Unscripted – Introduction

There’s a script to life that tells you what to do, when to do it, what to say and how to interact with others. It is society’s script of social norms. 

The script is a bit like a milepost guide to interstate exits, only it details life stages instead of restaurants and accommodation. 

If you stick to the script and travel along the freeway of life, your road is well-defined and engineered by all those who have passed through before. 

Somewhere along the way, I got off that scripted freeway and found myself far away from all of the social norm mileposts of the things you are supposed to do in life. 

Once you get away from that car-pet-marriage-kiddo-house-career freeway of life, there is no milestone guidebook.  The road gets rough and rocky. However, once you start down that rough and rocky road outside of normality, it actually becomes comfortable to be uncomfortable.  You learn to embrace uncertainty and not worry about what you are ‘supposed to do’.  I’d never wanted all the things I was supposed to want and never wanted to do all the things I was supposed to want to do.

So once I got off the scripted freeway of life, I never really wanted to go back.

Yet, in 2017, the rough and rocky road became incredibly perilous. One mosquito bite changed my life forever. What had once been a rough and rocky road with good visibility and a clear idea of who I was and where I was going became an ill-defined single-track filled with hazards and incredibly dark clouds of uncertainty. There was no clear path to recovery – in fact there was no indication that there was a way out at all. 

The virus robbed me of my life.  For five years. I always did the absolute most my body would allow, but that was not much at all. To say the fatigue and neuro-immune issues were debilitating is the greatest understatement ever. The virus totally screwed up my immune system and set off an inflammatory cascade that saw health problem after health problem emerge. 

I endured; I survived; but I did not ‘live’ for those five years.

Some people with post-viral fatigue syndromes and the cascade of health crap that comes after never recover. Some people remain housebound or bed bound forever. And for those that do recover, it is not really a recovery, but a remission. Contracting another bad virus, too much stress, or an emotional or physical trauma can bring it all right back. 

But I have turned the corner. I have come out the other side. For now, at least. I will always have to be careful to not overdo things. The 130 mile days are over. Strenuous days will need to be followed by rest days. I will need to take a much more relaxo approach to cycling going forward. 

See the journey in the photo below.

My dad is a fantastic artist and spent a lot of time with me while I was visiting to create this illustration of my journey. He even bought special paper and markers for my project. I asked for a Candyland-like board game story of the last few years. You can see me riding along on my previous tours, staying away from the well-trodden path of kiddos, etc, then contracting West Nile and then bartonella, then all the medical tests etc, before a slow, slightly jagged recovery where my battery levels continue to get better and better. My dad put in so many great details and put so much thought into this awesome piece of work.
Here is a video of the journey if you can’t see the details in the photo. Many, many thanks to my dad for all of his time and effort to create such a fantastic illustration.

My health is not yet robust; I am still healing. But being outside on the bike and spending nights in my tent is the greatest healer I know. And after all of the hell of the last five years, you will not find anyone anywhere more grateful to be out riding and to have energy again than me. I have worked so, so hard to get well and endured so much, that every day I wake up and don’t have to absolutely scrape myself out of bed is such a precious thing. 

The experience has made me even more certain that the rough and rocky road is MY road. I will never head back to the freeway of life to resume a more traditional and easy path. I am certain that what I need to do is go ride, get fully well and just be open to what the rough and rocky road may offer. The rocky road has good visibility again. 

Summit of Battle Pass in the Sierra Madres of Wyoming in 2013 with no idea of the battles to come. You never know what’s coming next, so don’t put off doing the things in life you really want to do.

The rocky road, however, still does not have guideposts.  We’ve gone off script and I’m tossing it to the wind. There are no pre-planned routes for this tour. There is nothing specific I am setting out to achieve. There is no need to go any certain mileage or speed or plan out point-to-point goals. There is no end date. 

After five years of being trapped by my body, that freedom, and an openness to whatever may be out there, is exactly what I need. This ride remains unscripted and I cannot wait for the story to unfold. 

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. I pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. I celebrate the diversity of Aboriginal peoples and their ongoing cultures and connections to the lands and waters of the country through which I travel.

I will acknowledge the Nations of the lands through which I pass on this tour and will camp and travel with respect for the land and its Traditional Custodians.

12 thoughts on “Unscripted – Introduction

  • I liked all of your maps and road pictures, but none more than I loved your dad’s animated map of your health journey. I’m still working on figuring out the symbolism of the television on your torso. Or maybe it’s an X-Ray machine. Wait, now I can see it’s sort of a gas tank and your body is gradually going from empty to full.

  • P.S. I never saw it coming in my younger days, but I did end up following the marriage and kids script. Luckily for me, the Feeshko has supported my off-script adventures. Some of the backpacking and canoeing adventures have been with those kids. They were rewarding for me and them.

    • Yeah, the gas tank is a battery and those are my battery levels increasing. My dad is humble but he has won some car design competitions in his past. I wouldn’t consider bike touring and backpacking off script, particularly for middle class white people as they are hobbies, but giving up a secure, decent-paying job in the prime of your life to go on a trip of undetermined length is a bit off-script. I got off script early though – being a tomboy with a boy’s haircut from age 7, riding freestyle bikes when no other girls did, knowing from age 13 that I hated kids and never wanted them, not getting a driver’s licence or car until age 30… so I’ve got some practice doing my own thing, thanks to the unconditional love and support of family and loved ones of course!

  • Thanks for the kudos, Em. Our project together to create a story was challenging fun. I am so happy to have been able to help you express your journey. Thank you for the opportunity participate in your recovery. Love, Dad

    • Thanks, Dad – it looks awesome and it came through in the tube just fine. The bag may have taken forever to come out on the carousel in Sydney, but nothing got squashed or wet. It was a great summer and glad we could spend the time together on the trails and over the drawing board.

  • What an inspiring post. I’m so happy you are doing better and you are going to do what you love to do! I look forward to to reading about your travels.

    • Thank you! I’m definitely ready to spend some significant time on the bike. I hope you are having a wonderful autumn in France (the gorges look gorgeous) to round out your tour!

  • hi and congratulations, Emily. it is heartening to see via your blog that you are getting stronger. i dipped into some of the posts with hikes in the mountains and thought, whoa, that is impressive. fwiw, i’ve walked around for months with a tab open on my phone re your salsa timberjack. that is a 21st century bike. it will certainly let you get farther off the beaten path. best luck at the trail blazing.

    • Thanks, Chuck. The Salsa is a little intimidating with all of that tech, but I’m doing what I can to learn how to do all the maintenance and some repairs (so I don’t get myself embarrassingly stuck somewhere!). It does take a bit more effort to ride, as the bike itself is heavier, and I’ve got more gear than my weekend rides, but gosh, it at least smooths out all the bumps! I hope you have had a good summer with lots of riding around for coffees and cake at least 🙂

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