The Hardest Post I’ll Ever Write

Sleeping in, free range to the snacks all night, a day without schedule- these are luxuries we have dreamt about for weeks, but this morning they are a bitter reminder of the friend we have lost.

There are no words to describe the depth of this tragedy. I won’t bother with the “where I was when it happened”- we were all somewhere, on our bikes. We all saw the ambulance, the police. We got the vague, firm texts. We were terrified.

Instead imagine that morning-at 4:30 am it was still dark. The moon was full, fat, and sitting close to the horizon. Bridget let me use her diaper rash cream, because that is how we Bike&Builders roll. Patrick was making us all laugh. He was such a morning person, probably since he sleeps with his eye mask on, or due to his superior coffee beans for his little French press (both of which his girlfriend, he proudly stated, had gifted him). The day before we had laughed about that eyemask, Patrick admitting that his dad always wore one and he used to find it silly.

Readers, it was a beautiful morning to ride. The sunrise was at our back like any classic westward adventure. Feilds of little sunflowers turned their heads to us, rings of yellow pedals mimicking our backlit ascent. Only just yesterday we had begun to see the red clay cliffs jut from the rolling landscape. Today marked our first tumbleweed, our first cactus. 

If you have followed my writing, perhaps you have an idea at how triumphant we felt at this moment. Our bodies are changed, the bruises are fading. By now we have faced the freezing rains of Maine, the potholes of Massachusetts, the semis of Ohio, the mountains of Pennsylvania, the humidity of Missouri, and the headwinds of Oklahoma. We have learned to sense each other’s weak moments, to give before another needs, to share space and step back. We crossed our first time zone, we crossed our halfway mark.

We ached, but we knew we were almost in Texas, and we biked  all the way here from Maine.

It rained is Sayre, Oklahoma later that morning when our leaders, Brittany and Tyler, drove our van and painted trailer to where we waited. How fitting that it would rain then, after we have been waiting for rain since crossing into Oklahoma. Sam’s face still as stone, her voice remained level as she hearded us into a small cafe, directed us and our bikes and our gear. Most of us were already crying at that point, having some idea of how bad the news would be.

The next moments are too painful to retell. Bridget and Patrick were hit by a car. The driver had been texting.

Acts of heroism bloomed between Cordell, Oklahoma and Wheeler, Texas that day. A couple witnessing the accident (for lack of a better word) stayed with our friend Bridget while they waited for the ambulance, contacted her parents and, when they weren’t able to join her in the helicopter, drove three hours to Oklahoma City just to make sure she was not alone. They were total strangers. Our three leaders, Sam, Tyler, and Britney not only shouldered the weight of loosing their friend and coleader, but they expertly handled a situation nothing could prepare anyone for, and organized our safe transportation into Wheeler.
The best thing about Patrick on this trip is how hard he worked to better himself in the past five weeks. It takes a big person to do that, and here at Bike & Build, pride is no small thing to overcome. Honestly, it is important to recognize, at first we riders were not having it with his teacher-tricks. We rolled our eyes, decidedly annoyed. We insisted we were too old, that doesn’t work on us. The sentiment turned into a running joke, though, and there’s no question of the respect he earned.

He told Matt, “I’m addicted to leading.” Unless you have done this trip, you cannot imagine all the physical and emotional obstacles we have  overcome to get here. But in addition to the rider hardships, Patrick focused on bettering himself as a leader, on reaching out to us in a way we would respond to. He made a point of biking with different riders, asking probing questions to better understand who we each were, encouraging us to explore and see the land we traversed.  He was our peer, mentor, teacher. He was bubbling after his leader review at the clear turn around he had made- what a success.

“It feels like 1,000 invisible hands from the universe are propping me upright,” Brittany finally remarked in response to the onslaught of social media concerns. “People keep telling us what big hearts we have and I feel every cubic inch- aching, amplified.” This trip- this trip we each worked months training for, fundraising money for, learning about affordable housing curriculum- had already taught me how amazing people can be in coming out to support you. But in tragedy their stength is so much bigger, stronger. Tyler said “you will now witness the best and worst of bike and build,” and he did not say the words lightly.

