By the time my plane landed in Anchorage, my palms were sweating. I walked to the baggage claim, unboxed my bike, and stuffed gear in my panniers. Nothing fit the way I had imagined. Finally I pulled a bunch of things back out and left them on a chair. My heart thumped. What if nothing fit or worked the way I had imagined? I wheeled my loaded bike to the door, hopped on the saddle, and pedaled into the Alaska dawn.
I didn’t get very far.
Anchorage was gray and every street looked the same. I couldn’t find my way out. Then it started to rain. I pulled over in a parking lot. Water splattered onto my clothes and face, and in that moment it was all too much. I sat down and cried.
There are times in life that you just can’t prepare for. When you don’t actually know what you’re doing. When it is all too much. There are moments when your best ideas start to feel like your worst. When you realize you are a fraud, and always have been.
But the great thing about being a fraud is that you can still show up as yourself. Sitting in the parking lot in the rain, I realized I really was a huge disaster! My worst fears about myself and my life probably were actually true! And as I accepted those truths I finally began to have agency over them. I didn’t have to be perfect, I just had to be me.
I got back on my bike and pedaled away. For three months I cycled through sunshine and storms, dodged bears and climbed mountains. After 3500 miles I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. I stopped on the bridge and looked out over familiar water. For the most part, I was the same person I’d been when I left–just a hell of a lot stronger.
In the thirteen years since that trip, I’ve gone on lots more adventures. I’ve biked across Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and eastern Canada. I’ve backpacked a thousand miles of the Appalachian trail, worked as a trekking guide in Nicaragua, hitch hiked across Latin America.
But even so, when I think of myself as a “cyclist” or an “adventurer” I start to get a little nervous.
I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I’m an imposter. I often feel like a fraud to my big ideas, like I don’t measure up, and that people will soon realize this. I am well versed in imposter syndrome: it’s the feeling that I’m walking into someone else’s party, and I don’t belong.
A couple years ago when I first sat down to write a story about my bike trips, I had to face this part of myself. I really, really wanted to write my story, but at the same time, what did I possibly have to say? I felt myself slip into a familiar anxiety.
Then, sitting in front of the blank computer screen, something inside me finally snapped.
“OH HELL NO,” I told myself. “THIS IS NOT THE PARKING LOT I’M GOING TO DIE IN.” I could see my younger self in Anchorage, getting back on the saddle. And I remembered: I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be me.
So I wrote my damn story. And–finally–I started to have fun with imposter syndrome. Because I’m a big goofball! And this is my party, too!
Now when I feel like an imposter, I just tell myself OH HELL NO and imagine that I’m crashing a party in my funniest costume. I arrive at the door in my penguin onesie and glitter wig, and walk right in. No one else is in costume, but I don’t care. The music thumps and we all start to dance. Everybody loves it! I belong!
And if the other people don’t love it, that makes the fantasy even funnier. Can you imagine a glitter penguin being ostracized at a dance party? I can, and it’s hilarious. So any way you look at it, it’s a win. Showing up–as you are, as you want to be–is always a win.
This fantasy runs through my head all the time now, and it always makes me feel better. It’s more fun to crash the party than to sit in the parking lot.
In November I applied to be a Kona ambassador because it looked really fun. Then once I was accepted, I went to the website and checked out the other ambassadors. I scrolled through their photos and started to get that sinking feeling. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “these are actual athletes!”
I went into the farm kitchen, where I work, and found my friend Laurel.
“Laurel, look at this!” I said, waving my ambassador contract. “This is a contract for actual athletes! They, like, win races. And there’s a picture of this girl jumping like 50 feet in the air. HOW DID SHE GET SO HIGH?”
“Oh my gawd,” said Laurel. “Do you feel like an imposter?”
“Oh HELL NO!” I laughed. I put my arms in the air and did a little shimmy. “This is my party!”
And we both bounced around the kitchen, laughing.