Flesh-Eating Bacteria and Other Minor Annoyances

Disclaimer — I love my life. I don’t want to change a thing. I get to travel, ride bikes, and explore somewhere new almost every day. I don’t have to sit in a cubicle and I almost never have to deal with an excel spread sheet. (Except when I do and then I throw things.) I have very few complaints. However, every now and then I have a conversation with someone who is all “uggggh I’m so jealous, your life sounds so amazing and romantic and I wish I were you.” Okay, fair enough, there are romantic moments every now and then, but for some reason whenever anyone says something like this, I am overcome by an urge to throw it back in their face and say “NO, NOT REALLY, SOMETIMES IT SUCKS AND SOMETIMES MY LIFE IS HARD, TOO.” I realize this is an immature impulse, probably a product of our society’s constant victimhood peddling, but it’s also kind of true.

Life on the road is not all late-night campfires and beautiful sunsets over the open road. Sometimes it really does suck. Sometimes you’re swarmed by gigantic mosquitoes. Sometimes you can’t get some important document because you have no stable mailing address and such-and-such bureaucracy will not pay attention to your constant address change requests. Sometimes you’re just tired and hungry and grumpy and totally OVER cold showers. (See photo)


Oh, and sometimes you contract a mysterious flesh-eating bacterial infection and don’t get it attended to until it gets so bad that you begin to worry that your leg might be about to fall off so you have your boyfriend drive you an hour and a half in the middle of the night to the closest open emergency care facility, which (obviously) is not that close at all.

So yeah, that happened. And fine, flesh-eating might be a minor exaggeration, but I did, it turned out, have a pretty healthy and potentially antibiotic resistant staph infection. FUN TIMES, PEOPLE.

At the risk of providing too much information, I will just tell you that my left leg developed a series of unpleasant, red pustules and then swelled up to twice it’s normal size. I also had a fever and all sorts of other alarming side-effects that prompted our late night journey to the ER. The doctors didn’t seem to think I was in imminent danger of amputation (but can you blame me for freaking out?!?!), but they did put me on a cocktail of antibiotics and drained my wounds (sorry sorry gross I know). I won’t, however, post a picture because, frankly, I don’t need to add to the reasons why google-image searching “staph infection” is a terrible idea.

I felt somewhat better the next day, as I no longer thought I was in imminent danger of losing my leg and that obviously puts a person in better spirits. However, I still had a fever and was largely incapable of doing anything. I spent the entire day flopped in the back of van while the others rode their bikes, shivering and sweating and doing the only thing my addled brain was capable of — mumbling my way through the Duolingo Italian lesson on animals. Luckily no native Italian speakers happened by or they probably would have been somewhat alarmed by the glassy-eyed, gauze-encrusted creature curled into a fetal position and muttering, over and over again, “the horse eats the apple, the monkey drinks the water.”

And while I won’t post a picture of my unbandaged wound, I do feel like I owe you this — the unsexiest picture of me to ever make it onto the internet…in the height of pathetic, the night we cracked and finally got a hotel room because I was just done with coping. I was trying to look positive for this photo (happy MRSA day!), but instead I just looked like a sick puppy.


Through this entire experience, I just kept thinking how much I wanted things to be easier. I wanted chicken soup. I wanted functional internet. I wanted my own bed. I wanted more than three dollars of disposable income.

I think the main reason I get irritated when people romanticize my life is not because my life secretly sucks. Actually it’s almost always awesome. Last week it happened to suck, but don’t we all have sucky days? Don’t we all contract the casual case of flesh-eating bacteria once in a while? No? Okay, guess that’s just me.

No, the main reason I get irritated is because this assumption is the conversational equivalent of erecting a big, stone wall. Recently, I’ve become convinced that many people don’t want to hear about the day-to-day life of a professional traveler/hobo. (The exceptions, of course, are you lovely readers of travel blogs, bless yer hearts.) People want to assume that if you’ve managed to work out a lifestyle that doesn’t involve an office or a 9-5, that you have achieved the unachievable, that you are unbelievably privileged and your life is all stars and roses and midnight campfires. People don’t want to think that you’re anything like them, because then they could be doing what you’re doing, and they’re not. The truth, at least for me, is that I am poor and I live in a tent. The truth is that my lifestyle is a choice, and one that has come at what is, for many people, an unfathomable sacrifice. The truth is that I’m a normal person, just one who would rather camp with a staph infection than give up one iota of freedom. (Not recommending camping with a staph infection. Horrible idea.)

Sometimes, we're tired.

Sometimes, we’re tired.

If you want to live on the road, prepare to eat sandwiches for dinner and to sometimes be cold and wet and miserable. Prepare to be sick and very far away from a warm bed. Prepare to be kicked out of your campsite by a park ranger at least once. Prepare to be tired and frustrated and elated all at the same time. Prepare to cry every time you have to deal with a multinational company. Prepare for your phone battery to die at the most inopportune of times. Prepare to feel guilty when you buy a beer because you know your bank account can’t handle that kind of extravagance. But most of all, prepare for the moment when all of these things happen in one day and then some stranger tells you how “jealous” they are of your “romantic life.” Prepare to smile and say thank you, because in that moment you will know that, no matter what, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

It's worth it for nights like this. Photo cred: Sean Leader

It’s worth it for nights like this. Photo cred: Sean Leader

What would you give up in order to live the life of your dreams? And, because I just have to ask, has anyone else had a brush with flesh-eating bacteria???!?!

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

more here

9 thoughts on “Flesh-Eating Bacteria and Other Minor Annoyances

  1. No, no flesh eating bacteria here I’m afraid (i’m a bit gutted there aren’t more flesh eating stories in the comments).

    Aside from the mountain biking, and the flesh eating bacteria, I would actually like to live on the road. I’ve been saving FOREVER (I want enough to buy a mobile home of some sort, a bit of a buffer on the assumption that I won’t be able to get a job right away wherever I end up) & ideally will leave middle of next year! Ideally…. I don’t like One Place for Too Long.

    So, is your flesh eating bacteria getting better now?

    • Haha yeah, I think I scared people with this story. Guess flesh-eating bacteria ain’t that common… And yeah, I want money to buy a motor home too (or, at the very least, my own sprinter van!)

  2. Firstly! OMG I loved reading this!

    Secondly, I guess no ones life is ever perfect but sometimes, if you’re lucky enough and go after it, your life is just right/perfect for you!

    I don’t think I would even want to be on a 24/7 vacation as people imagine it, it just wouldn’t be right. I would feel like I needed to work (in whatever form) and eventually you take for granted all that wonderfulness of a vacation. I think we need that balance of good and bad.

    Though they are right to romanticize your life, after all, you are living the lifestyle that you choose and the amount of people that don’t do that, because they just assume and expect what society tells us is our life and how its meant to be, is very small.

    Great article! sorry to hear about your leg but I’m glad its all good now :-)

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  4. Yikes! Good thing you were able to get to a good health care facility. Glad you’re feeling better. You’re living the good life and so glad you are appreciative of it-all the good and bad. Safe travels. :)

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