revelation or thunderclap of understanding. Just a little, “Huh, that’s cool.”

And I remember all those mornings, on all those solo adventures over the years, where I woke up saying thank you. Because there were plenty of nights when my paranoid brain questioned if I’d survive. “Maybe this is it,” I’d think, listening to my heart pound and the nylon walls of my tent crinkle suspiciously. “Maybe this is all I get.”

People have questioned my sanity over the years, and rightly so. Why would someone ride her bicycle alone across the United States… and be afraid the entire time? I’ll be the first to admit there’s some degree of masochism involved. As Emily Loberg mentioned in a recent interview, she derived pleasure from surviving the rough parts of her cross country solo ride. “I felt a general sense of impressed wonder at what I was doing all alone,” Emily wrote. “That pride in my accomplishments stays with me today.” Sometimes going through hell gives you the heavenly notion that you are a total badass. Which you are, always, whether or not you feel the constant desire to prove that to yourself.

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“I felt a general sense of impressed wonder at what I was doing all alone,” Emily wrote. “That pride in my accomplishments stays with me today.”

Surviving a creepy night alone, fraught with strange noises and dark imaginings, makes for a euphoric morning. “I MADE IT,” I wrote on more than one occasion in my journal. “Survived another night!!!” Those three exclamation points only seem ridiculous if you’ve never spent 8 hours on your back, breathing shallowly through the shrinking space in your throat, every bit of your body tingling with terror.

Why do it? Masochism, yes, and the fact that the mental scoreboard looks better after a little suffering. But I wouldn’t have traded that morning euphoria for anything, not even a good night’s sleep. It taught me gratitude in a visceral, animal way. Does every creature feel this? The squirrel that dodges a truck’s tire, the deer that out-maneuvers a coyote, the bear that wakes from hibernation in spring to find tiny newborns sucking at her chest? Something like gratitude, or at least, relief?

“Your coffee’s ready,” I tell my sweetheart, slipping a kiss behind his ear. He groans, nestles deeper in the covers. I have this warm light in my heart, and I want to tell Alex how excited I am that we survived another night, how grateful I feel for this day, this gift. But the poor guy is not a morning person, and I know how forced it’ll sound, all cheery and loud, at 6am. So I open my laptop instead and start writing, because that’s what you do when you have a big feeling: you share it.

And I must say, in this moment, the mental scoreboard is looking mercifully blank.


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