Let go of the ballast

Do you know that feeling when you plan something amazing for months, even years, do all the planning and all the prep work

– and by the time you actually get to do The Thing, you’re so exhausted and overwhelmed that the stuff you used to dream of feels like just another chore that needs to be done?

This is how this trip felt to me when we left.

All the small things

There were some craft projects I wanted to finish before leaving, though I realised quite quickly that that wasn’t going to happen. Then the shopping – which, to be very clear, is anything but fun. Especially when it comes to clothes: it’s never been easy to dress myself as a fat woman, but sportswear? AND personal preferences? Forget it.

Eventually I managed to get everything I needed, plus most of the common necessities, so I could busy myself with the admin.

Oh, the admin. The endless admin. Set up my new phone, get a new health insurance, renew my Belgian residence permit less than a week before departure.

In the meantime, we also had to move our personal items into the spare room so that the tenants could move in, and it took quite a bit of discipline NOT to try to sort each and every thing I own, take desicions about them and try to execute said decisions.

I was exhausted before we even left.

Perfectionism is portable

Once on the road, it was other things, making content for my socials, setting up this blog, taking pictures and sharing them, keeping contact with friends and family – nevermind that I was biking more daily, and on heavier ground, than ever before.

I should do this, do that, write that post, make those videos, bike that far, see that sight.

And that pattern of thought is a recipe for disaster.

More precisely, it’s a recipe for burnout.

And when I started having a burning pain in my left elbow (of all things), and then fell over one of the tent ropes, I knew I couldn’t keep on like this.

Managing resources

These last three years, most of my burnout recovery has mostly consisted of resource management. Still want to do All The Things? Still want to do them well? One trick that might help is to take a very honest look at your own resources – time, energy, money, whatever – before  committing to them.

Re-learning that lesson meant taking two unplanned rest days, recalculating our distances (with a lower daily average), and ultimately cutting out 200 kilometres to be sure we can catch our train at the end of July to Gennetines.

It also means a commitment to taking everything slower, and doing only what I both can and want to. A surprisingly difficult task if your general method of dealing with things is doing them, no questions asked – it means asking questions about the consequences of doing, rather than those of not doing.

It means letting go of the dead weight of my own expectations.

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In Medias Res

It’s been twelve days since I’m on the road.

I left Brussels on Monday last week, with a simple plan: go to Oostende (done), turn right (done), keep the sea to my right (ongoing). 

After the first five-ish days of heavy headwinds and rain, we’re now riding into summer. I even started getting up earlier so as to avoid cycling in the midday sun.

The trip itself, it’s been twelve years in the making.

In some way, even more.

Longing for the Sea

First, it was my childhood fascination wth the sea and port cities. I’ll never forget the moment I first smelled that warm, salty tang of the Mediterranean – I was eight, and hadn’t even seen the waters yet, but that single moment keeps rippling through my life almost 30 years later.

Wanderlust

Then, there was the wanderlust, of course. By now, I’ve moved abroad three times (and only moved back twice), and I’m reluctant to put down roots. I crave the freedom that comes with being a (digital) nomad, I want to see places and meet people and know ever more of this world I call home.

In  short, I wanted to travel, but at a human pace, and with as small an ecological impact as possible.

Enough

There’s also the desire to stretch my concept of “enough”. One reason I’m no doing this tour on foot is that I know that what I can carry isn’t enough for me – for survival, maybe, but not for comfort and wellbeing.

I call myself a practical minimalist: I’m not someone who counts her possessions or who passionately declutters her home, only to get rid of things I might very well need to replace a few months later. I’m merely careful of what objects I let into my life, and try to limit my (over)consumption. As careful as I am, though, stuff tends to multiply at home in a way it cannot on the bike.

I’d very much like to see what I truly need, how much is enough.

The dream – and the plan

Between all this, and a series of rather mundane coincidences, finally, a dream coalesced: to spend a year cycling around the coasts of Europe, spending the winter in Andalucía.

So I started planning. And asking myself questions. Where exactly? How far a day? What to carry? Where to sleep? How about my chronic illness? Money? Time? Is it even safe to do alone, for a woman?

