Mary Ann Thomas: Brown Queer Travel Writer

On Preparation

It was when I was lying on the floor at yoga class and the instructor said, set an intention, that I put my boyfriend and our impending distance aside because that’s not an intention.

I put the stress and fear of an upcoming adventure aside; stress and fear are not intentions. I put my body aside, the uncertainty that my body can do exactly what I want it to do when I want it to do, that I can predict the future despite everything that could happen between then and now; uncertainty and obsession are not intentions. I thought about intention, about focusing on what I want. She spoke about fire, about the new moon in Leo, about using this day, and every day of this month, to ignite ourselves and build a life for ourselves that we want. I pulled those words—ignite, fire, focus, life—and all stress of the future swirled around in my head until I wanted to jump out of my skin, run out of that yoga studio, and never come back again.

When she asked us to set an intention for our practice, for this session of sixty minutes on a soft green mat, one word finally came to mind. Readiness.

The most important thing when you create a fire is to prepare. Natalie Ferraro wrote, on fire building, “When you think you have enough kindling and tinder, get three times as much.” Readiness.

The most important thing when undertaking a bike journey has never, for me, been physical preparation, but emotional. I figure out what, for each journey, is going to make me feel most emotionally prepared and safe. Emotional safety is different for every person. For me, it means knowing that I’m not the first person, or the only person, to undertake a journey like this. For me, emotional safety is knowing I’ve done everything in my power to prepare, even if it’s not everything I could possibly do.

Throughout the yoga class that day, I thought about my ability to ignite. When I felt a fire in my thighs from holding a pose, when I felt the fibers of my muscles stretch and I took a deep breath, then released it, I thought, “Readiness.”

Focus. Ignite.

A week later, I called my best friend, Michelle, while on my drive home from work. We were long-term roommates, now we’re long-distance-wish-we-were-roommates. I exploded. My uncertainties, insecurities, anxieties about how I can possibly get ready for this in time. “We have a month before we leave for this trip,” I told her. “I don’t even know if my bike fits me. We’re buying plane tickets this week. We’re going to have to box our bikes and I don’t know how to fly with a bike and panniers.”

“You’ve probably already done this,” she said. “But when I’m stressed, I make a list. You could even write out what you need to get done each day so that you can make sure it marches out, make sure all the things you need to get done will get done. Then you’ll have a timeline, and it’s visual so you can cross things off.”

“Uh, no. I haven’t done that. That’s an awesome idea.” The wheels turned in my brain. I needed to hear that. During this final month before leaving, I had an ever-changing work schedule and a trip to Mexico planned. There was too much to do to not be organized.

“Also, in your words,” Michelle paused. “You’ll be fine. You will.”

When I got home that night, I dug around my room looking for two sheets of blank paper. On one, I made ten lines: six vertical, for the days of the week, and four horizontal, for the weeks to come. I wrote out the days. I pulled up my phone calendar and wrote in what days I worked. On the second sheet of paper, I wrote my list of things to do. “See if bike fits. Get handlebar tape and gel. Rewrap handlebars. Get brake and gear cables. Rethread brakes and gears. Buy front panniers and front rack. Unlock phone. Travel insurance. Vaccines.”

I took the list items and, one by one rewrote them within the calendar squares. When the box was full, or when I thought one item would take all day, I moved on to the next box.

As the weeks progressed, that calendar was my guide. I looked at it every night before bed when planning the next day. If there were time-consuming things on it—like, rewrap handlebar tape, a thing that I had never done before and anticipated taking hours—I woke up by 8 AM, immediately energized, and started the task before even having breakfast.

Between tasks, I focused on taking care of myself to heal injuries.

The get-shit-done calendar told me what I had to do, but I knew that I could only truly be ready for my bike journey if I wasn’t in pain. I started going to yoga in a way I had not in years. Twice a week, I’d lie, stretch, and move around the four corners of the mat. My body changed.

My hands and wrists, which have hurt for the last three years, became stronger, more flexible, more reliable. My right shoulder, which I haven’t been able to sleep on for two years because I’ll wake up so stiff and sore that I can’t even turn my head or lift my arm laterally, regained mobility. My jaw, which sits clenched even on a normal day, which grinds in my sleep and tears apart my cheeks so it’s painful to chew, loosened. For those days when pain and numbness and sleeplessness returned, I scheduled acupuncture.

The calendar alleviated my fear, saved my sanity. Daily, it reminded me that yes, I have enough time; yes, I will be ready; yes, I can do what I need to prepare and take care of myself.

Readiness is not simply an external act. Readiness is an act of emotional preparation.

Readiness is putting energy into becoming the person who can undertake the journey. Readiness is acknowledging the person I am, accepting my abilities and weaknesses and strengths, and transforming, before the trip even begins, into the person who can do more than try.

I remind myself of all the other times I’ve stepped up, built myself into the person I need to be to have the experience I want. By broadening the definition of what is possible myself, my own accomplishments serve as reminders of the surreal things I have done, the things I am now so capable of doing.

Leo season is over. I’m on the eve of a great journey. For the last month, I have been on fire. All the things I wanted to get done are scratched out, all the lists got thrown in the trash yesterday when I packed up my room. Today, I’ll pack up my car and prepare for a long drive out of southern California, a convoluted five-day trip to an airport.

Soon, I’ll take off.

Originally published in She Explores.

Photo by Daniel Baylis, Canadian writer and adventurer.

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