Monthly Archives: December 2011

Pausing for a Moment in PA

We stood side by side in silence, measuring and mixing the ingredients for a fresh loaf of herb foccacia. It’s a feeling that I’ve never felt before, complete relaxation, knowing that Kerstin, one of my two lovely companions from my summer adventure, was near me in the warmth of her kitchen. No words were necessary to exchange, however, no boundaries in our train of thoughts exist any longer. I am unable to decipher between the actions I take silently and the actions I take which I inform her of before taking them. Whether it is verbalized  or not, it seems that there is an understanding existing between us, which allows us to function as a single unit. What is different now, compared to the summer, is that we each hold four months worth of unknown experience from one another. Furthermore, we each feel compelled to plan out our respective futures in this current moment. What does that feel like? That feels overwhelming. So we stood, baking. In the comfort of each other, silently and simply struck by the vast unknowns standing before each of us that we will be forced to face on alone.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that life is not going to provide us the time to reflect, rather we are going to have to learn how to live in the present, reflect on the past, and plan the future all at once. I suppose that this is the challenge, learning to balance it all, because there is a lot of it, a lot of everything.

Something that both brought me peace and to say the least, surprised me, was when I realized that I share memories, vivid and real memories, with two other people. You could say that all people share memories with one another, but I want to differentiate between fragments of experiences and what was this past summer. We experienced life in a new way, one that none of us had before. We learned new rules, ways of thinking, and ways of acting. Our bodies and minds were re-trained so that anything familiar became distant, and all comforts had to be reestablished. Now, looking back on biking everyday, it seems unreal. The feelings that have bonded with my perceptions of objects only faintly bring back the experience. When I ride my bike, or have a Cliff Bar, i can’t actually relate to my own memories. It doesn’t seem right or even possible that we consumed or to exerted our bodies the way we did. How do such intense feelings and emotions disappear? I don’t know, but I am glad that I am able to share this with two others. What brought me to these thoughts was when Kerstin began to describe to me a day during our trip that the clouds, currently in the sky, reminded her of. Before she even described the day, I already had a picture of the moment she was referring to, when the Illinois sky was blanketed by darkness, leaving only a sliver of bright light to be seen. It’s as if the elements, names, images, feelings, and places are printed on our minds in exactly the same way. Let’s be honest, how often is it that you share and do everything with two other people for three full months?

It doesn’t seem like there will ever be enough time to reflect together or to be in the comfort of each others thoughts, but that is how life goes. We spend our whole lives planning the next step, and our present moments worrying about the next day, without time to reflect. So, when will we reach contentment? It seems that we will only achieved it when we learn to be in touch with our present while we plan our futures.

I’ve felt what it means to be connected to people, experiences, ways of being, and  places. Kerstin pointed out that these things create layers in our lives. The challenge is maintaining each layer when it is not the present. What can be done when you become overwhelmed with how many layers there are? Embrace each layer and all that makes it up, for what it is and for as long as possible, I guess.

So here goes, I am about to embark on another transition. I have left Dickinson, a place that brought me to see how interconnected my interests are as well as a touch of contentment  amidst many  feelings of instability. I am trying not to anticipate the return, however, it’s difficult not to. I am excited to fill the time between now and India, and grow through practices that I have drifted away from. I am tinged with fear and discomfort when I think about traveling to Asia again, but as life goes, it will happen and things will be as okay as they can be. In speaking with others about India, my unsteady feelings diminish when the vibrant smells, noise, colors, and culture fill my mind. I can’t wait to be absorbed in it all. I can’t wait to be.

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The Localmotive Bike Tour 2011

I continue to write this sentence over and over, trying to find a place to start in telling of my journey this past summer. Nothing seems quite fitting. I could tell you that it was hard. I could tell you my favorite state. I could tell you all of the stories that I remember, but the thoughts that flow from my mind, through my fingertips, and onto this screen cannot describe the reality or intensity of pedaling day after day.

The expectations that I held before the trip were vastly different than the reality that was to come. I anticipated that it would be physically enduring, discomforting, and meditative. The way I mentally prepared myself for this was by simply committing to submit my body and mind to the elements. Laugh as you will, and I will continue to share honestly with you what this adventure was like.

