It’s Not Over- Not to be confused with the Daughtry song.
I have seen names written in paint, on the grey bridge under-belly adjoining cattle fields over a brook in Illinois. In New Mexico, I have seen names sprayed over awesome red cliffs that dwarf me and my bike. I have seen names defacing large piles of stone in fluorescent in Arizona and names carved into bathroom stalls and green plastic Porta Johns across the country. I have seen names spelt in rock in the middle of the desert in California, untouched by rain, wind, or creature. I have seen names memorialized on crosses, made of wood, of plastic, of metal, adorned in flowers, streamers, toys, and paint. Names outlast body, outlast memory, outlast sense of place.
How will I memorialize this trip? Will I tattoo the thirty one names on my body down my rib cage? Will I scale a brick building one night, with paint cans jangling in my Camelback? Did we do it justice by spraying the names at Cadillac Ranch, ankles deeps in painted mud? Should I chalk about it and post it on Instagram, stuff the caption with so many hashtags that the whole world will somehow read it? Is writing this post enough?
How will I tell everyone how much I have changed, about the new weight I carry? How can I promise myself I will never forget? How do I carry these people with me so I never miss them in my new life? How can I thank all who have helped carve me- the people who were the vehicle that carried me across the country, more so than my own bike? How do I make these names outlast this summer?
I keep trying to write this post but I find myself writing instead to the people who endured with me. “I am afraid I will never see you again.” To the “enlightened,” which so many of my teammates are, the knowledge that we all come away so influenced by each other, to the point where we have thirty one new lessons, unique bite-sized virtues that we will always carry, is enough. To some it is enough to know that we have taught each other to see the strengths in everyone, even those who seem least similar to ourselves, that we will find familiar friendships in strangers. To some these new truths are enough, but my childish, whiny ways demand more. I have always been bad at goodbyes.
It seemed right to spend these last moments on a swing, which was when I began writing this post- in Santa Monica, CA. That is how I spent the second afternoon, months ago in Andover, Massachusetts. Andover feels like years ago. Cyclical- on swings the second to first day and the second to last. There has always been something soothing about swinging, more than the nostalgia. What goes up must come down. What begins must some day end.
When Andy and Abbie found me they called it brooding although you could go with sulking as well. During our last family meeting we had more to say than the time allotted for us. It seemed like everyone just wanted to vocalize every lesson, to thank every person who helped them get there, to convey the individual love spurred from each unique moment.
“I was so busy living my life that I forgot I had control over it,” Grace confessed over our final fire- another tool to take back into our lives waiting us at home.
“I think all the people on this trip have become apart of my ‘A Team.’ I’m just really happy I met you all. I think it is really hard for 32 people, roommates, riders to get along all the time and we did a great job doing that.”- Katie Collins
It seems our lessons will never end, and it is true, even now away from Bike & Build, its teachings continue to weave its way into my lifestyle.
Of course, we did not scratch the surface of such an insurmountable feet. I was left with so much more to say. I stayed up until three in the morning despite the 5:30 wake up. Really, I would have chosen no sleep at all, just to prolong the departure.
I wish I could say that reaching Santa Barbara was a joyous, light experience
In a lot of ways it was. Nate rented a bike just to join us in. Maddy had run the last mile, because she could not bring her bike. Suzette rode with us, in her pink chamois, her bike guided by Patrick’s wheel. Tyler watched with his arms crossed and feet planted like a silent, proud dad. We threw our bikes into the sand as soon as we saw the water, not caring for derailers, or bike chains or brake cables. We sprinted, not ran, not hurried or skipped, we sprinted to the ocean and grabbed on to each other’s necks, laughing and sobbing. I could not tell if we choked for the sea in our open mouths or for the relief of having finally made it.
Suzette dipped Patrick’s weal in the Pacific joined by her father, mother, and Rachel. ReRe, Bridget’s mom and main cheer squad, weaved through us and we all dunked her wheel, the horde of us lifted en masse by the waves. No, it was not as if our friends were there with us. But at least we could somehow signify that they both had finished the trip with us, because there was not a day, on bike or otherwise, that we were not riding for them.
