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The Altitude is High, and So Am I

Aha sings “Take on Me” in the background. Outside the sun finally peers out over the valley, but the smell of rain remains. The chalkboard on the wall in front of me reads: “LUNES: Hamburger night. DIENSTAG: $1 drinks,” and on…the weekly night activities of our hostel in Banos, Ecuador. The ride here was cold but bearable. I cried a little—in a good way, in a joyful way—in an I-am-having-the-adventure-of-a-lifetime way. For miles to our left, the volcano Cotopaxi smiled through the clouds. Her snowy peaks peeking through as if to say, “yes, my love, this is where you’re meant to be.”

My heart has felt full this past week. She felt full when we landed in Quito and everyone greeted us in Spanish. One cup. She felt full when we were greeted at the same hostel we’d slept in two months earlier with, “welcome back!” One cup. Full, when buying a sim card for my phone culminated in photos with the three locals who helped me understand how to complete the process. One cup. Filled still, when we visited the equator and spent twenty minutes using our GPS to locate the exact equator line together. One cup. Brimming when we hit the road for the first time in two months, and the rules of the road were once again ours. One cup. Overflowing when we entered Cotopaxi National Park at altitude so high that I felt high myself. One cup. She was so full today, wondering how to hold the abundance of joy that has consumed her. All that was left to do, was let it out. 

On our ride today, I let it out. Welling up in my helmet, I was reminded of our first ride in San Fransisco eight months ago. Then, I felt a similar (but almost innocent version of) this feeling. I often feel happy these days (I say these days, because there was a long period of time in my life that I was very unhappy). The happiness I feel most of the time is slightly fleeting. The feeling I get when I am spending the evening with friends or seeing a play: the feeling is real and present, but once the play is over—once I go home, the happiness begins to wear off. Like a high, it burns away until the next time it can be turned on. This is different than joy. Joy, to me, is an all consuming happiness. A feel-it-to-my-core and can’t ignore happiness. The feeling I got when I fell in love with Josh and saw him walk into a room. An inescapable, un-concealable, gut-kicking feeling. My heart overflowing kind of feeling. This is what poured out of me today in every visceral way possible. Pure and utter joy.

Compounding the joy is a raw sense of awe and pride in myself. I’ve said this before, but I had only been on the motorcycle three times before we left on this trip. After several months, there were probably as many bad ride days as there were good ones. But still, I chose to continue on. I wanted to. When we went home in May for our “two month break”, I was terrified that I wouldn’t want to come back to the bike. What if I get home and I realize I was fooling myself down there? It quickly became apparent (like two weeks in), that not only did I want to come back to South America, but I longed for it. As if it had become home. 

Three days ago, we rode to Mitad del Mundo, meaning the Middle of the World. This is where the equator line is, along with a big statue where you can get your passport stamped indicating you in fact have been to the middle of the world. In what Josh and I have been calling “Part One” of our trip, (pre-USA break), I wouldn’t have considered bringing my DSLR camera to take a photo at the monument. I wouldn’t have thought of it as “instagrammable,” and therefore didn’t need to worry about getting a nice picture. Phone pics would do. I didn’t realize it until three days ago, but in having that thought process, I was inadvertently diminishing the entire experience of wherever we were going. Thinking “this isn’t worthy of an instagram post” conversely translated into “this isn’t a worthy outing.” This frame of mind bled into how I experienced wherever we went.

 The Middle of the World. For our grandkids.
The Middle of the World. For our grandkids.

On our way to Mitad del Mundo I found myself thinking about our future kids, and how we’ll tell them all about the day we visited the Middle of the World. And we’ll point to a framed photo on our bookshelf, where we took a beautiful (or goofy) photo together at the monument. We’ll tell them how we turned in circles three blocks away, searching for the real equator, and how we found it. I didn’t know it until that moment, but I needed that two month break. I needed it to reset my priorities. To remember my intentions. To rediscover my love for travel and adventure, and to remind me that this is an incredible adventure we are on. I had forgotten this at the tail end of Part One. I was consumed by instagram followers and making a name for ourself. I had forgotten what we were doing, and that it felt so good to do it. 

I’m so grateful for our break. I learned more about myself, Josh, and this trip because I had the chance to remove myself from it. I had the chance to see it as a third party, like an X-Ray viewing my bones rather than being the bones themselves. And now that I am the bones again, I feel stronger. Sturdier. In place. Beautifully aware of how I am built and where my parts connect. I imagine, that somewhere down the road, I will become jumbled. Dislocated or fractured. That I will be so caught up inside my skin I will lose sight of the bigger picture. That will be okay. Because it means I will have another chance to rekindle and heal. And I will come back again even sturdier. That has been this whole process, after all: Start strong; fall; break; rebuild. And baby these bones were made with resilience, and they won’t stop moving now. 

2 thoughts on “The Altitude is High, and So Am I

  1. So… we’re talking grandkids, right?
    Beautiful post Rachel! My heart is overflowing with cups and cups of joy for you!


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