The first baptist church of Cordell met us in Sayre to mobilize our crew and get us and our bikes to our destination. What we had waiting for us was not just the people of the Wheeler Church of Christ, but also members of three sepperate churches. For two days we were given a home, showered in food and comfort. Everything we needed was donated. I mean everything-a church woman drove me to the local pharmacy and bought my yeast infection medication, which is just about as personal as it gets.

The days following felt like purgatory, like a sickness, like a fever. We were exhausted but too ill to sleep, or unable to stay awake. I walked in circles just to sit for a few minutes. We go in and out of recovery. The unimaginable has happened. Still, the Church parking lot felt like safety, and parts of me didn’t want to leave. How can I face the hollowness of Patrick’s absense?

As the numbness began to fade, we noticed encouraging messages exploding throughout Facebook and on Instagram. A whole nation of Bike & Builders know our struggle and want to support. The same people who donated to our cause reached out pleading for some way to help us through this hard time. It feels like we have fallen, but a enormous and tightly woven net of people has caught us and won’t let us hit the gravel below.

It is a strange sensation to wake up crying. I keep waiting to be okay, sitting there and thinking “okay now I am fine.”

Wheeler has rescued us and we all have different ways to cope. For instance Abby and Rachel embarked on a quest they dubbed their “spirit journey” where they visited every gas station in Wheeler for junk food.  Katie Judge planned “spa day.” She went to the one convenience store in town (Buck Dollar) and had lotions, nail polish, and those little foam things that go between your toes donated. I ate a bunch of gum.

I can’t express more how blessed I feel to have this strong team of people and these very remarkable leaders here with me for this.

I keep running through the scenes with Patrick in them that I had taken for granted- how quick he was to notice when I did something for the group, his friendly teasing of my clumsy mistakes, his determined optimism despite weather or riding conditions.

Our bikes are now stored in a trailer. The pedals have been removed and wrapped in plastic wrap. Our front wheels are labeled in blue painters tape. Our helmets and shoes are in trash bags, stored away until we are ready to return to them.

Driving the route we should have ridden, all 32 of us, really hurts. We can’t help but examine the shoulder, noting how wide it is, mentally bookmarking gas stations and other shelters from the sun. But also we are suddenly aware the magnitude of the miles we bike each day, the true geographical scope of our journey. 

We all knew this endeavor would be hard… we just couldn’t imagine how hard. But to label this trip as “bad,” to let tragedy overshadow all our growth, would be a disservice to Patrick’s name. The end of or trip will be challenging in ways that none of us can imagine, and each of us will have to address these next few weeks in different ways. The truth is that we will not all complete the same passage to recovery. Patrick has already taught us so much. His final lesson will be that as a team, no matter where we are or how we do it, we will overcome together.

Thank you to Bridget Anderson’s family for all the support and enthusiasm they have always shown, but especially for the past few days as our friend recovers.

Thank you Sam, Tyler, and Brittany. You have carved a team that is strong, caring, and courageous. You have been our rocks.

Thank you Bridgette. How can you be so collected and rational even in a hospital bed?

Thank you to the whole town of Wheeler, to the habitat team of Amarillo, and to other community members who have fed us, housed us, and kept us busy.

Thank you Monica, the greif counselor who has helped us all find clarity.

Thank you Claire, for flying out here to be our mama bear and give this big, continuous collective hug.

Thank you Bike & Builders across the world who have chalked in Patrick’s, Bridget’s, and our name. It is still hard for us to digest the enormity of your support, but evidently it is welcomed.

Thank you to all the family and friends of us who are on this trip. I know it’s hard to watch go through this.

Thank you Patrick. You continue to teach us to be good stewards of the world, and your impact will only grow from here.

2,000 Miles

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.

The heat. 

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.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   

Strange Roadkill

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.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
  

    
 

Day to Dayton

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.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  



  


  


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Oh Ohio

I am going to bed at 10 pm for my 5 am wake up. My shammies- aka the padded spandex I wear while biking- are in my stuff sack under my head, both acting as a pillow and keeping me one step ahead for the next morning. My osprey is next to the sleeping bag, each little pocket filled with snacks for the next day, 3 litter bladder already filled with water so I don’t have to compete for the sink tomorrow morning. The church basement, oddly, looks similar to so many of the other church basements, so much so that when I wake in the middle of the night, I have trouble remembering which state I am in.

