Life lessons I learned from Rottnest Island

This is a photo I took while we’re having our lunch under the West Australian heat; stopover after traveling half the circuit.

I pedaled for 22 kilometers around Rottnest Island. For you to understand what I’ve gotten myself into, here’s a map of the island. I tell you, 22 kilometers is no joke. We finished the whole route for seven hours (side trips and stops included). Don’t get me wrong. I did not have any proper training and I did not even come prepared. I was even wearing a dress! I can’t also remember when was the last time I rode a bike. I admit I just plainly underestimated the situation, thinking that it will be like a stroll in the park.

It was the beginning of summer in West Australia and friends from the conference already warned me how summer heat in WA can be. But despite of that knowledge, I underestimated the situation by just packing a 750mL potable water, a bottle of sunscreen, a pair of slippers, and my go-to cardigan. (I didn’t even bother bringing a change of clothes).

(Front row, from left to right) Jessa, Ethel, and John Paulo. (Back row, from left to right) Jenny, Rodolfo, and Anton.
Together with my team representing Philippines for ICPES 2019, we were all so excited to get to Rottnest Island.

Throughout the experience, I really learned a lot of things I would like to share with you.

1. If you did not come prepared when you had the chance, bear the consequences.

In whatever situation, if possible, come prepared. It wouldn’t be a surprise that this is the first lesson I learned throughout the experience. I’ve been warned but I did not really bother checking the gravity of what the locals were telling me. Partly because I talked myself that I can just buy everything in the island (which really cost me more that it should be). That’s a no-brainer with Economics 101, however, I did not listen to logic.

Were there instances in your life that you were given a chance to prepare but did not? You could have faced the same situation more bearable if you only moved toward the situation prepared.

When you are prepared, you will spare yourself from avoidable unfavorable experiences. If you are not, have the heart to bear the consequences.

2. Know how to use the right tools the right way.

If you’re digging for a furrow with a spoon, you might be working as hard than you’re supposed to with the right digging tools. It was my first two hours pedaling around the island and I found every uphill very challenging. Well, uphills are always challenging right? They require the full use of your ability and knowledge.

But when my colleague JP noticed my difficulty (as I always get behind our group of three), he asked if I was shifting gears or not. And I was like, “I can shift gears on this thing?” Imagine what I’ve gone through for the first two hours without the knowledge of shifting gears! All I knew was how to pedal the bike. I used the right tool but not at its full function and I paid a price.

If you have been or are in the same situation as I was, learn your lesson. I did.

Here’s a panoramic view of one of the beaches in Rottnest Island.

3. Learn how to deal with unwelcome distractions.

Remember I told you that I thought going to Rottnest Island will be like a walk in the park? It started like one not until the flies started to bother us the first 10 minutes of our bike ride. They were just unstoppable! They go inside your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Every crevice they saw, everything with a hint of water, they tried to enter. I never understood it first that they were as thirsty as we were under the scorching heat of the Australian sun. All I know was they are just too much to handle, a major distraction.

Two thoughts were running in my head as I continued to pedal and the flies continued to harass me. First, will the flies ever go away? That’s close to wishful thinking but in every unexpected circumstance we face, we oftentimes hope that they will just be gone without us doing anything. Second, if they never ever go away, what can I do?

Right on the first hour, I realized that there’s no getting rid of those flies. They were totally annoying. My colleague JP had to spit one out when he accidentally swallowed it, without him even knowing it was a fly! I even spit one out myself after it entered my nose! Such a hilarious experience. So what we did to adapt with the situation is wrap our faces with T-shirts. But right, I did not bring any extra clothes (and I was not willing enough to give up my cardigan yet). Good thing JP had an extra shirt and let me use it. If you can imagine, under the heat of the sun, I was wearing a dress and sneakers, wrapped with my cardigan and a T-shirt all over my face. No wonder it was so hard to breathe that time.

There are just things that happen in life (what I call distractions) and you need to keep forward regardless. When such a time comes, deal the problem with workable solutions.

4. Accept the things you cannot control and work on to what you can.

Since there was no way to totally get rid of the flies (they really did stay with us for maybe about 85% of our travel time), we adapted. As I kept cycling, I came across other bikers who did creative ways to adapt with the fly-situation. Some hanged fresh leaves on their faces, stems tucked around the rim of their helmets. Others were wearing net bags around their heads! I did not know if the island was selling such nets.

With the fly-situation mitigated after being so wrapped up with fabric, I began to experience another issue: I was beginning to suffocate myself. I was in a very uncomfortable situation, which is practically my own doing. Why? Because I still chose to wear my cardigan in the middle of the heat. Why? Because I don’t want to become tanner than I was. But as I kept on cycling, seeing foreigners almost baring it all, I realized that I am being irrational.

Being torn between becoming tanner than I already was and being comfortable really felt like a dark cloud over me. Did you ever have an experience in your life where you are torn between what you want to do and what you should do? Reason tells us that we should do what we ought to do. But often times, we choose to hold our ground on what we want to do, then eventually blame all the things we don’t have control over for every discomfort and mischief we are experiencing.

