When biking through Tuscany, I do NOT Recommend Wearing a Sundress:  A letter to my friends

Dear Becky, Robyn and Sara:

Have we been home for two weeks or two years- how is it that time always does that?  I remember Sara’s email two years ago with our calculated “joint 40th birthday” of 9 September 2014 where she declared we had to “save the date” and “do something big”!

How incredibly exciting is it that we DID it?  Despite all the reasons we could have NOT done it, we DID it!  I’m not sure even I really believed we would, but then maybe that was a protection mechanism on my part?  If I’d know what I had gotten myself into, I might have been tempted to NOT do it!

It was so fun to go to a Broadway show and fancy dinner in NYC!  (So what if we all had to take a nap (even Robyn!) so that we could stay up past 10 pm.)  It was SO fun to be on that long plane ride with all of you- to catch up on all the things we have and haven’t been able to talk about over the years.  Things like new jobs and new hobbies, babies and the absence of babies, husbands that drive us crazy but keep us sane, character traits we’ve discovered we never knew we had; dreams and hopes for the future, plans made and plans interrupted, hopes held on to even if deferred for a bit.

Dinner at Butter in NYC

But Italy- or more specifically Tuscany!  Wow.  Just wow.  I think I am FINALLY almost back to normal physically at least, but I’m pretty sure I’ll never be the same after that trip.  We laughed about how it was quickly evident that the “biking through rolling hills in Tuscany” was probably not exactly a fair description.  That being said, I think Robyn probably had an idea all along and in her sweet and non-judgmental way tried to prepare me a little before we left but I was having none of it.  I figured my running would transfer to the biking just fine, and honestly, thinking about biking on the road too much was not something I wanted to do….and so began one of the hardest, most intense, most life-changing weeks of my life.  The real world and all of the joys and sadnesses that we all face were waiting for us when we got home and so I’m still processing in general but I wanted to get this letter out to you before much more time passes.

What I’ve realized is that I learned many “life lessons” on this trip- things I had NO IDEA I would be learning about; things that have significant application in the here and now and the future.  Things I needed to learn YEARS ago, but I just wasn’t in a place to understand them yet.  Things that are a few of those “BIG”/monumental/”never-be-the-same” things.

1. Friendship is a gift– one that’s precious and rare and beautiful and messy and forgiving and giving and character-shaping. Ok- yes, duh, right? That’s kind of why we went on this trip in the first place.  But that’s sort of what I mean- we actually WENT on this trip.  We didn’t just talk about it, or dream about it, or wish about it, or half-way plan it.  We did it.  We planned and we saved and we shared the details and we talked about it for two whole years amidst life moving by and then we DID it.

Grapes in Tuscany- from the vine to the bottle
Grapes in Tuscany- from the vine to the bottle

Obviously it’s just the 4 of us reading this, and while I would say it to anyone, I’m also VERY aware that this might be hurtful for some people to read- people who don’t have these types of friendships.  People who have been hurt by friends; rejected, forgotten, ignored.  People who’ve moved one too many times or had one too many personal things to feel like they could be honest and even maintain a friendship.  So I’m careful who I talk about this with, but at the same time I feel so strongly that the only people in the world who can change the way “bad” girl-friendships go is us- the girls ourselves.  We have to be kind to one another, patient with one another, forgiving of each other (like you have always done Becky from residency to fellowship and all the time in between).  We have to be willing to go deep and to sit with pain when there is nothing we can do but listen and say “me too” (like you did Sara when I snuck into your office every day for what felt like a year, crying, wondering if I’d ever be the real me again).  We have to be able to give and share- our homes, our food, our hearts, our time, our laughs (like you did Robyn when Pete and I lived with you FOR TWO MONTHS while I was in the depths of depression after that first deployment and cross-country move).  We have to be willing to BE a friend but also to let others BE a friend to us, which means being vulnerable which means taking a chance we will get hurt.  It’s so hard, and I get it- I get why people don’t do it.  But I think it is a mistake.  This obsession with social media where we spend hours scrolling (comparing, judging, wondering) when we could be spending a small portion of that with a real life human (who may not look quite as happy as her facebook cover photo would have you believe) is to me just another sign that we all want these friendships.  It’s complicated.  For now, I’ll just say again- thank you for the gifts of your friendship.  If I could give a gift to every woman on this planet, it would be the gift of friends like you.

