When you are afraid of everything, you have to make a decision about how you're going to live with fear in your life. The easy thing might be to avoid the things that make you scared. But if you're truly always afraid, then you won't be doing much.
The alternative, of course, is to carry fear around with you, like an extra appendage. Do the things you would normally do, with the weight of the fear getting in the way or getting cumbersome at times, but acknowledging that it's there and it's not going anywhere.
I'm lucky, I guess, that I became afraid at a very young age, so I never realized that extra appendage wasn't meant to be there. Like a cat's relationship with its tail, it never occurred to me it should slow me down.
So when we were looking at google maps in preparation for this trip, and we saw Mill Creek Road that essed with insanely tight turns up the mountain, and when we zoomed the satellite view in and couldn't tell if it was paved, when we were looking that over, and I was thinking, "I don't know if I'm skilled enough to do this," what I said out loud was, "Even if it's not paved, let's give it a try. Worst case--we turn around and find a different route."
So Bill and I packed up our now-dry clothes Thursday morning, enjoyed the complimentary Marriott breakfast, and set off. It was still raining, but we were warm enough, and traveled through Wilkesboro and Lenoir. After a bit we stopped at a grocery store with a coffee shop and were able to get a mocha. I texted friends, "Sweet weepin' Jesus, we found a Starbucks!" We were wet (have I mentioned it was raining?) and tired. But even through all that, I realized, I was also having a wonderful time. If you know me, you know I'm a total wuss about weather, but this trip has taught me how magnificent things can be, even in the rain.
And soon, we arrived at the most challenging part of our journey. Mill Creek Road, off State Road 1400, past Andrew's Geyser. When we reached the turn-off, Bill pulled over on the side of the road and stretched his legs. "This is it," he said. "Get ready." I got off as well, and we took off our helmets, scratched our heads, got the blood pumping throughout our numb and tingling extremities. From where we sat we could see paved road. We kept our fingers crossed.
After a few minutes' rest, we geared back up, swung our legs in the saddles, and headed off. Here the forest creeps onto the road, with the underbrush coming right up to the road itself. It's about a lane and a half wide, and within a hundred yards or so, we were on gravel. Hard packed, but again, raining. The gravel was muddy and slick. Near the inside of turns, the gravel had been washed out by rain, creating that washboard effect. We climbed slowly up the hill, twisting and turning, using the entire lane to maximize our traction on the wet gravel. I remembered watching the Long Way Down when Ewan (hi Ewan, hottie!) and Charlie Boorman were slogging through ridiculously difficult conditions. They would fall and just get up and keep going. I tried to keep that in mind. At these speeds, falling would be an inconvenience and could damage the bike, but I would not get hurt. Thoughts of my own perfectionism had to be banished, and knowing when it was done, we would have accomplished it--that's what I focused on. I also missed my Nighthawk and Bill's Vstrom, bikes that are designed for this kind of travel. Our cruisers were truly tested by this, as the center of gravity is low and our feet stretched out in front of us prevent the maneuvering you really need to really do this right. We had to muscle our handle bars to get around the turns, and at times the washboarding effect covered the entire road, creating a bumpy up and down as we went.
The forest and underbrush were thick here, and the road narrowed. We passed a sign that said, "Single lane ahead--sound your horn," and Bill started beeping. We came upon a one-lane pass that was covered (like a tunnel) and curved. There was no way to see what was coming, and we beeped furiously, slowly rounding the bend. There were several of these covered turns along the way, each one more nerve-wracking than the last. But we only saw two other vehicles on that road, one a pick-up truck that refused to yield and sprawled across most of the roadway. At first I was angry that he took so much room, then I realized he was probably as afraid as we were, given the difficulty controlling tires on the slick, muddy gravel.
At one point the view opened up, and there was a large grassy field with an enormous water spout shooting straight up. Andrew's Geyser, I presume. We rode by, relieved for a moment by relatively easy passage, and then tucked into the dense forest patch again. Soon enough we reached the top, victorious. Neither had dropped the bike, and we'd made it. "I'm so proud of us!" I shouted over to Bill, and we both made victory fist pumps above our heads.
Now for the trip back down, with gravity pulling us and the slick gravel having as much decision-making power as our steering in terms of where our bikes went. The curves wound tightly on one another, and the bikes performed beautifully, and soon enough, we were on pavement again. Woohoo!! We'd done it!!