There is a Springfield in every state, but this bar in Springfield, Missouri feels like it could be straight from Burlington. For our first free evening in a week, we flock to the closest local bar with our safety triangles hanging from our back packs. The whiskey gingers, dim lighting, mustached-bartenders and Abby singing to Derek’s guitar makes me feel like I’m just down the block from King Street.
Our walk there says different- the kids playing by the rail yard, dogs running rouge between squat houses, the humid hills and wide skies, the cockroaches and the sad graffiti on lamp posts- it all reminds me I am far from home.
The trip has been a series of these stills, very cliche moving snapshots of moments where we all look at each other and know we are living in that specific frame of time.
In Vanita, Oklahoma, home of the world’s largest McDonalds and biggest calffry festival in America (festival of fried cow balls from recently neutered steers), Yuto and I are among the first to skid into town. After our brisk 65 mile ride in, we duck into the only apparent ice cream stop, a chain named Braums. Yuto and I are approached by literally every person in the shop- seriously, everyone had something to ask or remark upon. True, we were a sight to see, decked out in spandex, dripping sweat, and each topped with a helmet like the cherry on their featured cheesecake sunday. Very quickly we learned of the local pool, the sites to see (again, largest mcdonalds) and that Braums is the place to work and hang out for the higschoolers.
Two weeks ago I wrote in my journal that we, riders, know each other by our highs and lows- who we are when we fall apart, or crack under stress, or celebrate a personal victory; the person who made it up the mountain and the person who fell off the bike. But we do not know each other by the way we enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the morning, how we spend an hour alone after work, or what dish we would cook for a potluc.
I am starting to see glimpses of this other side in my team mates, the person they are without bike and build.
But I am also seeing the characters being forged that will return in their places.
From Vanita we traveled through Kentucky to Missouri.
The new territory has brought new challenges.
Overcoming the heat has fostered fresh gratitude. During our build day in Tulsa, between brushstrokes of grey paint, Maddy does what she does best: she planted a digging question for us to ponder.
“What are y’all truly grateful for on this trip?”
Abby’s answer feels especially relevant.
“Water,” she says. “That it’s so accessible to us and so clean. That it is what we are made of and revitalizes us. Even just bodies of water- lakes, rivers, oceans.
“Isn’t it interesting that we start on water and end on water?”
Build days always offer a lot of learning opportunities, and not always in the way you would expect. Yes, there are the technical skills (framing, fosset, caulking, siding etc.) , but more than that, there is the community’s impact on us.
Chad was one of the habitat site leaders, and he had a lot to say. He was a big guy with a long beard. He retired from the military because he wanted to “help not hurt,” and then later left his job as an adjunct professor to work in Tulsa for habitat.
His goal, he asserted, was to connect the past and the future, to bring the good old values to present (not a huge fan of social media). He said he is “looking for the good in America.” I asked him why Tulsa, and he responded that it’s where his feet took him. “And look! I found you guys who want to paint this man’s home without asking for a cent.”
How ironic that, to him we are an affirmation of his search for the eternal good in America. But to me, we found him in searching for our own good in this country.
“Opportunity,” Maddy responds confidently when her own question is returned to her. “Both the opportunities within this trip and that we have the opportunity to bike across the country. But also that in this country it is celebrated for a young single young woman to do this.”
I am grateful for the people I have throughout this journey- not just for what they teach me but for what they teach me about myself. Watching them overcome their own personal challenges has taught me to recognize the negative reactions I sometimes have- which is so easy to resort to on a daily basis.
I am grateful for my body. it’s nice when you like are able to identify what your body is asking you to do.
I am grateful for full body laughs-so essential on this trip, and lately, so freely gifted to me.
Thank you grace for the Diddy while we doodied.
Thank you mothers who are reading this! Particularly Ann, who has been an avid follower, but also Abby’s mom, and now all the aunts who follow too, and to Bridget’s mom who has enough enthusiasm for this trip to inspire all 32 riders.
Thank you to my team here, whose support and enthusiasm for my posts have been inspiring.