I was beginning to blame the sun (no kidding) for being so unreasonably hot. “I don’t want to get a tan, I don’t want to get a tan” played like a broken record in my head that time. The dilemma I was in is this: (1) be able to breathe better but be exposed by the sun and get a tan; and (2) not really get tan but can’t properly breathe with all the fabric wrapped around me. Was there anything I can do about the sun?

Is there anything you can do to change the situation you are in now?

So instead of focusing on the things you cannot control, you should focus on the things you can control. In my case, there’s nothing I can do about the sun. That is why I chose to overcome my held views about being tan and embraced the sun instead. I talked myself that getting tan will be a remembrance after I chose to breathe better.

Once I accepted that there’s no getting around it (getting a tan), I was able to enjoy the experience better.

Maybe that’s what you need too; accept that there’s no getting around the things you cannot control. Choose what matters.

I’ve never seen a wind turbine so close before. So the moment I got a glimpse of it, I memorialized the memory through a photograph. It was a great experience to see it tower over me and hear it’s mechanical hum.

5. Time spent alone is good.

Can you imagine the tumbleweeds in cartoons depicting lone characters in dry land? When I was a kid, I always wondered what it would feel like to see tumbleweeds (often times a signal of dryness and lonesomeness) until I was there. How fitting and how lonely. Yes, there were tumbleweeds running with the wind as I cycle past through them. Foreigners occasionally pass me by too and I felt like a tumbleweed. They looked so adept for the activity where they looked so fit and in full gear while I looked so inappropriate in contrast. My colleagues JP and Anton just got the muscles for that kind of activity too so I was always behind them (way way behind them) that I mostly see them at a stop or a shed, waiting for me.

A lot of instances while I was on the road, no one was before or behind me. It was so silent that all I can hear is my labored breathing, my sneakers crunching the pedals, the wheels against the asphalt road, and the wind. I felt so alone with my thoughts. But then as minutes passed, I realized that it’s not that bad at all given the circumstance.

We are in the age where information is easily searched and hoarded. There’s just too much noise in the world be it through social media, fake news, games, and you name it. Oftentimes than not, most of us are so afraid to be left with our own thoughts that we’d rather fumble through our phones to play games or scroll mindlessly through our social media feeds.

In those moments of silence, I kept on going despite the exhaustion I really felt. But then again, I chose to be where I was, no one forced me to. So the most rational thing to do was to keep moving forward despite and in spite of all the things I am going through. I thought a lot of things then and I thought about the Lord Jesus Christ too, spending time alone praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. No wonder why he does what he does. Silence allows you to think clear and enables you to hear how your spirit yearns for the presence of God.

I admit that I was really afraid of passing out under the heat and being alone on the road made my fear worse. But with the silence, I was able to call unto God for strength and endurance. I even used the time to praise the Lord in songs.

Maybe, that’s what you need too, a time alone with your thoughts. Give yourself a space to think through the situation you are in now. Drown out all the noise and spend your time alone in prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

6. Take one step at a time.

I never thought that’s how I would be spending my day on the island; where trying not to pass out under the heat of the day was my first priority, then work my way until I reach the end of the circuit was the next.

While at the brink of exhaustion, I felt that I was doing a lot of work where I should be enjoying the whole experience. Whenever other bikers pass me by, I constantly wondered how they could go so fast. I wanted to be like them too but I just can’t be at their level of speed and strength. The more I compared myself with others, the more troubled I feel, and the sadder I get too.

Why am I doing this to myself?” was a question I cannot rub off me that time. To rationalize the situation, I thought about three facts as I fixed my eyes on the road, burning under the heat, arm and leg muscles tightening up: (1) I started somewhere, (2) there will be an end point, and (3) there is a journey in between.

It’s the same thing with life. We were born into this world (that’s our starting point) with our deaths certain (that’s our end point). So what we have control over is the life we live in between (that’s the journey we all have to take). So you better make the most of the life you live by taking things one step at a time. When you find joy in the small victories you experience in this short life, you won’t be bothered when others are better than you are. You must consider that all the people around you started somewhere too and they are where they are just because they kept on pushing one step at a time.

The moment I understood that I can enjoy the journey by taking my own pace, the first thing I did was to ask the Lord for strength and endurance so that I will be able to reach the end of the circuit with joy. After that, I started to focus on just pedaling one at a time. By doing so, I was able to rejoice with every distance I covered. Only by then did I totally enjoy the experience. I realized that it doesn’t matter if I was last, what’s important was I finished the journey until the end.

Life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

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7. You can push yourself beyond.

I never thought I can do beyond what I think I can do. But that’s what happened. I found myself on a bike and the rest was about finishing the 22-kilometer distance from starting to end point. But it wasn’t sheer strength that allowed me to go beyond the boundaries I thought I have. I endured because I prayed to God with hope that He will let me enjoy the whole experience by giving me strength and endurance.

