Tuesday, August 14, 2012

labour of love

Then a ploughman said, "Speak to us of Work."
And he answered, saying:
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
Work is love made visible.
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Well, friends, this week has certainly not been what I thought it would be.

When I last checked in, I had been very recently hit by a bus - a sentence that still sounds crazy to me. It's been almost a week, and while most of the swelling has gone away and the scabs have started to peel, my bruises are still colorful and my hand is still in pain. It's incredibly frustrating to be limited by what feels like such a minor injury; my legs are strong and ready to cycle but my hand simply can't bear the weight and constant bumps provided by our routes this week. I'm hoping to take a symbolic final ride into D.C. tomorrow, and then celebrate the accomplishments of my friends at the Hazon celebration at the D.C. JCC on Wednesday night.

As I haven't ridden since last Wednesday, I've been given ample opportunity to experience an entirely different side of life on the Cross-USA Ride. One of the interesting things about this trip has been the sense that we are very much engaged in a learning process; though Hazon did this same ride in 2000, almost all institutional memory of how it was planned has been lost and so our ride started from scratch. This has resulted in some wonderful things, and has also resulted in some challenges. Figuring out the balance of things like nights spent camping vs. nights on various floors or which days are too short, too long, or somewhere in between all require an ability to adjust based on the group attempting the ride. Some pieces have been set in place for months, while others seem to be determined at a whim. It gives everything a bit of a "fly by the seat of our pants" thrill that is both exciting and exhausting.

Still, there's no doubt that whether or not things are running smoothly, our staff is doing a tremendous amount of work. The logistics of a trip like this are very complicated, and Garth, Adrienne, and Steven have been doing their best to make it run efficiently. I've spent the last several riding days in the U-Haul with Garth, accompanying him on grocery shopping trips, setting up temporary offices in coffee shops along the route, and getting to campsites early to start the process of making camp and cooking dinner. I've shifted into a murky territory between rider and staff member where I have more information than the rest of the riders but don't necessarily have the authority to make any decisions or act on that info. It's not always the easiest place to be, but it's giving me a lot to think about in terms of effective leadership, planning, and facilitating group dynamics.

Being in this in-between space has also given me a chance to give back to the group. So many people have assisted me over the past week - helping me carry my bags, set up my tent, wash my dishes - often before I can even ask. So I've done my best to repay that love and kindness with little acts of my own - making sure that everyone has all of the information that they need on their way into camp every night, making sure that there are snacks available for the riders, finding things like sunscreen and detergent on the U-Haul, etc. It's the tedious stuff that falls through the cracks towards the end of a big trip - but I'm happy to do it because I know it helps.

I have a lot of complex feelings heading into the last day of riding. I'm disappointed that things have ended this way, but also proud of myself for diving headfirst into this adventure. I trying not to let an accident ruin the months of enjoyment I've gotten in the planning and training (and shopping!) for this trip. I did things I never thought I could do, including bike 88 miles in one day. I've made some amazing friends, biked some beautiful stretches of the country, and taken a much needed vacation. Though my body is tired, I feel mentally refreshed and re-energized. As I transition from Hazon Cross-USA Rider to Wexner Fellow and then NYU graduate student, I hope I'm able to maintain that feeling of energy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

a story for the grandkids

I'm okay.

It looks and sounds much worse than it actually is.

Yesterday I was hit by a bus:

There's so much else I want to share, though, that this has to take the back seat for a moment.

My week started off with a difficult but amazing day - because we got a little lost heading out of Dayton, I wound up biking 88 miles, the first twenty-five of which were in the rain. It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying - it's been a long time since I've played in the rain, and it was certainly nice not to be sweating in the heat, but it is definitely a little scary to bike in the rain. The redeeming factor of this extra-long ride was our stay at the Columbus JCC - after the Graeters ice cream welcoming us and a little time in the hot tub with my fellow lady riders, I felt like a whole new person.

Columbus to Zanesville was another great ride - I never thought I'd think of 66 miles as short, but after Sunday's ride, it felt like a piece of cake. I stopped with several riders at a cafe along the way for a latte (my first cup of coffee on the ride - what a luxury!) and what may have been the best cream puff I have ever eaten. We camped out in Zanesville at an RV campground, and because it was a clear night I was able to sleep in my tent without the rain fly, and fell asleep watching the stars.

Tuesday we rode from Zanesville, OH to Wheeling, WV. This was without a doubt the most difficult day of riding - over 86 miles, we climbed more than 6,000 feet - that is a huge quantity of hills, in case you weren't sure. By the time we got to the synagogue, I thought my legs might have turned to jelly. Our amazing burrito dinner and air-conditioned sleeping room did a lot to make up for the tough day.

Ride days are like camp days - each one seems to last for a week - so I feel like I've been here for months already, and am undergoing big changes. In the twelve days I've been here, I think my entire relationship to food has shifted. I eat so much more than I ever have before - we eat five or six times each day, depending on the length of the ride - and my cravings seem to change as the day goes on, letting me know when I need more salt, sugar, or protein. The best part, though, is the moment when I get what I need - taking a bite of egg salad or avocado, it feels like my whole body is happy to get the fuel that it wants.