With these questions came the self-doubt, too.Aren’t I too fat or this? Shouldn’t I be fitter? Can I afford to not work? Would I be able to make money while on the road? Do I even dare try?

In the meantime, I graduated, did some more studies in another field, started working, got a Dream Job (TM) (not my dream job, mind you, but a Dream Job nonetheless), met my partner, had a burnout, moved in with my partner

– and somehow, it was never the right time to leave.

I would do it once I graduated. No, when I finished my other studies. I don’t know. After two years at the Dream Job. Once I turn 30. No, next year. Next year. Maybe.

Even now, I have a number of quite weighty reasons to not be here, writing from a lush campsite behind the cliffs of Normandie.

But there was a point when I knew it was time. That I was ready. Of course, I also knew that if I postponed doing this once more, I’d never believe myself when I set the next deadline.

Do it when it’s time

The people who tell us to “do the thing before we feel ready” have a point. You should never let your ever-present fear of the unknown keep you from shaping your life.

But they also miss a crucial point: that you construct your own certainty. That if you keep truly preparing, if you actually answer your own questions, you will know when it’s time, even if you don’t feel ready. Even if your legs are shaking as you walk out of the door, not knowing where the road will take you.

The fine line, of course, lies in knowing the difference between real preparation and the procrastination that looks almost exactly like it. You haven’t answered your doubt if you keep coming back to it; you’ve answered it when you decide to accept your own answer. You’ll never have all the information, but it is in your power to take what you have and declare it enough.

Do I wish I left on this trip a long time ago? Yes, except for having my partner’s company. A lot of my delay stemmed from fear and procrastination.

Have I also found answers to all my questions and doubts? Also yes. I’m not any less fat or chronically ill, but I have my certainty about these questions, and all others. I even managed to help my partner answer enough of his own questions to have him with me on the road, at least for the first seven months.

It’s been twelve days since I’m on the road.

I’ve cycled through worse headwinds and tougher uphill roads, and with more luggage to carry, than ever before. I’m seeing the land from up close, drinking in the beauty of it.I’m weighing my things, my habits and my ideas, trying to decide which ones I need and which ones I could do without, to have just enough.

And I’ve barely even started the journey.

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Momentos 16-30. 04. 2022

04. 16. Saturday

I wasn’t quite awake yet, but I dragged myself out of bed – and on the couch in the living room, full of sunlight. It’s been since forever that I last saw such a light, full daylight but still tinted rose, a promise of a beautiful day. We lay on the couch, cuddling, for a beautiful eternity of ten minutes.

04. 17. Sunday

“When the band plays the next Scottish, I’ll wait for you”, he said. I had invited him to dance previously, so this was nice, until he added,

“If you can find me”.

“How about you find me, then?”

You invited me, so…”

“Do you truly want to turn it into a power game?”

We did not dance, in the end.

04. 18. Monday

I should know better by now than to try and solve problems when as groggy and sleep-deprived as today. All I achieve is a giant headache and a sense of frustration, while the problems remain unsolved.

I should have gone to the park 5 hours earlier.

04. 19. Tuesday

I had put the box with the cycle-to-charge in my bag some 3 days ago, to be sure I wouldn’t forget it when I arrive to the bikeshop. Once there,  I explained I wanted the piece installed, so he opened the box to have a look – but of course it was the other box, empty since my partner had it installed on his bike last week.

04. 20. Wednesday

Strange to recall how much I loved flying when I was a kid. I detest it now. True, back then, I only had the opportunity every few years, and it was always for holidays to interesting pieces. Now it’s pretty much the only reasonable way to come home and see my family, since there still aren’t reliable train connections. 

At least I got some work done on the plane.

04. 21. Thursday 

Spent the day about: rent a bike for my stay, back home for some work, then to the seamstress to try my new costume, then up the hill to my parents’. Not sure if it’s the biking around that makes me so tired or the pretending to ignore all the things that are wrong.

04. 22. Friday

Nope, not today.

04. 23. Saturday

There’s absolutely nothing like the feeling of swinging a 5k hammer to bring a brick wall down. 

04. 24. Sunday

Spent the afternoon trying to decide on a tablet for the trip. Will this one be good enough to work on? Is that one in a good enough state? Do I trust that 2nd hand seller to begin with? 

