Today, we woke up early at our camp in Quaker Haven in Syracuse, IN. We had about a 60 mile day up ahead with our first real experience with serious unpleasant weather (rain storms and wind advisories). To try to avoid this, we decided to get up really early and be on the road at 7:30 a.m., skipping a formal hot breakfast only to grab bananas and granola bars from the trailer.
First, we biked about 18-20 miles into the city of Goshen, where we stopped by to get coffee/tea and further discussed what our plan would be for the rest of the day (because of weather and all that jazz). Unfortunately, most places were closed because it was Memorial Day (“facepalm” as Dan would say), but we were in luck, a small local coffee shop was up and running with limited hours.
As we faced some strong headwinds coming on our way into Goshen (combined with the quickly looming storm clouds over our heads), most of our group decided it was more important for them to get to camp earlier (in order to set up tents before it really started pouring) and work on the farm (we were staying at a fellow Earlham student’s family farm) and perhaps go for a bike ride around South Bend. Daniel, Danielle and I decided we wanted to complete the ride to South Bend on our bikes regardless of the weather. Daniel and I had done this before (choosing to bike the entire way to Hunington), and this was the first time Dan was joining us on our ride as she had been sick with Bronchitis just as we departed Richmond (being “shipped in” to us on Sunday).
We happened to meet some local folks at the coffee shop who were on their bikes, living on a street we needed to get to on our route to South Bend. They kindly chaperoned us to their house where they stopped while we continued onward on our journey.
Our journey consisted of many ups and downs (literally and metaphorically). We quickly escaped the urbanized Goshen downtown back into Indiana backroads and rolling hills. Winds were coming from the south and west, and we were traveling north and west. This posed a mild problem as the wind continuously pushed us off the road towards the right, so we had to lean in toward the left to compensate. Although the resistance is tricky, slowing one down quite a bit, it was manageable to navigate. Rain clouds passed over us, sprinkling us with droplets of water. The sun did, however, intermittently pop out, and the general weather (although windy and rainy) was warm. So, the wind and the rain actually had moments wherein they were actively welcomed.
There was also something quite exhilarating about the experience. I fear I have to be cliche and say those kinds of experiences make you feel “alive”; I guess they serve as a reminder, bringing this fact into awareness as it is usually something we don’t consider. When the weather is less than perfect (but not too bad/dangerous), the experience really pulls you into the present moment; you have no choice but to be aware of your surroundings thinking of only the next step, nothing else. We spend such a large portion of our lives trying to be as comfortable as possible, pining for luxury, avoiding moments of discomfort and struggle. Biking, especially challenging myself to conquer the uphill battles (full of puns, this one), allows me to harbor a sense of power, belief in myself and facilitates (and perhaps…sustains?) an attitude of fearlessness as well as creating a habit to lean into challenges in my way instead of avoiding them. When I was living in a Buddhist Monastery in Taiwan a few years ago, a phrase from one of the lectures about mindfulness the monk was giving us really stuck with me; the phrase is essentially: “How you do anything, is how you do everything.” Every moment in our lives is a practice (whether directly or indirectly). The attitudes we harbor will showcase themselves in multiple aspects of our lives. I’ve tried to keep this idea close to my heart. So, for the next 2 weeks, biking has become my daily practice in which I try to be as intentional as possible. There are lessons to learn, habits to forge at every turn.
We got to a place in our ride where the winds really kicked in; we were supposed to go 14 miles on a busier road while heavy gusts of wind pushed and pulled at us, making it hard to steer in a straight line and only allowing us to go about half our speed. To be completely honest, I got a bit nervous. The road had a non-existent shoulder, and I was being passed by cars going 50+ mph. Danielle and I pulled over to the side to take a snack/stretch break and see if the winds would pass (or ‘blow over’ if you will- puns all day). Daniel continued forward. Winds only got worse, and it was even difficult to stand without getting blown aside. Clouds quickly congregated above our heads and began to pour. Although it took all my pride, Dan and I agreed to call on Lucas (a fellow student whose helping out with our tour- driving the support vehicle, etc.) to come pick us up. Calling for help, admitting difficulty, learning how to say no and knowing when to stop – all lessons I am working on. My need to “prove myself” and to “be tough” has gotten me in trouble before. I’ve put myself in situations where I didn’t feel comfortable, but didn’t want to feel weak, so I pushed myself to a point where I could have done serious damage to my body or my mental health. I have been working on finding internal balance within myself- knowing when to push myself, and knowing when to stop – to listen and be compassionate as well. The balancing point rests on a delicate line for sure.