2. The next big lesson I’m taking away is a shade of the first but it stands alone as perhaps the biggest lesson I learned on the trip. I haven’t written or talked much yet to others about the intense FEAR for me on this trip- I’m still processing the words and I’m sure I’ll share them on my blog eventually.  But you guys know- there was an “irrational” fear of those dang downhills.  (MY fingers took a full two weeks to return to normal- it’s really hard to function with a claw hand by the way).

I was not sure after the first “introduction” ride if I would even be able to get on my bike again.  I’m sure I would NOT have been able to, had it not been for you three.  The way that you guys circled around me, accepted it for what it was and gave me nothing but love and support was a gift I will NEVER forget.  I’m certain I’ll still be thinking of it when we are old and much of my memory is gone because that’s how deeply I’ve vowed not to forget it.  I realized that I have never in my life actually said to someone “I need you”.  I mean I’m sure I’ve said the words, but I’ve never really meant them until that second day we got on the bike.  You told me you were right behind me all day Beck,and I recognized that I could not do it without you there.

"Behind me" all the way on this trip and always
“Behind me” all the way on this trip and always

And then the way each of you took turns staying back with me?!  There were times when I was going downhill that I could imagine how a person COULD love that feeling- NOT that I did as you know, but I could get a glimpse of how someone could.  And in that glimpse I realized what each of you were giving up by staying with me- crawling down those hills with me at what even I realized was a ridiculous pace.  I am still not able to talk (or write) about it without crying because it was such a deep lesson for me.  I thought of all the times I’ve run and walked with people- helping them complete races they never thought they could start, let alone finish.  We often finish in the last group, and like me on that last day- (sorry again about throwing the bike at you Robyn) they burst in to tears of joy and gratitude and thank me profusely for helping them accomplish the goal.  Every time I blow it off with a “no big deal” or “you don’t have to thank me, it was fun” or some other true but minimizing comment.  The truth is it IS A BIG DEAL!  It’s a huge deal to give up personal experiences and opportunities and goals to “stay back” with a friend who needs you.  I’ve realized it’s actually really RARE for people to do that and I understand why, but I now understand what a BIG DEAL it really is.  I forever have seared into my memory the minute I realized this and I am forever grateful for the way I learned this lesson.

3. Another very timely thing I learned was one I hesitate to say because it sounds so cliche’ but I realized the reason it’s true on this trip: To live life to its fullest, most peaceful, joyful, authentic possibilities, you have to be present in the moment.

This is a lesson I’ve told myself all throughout this year.  I’ve been working on not having a set schedule, and being comfortable with not having a long-term plan.  I’ve tried to be more spontaneous and leave room in my day for unexpected things.  In theory I’ve been getting better, but it’s a struggle in reality because I’m still “planning” to be spontaneous.  But what I realized mid-way through day three (I’m not ready to talk about that day yet) is that knowing what was coming next actually didn’t make it any better.

I knew I would be fine on whatever uphill was coming (oh Lord how I prayed we could just keep going up and up and up and up for infinity and never come down) and I knew knowing the downhill (and the switchbacks with the construction and crazy traffic and all the other possible factors that were added to the downhills at any given time) was coming was actually not making anything better.  Anticipating whatever it was they told us was coming, actually only kept me from enjoying those parts that I DID love (did I mention the uphills?).  I missed some of the details of the beauty and the intense way that the air smelled and the way the wind blew different trees differently and the way my heart felt when the sun was shining down on our little line of riders.  I opened my mouth to ask a question about the course after lunch that day, and promptly shut it right back as I realized that I honestly didn’t want to know.  As you guys know, this whole year has been somewhat unstructured and unplanned (and it’s not like Jan 1 2015 means the life plan is back in effect) so this is a lesson that I am CERTAIN was tailored just for me on this trip.  I am so grateful I was paying attention enough to GET it!