In bike and build time, each day counts for two: the ride, and after the ride. I don’t know how we are so efficient with our use of time, managing to get between 60 and 100 miles of biking in (depending of the terrain) before 4:30 pm, punctuated by stops at diners and local swimming holes and ice cream joins and just plain beautiful views. Somehow we muster energy still after to socialize with the church people, shower and clean our bikes, perform evening chores, and even squeeze an hour or two in our evening’s town.

My quads are sore, and my tendons in my knees twang like rubber bands. Had you asked if I could do the past four days of riding, I would have told you no. But here I am, and I can confidentially say that without the people I share this weird moldy green carpet with this evening, I would not have made it. It has been hard, and I have learned a lot about myself in a short time. 

Not taking care of myself has more than once lead to extreme lows. And it’s hard to take care of yourself. You have to eat every ten miles, drink more water than feels natural, apply sunscreen frequently, work hard but find some moments alone- to process. Because here we are always going.

More so than the physical exhaustion (perhaps, it is at a scale I never could comprehend), the mental exhaustion surprises me. We bike as a unit, breaking up in groups between 2 and 6 people. We function as a team, each responsible for watching each other’s back and communicating potential road hazards. Yesterday I was the back rider in a group of three on a major highway. In this part of Ohio, oil is a major economical resource, which results in many semis.  To keep the forward riders safe, it was my responsibility to hold steady to the legal one third of the highway bicyclist are allotted. I communicated to my team mates that a 16 wheeler lurked behind, and, by not acting I’m fear, I force the truck to pass my crew with adequate space so that their wind does not toss us aside.

However, the highs out way the lows. So quickly I have a pack of people whom I trust- they are brilliant and determined, each with a background so different than mine with so much to teach. We have had to learn to trust each other quickly- in part because many of our showers have been communal, and because we always spend 24 hours a day together (that includes the uncomfortable breakdown moments) but always because we depend on each other as a team. We need one another’s wisdom, warm hearts, rational, courage and strength. Really we do- there is no other way. Because we need a pal to hold the hose for those backyard showers.

When people travel by car or plane, they seek out the “cool” places, happening cities or picturesque villages. But when you bike across the country, you learn that much of America, if not most, are places that we would rather not see, populated by people without proper shelter, education, or means to escape the cycle of poverty (geographically and figuratively). In concept I knew and expected to work in rough places. But I didn’t think about all the rough places we would pass through, and that we couldn’t directly and immediately alleviate the disparities.

In a moment of low, having been disheartened by a particularly exhausting and, in some ways, demoralizing day, I questioned what I wanted to gain from this experience. Why was I so disappointed in myself? To organize clarity I began to think about who I wanted to be when I left. And that is when I realized that no matter how hard the day, whether or not I was slow, what is more important is that which I take away. I want to be someone who can be there for people, lead, teach, listen, follow. I want to help. I need to take care of myself and have patience and forgiveness for me so that I can give the same to others.
And there is still so much to learn. That’s all for now. 1016 miles in, a quarter of my trip.

Thanks for reading Ann.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

On The Road

It has been nine days of riding, twelve since I left home. I have crossed seven state lines. I have biked 477 miles and worked on three different build sites.

The 31 other riders are amazing- smart, talented,  courageous and determined. While we all have a couple common interests- invested in the affordable housing and like to bike- our reasons for being here are all so personal and unique.

There is a reason why we decided to bike across the country instead of say… Drive.

We are learning a lot, and it isn’t easy. It’s exhausting.

There is something special about seeing the land by experiencing it through body.

We pass farm stands and roadside hotdog stands and children selling lemonade.

One thing is for sure- America loves baked pasta dishes and sheet cakes (we have had six so far).

    
   
    
    
     
     
    
      
     
     
    
    
   
   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
 

Selfies for Affordable Housing

In exchange for donations, I have been painting people’s “selfies.”

selfiesposter1 saudreyselfie rachelselfie natashaselfie paintsketchemily katelitkeselfie paintsketchconnor chrisselfie blairsefie

It was the perfect way to unify  two major projects in my life- art and fundraising.  “Selfies” are an interesting phenomenon.They have become so monumental in the way people project themselves through social media. People like to have photos of themselves, so they would appreciate a painted version of an image they created, right?

