This piece, written by Beth Puliti, originally appeared in Bicycle Times issue #29. Photo courtesy of Beth Puliti.
At a routine doctor’s appointment in my early 20s, a stethoscope revealed an unusual sound in my heartbeat. “It’s probably nothing, but just in case…” my physician wrote me a referral to get it checked out at a local hospital. Tests multiplied, hospitals enlarged and probably nothing turned into “definitely something.” Turns out I am in the one percent—not the luxury car and fancy jewelry kind, the one percent of Americans born with a heart defect kind. I had no limitations, so as far as I could tell, nothing had changed.
NO BIG DEAL.
Ten years after my doctor detected the barely-audible sound of a broken heart, a routine cardiologist appointment showed it deteriorating. To prevent early-onset heart failure, it was recommended I have the defect corrected.
UM, MAJOR CONCERN.
For months I fought to regain control of the wandering “what-if” scenarios running wild up in the space that, up until this point, consistently forgot what I did last weekend, but somehow remembered every single word to every single Ace of Base earworm ever. Finally, I stopped thinking about what I didn’t want to happen, started focusing on what I wanted to happen and came to peace with what was about to happen.
Then, with zero symptoms, and arguably in the best shape of my life, I had open-heart surgery.
On November 9, 2013, I passed out mid-conversation talking with the anesthesiologist about whether this ordeal was worthy of a new pair of shoes. (It was, according to the nicest needle-holding woman in the world.) On November 10, I awoke with a freshly-sawed sternum, protruding medical tubes, wires and needles, and a feeling that didn’t exist before—the profound realization that I’m living on borrowed time. Today, every time I look into the mirror, a 6-inch scar left over from an oscillating saw reminds me that modern medicine has granted me a few extra rotations around the sun.
I DON’T WANT TO WASTE A SINGLE HEARTBEAT.
In the years following that first doctor’s appointment, I bided the time by getting a college education, getting a job and getting married. Many (many, many) mortgage payments later, has me questioning my “right-on-track” lifestyle. I’m checking boxes. But is this what I really want? Or what I’m supposed to want? Is this what I’m passionate about?
Thoreau said we spend “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.” He’s right. We’ve got it wrong. Let’s stop checking boxes and travel the world. Now. Not tomorrow—we’ll run out of tomorrows. Today, while our hearts are still beating strong.
Last week my husband and I bought one-way tickets out of our adopted New England mountain town. On July 7th, we fly into Munich, Germany and will set off for an unknown amount of time to see the world via two wheels. We have a rough idea of where we want to explore—Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Thailand, Vietnam. Along the way, I’ll detail our journey with you, sharing the good and the bad, the tailwinds and the headwinds, and the ins and outs of leaving scripted life behind.
Long-term travel to distant lands doesn’t have to be a dream. I hope this column inspires you: To stop living vicariously. To indulge your passion. To enjoy the ride—and create your own along the way.Tweet Print