Slow foods restaurant where we were "forced" to be in the moment :)
Slow foods restaurant where we were “forced” to be in the moment 🙂

4. Another thing I’m taking away is this deep need, a sense of a duty even, to tell others they must DO THIS. Not necessarily Tuscany, or two weeks or riding bikes but this deeper thing.  They must take time to be with their friends, intentionally.  To click off Facebook and click to Facetime in an effort to keep those threads weaving together into these beautiful sweaters and cloaks and sweatsuits of friendship!  They must do things that frighten and encourage and test and strengthen and stretch them- those things that shake off the dust of life in this world and shock us with the memory of MORE, DEEPER, TRUE-ER.  I want to say it in a way that is kind and comforting, stepping gently with those who don’t feel they have friends like this, but also with a sense of urgency that says “THEN FIND THEM”.  They are out there- these real women who really want true friendship. I know they are there because my email and my facebook messages and my phone texts and my calendar is full of them!  They are everywhere!  I want to tell them if you don’t have any of those friends in your life, go back through the days of your life-is there a friendship you would love to re-engage with?  Then CALL HER!  Go present and forward in your life- are the people right around you, or doing things you want to do, that you can reach out to?  DO IT!  Ask them for coffee or a walk, and if they can’t do it, move to the next one, don’t give up!  Find a friend, whatever that means for you, and be willing to be a friend back.

Girl picture- yes we DID bike through the Tuscan hills (aka mountains)
Girl picture- yes we DID bike through the Tuscan hills (aka mountains)

5. Lastly, people keep wondering why I burst into laughter when they ask me if the trip was “relaxing”. I can’t even fathom how I would find a way to describe the trip that would include that word, but then that’s not why we picked to go on a 2 week adventure vacation in Europe, now is it?!  Words that come to mind are fun and challenging and hard.  Words like beautiful, life-giving, soul-strengthening and life-changing. Those are the words I might choose.

So while it wasn’t a “bike ride through Tuscan hills in our sundresses with a glass of wine in our hands” kind of trip, it was just the trip I needed for this spot in my life.  This place where I am marking a milestone that seems so hard and painful for some.  This celebration of 4 decades of life on this planet- and that’s just what it is!  A celebration!  This will always be a reminder for me of setting goals and plans and sticking to them.  Of finding challenges for ourselves that stretch our mental and physical abilities- it’s how our muscles grow!  A reminder that if we don’t take the time to plan and be intentional with our friendships, they will slowly fade away and we won’t even really realize it.  A reminder that just because others tell us something is a negative thing (turning 40!) or that we “definitely couldn’t” do something (that lady on the train had NO idea who she was talking to) that doesn’t make their truth our truth.  This trip was everything I never knew it would be and I wouldn’t change a thing (except to maybe bring that anti-chafing stuff next time- yeah, I might change that one little thing).

Yoga and wine- a perfect pair
Yoga and wine- a perfect pair

So thanks you guys- thanks for a trip of a lifetime and the friendships of this life.  (It’s a good thing this isn’t a blogpost, as I’m about 1000 words over the longest “recommended” limit!)  If you feel the same as I do about any of these things, maybe you can help me encourage all those other girls out there that it’s worth it to seek out friendships- they are all around us.  Who knows? They might wind up riding bikes through Tuscany? (We could see if we could get commission for referring them to Sandro and Marcello?)




8 thoughts on “When biking through Tuscany, I do NOT Recommend Wearing a Sundress:  A letter to my friends

  1. docbeck2002@gmail.com October 18, 2014 / 9:15 pm

    I love your writing and sentiment and YOU!!! Beautiful. Just remember, like you, we enjoyed every minute of “hanging back” with you. You allowed us to act like a “good friend,” which is it’s own reward and wonderful experience. We might have been missing the thrills of the downhills, but we were getting to be with you!!!!!

    • Dawn Muench October 20, 2014 / 8:25 am

      See what I mean ? 🙂 I love that: to “act like a “good friend” ” is it’s own reward and wonderful experience- beautiful!

  2. Alessandro Draghi October 19, 2014 / 2:25 pm

    Grande Dawn!!! It has been a great pleasure share all this with you. What you wrote here is awsome and I want to read it to my kids

    • Dawn Muench October 20, 2014 / 8:25 am

      Sandro! So fun to see you here! I would be honored if you shared with your kids 🙂 Thanks for the trip of a lifetime!

  3. Ashley October 19, 2014 / 7:08 pm

    Sounds like the trip was everything you needed…if not exactly what you wanted. So glad to count you as one of “those” friends!

    • Dawn Muench October 20, 2014 / 8:26 am

      Yes! I am grateful to have so many of those friends who would ride behind me on a bike anytime 🙂 Hugs!

  4. Bob Jackson October 28, 2014 / 10:32 pm

    Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing and don’t forget, these bikes are stable..it will get you down the hill!

    • Dawn Muench October 29, 2014 / 3:40 pm

      Yes!! I could never forget THAT mantra “Other Bob said the bike was stable” repeated to infinity!

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