Sleep is also an increasingly precious commodity. I get around seven hours per night, but can easily sleep for eleven or twelve given the opportunity. Carpeted floors seem infinitely more luxurious than hardwood, beds with real pillows are an occasional dream. I'm constantly reminding hosts that my standards are fairly low - no need to apologize for the freshly cooked eggs and fruit salad for breakfast; yesterday I ate cold cereal out of a mug with a fork while standing around waiting for the sun to rise (to be fair, this has only happened once).

Then there's the question of quality of roads and paths. I've become a little bit of a connoisseur - paved, shady paths through the woods are the best, followed by pavement in the sun. Freshly paved roads are an indulgence; crushed gravel paths are to be tolerated. And then there are the cities - which brings us to yesterday, and the aforementioned bus incident. Empty suburban streets are the best, but we can't always ride through them. And sometimes our directions to the bike paths are a little unclear, and we get hopelessly lost on our way into a city like Pittsburgh.

I was riding with Shira yesterday - we had made it safely through about 60 miles of trail riding, when we lost our way in Pittsburgh. After a few back and forths, we finally crossed over the Birmingham Bridge into Oakland, and started biking up Forbes avenue towards the JCC. We were somewhere between 2-4 miles away when we hit a red light. I stopped at an intersection in front of a bus. The light turned green, the bus and I both started moving forward. I noticed the bus trying to speed past me, and moved over to the right to get out of the way - unfortunately for me, the bus driver misjudged the distance between the side of his vehicle and the sidewalk. I could see my options disappearing in front of me; and then boom! The side of the bus hit the side of my hand and my upper arm, and that was that.

I can't lie, it hurt quite a lot. A Good Samaritan grabbed some ice; an EMT stopped to check me out, and then the emergency vehicles started arriving. Four police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance later, I declined an ambulance ride and had Garth, my friend and Hazon staffer, drive me to the closest hospital to get checked out. 6 x-rays show almost no damage - there's a possible fracture at the base of my left ring finger, but the probability of that is very low. I've got a pretty big bruise\road rash combo on my upper arm, as pictured above. I'm on a regimen of ice and ibuprofen for both, and instructions to wait it out for a few days and see how I feel. I'm taking tomorrow off from riding, and will hopefully be able to get back on my bike on Sunday or Monday. 

I don't really know what the lesson is here. I was riding safely, and I seem to have come out of things in pretty good shape. Pittsburgh may have fallen off of my list of places to live, but that's not such a tragedy. I already knew that I had an incredible community here, but it has been proven to me yet again how lovely they are.

So I think I'll end the way I began:

I'm okay.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

marking boundaries

"Do you all come here from different places?"
"There are some here from Siberia, some from Lapland, and I can see one or two from Iceland."
"But don't they fight each other for the pasture?"
"Dear me, you are a silly," she said. "There are no boundaries among the geese. How can you have boundaries, if you fly? You humans would have to stop fighting, in the end, if you really took to the air."
—T.H. White, The Once and Future King
I'm sitting in bed in my host family's house in Dayton, Ohio after a wonderful Shabbat of rest and relaxation. The bed was comfortable, the food was amazing, and the company was excellent. Thank you to the Green family for being such great hosts!

I almost don't know where to start this post. So many things have happened over the last few days that it feels like a blog post can't even begin to describe them all.

The last time I wrote, I was sitting on the floor in JFK airport, waiting out a flight delay due to a massive system of thunderstorms. Tonight, I'm waiting with my fellow house guests waiting to hear whether our start tomorrow will be delayed due to weather. It's easy to feel frustrated by the rain - it can be very inconvenient when traveling by bicycle - but after spending several hot, dry days in the drought-ridden cornfields of Indiana, my perspective is starting to shift. I'd much prefer an inconvenient rainstorm if it means that the farmers I've seen will have an easier time of it.

On my second day of riding, I stopped for a break with Joel, one of my fellow riders, to grab a drink of water in the shade. In rural Indiana, shade can only be found in one place - a tree in someone's front yard. Despite the fact that we'd ridden almost 100 miles completely undetected, we managed to pick a yard with people in it, and wound up engaging in a twenty minute conversation about everything from the economics of wind farming to backyard gardening.

What struck me the most about the conversation was how much we had in common. On the surface, we were incredibly different - to them I must have seemed a privileged, naive Yankee while to me they looked like fairy stereotypical country farmers. It became quickly evident, however, that we share a belief that it's important to know where your food comes from and how it's been grown. For them, this means raising five cows every year which they transport to Lafayette, IN to slaughter, and then distribute the meat to various family members to eat during the year. Clearly I don't raise my own cows in Brooklyn, but I do my best to learn how my food is being grown and where it comes from. 

We didn't talk about politics or religion - not polite conversations to begin on the side of the road with strangers - but I feel relatively certain that our opinions on these things were different. Regardless, we were able to share a really lovely interaction because of our shared interests. I wonder if our politicians would be able to create more good in the world if only they could focus the conversation on our common values rather than our differences.

Other ride highlights include a home stay with Philip "Skippy" Schlossberg (Purdue Hillel Director and Camp Judaea staff member from my youth), a dip in the pool at the marvelous BJE\JCC complex in Indianapolis, and an afternoon spent riding from Indianapolis to Muncie with Rabbi Steve Greenberg. This week we'll be crossing through Ohio into West Virginia and then on into Pennsylvania - you can follow the ride on Tumblr for photo updates from the road!
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