I stood at the check in counter and cried.
One final time in this epic journey, I let all the frustration come rolling down my cheeks. Despite doing all I could to ensure I would not have excess luggage charges; booking an extra piece of luggage, checking the airline takes bikes, advising the airline I was travelling with a bike, ensuring the bike box dimensions were within regulation... bureaucracy decided to strike one more blow. The check-in attendant was adamant. Our bikes are deemed to be oversize. We are told we must pay $1000NZD to have them accepted.
Overwhelmed. Tired. And so very close to being home, another hurdle was thrown in my path.
And so I cried.
It was hard to swallow. I was out here, riding my bicycle for three months trying to raise money for bicycles that could transform lives and communities. And instead, I would be paying an exorbitant amount of money simply to transport my own bicycle home. We negotiated as best we could and managed to halve the fee, but it still felt like a punch in the guts.
On the final day of riding I was so excited. I was excited to finally see the sea. The map teased me for kilometre after kilometre, the sea hidden behind vast swathes of vegetation and buildings, before suddenly... there she was. A vast expanse of water stretching to the horizon. After months of being landlocked, the sight was strikingly beautiful.
First came the elation. The excitement. I swung my feet off the pedals, stretched them out to the side and freewheeled alongside the sea, whooping in delight.
And next came the tears.
That surprised me. It had been such an epic adventure I suppose. And all day I had found myself in a bit of a daze, my legs spinning beneath me while my mind wandered far away, thinking back over the journey. The long days across the desert with nothing much to look at. The arrival of the winter chill. Frost. Battling up hills in the snow. The night time finishes. The epic climbs. The spectacular reservoirs. Endless terraces. Strange food. A million selfies. The emotional rollercoaster. Loosing my Grandba. Going home. The return. The copious tears.
I kept having to shake myself out of my revere, back into the present moment. On that final day of riding I kept finding that Dad had left me behind, I would get so lost in my thoughts that I wouldn't notice I had dropped pace. At first I found the day was passing by too quickly, found myself saddened that the journey was so rapidly coming to an end. And then suddenly I wanted it to be over. That part of me that longed to return home began to override the part of me that longed for adventure. The tide was shifting.
When I finally dipped my fingers into that vast body of water, it was not quite the moment of glory I had imagined. I had visions of warm resort temperatures and vast sandy beaches. Of discarding my bike and running fully clothed into the waves in celebration. But the weather was freezing, and instead, I dipped only a few fingers in the water, promptly remounted my bicycle and went to McDonalds for burgers and fries. Crazy really. I avoid the place like anything when I am home. But when you have been in a foreign country for months on end and every meal is an unknown surprise, you crave familiarity.
I have now been back in New Zealand for a full month and the emotions of those final days in China feel like an entire lifetime ago. It feels, in some ways, like it never happened. Life back home has so very rapidly resumed and enveloped me into it's pace and rhythm. The initial interest in my journey has faded and too soon everyone's attention, including my own, has become fastened once more on what lies ahead. I find that all too quickly this journey, something that was so important, that took so much planning and time and waiting for, is done.
I have struggled to accept falling so far short of my fundraising target, but I am gradually coming to accept that I can only do what I can. In the end, the 2018 China Traverse was about so much more than the fundraising. I have spent the last decade in an environment obsessed with achievement (High Performance Sport, I am looking at you) and we live in a culture that is similarly smitten with success. That can make it very challenging to acknowledge and accept falling short of a goal that you have set for yourself. Good intentioned though it may be. After a decade of witnessing the unintentional side effects of such relentless pursuits of success, I find myself shifting from such rhetoric. My years in the sporting world taught me that the best stories, and sometimes the best humans, are the ones you will never see on the podium and whose stories will likely never be told. The ones I most admire are those who gave everything they had in pursuit of their dream but never had their moment of glory. The Olympians who finished 12th. Those who missed the cut. The careers ended too soon due to injury. There are such gloriously rich stories to be told amongst the also-rans.
And now it is my turn to accept this in my own journey. That this epic adventure was not only about some arbitrary fundraising target I had set myself. Sure, reaching that goal would have been nice. It would have made my story tidy and neat. But that's not really how life works, is it?
This journey wasn't straight forward. There were so many battles. Emotional highs and lows. Hills to climb. Endless days of straight roads. Strange interactions to navigate in a foreign culture in a language I don't speak. I don't want to loose sight of the experiences and the achievements I did have, simply because I fell short of a target I had decided upon. Life pushes us and challenges us and forces us to face things we sometimes wish we could ignore.
I may not have reached my fundraising target. But I still rode my pushbike the entire way across China. And there are some gloriously rich stories in that.