I have thought my situation through and have come to a decision as to what I am going to do from here. It was not easy as I had so many conflicting emotions and desires involved in the process, but after a sleepless night I have made up my mind.
My initial reaction to the news the doctor told me was pretty close to panic. Going though this infection and the treatment has been an extremely unenjoyable experience and not something that I want to do again. Sitting around somewhere for weeks being unable to do anything but wait to have a stranger poke around your naked body is not my idea of a fun trip.
I look back at some of the crazy things I have already encountered on this adventure that I just breezed right by, even laughing about them deposit how scary they were at the time. Everything from being chased by dogs in the night, close encounters with crocodiles, Mayan Indians waking me up at 2 in the morning in the middle of the jungle, freezing cold, pouring rain, scalding heat, enormous mosquitoes, and none of it phased me. But this is something I can't see and can't fight off on my own.
Up until now, I have really been enjoying this experience. There have been plenty of negatives involved like homesickness, physical pain and discomfort, feeling like an outsider everywhere I go, but I anticipated those coming into this and while some of them bothered me more than others, the good outweighed the bad.
With this new factor in the equation things have changed. It is not the infection itself that changes my perception of what I am doing, it is the anxiety that I know I will feel constantly while riding and the way it would effect my day to day experience of the journey. I will always be wondering if the pain in my rear end, which is constant, is something worse. Every time I see a river or lake to swim in or sit down on muddy ground after the rain, I will wonder if it will lead to another breakout of this infection because I have been riding too much and have open sores that could become infected. It will always be in the back of my mind, wondering if it will happen when I am somewhere I can't get to a hospital, and if I can, what if that hospital doesn't have the techniques, supplies or knowledge to treat this? I could find myself in a really terrible situation and that knowledge hanging over me all the time would be exhausting.
In order to minimize the threat, I would have to totally change my approach to the trip. I would have to spend a lot more money to cover less ground which would dramatically shorten my journey but increase the cost. I would also have to avoid or move at a snails pace through some of the areas I most wanted to visit. I have already been facing the reality that I was going to have to cut things out of my trip due to time constraints while moving at the pace that I was, and to further be slowed while spending even more money means that I would most likely have to cut out everything but simply circling the globe just so that I could finish.
But the thing that bugged me more than any of these others was having to ride slowly all the time. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I just do not operate that way. I pretty much have two gears: stop, and full speed. Anything I do in life I either go full blast, or I don't do at all. I just don't have it in me to sit around and smell the roses, constantly rubbing cream on my butt and resting all the time. Don't get me wrong, I like to take easy on occasion but when its time to get something done, I want to give it my all and get it done. I love the feeling of pushing myself as hard as I can, watching the miles fly by and getting that workout high at the end of the day. Just rolling along at a slow pace day after day would be torturous for me, and all because I was worried about having another nasty breakout of this skin infection.
The doctor actually encouraged me to keep going, she thought what I was doing was really incredible. She made a good point too, saying that it could be far worse. I could be diabetic, and she made the point that this common disease would be far harder to overcome on my trip. She felt that as long as I was willing to make the sacrifices involved in changing my plans and habits, I could continue, albeit in a completely different fashion than I had originally envisioned. She was correct too; if I was willing to make the sacrifices I could continue. If you want something bad enough you can always find a way.
But the inevitable fact that I kept coming to when I was exploring my honest feelings was this: I am not willing to make these sacrifices. The bottom line is that if I am not enjoying myself, this is not worth it. And doing the things I would have to do in order to avoid another one of these outbreaks, the trip would not be enjoyable for me. I could just ignore what the doctor says and go for it anyway, trusting to luck. I mean, I made it through nearly 4,000 miles of tropical terrain before I had this happen, maybe I could go another 4,000, right? But that is an impossible question to answer. I could go the rest of the trip and get lucky, I could go 100 miles and have it happen again. I can not tell the future. All I can do is make a decision based on the best information I have, and the advice of a doctor on issues of health is the only source of information that has any foundation in statistical and empirical evidence. Anything anyone else says is purely anecdotal and therefore not a reliable source of information when making this type of decision as there are too many variables from individual to individual. It would be different if I were the first man to ride a bike around the world, or if I were nearly done, then it would be worth while to push through it. But I am not even close to the first man (that was done way back in the 1800´s) and I am not even a fifth of the way through my trip, I still have years to go to do all that I wanted to do.
The only reason I would have to continue at this point would be for the sake of my pride. Pride can be a useful tool at times, helping you to push through adversity when you would have otherwise given up. It can also be a hindrance, inhibiting your ability to make intelligent decisions. In this case, two and a half years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars of hard earned money would be a foolishly big sacrifice to place on the alter of my pride. All that to do something that was no longer enjoyable for me, just to be able to say I did it.