Besides being exciting to potential donors, the “selfies” project is really engaging for me. I anticipated pictures created with an extreme sense of control, images carefully crafted to convey a particular look, material objects to portray a particular style, faces held at angles and washed with filters to hide physical attributes deemed unattractive by pop culture.I chose to paint “selfies” as a social commentary on body image in relationship to popular media and social networking. I liked taking control of something so meticulously curated, and creating an image unlike anything the original photographer could have anticipated.

What I found was a real push against my “selfie” movement. What people wanted embodied in paint were not images of themselves,  but pictures of loved ones.

Even when submitting photos in the spirit of the “selfie,” most everyone sent it with humor, embedded in sarcasm- they were funny.

It has been a lot of fun painting these portraits. But behind this lighthearted project, let’s not forget the very serious cause. These proceeds are going to building homes. Programs like the one I am so fortunate to be a part of exist because there is a large population going without basic human needs.Thank you for working with me to keep the conversation alive and continue to resistance against housing inequality.

The Challenge

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In a earlier post I spoke of the importance of knowing why you are doing something, knowing the inspiration and the end game. It is not a question I think lightly of, and, as I am spending so much time and energy on Bike and Build, it is something I seek to answer myself.

Those who have given so much time, energy, and money for this cause deserve to know why too.

photo (4)    2015-04-16 17.57.37

There are a lot of obvious reasons that I chose to do this trip that are easy to talk about. I wanted to see the country, I wanted to find a way to give, I wanted to create change- for others and myself. There are harder reasons, like my conflict between being an artist- I juggle what that means as far as privileged and class relate, and the misgivings from where I come from- a family who has learned to survive through hard work.

I want to share with you a very personal fuel for my trip this summer.

I am overcoming an eating disorder.

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Social media kind of serves as a weird venue of confession, and I don’t entirely view it as a bad thing. It is semi anonymous, in the sense that you don’t have to face the people you confess to, and it reaches a mass amount of people.

It was not an eating disorder on its own.It was something that came out of depression and other forms of self-harm that I think a wide range of this audience is familiar with… intimately.

I created a lot of shame around what I viewed as my “weakness,” a lot of secrecy, dishonesty.

2015-03-10 20.42.32  2015-03-10 20.42.13  2015-03-26 16.50.39

The thing is, I hated to be gifted with so much, but to be addicted to abusing it so frequently, so offhandedly.

I wanted to learn to see my body as a tool, to use it to achieve great things, to love it for more than weight or appearance. I want to overcome physical challenges as set by the environment instead of perceived physical challenges set by my own mind.

This is not a discussion based on the legitimacy of eating disorders or depression, on the causes. This is not a cry for help and certainly not a cry for attention. There simply has been more than a few loved ones in my life that have wrestled with these internal conflicts (eating disorders, depression, substance abuse), and who remain silent and under the radar. I think honesty heals. I know all who reads this has read it before, but I hope that some how it helps to have a face to a vast, heavy illness.

There is not a lot I have to say on this matter, except that, along with all addictions, it takes deciding you want change to heal. It takes hard work, and a support group.

I got a whole lot of people routing for me out there.

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https://soundcloud.com/newyorker/listen-to-ocean-vuong-read-someday-ill-love-ocean-vuong

http://www.abeautifulbodyproject.com/

Please continue to support my journey:

http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/7980

Thank you everyone.

Women Entrepreneurs

April 8th, five women sit behind a white table, the contours of their bodies defined by the backdrop of Burlington snow. They are a sight to see, the light highlighting the contrasts between them and the blue, snowy outside, as well as the unique traits that make each so unlike the other.

origin-women

Honestly, I don’t really see myself starting up my own business any time soon-that is not something I really penciled into my very loose, malleable, 5-year-plan. I went knowing that I just wanted to see some powerful women speak about owning their shit, so that some how I might ride the wave of knowledge into a more successful, might-woman lifestyle (is that something I can pack in my saddlebags for this summer?).

Well, I was not disappointed.

panelist

Best photo I could snap, I swear. Not my journalistic pride.

The thing is, what they advised was not just pertinent to entrepreneurs, but all people who have dreams to combine work with passion. And what they said, while important for women to hear in a male-dominated society, was applicable to all sexes.

