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.