Did you know that the tool we are using to ride across the country is the very same that began flight? “Airplanes liberated man from the limitations of land and sea,” proclaims a quote at the front of the National Airforce Museum in Dayton, Ohio. But today I feel like our bicycles are liberating us from something bigger than land or sea- something I can’t quite place a name to.
Such an amazing, small piece of technology.
Dayton- home of the Wright Brothers. What a surprising city. It is so unlike the poping college city of Columbus, or the small hippy village- Yellow Springs- that we rode through to get here. Dayton is marked by it’s vacancy, it’s empty parking garages and the blank stares of boarded up sky scrapers .
We were welcomed by the aggressive spray of water. My first thought: “oh, the dam is fooding!” My second was “That’s their sewer spraying into the river!” but really the pleasant bike path that brought us here is part of an elaborate water display- a huge fountain- and we were in the middle.
I went into the museum with a closed mind. Already I had been turned off by billboards boasting “long range missile attacks” that dotted our journey in.
While at the Airforce museum I found myself less interested in the technology and more captured by the bodies that once occupied the spaces tucked inside uniforms and seats on old planes. Quietly I felt a kinship with the lost souls who once wore the clothes and flew this equipment.
When I inspect their uniforms I think of our own, despite theirs being leather and canvas and ours synthetic, quick-dry fabric. Sure, the similarities between a WWI pilot and a volunteer cyclist are few, but I imagine they felt the same bond to their planes as I do to my bike- responsibility coupled with gratitude. I look at the broken propellor a and I think of our bent derailers, snapped chains, and greased fingers.
Because Some how our team feels like a unit. We depend on each other to overcome those impossible odds that cannot be described- only felt.
There’s a kind of comfort in our regemented lifestyle. It’s strange to admit that I enjoy the fewer food choices, the curfew, the 5 am to 10:30 pm schedule.
The nice thing about living in scarcity is that each item is imbued with more meaning. On display is a cigarette case of one of the soldiers signed by his mates. Such a simple object signified so much to one man. I think about our few things- my cleats that I wear everyday, my red helmet, my sleeping pad. We are all issued that same sleeping pad (thermarest), but one of the girls recently admitted she was afraid to mix hers up with someone else’s. We don’t have a lot, but in an environment that is always changing, what we do have constitutes our home.
Something about being displaced makes me understand how crucial it is that people have a dependable home.
I appreciate how surprisingly diverse the landscape of Ohio proved to be. Each place we stopped from Cadiz to Dayton were entirely unique and shared very few characteristic. The thing is, I really liked Dayton. It has a very meat and potatoes, “this is how I am” feel. The people we met of Dayton seemed to be honest in who they were. One of my co-riders claimed of our habitat site leaders (we had a build day in Dayton) “they were my first rednecks” which, to be fair, was a term our pals Tim and Keith readily embraced. Our hosts secured us tickets to a baseball game which was a welcoming introduction to their city. We had two presenters- one local land trust organization and one bike share group- which promises improvement and really shows some hard working optimism in this small city.
At the orientation of this trip three weeks ago (time flies!) we had a conversation of why we each chose to do this. While we have answered the question many times since, and the answers seem to evolve with experience, one of my friends had a very unique response. He said “We are all trying to find our America.”
To see America this way, the bigger perspective, or perhaps smaller depending on how you look at it, helps to stop polarizing the country. We have a tendency to focus on the bad or good. Racism, poverty, scarcity of resources, lack of jobs. Or we focus on the good- progress- and loose interest in the towns that continue to fail in the periphery.
Rarely do we take the time to appreciate the elegance of the dissonance. America is the the hardworking, the privileged, the humble, the boisterous. It’s not Dayton verses Columbus, it’s the two beside each other and the bike path between.
Beauty of this trip is everyone has a personal fight. No sane person chooses such an epic challenge without some personal battle they are trying to overcome. And here, where 32 people share an all-day-affair schedule and sleep in the same room,
There is no hiding it.
Part of overcoming challenge is first succumbing to the fear. One of my leaders asked me what the hardest part of the trip was for me so far. I responded confidently, “the hills of Pennsylvania.” He replied, “But the hills are in your legs now.”
Pieces of our inner selves fall out in front of one another like underwear dropped on the way back from the laundry mat.
Maddy told me, mostly in jest “you are my leader,” and I realized that we all lead each other. Sure, it’s corny, but we all have so much to learn and each have a chance to share and take a lesson.
Thanks for reading Ann, Pastor Jan , and all you family members of my bike-mates.