I took away a lot from the lecture, and I just wanted to share some of the tidbits to my readers.

Featuring:

  • Sue Bette, Bluebird Restaurant Group
  • Gabrielle Kammerer’s of Tom Juice Co.
  • Jovial King, Urban Moonshine
  • Melinda Moulton, Main Street Landing
  • April Cornell, April Cornell Holdings

What was really great about these business ladies was that most of them had arduous, winding journeys preuding the arrival at their passion. I mean, I feel like we know that is how it is going to be in concept, but it feels different when you are trapped in the transitional in-betweens of passion.

April Cornell recounted an exciting trip she took with her partner to Turkey in search for clothing inspiration. April is bright at the table, draped in exciting fabrics and adorned with an energizing smile. On an extremely tight budget, she and her partner traveled, immersing in the culture to learn about fabric and styles. They actually ran out of money while there. After shipping their fabrics and dresses to Canada (obvious priority), they could not afford to get home. Through a stroke of luck, though, they met an American who employed them for a short time- enough time to get them a return ticket. That trip sparked the start of their dress kiosk in Montreal. Now she has a successful clothing line that sells all across the world.

Melinda admitted there is something powerful in nativity. She is small at the table, but something in the way she holds herself depicts strength and gravity. She pushed to get Main Street landing built despite naysayers and non-believers.  “It is all from you, so work hard.” She said that often you hear people balking away from a task because they “don’t know how…” Just do it. It will fall into place. Know your strengths, and know what you aren’t good at. If it is something you can learn, learn to do it. Ask questions, ask for help.

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The really inspiring part of their lecture was when they talked about all the jobs they had and… hated.

The next day I found myself recounting Gabrielle’s  story while training coworker in the Perishable cooler. To those of you who do not know, I work full time as a Shift Leader (titles, right?) at City Market Co-op. Working in the Perishables cooler can be extremely fast-paced, physically taxing, and stressful. Training people can be hard because there is just so much to learn very quickly, and it is disheartening.

Like me, he is an artist, working a job at a good organization that will pay the bills as he continues to spend his free time devoted to what he loves to do.

Gabrielle worked at a chocolate factory. At the time she had thought she wanted to become a pastry chef (I think, I cannot remember what she was working towards because he goals changed with experience). She told us she became a leader figure at her work place, and one day literally spent 12 hours straight at a machine wrapping chocolates. She said she couldn’t wash the chocolate from the creases from her hands for a week after. But she took away a very valuable lesson. She learned how to create a product commercially. And she took that skill to her Juice Company.

The lesson to be learned hear (I told Max, while tossing crates of milk) is that no matter what job you have, you need to make sure you take away skills that can assist you to wherever you plan to be next. Work ethic, leadership skills, scale. Sometimes you don’t know what your next job will be, but you can make sure you take away what you can from the one you already have.

Rachel Lindsay, local cartoonist, asks “What do you do on those days that you just feel like you cannot do it anymore? Like, you actually bit off more than you can chew?” Rachel and I often console each other on the struggles of being a young artist. Her courage to leave her home in NYC to pursue cartooning in Burlington inspires me and many other new artists.

That question really struck a cord with all the panelist. It seemed like it was something they all had to deal with.

Jovial from Urban moonshine, poised in all black and high cheek bones highlighted by her blond bob, points out that anxiety is healthy- accept it and learn how to handle it.

Sue, whose demeanor is relaxed and warm responds, “Just take a nap.” She chuckles and adds “Or take a walk.” Sometimes you are too overworked to be productive. Do not work so hard one day that you cannot work the next day.

Assign a finish line, that way you don’t get caught spinning your wheels. Have a support group- everyone there agreed that you need piers, mentors, and family to get you through it. And don’t work for work. Ask what you are doing it for, what brings it to life, and why?

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Their words were a huge help to me. I have never ridden a long distance bike trip before, but I am learning how to maintenance a bike, how to use hand signals to make sure cars don’t hit me (AAHH), how to use the front gear of a bike to conquer those Vermont hills. I am taking commissioned paintings for the first time, reaching out to piers and business, managing a schedule that sounds impossible if you vocalize it.

I have learned through this experience that I have a vast, extremely caring, generous, loving support group. I could probably add more adjectives there, but I will stop at that.  The answers are there when you go sniffing for them.

