I am going to bed at 10 pm for my 5 am wake up. My shammies- aka the padded spandex I wear while biking- are in my stuff sack under my head, both acting as a pillow and keeping me one step ahead for the next morning. My osprey is next to the sleeping bag, each little pocket filled with snacks for the next day, 3 litter bladder already filled with water so I don’t have to compete for the sink tomorrow morning. The church basement, oddly, looks similar to so many of the other church basements, so much so that when I wake in the middle of the night, I have trouble remembering which state I am in.
In bike and build time, each day counts for two: the ride, and after the ride. I don’t know how we are so efficient with our use of time, managing to get between 60 and 100 miles of biking in (depending of the terrain) before 4:30 pm, punctuated by stops at diners and local swimming holes and ice cream joins and just plain beautiful views. Somehow we muster energy still after to socialize with the church people, shower and clean our bikes, perform evening chores, and even squeeze an hour or two in our evening’s town.
My quads are sore, and my tendons in my knees twang like rubber bands. Had you asked if I could do the past four days of riding, I would have told you no. But here I am, and I can confidentially say that without the people I share this weird moldy green carpet with this evening, I would not have made it. It has been hard, and I have learned a lot about myself in a short time.
Not taking care of myself has more than once lead to extreme lows. And it’s hard to take care of yourself. You have to eat every ten miles, drink more water than feels natural, apply sunscreen frequently, work hard but find some moments alone- to process. Because here we are always going.
More so than the physical exhaustion (perhaps, it is at a scale I never could comprehend), the mental exhaustion surprises me. We bike as a unit, breaking up in groups between 2 and 6 people. We function as a team, each responsible for watching each other’s back and communicating potential road hazards. Yesterday I was the back rider in a group of three on a major highway. In this part of Ohio, oil is a major economical resource, which results in many semis. To keep the forward riders safe, it was my responsibility to hold steady to the legal one third of the highway bicyclist are allotted. I communicated to my team mates that a 16 wheeler lurked behind, and, by not acting I’m fear, I force the truck to pass my crew with adequate space so that their wind does not toss us aside.
However, the highs out way the lows. So quickly I have a pack of people whom I trust- they are brilliant and determined, each with a background so different than mine with so much to teach. We have had to learn to trust each other quickly- in part because many of our showers have been communal, and because we always spend 24 hours a day together (that includes the uncomfortable breakdown moments) but always because we depend on each other as a team. We need one another’s wisdom, warm hearts, rational, courage and strength. Really we do- there is no other way. Because we need a pal to hold the hose for those backyard showers.
When people travel by car or plane, they seek out the “cool” places, happening cities or picturesque villages. But when you bike across the country, you learn that much of America, if not most, are places that we would rather not see, populated by people without proper shelter, education, or means to escape the cycle of poverty (geographically and figuratively). In concept I knew and expected to work in rough places. But I didn’t think about all the rough places we would pass through, and that we couldn’t directly and immediately alleviate the disparities.
In a moment of low, having been disheartened by a particularly exhausting and, in some ways, demoralizing day, I questioned what I wanted to gain from this experience. Why was I so disappointed in myself? To organize clarity I began to think about who I wanted to be when I left. And that is when I realized that no matter how hard the day, whether or not I was slow, what is more important is that which I take away. I want to be someone who can be there for people, lead, teach, listen, follow. I want to help. I need to take care of myself and have patience and forgiveness for me so that I can give the same to others.
And there is still so much to learn. That’s all for now. 1016 miles in, a quarter of my trip.
Thanks for reading Ann.