It has been just over three months since I started my bike tour. I learn something new every day but have found certain lessons to be particularly powerful throughout my ride. Here are some of them.
1. Touch Nature. I don’t know if it was actively taught or passively learned, but for some reason, nature has always been an arms length away. I stay on the prepared trails, I “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” On the Olympic Peninsula, I started to touch things…moss, rocks, running water, flowers, ferns…interacting with the natural beauty through my fingertips has transformed how I experience my surroundings. I totally encourage you to touch nature!
2. It is OK to Unpack. I’m not talking about any symbolic unpacking, but rather the physical process of unpacking my panniers. If it makes me more comfortable to have a rain jacket on, but my rain jacket is at the bottom of my pannier, I will unpack to get the rain jacket. For the first few months of this trip, it always felt like such a hassle to unpack my panniers. Now I know that this process will only take a few minutes and it is not that hard to put everything back in its proper place.
3. Don’t Expect. The opposite of, “Expect the unexpected.” When entering new terrain, I have found that I enjoy a place more when I have fewer expectations. You may have noticed that I no longer create lists of arbitrary goals for the states I am passing through. This is because each state deserves my full attention, my wide eyes, my fresh face. If I go around with an idea of what I will get out of a place, I am not allowing myself to be fully present.
4. Miles are Just a Number. Sometimes I have a general idea of how far I will get in a given day; sometimes I don’t. Often, when I set out for a specific campground, I find that I want to ride further and longer. When I don’t set out for a specific campground, I sometimes undershoot what I would like to be doing. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s okay to ride long and hard, and it’s okay to back off. This is a long bike tour and I’m not trying to burn out.
5. Hand soap. I only carry body wash with me and don’t have any form of hand sanitizer or soap. When I go to a gas station, restaurant, grocery store, or host’s home, it is such a luxury to use hand soap and to smell a nicely scented product instead of my sweaty body for once.
6. Celebrate Femininity. The interviews and conversations I have had along this bike trip have shown me a small slice of the Femmes of Color community. Some of these folks are the most brilliant and fierce people I’ve ever met. I grew up with four brothers and am not a particularly feminine person, but have been able to now see the ways we are taught to condemn and belittle femininity. While I am not going to suddenly start becoming more stereotypically feminine, it is important for me to actively resist this condemnation and to celebrate femininity.
7. Asking How. When someone says something particularly offensive or ignorant, I usually shut down. I leave the room, I change subject, and I generally ignore what I find offensive. I am trying to force myself to ask, “How have you seen that played out,” “What makes you say that,” and “In what ways?” This can lead to more difficult conversations, but it can also lead the person to say something that even they don’t believe. Because they’ve been forced to say it out loud, they realize how fucked up it is and can reflect on it. I’m not interested in conflict on this trip; I’m not interested in changing folks with whom I have momentary interactions. I just don’t want to leave an conversation with a profound sense of helplessness, which is often the case when I am around blatant cases of racism or sexism.
After three months, it is hard to even conceptualize the ways that this trip is changing me. I only realized how massive these changes are last night, when I reunited with friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. As we prepared to do what we would normally have done on a Thursday night in a city with bars, I was anxious with a sense of dread. This three month mark is showing me that journey is much bigger than I thought it would be. My neatly organized, compartmentalized sense of self is slowly unraveling–and I’ve got three more months to go.