A WAKE UP CALL
The 5AM alarm goes off, along with 25 others; starting the morning symphony. A sound that was oh so irritating a couple of weeks ago. Now? It’s normal. I reach for a pair of chamois and jersey (whichever one is least smelly). I gather my small collection of belongings, stuff them in a bag and rush to the trailer, no one wants to be the last one to arrive and have the whole group waiting on them.
If I am lucky – there will still be coffee left. Please let there be coffee left. Today it was my chore groups turn to prepare breakfast. Everyone else gets to “sleep in” a little longer, and by ‘sleeping in’ I mean finding a comfortable corner and hoping no one bothers you. After biking 65+ miles a day up and down mountains and through towns, comfort became very relative. Some grunts, groans, and maybe a few laughs over breakfast, then I grab some last-minute sips of coffee, fill my reservoir, mix gatorade powder (partake in daily debate over which flavor is best), pack the day’s snacks in my backpack and head outside.
I go through my checklist—check tires and brakes, apply sunscreen and Chamois Butter, head to our daily route meeting. It seems like yesterday that this routine was so foreign to me, to our team. At route meeting, we go through our count off to make sure no one is left behind snoozing at our host before we start the meeting. We go over our route for the day, weather updates, any special circumstances, town facts for where we are headed, quote of the day, and of course we end with our daily chant.
Who are we?
BIKE AND BUILD!!
[clapping; screaming; cheering]
We pick our ride groups and get ready to hit the road
WHO IS BIKE AND BUILD
Bike & Build engages young adults in service-oriented cycling trips to raise awareness for the affordable housing cause. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that fosters a sustained connection to community. We advocate for the need for affordable housing in thousands of communities across the country. Each rider applies and if selected, is expected to complete 500 miles of training, follow the pre-trip affordable housing curriculum which includes 15 hours of volunteer work, and raise $5,000 to fund the trip and affordable housing grants. This particular trip started in Portsmouth, NH in June 2019 with 26 young adults and we rode 4,000+ miles through the Northern U.S. to arrive in Bellingham, WA in August 2019, stopping every four days to volunteer with local and national affordable housing organizations.
MY NEW NORMAL
Our morning routine wasn’t the only thing that started to become normal. Day by day, everything started to seem like it was just another part of this new lifestyle. Day 1, sixty miles sounded like a beast of a day that I was unsure I’d be able to get through, especially with the added pouring rain and hills of New Hampshire waiting for us. By day 20, sixty miles was a treat. A short day that we could take our time relaxing and enjoying our lunch breaks, exploring towns & diners, streams and heavenly gas stations. On these days we were able to stop and ‘smell the hay’ as we called it.Each day, our minds and bodies adjusted a bit more, but there was one particular day I believe we saw a larger picture, a day where we saw this as a journey that was more than one day, one ride. And to get through that journey, we had to accept it for all that it was.
THIS IS ONLY 70 MILES OUT OF 4,000
On day 7, we left Long Lake, NY to head on a 70ish mile ride to Boonville, NY. Soon after leaving the church in Long Lake, the rain started coming down. We rode alongside big trees, the rain cooling us and giving a rainforest like feel as we pushed ourselves up Adirondack hills and sped down the other sides. Soon the rain picked up, and it became very dangerous to ride. We could barely see in front of us and decided to wait it out in a diner –trying to get warm over some coffee and pie.The rain was not letting up and as the minutes went by, we were losing time to meet our 4PM cutoff to get to our host in Boonville.
We had to make a decision; go back out in the pouring rain and try to get to the host on time or call the van and cut our ride short to get back safely.We were very fortunate to have support vans that would come pick us up if we needed them to. The decision seemed easy, just call the van and get to the host safely. Yet we found ourselves mulling over it for a bit of time, yearning to finish the ride. Something inside each of us telling saying we had to keep going. What would it say about us if we didn’t finish? If we called for help instead of pushing on? Would we be seen as weaker because of that? As we sat there thinking, my teammate said something that changed the trip for me.
“We have to remember; this is only 70 miles out of 4,000”. One day out of seventy-two. With the goal of getting to Washington and dipping our wheels in the Pacific Ocean, what mattered more today? Risking our safety to go 30 more miles in the pouring rain in order to satisfy our ego and a trivial idea that asking for help was a sign of weakness? Or calling the van, arriving safely in Boonville and continuing the journey tomorrow? We decided on the latter. A tougher one than we thought, that decision on day 7 led me to accepting this trip as a 4,000-mile journey. To see the whole picture; the end goal.It was a journey that needed to be approached day by day, mile by mile – yet also remembered in its totality. It became a balance of keeping the 4,000-mile picture in mind, while focusing on only one day at a time, one ride at a time, and some days one mile at a time.It became a journey of acceptance.
Accepting the miles we could control, and the miles that were interrupted by things we could not control. Accepting that we were part of a team with a collective goal, not a solo ride. Accepting that sometimes your body would say no, and that in order to reach your goal, you had to listen. Accepting each other for all that we are. To me, this acceptance is what turned the abnormal into my new normal, what helped my brain adjust and adapt.When I accepted this two-and-a-half-month ride as our new way of life, it no longer felt foreign, rather another day of the journey.
Of course, there were still mornings, afternoons, nights that were filled with expletives of “What the **** are we doing?” And “I can’t believe we’re ******* doing this!”. The ever-changing scenery of the United States kept us thrilled, excited, exhausted, and alive for 4,000+ miles. We accepted this ride yes, but the incredible sensation of our bodies powering us across the U.S. as a team never dulled. The gratitude of having this opportunity and having each other pushed us to see every ride, no matter how tough, as something we were lucky to be able to do.
WHEN THE ABNORMAL BECOMES YOUR NEW NORMAL
I’m not sure the exact moment that getting up at 5AM to ride my bike every day became normal. But I know that when faced with an immense journey in front of us, we found both physical and mental strength in ourselves and in each other, we accepted the challenges with fervor and resilience, we learned to stop and ‘smell the hay’, we practiced gratitude when it was hard to find. We experienced first-hand the pure kindness and love of strangers, the struggles and systemic issues regarding homelessness in our country, the humbling of Mother Nature, the impact of extending a hand. We pushed ourselves in ways we never had before, and we made it 4,000+ miles. Every one of those 26 wheels that felt the chill of the Atlantic Ocean months before, now dipped into the Pacific Ocean on day 72. And somewhere in there, it all became normal.
Photography and story by Meghan Higgins