Recently, an Italian friend of mine noted sharing my recent bicycle tour experience and outlook on life is one of the best things I can do to make my society better. I didn’t even consider enriching society when undertaking this cathartic journey; I did intend to try and comprehend my country — but even more so, I wanted to understand myself.
Pause: just in case any of you were asleep during the last five and a half months (four and a half of which I was dragging my crazy butt, bike and crap from Berkeley, California to St. Augustine, Florida)… well, I just laid out what you missed.
Turns out, I undertook a rather timely experience. During the era of “me too” I traveled across the USA as a solo female. Simultaneously, I threaded through areas of our very divided country — like the South — that many Americans view as unfriendly and unwelcoming. However, I discovered a very different America: a kind, welcoming America, across the board.
I also interacted with countless people who cling to “buts.” Not the cute, Italian variety — no, the kind that allows folks to evaluate their own lives and positions. They’d say things like “I always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest trail…but…” or “I wish I was as brave as you are… but,” with Borat-like pauses:
I connected with a whole slew of sympathetic souls — black, white, brown, yellow, conservative, liberal, female, male, somewhere in between — who seemed to be living lives differently than the ones they really wanted to live.
Simply showing up on their doorstep (in a guise not often spotted in rural America), in their section at the restaurant or their checkout isle at the grocery store, I became a mirror. I reflected back their own unfulfilled dreams, desires and fears. And occasionally, I was lucky enough to inspire. For example: meet a remarkable woman in Gautier, Alabama. I stayed with her over a weekend; in her listing on Warm Showers, she clearly states she doesn’t host cyclists on weekend — but it’s fine to ask anyway. I did ask, since the weather was wetter than a whale’s back and luckily, she didn’t turn me away.
But, she wanted me to “know what I was getting into.” Every Friday and Saturday, three more people turned up the chaos dial at her house and one was her friendly daughter, a recovering drug addict. The woman said I’d have to keep a very close eye on my valuables. Her daughter simply couldn’t help it; if something was in plain sight, she’d take it.
I decided to stay. Her honesty won me over — and the fact that staying in the rain would put a real damper on my weekend (pun intended). The woman’s daughter didn’t end up being around, but her grand-daughters were. After a refreshing rest day with around her and the girls (one about eight I believe and the other an early teen), I was reluctant to leave. The woman and I kept in touch and she sent me pictures and once, a video of the girls at a Mardi Gras parade. She said they’d only let her snap away because she was sending them to me — apparently I made an impression on them as a solo girl, adventuring by bike.
So among the other missions I inadvertently signed up for, I think sharing my experience in order to impress upon and inspire people to truly follow their hearts’ desires is one. I know change is difficult and not everyone has a gypsy soul like yours truly; nor is everyone able or willing to literally pick up and move out into the Great Unknown. Society and socio-economic status are powerful enough without adding in drug addictions, hurricanes or wildfires. Or being part of (as some folks I encountered) a struggling family of farmers or ranchers to whom time off is a necessary foreign concept. However, I encountered so many people with regrets and potentially conquerable fears that I can’t help but want to instigate a little change.
Below is a video recorded on March 7, 2018 (shortly after the butt crack of dawn) at my dad’s Rotary International meeting in St. George, Utah. Both of my parents are champions of support, not only during this powerful, wondrous chapter of my life but generally speaking. My dad gave weekly updates at his Rotary meetings while I was riding and got enough people hooked on the journey that there were 20-25 Rotarians in attendance.
I apologize as the pictures on the screen aren’t visible in the very low-tech recording I rigged up by leaning my cell phone against a half-full cup of lukewarm coffee. The pictures throughout the blog and in the slide show below the video are the same ones I employed in the presentation. Taking a gander ahead of time may help as I refer to pictures often.
So here’s my little challenge to you: share this post and/or video with someone in your own life who is clinging to a “but.” We never know what will stick, like a patient, helpful bur and someday, cause a great, wonderful change.
Still curious? Good! I have an ebook in the works regarding the whole experience, with lots more pictures. Stay tuned and sign up for the blog (if you haven’t already) to receive a notification when the ebook’s ready to download. Grazie, gracias and thanks for reading!