“Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww,” I moaned, lying on the pavement in a crumpled heap.
A horse neighed in the distance as I examined my leg. No bruises yet, but my skin was tender under my fingers. Big black circles would appear on my thigh by tomorrow. No doubt.
Wincing, I sat and glanced at my bike. The wheel spun in weak circles, which perfectly resembled my own disgust and exhaustion.
I adjusted my helmet, now askew, and glared at the bike for being too big and too wobbly. Then, of course, my paranoid brain chimed in to say I was lucky I didn’t crack open my head. Great.
I had a dilemma: What to do next? Should I push the bike into port? Or would walking take way too long? Or should I try riding again? My already aching legs winced at the latter idea.
I shakily stood and rubbed my arm. Squinting, I noticed a few of my tour mates in the far distance. My cheeks burned. I didn’t wanna be last.
Then I reminded myself a couple of my new travel buddies were still exploring the fort: Dún Aonghasa.
I had time.
Let’s rewind, shall we?
I’m not a very adventurous person. Sure, I’m a solo female traveler and a lot of you think that’s pretty boss, but I can also be a weeny. Full disclosure. For me, adventurous doesn’t mean walking the length of Kazakstan. More like paragliding in Slovenia. Or trying to kiss Oscar Wilde.
When I booked my Irish tour, using a company called Shamrockers, I was pumped to ride a bike around the Aran Irelands. For me, it was a test since I never liked riding bikes at home. My accident prone nature reels its ugly head whenever I’m on two wheels.
But alas, travel, although inspiring and wonderful, ain’t easy.
“Because of a recent storm, the only path to the fort is the challenging one. The flatter road, near the water, is closed for repairs,” our guide told us. “You’re gonna pedal up and down a lot of hills.”
I raised both my eyebrows, stunned. Strike number one.
Now, okay, I realize riding a bike on the Aran Islands isn’t the same as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. But, as someone who has self-image issues and isn’t the most physically fit traveler of all time, a bike ride on a hilly road wasn’t my idea of a fun time. Let’s not even mention the fact I hadn’t ridden a bike in well over fourteen years.
The total distance – from the Aran Islands Information Center to Dún Aonghasa – is about 10 miles (or 8 km). Not bad, right?
At first, I smiled and braved it. I took the closest bike and began to pedal – only to realize within 5 seconds that I had chosen a men’s bike. Meaning the seat was tiny. Meaning … ow. By the time I realized my error, all the women’s bikes had been taken and I was too nervous to say anything to my guide or the shop keepers. Strike two.
Pro-tip: If you travel solo and the rental place runs out of women’s bikes when you happen to be a women too? SAY SOMETHING. I would’ve saved myself a lot of awkward agony.
Luckily, I survived the initial journey to Dún Aonghasa without a hitch. Why?
“I love flying down these hills!” I shouted, cruising and tasting the salt air.
“Yeah, but wait til we gotta ride back,” returned one of my new buddies, laughing.
The return journey was the stuff of nightmares. My muscles cried for relief as I slowwwwwly pedaled up another steep incline. And then BAM. I’m not sure what happened. The wind may have knocked me, or perhaps my legs decided to take a vacation themselves and give way. But the impact, my body hitting the pavement, was enough to knock my spirits even lower.
As I stood, listening to wind and water whistle, irritated tears stung my eyes. I ought to seriously just walk back. Who would really care if I was the last person into port?
Then I remembered our guide saying the late afternoon ferry was the last boat of the day. I bit my lip, mulling over the situation. I couldn’t let my group down.
Huffing, I grabbed the bike and climbed on it. I ignored a nagging pain behind my knee as I pedaled over another series of hills toward Kilronan, the biggest town on the island.
Okay, so you’re probably thinking “Rachel, I’m supposed to gather WHAT from that story?”
My sweaty and bruised struggle wasn’t very fun, but let’s gaze on the bright side – which is, indeed, shiny and inspiring.
That time I fell off a bike in the Aran Islands taught me three amazing lessons. And hopefully they’ll inspire you too!
- I don’t give up. If I set my mind to something, then I’m determined as hell to see that something through to the end. I eventually returned to port, and I wasn’t even last! Force yourself to push through challenges, especially challenges you encounter on your travels. You have a LOT more strength – both physical and mental – than you give yourself credit for. If you suffer from anxiety, like me, then it’s so easy to rip your confidence to shreds, but trust me: you’re a powerful person.
- Pain, embarrassment, and unpleasantness pale in comparison to travel’s many positives. Yes, I toppled off a bike, but you know what? I also saw the faint orange sun set over the Irish Sea and climbed a prehistoric fort. Would you trade in those experiences? No way! When you travel and stumble, just remember awesomeness lies right around the next corner.
- I shouldn’t be my own worst critic. To be honest, I worried more about others judging me than my own physical pain. Would they laugh if I was last? Would they laugh if they saw I fell? NOPE. My fellow travelers were great. We played games well into the night after our return to Galway. Ultimately, you need to forgive yourself, laugh off your mistakes, and embrace challenges and lessons. You’re amazing and deserve kindness – from yourself most of all.
What are some empowering lessons you’ve learned from difficult travel moments? Do you think the “bad side” of travel is just as meaningful and important to your personal growth as the “good side?” Share in the comments.