I cannot convey what I was feeling that night, our final night, because, really, I could not understand my emotions or thoughts even then. I had already said goodbye to a friend, so the finality had started to sink in. Then there was champagne and sun, followed by so much activity- trying to find showers, making it to our final meal, meeting people’s parents and loved ones, the alumni that had joined us…. a slideshow of our trip, unedited, of before the accident and after, of the whole ten weeks that felt like ten years.
The next morning was Patrick’s service, back down at the beach.
His parents felt like people I had met before. His mother told us that previous Christmas Patrick told them how grateful he was for them. His father joked that Patrick worried he looked like him (which he certainly did). My heart broke for them, two parents who should be celebrating with their son. Later, Maddy would tell me that meeting them made her realize that while we were undergoing a terrible loss, they suffered from losing a piece of their life.
Later on I would cry to my friends, my strong and beautiful (words too cliche to fully encompass what I really mean) leaders, and anyone who would hear me out. I moaned that it was so stupid how we could prepare for rain with our rain jackets, for sun with our sunscreen, how we could fill our Camelbacks each morning with water and pump our bike tires with air, and yet we would show up to a funeral service without goddamn tissues.
I think we all had so much to say about Patrick’s passing, but when it came to his service, many of us were just plane out of words. After his death our whole trip was lived as riders who were not hit, as riders who were missing their teammates. Our team was a different team altogether, our spirit at the end was the film negative of the beginning- the same in form but opposite in color. Even in the space where the tragedy weighed less on our minds, there was no way not to live as the twenty seven who continued to ride.
Abbie, however, prepared a speech. I love that girl so much, I can’t express (I find that these posts are littered with that phrase, “I cannot express”) the pride that warmed me when she looked into our sobbing faces and spoke the words we were fumbling to find.
We sat with our sadness until it left the air stale and heavy and we made a choice to pick ourselves up. And while we love you for the little things we miss you for the big things.
So for you we are stewards.
For you we ride swift.
For you we ride on.
Suzette and Rachel, like characters from a book, continued to be pillars of strength, their presence almost superhuman when they stood to speak. Suzette looked at us with determination, undaunted, blue eyes sharp and too familiar. She talked about our universal need to find that thing we were meant to do, sharing an experience from her Bike & Build that felt very applicable to our own. She finalized with “Patrick found what he was meant to do.” And he did. He was an amazing teacher; his lessons now follow us as we honor his memory. And still, on this trip he managed to keep learning how to be a wonderful leader. And that is was Rachel stood to tell us- all that Patrick learned.
When Rachel spoke her demeanor complemented her cohort’s, a white to Suzettes red, water to her fire. She opened Patrick’s journal and began to share his insight. She tilted her chin up when she spoke, smiling despite the steady stream down her cheeks. Later her and I shared a laugh through tears, Rachel saying that only Patrick would be so nerdy to fill his journal only with the lessons he gained. He spoke of what he learned from individuals, and with every name and memory he called out, our hearts squeezed a little tighter.
Rachel shared this poem by Mary Oliver, something she and Patrick had bonded over, and something that now strums in all of our hearts.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Patrick’s journal ended on this quote of Abbie’s. It weakened my knees to hear that Abbie’s profound wisdom was his last takeaway.
“In times of uncertainty I fall back on my characteristics rather than any skill set.”
Like a beat her words settled in the turmoil of our thoughts, a stone in a flooded river. We will need this knowledge in our days to come.
Weeks earlier on our first night in New Mexico, staying in a tiny yellow church in the Valley of Fire, Lauren shared a quirky story about a bug flying into her ear as a child. We all laughed at her young stubbornness, how she refused to go to camp until her mother took her to the hospital to get it removed. That night I woke up at three in the morning with a tickle and a loud woosh in my ear. I ran to the bathroom, tilted my head beneath the sink, and flushed a moth from my ear.
