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Under the Desert Sun

We turned inland from San Diego and within a day or so, the weather changed drastically. We had been warned that the full heat of the desert sun would make biking harder, but man, it is brutal.

Quickly we modified our plans. No longer would we have casual breakfasts and leisurely departure times. We would wake early and ride in the dark morning hours to beat the heat of the day.

“Up at 2 am!” we say.

“On the road by 3!” we say.

Realistically we leave at 4am, but it still feels like a victory.

No longer do we have the time to chat leisurely on our bikes or the energy to quibble during our breaks. A flat tire by the side of the road with no shade in 100 degree heat is now an extreme exercise in patience and teamwork. On our bikes, we are a sparse line of determined animals moving past miles and miles of desert brush, propelled silently by survival.

Even on the days when we arrive at our destination by noon, we have little energy to do anything but douse ourselves with water, splay out in a shady spot and wait for the heat to subside. By the time it does cool down, we have to go to bed almost immediately, as there’s yet another 2 am wake up call the next morning.

We are still struggling to figure out systems that work for all of us.

Some of us thrive in hotter climates, while others get sick in the sun. Some are fine on four hours of sleep, while others need twice that much. Some are completely capable of biking 65 miles in the sun, only to hop off their bikes, ready to start making dinner, while others are delirious until after a shower and a nap.

How do we accommodate everyone? How do we hold the space between? We want to remain connected and responsible for each other, yet allow for people to take care of their own needs. And each of us has such different, pressing needs.

Do we stay together? Do we split up? How far ahead or behind do we let someone fall? Do some of us flag down rides, throwing our bikes in the back of pickup trucks when biking presents itself as too challenging?

Each day has become a puzzle to solve. Forget the question of “how do we bike a play across the country?,” let’s just get through today!

We are constantly having to write and re-write the rulebook, and sometimes there isn’t the energy debate after a day’s riding. Actually, there never is. Any dream of getting to a campsite with enough energy to play theatre games, do character exercises, or even run lines now seems absurd.

I had been worried that the biking aspect of this project would subsume the theatrical aspect, and in the first few weeks, that was looking quite likely. How could we be creative when we could barely take care of our most basic bodily needs?

Our first two shows in Santa Monica, and Encinitas were fun and cute and our audiences were amused and enthusiastic. But by the time we reached our show in Tucson, something had shifted.

We are now in the land the play takes place.

Vultures fly above and lizards dart out in front of us as we bike. Workers and gas station attendants tell us of their lives in these sparse and abandoned places. Locals tell us how they can’t drink the water out of their own taps. The heat we feel is the same heat the animals in the play reference. The sun on our helmets is the same sun the characters talk about, this is what the air feels and smells like all around them. When we look to the horizon, this is the landscape our characters look out on each day.

And inside our bodies, the constant, pressing necessity for water is felt by every single one of us. The play’s message about the preciousness of water suddenly becomes a visceral cry for survival.

But on a deeper level, the project and the play are starting to merge in other ways. As we navigate this new, unforgiving terrain together, with all our varied abilities and skills and cultures and personalities, each one of us is forced to constantly ask ourselves, “who am I responsible for?” And I am starting to realize that this is the question of the play as well. “Who am I responsible for?” Because every character, even the animals and the internet, is, like us, constantly negotiating and renegotiating this question.

It’s not an easy question to ask, much less answer. And in asking this question, we’ve come up with no answers yet, only more questions. And these questions are forcing us to look at ourselves and our relationships in new and deeper ways, even if we don’t always like what we see. But I suppose the dream is that if we can continue to deepen our understanding of the ways in which these questions inform our behavior, hopefully what we uncover will strengthen our art piece and ourselves as well.

Yesterday we rolled into the magical town of Silver City, NM, and after a bit of a rest and an afternoon of rehearsing the play, we’re excited to share our ever-evolving creation at the Buckhorn Opera House tomorrow night.

We’re still at it. Onward.


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