Help me achieve this summer!
http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/7980

Thank you all, and good luck to your pursuits!

Studyin’ UP^^

So it may seem like all I do is ride around gleefully on my bike and post pretty pictures on instagram:

bikeandbench

and facebook like GIMME $$ (okay, hopefully not that superficial), but this post is to remind you why I choose to constantly berate your social media streams with posts unrelated to what meal I ate or how I look doing yoga.

A large part of the footwork going into our Bike and Build campaign is research and discussions. While it is great this trip will send me on a very physically challenging, life-changing experience, the root cause of my fundraising, and what I am asking people to support, is affordable housing.

I want to share with you a little of what we are talking about.

My trip leader sent out the first discussion prompt which features this video:

Homeless Homed

(I thought that would just show up on the site as a video but NOPE you have to click the link)

Colbert! and he uses his witty sarcasm to demonstrate the success of what is known as the “housing first” approach to the housing crisis.

My piers have given really insightful responses.

One rider, Anna, summarized what we all felt quite nicely:

“The Daily Show’s use of sarcasm in this clip cleverly highlights the simplicity of Utah’s response to homelessness.  Providing homes for those in need is a sustainable, humane, and practical solution, and it seems almost too good to be true[…]Homes provide individuals with privacy, safety, and stability, which are basic human rights”

This link that Brittany shared is humanizing, bringing the issue of homelessness to a more real-world light that we are able to better relate to- http://homelessness.dailycal.org/. 

causes

They are interviews with a few of the homeless in Berkley, CA, a simple but eye-opening response to a sensitive issue.

The opportunity to actually hear the stories from the people who do not have homes is an incomparable experience. I think most of those who have taken the time to read this far into my post can pretty much recite the social and economic events that foster an environment where people go without homes.Still, how much do we, the audience, really interact with the homeless?

The truth is, our general demographic has a strained relationship with the homeless. Some of us hail from places where everyone was from the same economic background and are unfamiliar terms with the idea of starving or living off the streets. Some of us hail from places where the homeless were so prevalent that we have learned to ignore the issue. Many of the people we see with cardboard signs asking for money have mental or social disabilities, a lot of them are addicts, and we just plain feel guilty saying no when we are asked for money. It becomes the norm to block out the voices of panhandlers, to avert our eyes because it is so constant.

Of course, it is for this reason that those who beg become so persistent. Somewhere between the constant stream of passer-byers who turn their heads, and the sedentary people who have no where else to go, the story becomes lost.

The tricky thing is that Vermont is a small and sheltered state, with Burlington being by far the most populated city, and the only location with the resources to facilitate families in need. Heroine use is on the rise at an alarming rate and many shelters do not allow you in unless  you have been sober for a specific length of time. When their piers are drug addicts and they are living on the street, how can one stay sober?
There are, of course, stories like this one–> http://cotsonline.org/take-action/becoming-homeless/

A member of the family becomes injured, is no longer to pay their high rent (and they do not own because real estate around here is ridiculous), falls behind on payments, family becomes evicted.

I read an article stating this-
“In 2009, COTS [one of the main Burlington emergency shelters] has served 95 families including 135 parents and 171 children. More than a third of those families had at least one employed parent.”

My crew of this bike trip is from all across the country, and, like me, they cannot help but respond with their own first-hand contact with homelessness. It looks different in every city or town, but it comes down to very similar issues.

From Seattle, Rachel points out that housing people is actually more affordable in that it is keeping people from jail (if not humane, at least we are saving money by incarcerating a few less people, right?). Laws like the ones touched on in the Colbert report put homeless in jail for petty crimes. The tech boom in Seattle is driving housing costs, and there has been a 20% increase in homelessness since last January. 

Rachel shared this video which explains the housing-first method in more detail.

She explains that for now Seattle continues to struggle with the housing crisis, settling for temporary tent cities and micro-housing until the city can agree to a better solution. The issue is, of course, that housing-first requires an investment.

My fellow crew members have given a good introduction to a very deep, disturbing problem that seems very much ingrained in our society. I look forward to sharing more information with you soon.

As always, please show your support for Bike and Build’s housing initiative

http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/7980

A small amount enables us to do a whole lot.