It took Lucas quite some time to find us due to some GPS errors, and the storm had blown over so Dan and I decided we’d finish biking the last 15 miles (it doesn’t seem like all that much- about an hour, maybe a little over, but add wind resistance and that makes it almost 2!). Although both very hungry from not having a substantial meal that day, we trucked on forward and finally made it to South Bend, to Veronica’s family farm where our group had finished planting an herb garden and weeding. We were met with immeasurable hospitality, as well as delicious snacks on the porch (homemade guacamole!). We proceeded to make dinner altogether (with a special thanks to Veronica’s mom- homemade pizzas from scratch!).
Dan went out back and killed her first chicken (I cringe as I write this- vegetarian, haha! Although I will admit I respect this mode of being the most, as it is crucial that all those who eat meat truly understand where their meat is coming from! Hint: not the supermarket/butcher shop. I say this somewhat facetiously, but most people who eat meat cringe at the actual idea of how it is obtained, but enjoy the flavor nonetheless, actively choosing to be ignorant; I think it is important to illuminate ignorance whenever you can, attending to each aspect of your life with mindfulness). She said if she couldn’t do it, she would seriously reconsider her meat-eating habits. But she did it, no problem, and now feels no qualms.
We had dinner with the whole crew, plus Veronica and her sister and parents, as well as two people (Biff and Raquel) from Catholic Workers in South Bend. We shared interesting conversation (more on them in the “people of Indiana” section I will be writing…. name of that section is subject to be changed perhaps… I will explain more about it in a minute). Before dinner, they said grace – something that is done in the Catholic tradition, and then we all shared a moment of silence- as a staple of the Quaker tradition (which I felt was a powerful moment). It was a way for me to remember to express gratitude for the hard work that goes into making the food that sustains us, and reflect on the processes that fell into line to make that food available, from farmers all the way to those who helped prep the food half an hour prior (regardless of one’s personal faith).
Afterward, we drank excellent fresh leaf spearmint tea from leaves that Dan swooped on our ride, and a fire was started out back with the intention to make smores, however everyone got caught up in the living room singing folk songs, while Veronica’s dad strummed the guitar and her younger sister fiddled, and most of the bike group joined in to sing in a pleasant cacophony of sound.
Now, I sit here half-asleep writing my blog entry, feet soaked in ice water (as I am trying to heal from the massive attack mosquitoes waged against my feet two nights ago – over 20 bug bites on one foot alone!). I’m quite exhausted so please excuse any typos or illogical sentence phrasing. I am going to fall asleep any minute now. We’ve been on our bikes less than a week and already it feels like a life time. I’ve really enjoyed living in a minimalist way, avoiding technology as best as I can, working hard every day, traveling slow and low to the ground, building relationships and community, and – let’s not forget- eating great food ;). My sleep and stress level have massively improved. To be honest, I hadn’t bit my nails (a bad habit that triggers when I feel anxious or stressed even the smallest degree) this entire trip up until THIS moment when I had been on the computer, checking my emails, writing this post and whatnot. I think it is a combination of constant strenuous physical activity (which releases endorphins) as well as being able to disconnect from my phone/computer and exist presently with the wonderful people and sights around me
Tomorrow, we have a beautiful ride down the coast of the Indiana Dunes. I’m excited. I miss water and beaches. Hopefully the weather will be in our favor. A girl can dream (haha).I included some pictures from our adventures today (and in general) enjoy!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Stay tuned for a section of this blog (perhaps just a separate post?) dedicated to the people we meet on this journey, their stories, what sustainability means to them in their lives.