So yes, it’s possible to push yourself beyond your known boundaries. I learned that you cannot do what you’re not willing to learn doing. However, with whatever it is that you want to conquer, do not believe in your own might alone. If you do so, you are doomed to fail. Instead, put your trust in the Lord that He can help you push yourself beyond the limits you thought you won’t ever surpass. With God, all things are possible.

After cycling around the island for seven hours (including side trips and a dip in the ocean), it was a great feeling to see a lot of people again. The air became less humid too, thanks for the trees (finally).

8. Learn to be a part of a team.

In this short life, we don’t have to travel alone. We can be in teams mainly for a support system. Being in a team allows you not only to help others but help yourself also. How? When you are a part of a team, it means that you help others to finish the whole endeavor with you. In a team, no one is to be left behind. You look after one another.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

And that’s what I experienced with JP, Anton, and Sir RJ (JP’s substitute when his cramps was too painful for him to bear; so he took the bus). Even if I was always way behind them, I had the comfort knowing that they will be waiting for me at the next stop or the next shed, so that we can start together again. There were a lot of times it took me so long to catch up with them that they really went back their way to check out if I am still on the road (maybe they really thought I would pass out). At one time, I was so grateful they did come back for me because I think I was at the brink of passing out while I was taking a rest to catch my breath.

Anton had a very special role to play too. Being the person who was more prepared for the activity, he took the part of being our leader and motivator. He shared his resources with us (chips and water) and he also helped me bring my stuff so that I would have less baggage as I bike across the island. The removed weight really made my experience more bearable. Anton also kept on encouraging us by giving us ideas how long we’ve already traveled while rejoicing with us for our small victories. He also kept us updated with the remaining distance we are still to cover.

From time to time, JP stuck with me just so to accompany me but he goes to cycle faster when he can sense that I am okay. Not only did it help me, but it also taught me how to become a part of the team too. When I was unusually ahead of JP, I slowed down to check him out and later we took some rest because he’s having terrible cramps. Of course, with us nowhere in sight, Anton went back for us.

If not for them, I wouldn’t really finish the whole 22 kilometers. They taught me the importance of teamwork and I would be forever grateful for the experience.

9. Know when to quit (and when to press ahead).

It’s human nature to quit when it hurts.

from The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit

If you have read it this far, then by now you already knew the challenges I’ve been through. Maybe you wanted to ask me why I didn’t quit. I admit I was playing the idea in my head especially during the time I was gasping for air, out in the heat, and with the flies bothering the life out of me. I thought about quitting, yes. Together with my colleagues, we already talked about a Plan B before we started to divide ourselves into “who will go for the bus” and “who will go for the bikes”. Plan B: when any of the bikers decided to quit, someone from the bus can sub. So there was always this fallback plan I can choose.

Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it

from The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit

But whenever I thought of it, I always remembered that “there will be an end of this“. I kept telling myself that if I will just push a little bit more, eventually, I will finish the 22 kilometers. What’s in it for me? The experience. I wanted to go home, back to the Philippines, with a story to tell. That even if I was inexperienced and a non-sports enthusiast, I biked for 22 kilometers around Rottnest Island under extreme conditions and survived. And because of that story I kept telling myself, I eventually found myself at the end. I finished the whole circuit and went back to my home country with this story you are reading now.

Wherever you are now, are you thinking about quitting? Before you do, think about how you want your story to end. If that’s clear to you, then you will know if it’s still beneficial to stick around. Here’s a blog post I wrote about knowing when to quit (and when to press ahead).

Sometimes, it’s better to quit (especially when the cost of not quitting becomes higher than when you do). But it’s never wise to quit when you are almost at the end of it.

Here are more photos from the trip with the team:

Wrap Up

  • Bear the consequences of unpreparedness. In whatever situation, if possible, come prepared. When you are prepared, you will spare yourself from avoidable unfavorable experiences. If you are not, have the heart to bear the consequences.
  • Know how to use the right tools the right way. If you’re digging for a furrow with a spoon, you might be working as hard than you’re supposed to with the right digging tools.
  • Learn how to deal with unwelcome distractions. There are just things that happen in life (what I call distractions) and you need to keep forward regardless. When such a time comes, deal the problem with workable solutions.
  • Accept the things you cannot control and work on to what you can. There’s no getting around the things you cannot control. Choose what matters.
  • Time spent alone is good. Give yourself a space to think through the situation you are in now. Drown out all the noise and spend your time alone in prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Take one step at a time. Life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
  • You can push yourself beyond. You cannot do what you’re not willing to learn doing. However, with whatever it is that you want to conquer, do not believe in your own might alone. If you do so, you are doomed to fail. Instead, put your trust in the Lord that He can help you push yourself beyond the limits you thought you won’t ever surpass. With God, all things are possible.
  • Learn to be a part of a team. In this short life, you don’t have to travel alone. When you are in a team, you will have a support system where no one is left behind because you look after one another.
  • Know when to quit (and when to stick). Think about how you want your story to end. If that’s clear to you, then you will know if it’s still beneficial to stick around.

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