This trip is like a book- no detail goes overlooked, without significance. I cannot believe the tale we were woven into, the rhythm of every moment and word spoken. How is it that Abbie was the one rider to speak at the service, and also the last line of Patrick’s journal? How is it that we each came with our own agendas and were given a new course? How is it that Bridget is the girl in the hospital, the most optimistic, rational, and level headed? Why was Patrick taken from us, just when our team gathered our stride, when Patrick learned to reach us in a knew way, when our leadership team began to cover all our needs, and we began to understand and support them? Why Patrick, who took extra time to teach us lessons of good stewardship, no matter the environment nor time of day?
How am I now away from this team who created me, and how can I continue on without them?
After the ceremony, we all kind of dispersed like marbles, drawn apart and together and apart again in that universal tendency towards chaos. I drifted toward the beach and looked to the Pacific, the ocean I had imagined seeing for the past six months. Four women stood there, their backs to me. Sam, Brittany, Rachel, and Suzette were framed by the late morning sun, hair tossed in the breeze, quiet as they shared the view of the same ocean. In that moment I questioned how I could meet such rounded, strong individuals, all in the course of three months. From where I stood, they looked so much taller.
I watched the waves beat the shore. I was transported back to a conversation I shared in Tulsa, when Maddy asked us what we were all grateful for. Abbie had said she was grateful for water. Symbolically, it has always stood for new beginnings, for cleansing of the past. For a moment I am grateful for the tide, because it is almost a relief to know that there are some things just out of your control, that you cannot change, that nature and time will decide for you. Like the swing, the tide comes up and goes back down.
The next day, while packing my Camelback, I found myself fighting the compulsions to pack Cliff bars, sunscreen, extra shorts, a bathing suit. It felt empty with just a ticket, a journal, a book. I felt proudly defensive marching through the airport with my bin in arms, held shut with clear packing tape, and with my safety triangle still dangling from my backpack.
It was weird to fly over, in just a few hours, what took months to travel. I sat in the window seat, face pressed against glass, to watch my triumph belittled into elaborate grid systems, interrupted by small mounds and wandering lines of water. The past weeks became a map- two dimensional- and was pulled beneath me like a strip of film.
On the airplane my mind ran in circles. I found myself obsessively texting some of my fellow riders, looking for some sort of comfort, and being disappointed when I find that talking through text did not hold a flicker to the flame our friendship emitted only a day before. I did find that this need was not unreturned, and, as per tradition, my friends had nothing but wisdom to offer to the hurt.
Claire was able to articulate the wandering, grey feeling that settled since the trip ended. “‘ I remember feeling really lost, like the kid whose mom forgot them at soccer practice, or like the final scene of a really good, 12-year-long sitcom…It gets easier. It’s neat meeting up after and seeing what real life looks like for you and everyone… I’d imagine it’s like what a parent feels like when their kids go off into the word and do coo’ things.”
It takes work to be happy, but it always has. Just as it is easier to let your room (or bin, in our case) be messy, to eat fast food instead of to cook, to fly down the back of the hill instead of to climb it, it is easy for each person to find the rut of hardships and to not pop back out.
Tyler shot us all a quote the day we all began our travels (because, really, is it Bike&Build if Tyler does not share a quote?)
“When you fly across the country in an airplane the country seems vast; but it isn’t vast. It’s all connected by roads one can ride a bike down. If you watch the news and there’s a tragedy at a house in Kansas, that guy’s driveway connects with yours, and you’d be surprised by how few roads it takes to get there.” -Donald miller
“Your driveway is connected to my driveway, just a few roads between us,” he finished.
This world is a small place. Like Grace said, it is important to not get so caught up with the pattern of “living your life” that you forget you have control. You can see the places you want to see, be with the people you want to be with. Yeah, you cannot change other people, but you can change yourself. No story is too far or too foreign to affect you.
We have the responsibility to ourselves and each other, to all who invested in us, who sent us care packages, who read our posts, to everyone who prayed, and called, and told their neighbors about what we are doing, to each affordable housing group that we worked with and who applied for grants, to the strangers we have touched and never knew; we have the responsibility to be the best we can be, and to uphold the mission we set out to do.
Even if this is the last post-ride blog post, this is not the last lesson Bike & Build will teach me, and this is only the very beginning of a journey that has already been set into motion.
The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Patrick, for you we are good stewards. For you we ride on.