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Squarely in the Middle

After Albuquerque, we split into smaller groups, and made our way up to Denver separately. Whether on bikes, hitchhiking or in a rental car, all three groups saw the desert of New Mexico turn to farmland, then to rolling green hills and finally to the suburbs of Denver, in their own way.

But we all arrived in Denver a week later, feeling that however we had chosen to spend the in-between time had best prepared us to tackle the next task at hand.

I had arrived in Denver a few days early to take another pass at the script, slowly going over almost every scene, making small but choice tweaks, so the lines flowed better, the beats were sharper and the characters and their motivations were clearer.

Once everyone arrived, we convened for a week of intense work on the play.

On the far outskirts of Denver, we took refuge at the only Warmshowers host who had agreed to house all of us for a week straight. (Warmshowers is an online community of bicycle tourists who offer their homes to other travelers on their journeys) Doug Devine was a warm and goofy chiropractor who seemed to delight in having seven artists splay out all over his space, even offering us all free, daily chiropractic adjustments. His space turned out to be so comfortable and ideal that we stopped trying to rehearse in libraries and parks. We had stumbled into the most perfect “artist residency”. For almost a week straight, the whole house was a beehive of activity. At any given moment, Ren could be found in the basement, rebuilding the set, Lelia and Alexis in the garage, marking out new choreography for the birds, Jenny in the living room, reimagining the sea creature costume, or John and Allison and I on the landing, reworking the blocking in our scenes.

We decided to postpone our July 4th show until July 11th because it was clear that nobody in Denver would be in town for the holiday weekend, but unfortunately, the space we had intended to perform at couldn’t host us the following week. So after a week of inquiring at bike shops and parks, we decided to perform our newly improved show for a small but attentive audience of friends, family and neighbors out of Doug’s garage.

The show was really sweet. Although we still struggled at times to find our footing with the new language and the new moments, we all felt very pleased and proud to share the results of our week of focused work.

And the next day, as we finally gathered our belongs and rolled away from Doug’s house, it was clear to all of us that things had shifted.

We are squarely in the middle of our journey now, the halfway point.

Thinking back on where we were just six weeks ago, we are so much lighter and efficient now. With our trailers sold, our play more scaled down and our personal belongings downsized, our bikes are leaner, more compact beasts with elegant systems specific to each rider.

And our play is also much stronger. Six weeks on the road and seven performances across the western United States made it apparent what parts of the play needed further work. Thanks to our time in Denver, we finally had the time to change the play to reflect the realizations about the landscape, narrative and characters we discovered on the road. It’s not done yet, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer to us what this thing is that we’re creating.

And in another way, something else has shifted.

Six weeks ago some of us hardly knew one another, which lead to a lot of tensions and conflict. Now, there is so much more ease, a lot less fighting and a lot more laughing. We are learning how to be with each other and still individuals, how to attend to our own needs and still be available for others. While there is still the occasional explosion, we are learning how to hear each other more clearly and how to understand the language of each person that is specific to only them. And there isn’t one of us that isn’t getting our rough edges ground down by the friction of grinding our personalities against each other.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Because we spent an extra week in Denver, we only had one week, instead of two, to travel the six hundred miles to Kansas City.

In order to make it to our show in time, we decided to break up into smaller groups and thumb rides for part of the way, which isn’t easy when there are seven of you and seven bicycles! More than ever we had to rely on the kindness of strangers in places where we knew no one and the culture wasn’t our own. Far from the comfort of our “liberal bubble,” in towns that have two churches, but no grocery store, asking for help can sometimes seem more exhausting than biking sixty miles in the heat.

But at the end of the day yesterday, even after getting kicked off two truck stops for soliciting rides, we all reunited in Lawrence, Kansas, an easy day’s ride to Kansas City, for our show on Saturday.

And for all the negotiating of logistics that this past week has required, we didn’t really fight much. The flair ups seem to be small and quickly defused, which is still something of a miracle.

As the landscape shifts, and the air turns wet and humid and the neighborhoods of Kansas City begin to remind us of Maryland and Massachusetts and New Jersey, we realize we are no longer moving away from the West Coast, we are now moving toward the East Coast.

Our trip is now past its halfway point. In about six weeks it will all be over. This is, most likely, partly the cause of this settling-in we are all feeling. As Lelia said the other day, realizing this trip is halfway over makes her want to be more present for the rest of it. We are sinking in, savoring. We know this transient, nomadic life will end soon, and we will all go our various ways, returning to our normal lives, or beginning the task of creating a new normality for ourselves.

And yet, on these long strips of road, I find myself thinking about what will come next, wondering if there is more to this project, more to the coming together of all of these people besides just this ride. If the question that spurred this project to life was “how do you bike a play across the country?” we are not only finding those answers, we are starting to get good at it. I wonder what else we could do with these new answers.


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