Through the Desert, Desolate Departure

You know how people will tell you that something is going to change you, and you will believe it, and imagine it… and then it does. And it is just not anything you imagined?

In Columbus, Ohio (what feels like years ago, not weeks), two Bike & Build alumni chortled at the prospects of us biking to 29 Palms, California. “It’s ganna change ya,” they insisted between pints of beer. Our only comfort then was that the experience was so far away.

Four days before our trip ends, Andy and I sweep into 29 palms. Indeed, it was a journey. He had asked me casually the night before to join him. For those of you who do not know what sweep is, it is the final two riders that follow the group at the very behind, carrying a small first aid kit and an extra tube. They are on the road the longest. Sweep will signify that everyone made it in.
Patrick and Bridget were sweep the day they got hit.

The thing is, I agreed without missing a beat- call me delusional. Days previous I had confidently asserted that sweep would not make it through the desert without being vanned [definition: to have your ass saved by the van]. One hundred thirteen degrees, are you kidding? Vanned. But that morning, after we gave our crew the appropriate head start, it did not occur to me once that we would not finish our ride.
To this moment I cannot tell you where we found the strength. I think in the weeks to come the story will be less believable to my ears. Many who read this cannot fathom and will never undergo the heat we biked through and experienced for twelve hours. For a hundred miles there was no service station. We passed through an abandoned town that was decorated with shoes, peoples’ names written in stone next to an unserviced railroad track. Nothing and no one comes out here enough to move anything.
Honestly, the two of us maintained high spirits and consistent energy for most of the way. I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I owe it to Andy Short to making it through to 29 Palms. And not just me. When we happened upon three dehydrated riders ten miles from second lunch, he acted quickly. He flagged down a car to carry them the last ten miles, and volunteered to wait with their bikes. In the time it took for him to explain our situation to the French-Canadians, I had really only dismounted my bike. Our pal Abbie had shoved herself beneath a bush (I just add that because there was shade conveniently located about ten feet away that she passed up). There is more to the story, but really our delusional plottings sound more exciting to us who lived through it than to any reader. The real surprise was that Short was able to pull Andy Gorman and I through the last thirty miles of the dessert without hesitation. Sure, the heat and adrenaline probably pressed our minds into a weird kind of high, but I truly felt like the journey was in some way spiritual.
As the trip begins to tie itself up, there is a strong sense of homesickness, of identity crisis. “I’m afraid because I know I am no logger the person who left home, and I cannot change that,” Lauren admitted. I also dread the day when I won’t share gym floors and church basements with these people. Abbie says that we are all cookies that no longer fit the cookie cutters that shaped us back home. Only time will tell how we can respond to that.

The night in Wrightwood, Arizona was cool- 64 degrees. Crickets and toads created a constant blanket hymn. An owl called in the distant. Yesterday we were in a city, crowded by fast food chains and choked with cars. The day before we were in the desert- dry, unpopulated, barely touched. That night we were on a mountain, embraced by forest.

I wrote, “I am overwhelmed with emotions that feel like they are from ten years ago.” For some reason when things get so emotionally charged I habitually equate it to the years of puberty. Puberty is the emotional threshold for everyone, right? “Tonight beneath these tall pines on a mountain, I feel small. I feel like a bump in the earth, young and old. I could be here for ever.” Bike & Build time is compacting weeks into a day, years into three months. At 24 years old, I have aged a decade on this trip.

We stayed at an empty bible camp. The outdoor amphitheater allowed us to finally implement the long-awaited talent show. I was, again, taken by the wealth of qualities my team had to offer. The same people who approached every physical, mental and emotional challenge with a serious determination, took the stage with creativity, charisma, and hilarity that had me sprinting to the forest to relieve myself. I have written that through them I have learned of myself. Now I am inspired to be more than who I am. I left the talent show early, not because I did not have fun. It just hurt to imagine saying goodbye to these people.

I realize I don’t know how to not fall in love with people. With places. With small items. Habits. Every time I leave it feels like heart break, inevitable. I have no choice. It is hard not to fixate on the comfort I will loose. Brittany and I agreed that it feels like a breakup. We know what has to be done and just hate saying the words.
Our dear friends Maddy and Nate rejoined us for our coming wheel dip.Having them there reminded us that we were missing two special riders- Bridget and Patrick. Maddy’s quick, pointed wisdoms have reminded me how much we changed since her departure, and how much we missed her. She talked about the effects of this trip when we return to our lives. Maddy cleaned out her closet upon returning to her life left behind, unattached to the abundance of material after living from an 18 gallon bin for a few months. She said “just knowing what y’all accomplished each day reminded me why I chose to be in grad school learning public policy.” We feel like we need to create change. I wonder how this trip will change my day-to-day life back home.

Two days before the trip I lost my yellow moleskin planner. For those who were with me on the leg leading up to this journey know that I had become fiercely reliant on the little book. I mapped every hour of my day, forgetting to leave time to eat or rest, allowing the never-ending todo list to roll into the next day, just enough so that I felt never accomplished. It was a control issue, a coping mechanism.
The coincidences of this trip have the uncanny ability to push better change. This trip has forced me to allow a natural flow to my day, to give way to the unpredictability, to let good habit become instinct, to not always need a list to show how productive I am. Time management has never mattered less, yet some how each day we manage to bike between 60 and 100 miles, take care of our equipment, pack and unpack and, again, pack away our things, tend to group-benefitting chores, and, more often than not, explore a completely new and alien town.
I feel like this trip is a text book where I have only read the spark notes. It is going to take me a long time to figure out what it is I learned.

Perhaps the scariest change we anticipated was meeting the loved ones of the leader we lost. We have been joined by Rachel, Patrick’s comforting, wise girlfriend, and Suzette, his fiery, passionate sister. There was a kind of inherent shyness from our party and there’s, to be total strangers but feel a connection- them who were the people to shape and share the Patrick who taught us, and us, the people who created the lifestyle he lived for his last two and a half months. In many ways it was what we expected- Suzette’s sharp eyes, her quick curiosity, her bold statements and intent mannerisms were so much like Patrick’s it hurt. Rachel’s level responses, encouraging remarks, and open personality matched Patrick’s description. These were the people Patrick cited most during our travels, and it was clear in person why they had such a lasting affect on his life.

Their presence felt so right. I cannot imagine this trip ending any other way. I can see why these two women were an important part of Patrick’s life and I am amazed to continue finding so many people who astound me. Yes, it was sad. Even though we joined this trip to become more engaged with the affordable housing cause, the loss of Patrick has become integral to our journey and what we will bring into our future lives, so I am happy to end it right.

For me, as trips, journeys, major-life-events, etc, come to an end, the hardest part is always packing up before moving on. Cleaning out the coolers and bins with bleach makes me wonder about the lives of the next people who will use these. Next summer whose hands will hastily pull the yellow tops off the snack bins during lunch? How will their summer compare to mine? Again, I think about the paths of strangers, mine and someone else’s, crossing. I think about how my life, how Patrick’s life, how all the lives of the people on this trip, will some how influence another’s.





One thought on “Through the Desert, Desolate Departure

  1. Corn, I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed following the ME2SB group through your blog. Your insights, humor, awe, sorrow and growth,not only of yourself but of others in the group – it was an honor to be able to share them through your eyes. You guys are a special group and what you have shared will stay with you forever. I thank you and wish you the absolute best of life. Brit’s Aunt Bern


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