Thursday, June 21, 2007

From Joan’s Perspective (or “bringing up the rear”)

We are now more than halfway through our bicycle odyssey and I thought that some people might be wondering “Where’s Joan?” Well, bringing up the rear! And a nice vantage point it is, too! Seriously! While Mike is busy up front reading the map, watching out for dogs, doing his mental math exercises, and on the lookout for the best bathroom and food stops, I meanwhile, get to daydream a bit more. Sure, I occasionally call out directions to him from my own map so that he thinks that I am focused on the tasks at hand but then my mind wanders to other things….Who lives in that amazing little house with the garden down by the river? What would life be like living here in the Deep South? WHERE is home for us and WHAT will be my next passion in life? It really is a huge gift having this opportunity to reflect on such simple and complex subjects in such a beautiful and ever changing setting. Not that I now have answers to my most important questions but the thought process has been growthful and therapeutic.

I don’t think that I would have written such positive words at the beginning of this journey! Our first 1-2 weeks were tough and I wasn’t so sure that this was going to be a good experience. Traffic, heat, hills, and the daily grind took its toll – especially on me. In addition, I struggled with the discrepancy between Mike and me. Mike was stronger, could carry more weight on his bike and still pull the hills. Mike was braver and sped down the hills and past trucks as quickly as a carefree child. I, meanwhile, made my way down steep hills in a more cautious manner, braking carefully and thinking all the time about my children, who still needed me, I was sure! I quaked when large semi trucks blew by us as the force of their air would literally shift my bike sideways. Mike had the energy at night to check over the bikes, capture his mileage statistics, and write in this blog. Some nights, all that I could do was take a shower, check in with my clients/friends/family through email or phone calls and collapse into bed. As a rather independent and physically fit woman, these differences rattled me a bit. But, I pretty quickly came to accept his lead on this journey – and to appreciate his strengths, patience, and willingness to accept the added responsibilities. And to love him even more for it.

For all the challenges incurred on this trip, there have been an even greater number of benefits. We have been able to see a side of Americana that many never have an opportunity to experience. The local people are so interesting to talk with and almost all demonstrated warm small town hospitality – especially those in the South. And I know this because I conducted a very scientific experiment from my bike. When a car would pass me on a back country road going in the opposite direction, I would lift my fingers from the handlebar in a “wave”. I “waved” to 10 cars in a row, taking note of how many responded to my sign of friendship with their own return wave. I also distinguished between men and women. In the South (Mississippi), 9 out of 10 drivers responded favorably while further North (Kentucky), only 7 out of 10 drivers showed a positive reaction. More men than women waved in both states. I hope to continue this experiment as we make our way further north. So, you see, I have my own mental games to help pass the time!

And, so, we begin again tomorrow. I am eager now to get back on the road. It feels awkward here in Cincinnati. I can’t be a good friend/mother/daughter/social worker with this trip incomplete and hanging over us. We look forward to the simplicity of road and to the challenges ahead. I no longer feel so much like an imposter as a cyclist. We have earned our stripes and feel comfortable on our bikes (even though I still don’t think that we could repair a chain or true a wheel! Sorry, Tony!). We have a routine now and feel much more confident in our abilities and roles. Neither of us has walked a single hill and our goal is to complete this hilly 2000+ miles riding all the way. When locals ask us where we have come from and where we are going, their amazement and words of “Yer going to Canada on them there bikes?” makes us puff out our chests and ride a bit taller in the saddle (at least until we get around the next bend in the road!). We accept these accolades even though we are fully aware that what we are doing is NOTHING compared to what many others have accomplished in their own physical feats – our friends in the Antarctica marathon group are testimony to that. But it feels good and we feel healthy, and I’m perfectly happy “bringing up the rear”.

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