At 10pm, I gave up. 

04. 25. Monday

Ran an errand for my parents across town, and as I drove over the bridge, I suddenyl found myself yearning for the city. To walk her streets, and meet friends in the coffeehouses, to cycle along the Danube in the sun. 

Not sure I like the way my life revolves around my home these days. 

04. 26. Tuesday

Spent the day working, trying to get everything done today and tomorrow to have a few non-working days while with my family. I even did some housework and exercised a bit, and was pretty proud of myself – until I relised, at 8pm, that I did not practice for next Sunday’s show after all.

04. 27. Wednesday 

Struggling to find a way to write about private things. I may share some of my own stuff with the internet, but I refuse to expose anyone else. 

04. 28. Thursday 

Got some family affairs done after a long process. It’s a relief, but the finality of it has me worried. If things are neatly arranged, what comes next? 

04. 29. Friday 

I feel incompetent in the face of aging and sickness. Guilty for not doing more, for not being here most of the time, for not putting my life on hold to help.

Of course it’s irrational. But not less real. 

04. 30. Saturday 

When I say I’m burnt out, I don’t mean fed up. I mean I’ve been slowly recovering for almost 3 years now, and  some days, after 8 full hours of sleep I still feel I had only 4 or so, joint pains, headache, asthma flare-up included. 

Momentos 02-15 04 2022

04. 02. Saturday

Decision fatigue is definitely a thing. I’ve scoured the whole Europen internet for the fabric, came up with 20 candidates – any of which would be okay but none really what I wanted – and you’re telling me I’ll have to pick one now? 

04. 03 Sunday

When I moved to Brussels the coffee truck was my only place to chat with someone – Alfio’s Italian, and I didn’t speak French yet. Over time, I often ran into friends who lived nearby, and even more often made friends (of sorts) with other market-goers over coffee. In the last two years, it was our only social life, Sunday  coffee strictly outdoors, in groups (not-so-)strictly limited at 4 people. 

It’s a regular meetup now – if you want to find me in Brussels, Sunday 11.30 AM at Alfio’s coffee truck is the place. Remember to bring your own cup!

04. 04. Monday

Waking up early – by which I mean, to an alarm, earlier than usual – is painful enough that I wonder if any time I gained may be lost in productivity. With interest. My sleep cycle has been all over the place, though, so I’m not ready to abandon this experiment after the first day, tempted as I am to do so.

04. 05. Tuesday

Activities are on Easter break, so we had friends over for dinner. L. cooked 2 kilos of carbonnades with fries, acting as if he does it every day, and the friends brought the wine. Good, simple fun, good food, good company. 

04. 06. Wednesday

I’m sore, tired and sleep-deprived, and technically, I have less than two hours to record a bunch of videos that I will obviously not do today. Again. 

I sort of regret accepting the couchsurfer who arrives this afternoon. I’ll need to tell him to be gone from here tomorrow during the day so we both can work (and I can record), and reasonable as this request is, it makes me uncomfortable to have to make it.

04. 07. Thursday

I always plan more to film than I actually can. It makes sense: the setup is half the work, so I want to do as much as possible in a single session. But it’s also frustrating, because I always keep on until I’m exhausted, and still I know, every single time, that I haven’t done all I wanted.

04. 08. Friday

Scrambling the whole morning to somehow correct a tech issue. I set up an alternative link and reached out as far as I could to make sure anyone who tried the wrong one would get it, but I’m unsure if people who got discouraged from signing up once can be persuaded again.

04. 09 Saturday

I’ve been wondering if I’m too burnt out to ever enjoy any sort of work again. But here I go, all energised (though not less tired for it) after 10 hours of almost non-stop work.

It helps that I did some 6 different jobs during those hours.

04. 10. Sunday

I prepared everything: recorded, edited, wrote emails and captions, all ready to go tomorrow morning. and THEN I realised I complicated it way too much, that I assumed my audience was as much into this as I was. That I’m trying to communicate so much that my main point will likely be missed entirely. 

I’m glad I have no way to remake it, because if I did, I probably would.

04. 11. Monday

I spent most of the day scouring the entire European Internet to find functional, decent-looking clothing for my cycle trip, and came up mostly empty-handed.