When I reached this conclusion, a really weird feeling came over me. I had a simultaneous feeling of depression and elation. I was depressed because it meant for me the adventure was over and I was going to leave a goal unattained. I felt equally as much elated however, because it meant I could see my family and friends and comfort myself in the familiarity of home.
I could just picture coming back to smiling faces and hugs, how happy all my loved ones would be to see me again, how great it would feel to be back in the city I love. I can't lie, I have been pretty homesick. To this point, it was something I was willing to deal with as my enjoyment of the trip outweighed those feelings, but now with a legitimate reason to return I was pretty happy. One of the reasons I have been feeling homesick, which is not normal for me at all, was due to all of this time I have had to myself to think and plan. I am a forward thinking person and have had big plans for my life, but in the hours of solitude on the bike I was able to work out every little detail of how I was going to go about making my life goals a reality and I could envision it all with such clarity that I was excited to get started on it. Plus, I truly love and miss my family, friends and my city and really look forward to the day I can see them again.
But then I thought a little further down the path of going home, past the joyful reunions, past the pleasure of being in a familiar setting. I thought about how things would be once I was settled back into a routine life. I know that at that point when the dust had settled, the only thing I would feel looking back on my trip was regret and a sense of having failed in achieving a dream that I had worked so hard to make a reality. I know myself and I know that that feeling would linger with me for years, if not the rest of my life. I am not getting any younger and in all likelihood, this is the last opportunity I will have to do something like this again before I retire. I plan on starting a family in the not too far future and once that stage of life begins, an adventure around the world with total freedom will be nothing more than a painful memory of a wasted opportunity. Living with the knowledge that at the first encounter with major adversity on my big adventure that my reaction was to fold like a tent and go home with my tail between my legs, was not something I was willing to live with.
At this point, when my two conflicting desires clashed with equal strength in my mind, I became pretty depressed. I dragged myself over the coals most of the night, trying to decide which of the two was going to be the better choice, or in all honesty, the least painful choice.
Then, in one of those flashes of insight we all have from time to time I found a middle ground. While riding my bike, I have had lots of time to day dream, and some of these have been about all different types of adventures I could have in the places I was going. Most of them I had to dismiss because they were just not very practical with the bike. But then I thought to myself, why not leave the bike behind, but continue the trip having lots of different kinds of adventures in all of the places I wanted to see in the first place that I would now not be able to see?
I have been planning and saving for an around the world trip since 2004. It has been a dream of mine since then journey to every continent but Antarctica in a single trip and try to do as many wild and challenging things as I could squeeze in. In 2007 I first read about cycle touring and that is when the idea to go around the world on a bike first came to me and I decided to go for it. Basically, this workaround allowed me to continue on feeling like I was still achieving my original goal, while also avoiding putting myself through the no longer enjoyable experience of traveling by bicycle. It satisfied both of my conflicting desires.
This realization instantly turned my anguish into excitement. All of a sudden ideas were shooting through my mind like sparks from a roman candle. I got up early and despite not having slept more than maybe an hour, I have been researching non stop, trying to determine if all of the things I want to do are feasible. I have been furiously creating time tables, budgets, sketching out ideas for things to do, finding out how much they will cost, how long they will take, etc.
The more I think about this, the more I am starting to feel like this may have been a blessing in disguise. I am now more excited for this trip than I have felt for the past month. Instead of one enormous challenge that in all honesty may have dragged in places and in others I may have been flat out not enjoying myself, I will have lots of smaller but varied adventures, while still going around the world and seeing all that it has to offer.
I have been having some pretty wild ideas too. I am picturing everything from plains, trains, buses, cars, boats, motorcycles, mountain climbing, trekking, sailing, scuba diving, kayaking, horses, Camels, you name it. I have to admit, this has gotten me pretty fired up with all of the possibilities.
So, the new theme of the trip I suppose, is not cycling around the world, but seeking adventure around the world. The goal I have set for myself now, is to find at least one big challenge for myself on every continent that I visit.
In the end will I be able to say that I rode a bicycle around the world? No. That really does suck. But, I will be able to say that I was true to myself, had an amazing time and one hell of an adventure and that I feel, is what matters most. Traveling by bicycle thus far has been a great experience, truly rewarding and personally enriching. I am by no means done with it for life, but for this trip it has become just one of many adventures as I circle the globe. And who knows, maybe I will jump back on a bike at some point in this trip if I find a place I just can't resist riding a few miles through!
So thanks a million to everyone who sent me emails while I was going through this with encouraging words. It meant more to me than I can really express. If anyone no longer wishes to follow along with the journey as it is no longer cycling around the world, I totally understand and want to thank anyone who has been along with my thus far. However, I am going to continue on and if anyone wants to come with me, I would love the company!