Someone stops to go to the bathroom. Another says “if you’re going to the bathroom, I’m going to take a picture.”
“If you’re taking a picture, I’m going to tweak this thing on my bike.”
“If you’re tweaking that thing on your bike, I’m going to eat this powerbar.”
“If you’re going to eat that powerbar, I’m going to check the route”
”Everybody ready to go?”
“Wait, I have to go to the bathroom!”
Everything is taking so much more time than we had ever anticipated. And with some of us still virtually strangers, some of us old friends, some of us still striking the same nerves over and over again in each other, eventually the stress of too many miles and not enough time, and no clear plan about what to do about it finally caught up with us.
We hadn’t fully understood how carrying the weight of an 80 lb. trailers drastically changes the amount of distance you can cover, or how much harder it is to mobilize seven people than one or two, or how exhaustion and heat stroke and people’s personalities pushing up against each other inevitably slows everything down.
In a mall parking lot in Salinas, California an argument broke out so heated that we were asked to leave by mall security. It wasn’t the first explosion inside of the group, but it was one of the biggest, and it became clear that unless these issues were addressed, we weren’t going to be able to move forward.
So we stopped dead in our tracks and tried to re-access the vision of the project. At the Goodnite Inn in Salinas, with all our bikes and trailers crammed around the two queen sized beds, all seven of us sat around our motel room, eating re-hydrated camping food in our pajamas and doing our best to talk it out.
These things are complicated and hard to talk about-how we speak to one another, who we choose to listen to, and how we reach a decision together. In the absence of a concerted effort at new ways of communicating, familiar patterns and power dynamics were beginning to recreate themselves.
We had two big problems: How we were communicating with each other and how we were going to move forward with the project, given the circumstances. It took us well into the night and the better part of the next morning, but only after we had addressed the former problem of communication could we begin to address the latter problem of what comes next.
Should we buy a support vehicle? Cancel our shows? Modify our route? With our tenuous new systems of consensus and communication in place we hashed out the options. In the end we decided that it was too early to make any huge decisions for the whole trip. We decided to take it one leg of the journey at a time. And for this first leg, we agreed we would make it to our show in Santa Monica on time and by Uhaul.
As we loaded our bikes and trailers into the back of a fifteen footer, Brian and Adam, two men we met at The Franklin Hot Springs in Paso Robles California, watched with curiosity and amusement.
Purists might say the whole thing is a flop- that biking a play across the country should mean our two wheels are responsible for every mile we traverse, but I can tell you right now, from the inside, it doesn’t feel like a failure. Every day that we keep being inventive together about what this thing is and all the different shapes and permutations it takes on, every day that we can piss each other off and explode and can still sit down together at the end of the day, whether huddled over a camping stove at a campsite, or eating microwaved chilidogs in the Bradley County fire station, or around a table with friends in Los Angeles, it still feels like we are finding some kind of success.
So far we’ve been asked to vacate the parking lot of a grocery store for splaying out on their sidewalk, requested to leave a mall parking lot because our fighting got too loud and were kicked out of a hotel bathroom for washing dishes. It’s been a clusterfuck from day one and is shaping up to be a chaotic, hectic mess the whole rest of the summer.
But not one of us can say that it hasn’t been amazing so far- incredibly challenging and illuminating (about ourselves and our relationships to each other) but also fun. After our intense night of deliberation, we found ourselves riding our bikes on dirt roads nestled between grape vines in Central California, and as we fell into a lovely, quiet synchronicity it felt like we were going in the right direction.
In the play, one of the travelers says, “People are all talking about it. All over the country, all over the world. How to need less. How much more we have if we just need less.” She is talking about a made up movement called “Thriving without” but it rings true, here in Los Angeles, as we work to lighten or load- getting rid of excess in our personal belongings, lightening the kitchen, and rethinking the set and the props. Everything is adapting, getting lighter and more streamlined.
Tonight is our first show on the road. We are performing at the Santa Monica Pier at 8pm and we have no more expectations about what to expect.