Last night I sat in the back of an empty school parking lot in Belle, Missouri. I idled beside Abby and Henry and we watched in awe as a thunderstorm shook a distant town, the clouds looking like a Titan battle. It was hot, and after 10pm which is late for us early risers. The small town was quiet when we rolled in, with no one in the streets.
Missouri has proven to be very true to it’s geographical cliches: wide skies, mosquitos, armidillos (so far only in the form of an absurd amount of roadkill), and flooding. But living the cliches is a word-stealing experience that I hadn’t anticipated.Three days prior we had a very Louis-and-Clark adventure into Saint Charles (where their trip began) for our first century ride (over 100 miles in 90 degree weather). The wide Mississippi had flooded the Katy trail, and after ignoring road closed signs on three sepperate occasions, half our crew found themselves knee deep in mud while the other half tried to yell to them through the woods. We were caught in a moment of panic, a sensation once unfamiliar before this trip.
The highschool we stayed in would be bursting with 1,000 kids next season (in a town that only is home to 3,000). Now that’s it’s summer, however, the desks are piled, computers stacked, filters from air conditions are pulled to expose clumps of dust, and the hallways are cluttered with large vacuums and boxes instead of students.
Walking through the highschool solicated intense nostalgia. I was swept back seven years- the sunny afternoon after graduating highschool when I went back to get my artwork. I remember the sadness of an era ending, of a space that was no longer mine, of people who would not be part of my daily routine any longer. Twenty four years old and standing in someone else’s school on my trip across the country, I was acutely aware of feeling displaced. Here on bike and build our queue sheets tell us where to go, but some how one can still feel so lost.
I want to address loneliness, which is kind of a dense subject hard to bring up in the scheme of such an insane and amazing trip.
I’ve said it before. It takes a certain kind of person to decide to do “good” in the form of taking on this physically excruciating trip. Yes, we all care a lot about housing inequality, but there is a reason why we chose to address affordable housing cause through this means.
Earlier that night our trip leaders , who are roughly our age- young adults who left their lives behind to help create this community where people learn, grow, and help others- expressed regret at being used a a resource rather than being approached as friends. The confession was crushing.
It’s hard to believe that one can be surrounded by 32 people literally 24/7 and still feel lonely.
Sitting in the parking lot that night, baffled by the distant storm and watched by the low hanging moon, Abby, Henry and I talked about this desire to be understood- not pushed into a boxed stereo type, not assumed to be a certain preconceived person. Abby said to me, “I feel like I still have a lot to learn about you, and I like that.”
On a trip like this you are broken down and built up. Time is so structured and sparse that it is hard to process what is happening around you and to you. The thing is that when you are hungry and tired, it’s hard enough to remember to use your utensils, or where you put your shoes. When emotion comes into play, so quickly your mind closes to others and you ignore the possibility that someone else could be feeling the same way.
I have been lonely. It is hard not to have the people you know so well around to remind you of who you are. I wonder about my roll here, who to reach out to and how, how to take away as much as I can from these excellent people, and what it is that I have to give to them.
It is taking a lot of work to overcome these internal obstacles, perhaps as much work as it took us to dig our riders from the mud and climb the cobbled hill to Saint Charles that day. But just as without the encouragement on the rides we won’t make it up the hills, without the shoulders and ears the following afternoons we won’t have the strength to mount our bikes the next day.
Maddy, who seems to always have something eloquent to say, reflected “I used to be able to flip off a diving board, but now I can’t. I’m too scared. Where did that fear come from?”
This trip seems to be a gift for the lost, the people lacking direction. We can literally measure our progress in miles, in degrees. The progress is marked and obvious.
I think there is a reason why we chose to be here. And part of it is to remember who we are when are not defined by the people, things, and habitats from where we hail. We are all overcoming a fear that we learned with age.
Abby says that years from now, we will remember the beginning of the trip and the end, but we won’t remember that night in Missouri when we watched the lightning. I am determined to, though, or at least have this written reminder.
Thank you for reading, Ann. Brittany moved three whole trees for us riders to leave Saint Charles the next day.
Thank you Michael for making the four hour drive to show your love and support.