What did I learn about myself? I learned that mechanics make sense to me and that the way I was raised plays a huge influence on the way I think, react, and do. I learned that it was okay to let go of fears, even though I will continue to collect more. I learned that my mind will take me further than my body would like it to. I learned what it feels like to be truly exhausted, appreciative, and alive. And most importantly, I learned about trust.

Surely, it feels like a great amount of my thoughts were blown away by the wind in Wyoming, but I’d like to think that I’ve carried some of them with me. Ultimately, what I remember are the moments when I didn’t think I could continue, when I began talking to myself, when people reached out to us and surprised me with their generosity, and when I felt there was too much support and encouragement to do anything but keep pedaling in the heat of the days.

What kept me going was the rush of wind on my face and the feeling of freedom as we biked on empty roads for hours and hours. I was introduced to the weather patterns of every state and we faced them oftentimes without shelter in sight. During these times, I often felt a hint of fear spread through my body as I questioned whether or not we would make it, either to our destination for the night or through the next hour. Possible scenarios were constantly bouncing around between the backs of our minds, as people pulled over to tell us of the big storms coming towards us in Kentucky, the tornado warning zones we were biking into in Illinois, and the hail storms that would pass in a matter of 15 minutes in Montana. Despite fears and reservations induced by such warnings, the overwhelmingly powerful vehicles to our left, and the questionable skies overhead, we pedaled on.

After a while, it became a question of balance: how would we balance the intention of our trip with the effort required to continue biking every day. After two weeks into the adventure, we arrived at the first of five or so youth group camps where we would present our program. The intention was to share our knowledge and awareness of how to eat well, live sustainably, and promote community with the younger people with whom we spoke. To begin, we played an interactive game, followed by our telling of the history of American agriculture. Afterwards, we split into small discussion groups in order to gain a greater understanding of the different places and perspectives held by each person.

We weren’t only teaching, or if we were trying to, we did not succeed in just that, because we ended up learning. We came as close as we could to walking in the shoes of the kids as they described their unappealing and questionably healthy school lunches, which many of them refused to eat. In speaking with them, we saw a disconnect between the food products they chose to consume and the practices used by large industrial agricultural industries to produce those products. We wondered what we could do to bridge this obvious gap and soon realized that our greatest effort would be to promote activism. So, we encouraged them to speak up for themselves and to challenge the information and food that they are being fed. We shifted our motives from teaching about the history, to emphasizing methods by which people can live more sustainably in conjunction with the rising presence of the industrial food industry.

With environmental issues on our minds and haunting thoughts about the extensive ingredient lists on the energy bars which fueled our bodies, we continued biking. We soon came to realize that our narrative and discussion did not encompass all of the story that we intended to spread about the drastic changes that have been made in the food production process over the last half century. As we traveled through fields and fields of genetically modified crops and by horrid smelling CAFO’s we were touched by the most important piece of the story: that the story is embedded in our existence. What we had learned in the classroom and what we were trying to share with the youth stood, often times, only feet away from us.

When I returned to the lifestyle that I left, I was quite shocked. I’ve slipped away from the awareness of the interconnectedness of all people and processes that I had gained on our journey, because I am no longer forced to be aware of their presence. I cannot fit all of my belongings on my bike, I don’t know where and what exactly I possess, and I can’t tell if I like peanut butter anymore. I step into grocery stores and immediately feel anxious. I no longer need to go to the bread isle or to walk by the abundance of fruits and vegetables to only look at them longingly wishing our budget was greater. What is more is that I find that it is nearly impossible to think if I am not on my bike. The first day that I was reunited with the extension of my body better known as my bike, I felt the tension that I did not realize I was carrying sweep off from me.

Hopefully you’ve gotten a sense for what it was like, because I cannot conceive of a greater reason why to share the experience with you, unless you take my suggestion to go on a bike tour yourself. Frankly, I still cannot describe the satisfaction of traveling day after day, distances you never thought possible by bike, meeting new people, and never waking up in the same place twice. You should try it.

Thank you all for your support, we couldn’t have completed our journey without you. I cannot express my appreciation to all of you who talked me through the journey through phone calls and e-mails. I would like to dedicate this experience, one of the most challenging and rewarding that I have faced, to my family, in remembrance of Nathan Bruns.

To Katie and Kerstin, I cannot express in words how incredible you are.

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