I know clothing isn’t a right, but can I cycle around Europe in my undies then? Because apparently I’m way too fat to be clothed in the outdoors. 

04. 12. Tuesday

This one was lost.

04. 13. Wednesday

You know what happens when you try to fix problems in a hurry? You make even more mistakes. Rinse, repeat, until everything falls apart.

I’ve been sleeping badly, eating whatever and trying to get stuff done non-stop for the last 4 days. Even after I cleared out anything I could from my list. 

I’m still convinced it isn’t that I have objectively more things to do than others, it’s merely a personality trait.

04. 14. Thursday 

Something about inspiration. About needing to be prepared to welcome it. About how rusty the door to that particular space of mine is. Because I’m unprepared these days. 

Or because the pressure to create something amazing is too big, and not yet compensated by the growing pressure of the upcoming deadline. 

04. 15. Friday 

Today’s margin was missing my gym class, which I tell myself is okay because of how much I’ve cycled around. It was good biking, too. 

I’m worried one of these days I won’t be able to get my schedule right by just missing class, and my plans will collapse upon me like a house of cards.

Momentos 03.21 – 04.01.2022

Momentos are small, personal journal entries I write every day (well, mostly). The name and the format are from Niall Doherty, and used with his permission.

The weird date formats are intentional .

03. 21. Monday

Cardio targets are rarely accessible, and progress in the gym difficult to measure – we rarely repeat workouts. Each time I skip a few weeks, like now, it feels I’ve lost all I’d gained the months before. 

And then I go to the gym, still under the cold that kept me away and heavily medicated to keep the corresponding asthma flare-up at bay – and do the 1k row in 4:45, comfortably under the 5-minute target. Twice.

03. 22. Tuesday

I used to enjoy arguing with people about their nonsensical stances, be it about the “female principle” or whether certain kinds of salt are better than others. In hindsight, I think I was naive enough to think I could convince them. 

I pick my battles a lot more carefully these days.

It makes my life easier, but it makes it a lot more difficult to connect to others, too.

03. 23. Wednesday

Nope, not today.

03. 24. Thursday

Not today, either. I never realised the enormity of a task that, no matter how small in itself, has to be repeated EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. 

I might have copied the format, but I already see I need to create a better system for myself. Even if I do manage to build the habit.

03. 25. Friday

Technology tested, slides ready, playlist made, notes finished. Not entirely sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight – more often than not, I can’t when stressed -, but I’m as prepared as can be. 

It feels strange no to be in a last-minute rush.

03. 26. Saturday

My brain tells me my success wasn’t really, that I didn’t really reach my goal, that it should have been better.

But, for once, I disagree with it. I feel elated. I want to celebrate.

So I called a couple of friends,and my partner, and we went out to eat the best shrimp croquettes in town. 

Life is good today.

03. 27. Sunday

She’s often made it clear that she thinks I’m a weirdo. And yet, I wanted to make friends with her – but our conversation often felt awkward and forced to me.

Figure my surprise when, just the two of us at our regular friend-group hangout, we chatted easily for almost two hours.

03. 28. Monday

I have both not that much and an ovewhelming amount of things to do. At the same time. I’m paralysed.

03. 29. Tuesday

I don’t think I’ll ever undersand why a man from the US would think it appropriate to explain, not just once but several fucking times, that “the Arabs ruled the Iberian peninsula until 1492” – to a bunch of Spanish women.

03. 30. Wednesday

I wrote out all the thing I need to get done before leaving for Hungary, and nicely scheduled each item. On paper, it almost looks feasible.

If only I didn’t know that my whole schedule will go off the rails right away tomorrow morning.

03. 31. Thursday

Let’s put those potatoes into the oven now, they take a while.

Well, if I still want to go out, we have to eat something else, there’s not enough time.

By the time dinner’s ready, I will be super late.

Surely I’m not going to bike across town, in this miserable weather, without having dinner, to be late for a meetup? 

Noone will miss me anyways.

04. 01. Friday

There’s something about having a friend who can come over lunch and comfortably stay for the afternoon while we both have to work. 

I kept excusing myself, of course – the plan had been to actively spend the afternoon with my friend, not just have him here while I do my stuff. 

We did have time to make some cookies together, though.