It has been awhile since I have been able to sit down and write a blog entry, and although I have tinkered with the text in spare moments, there really hasn’t been a single chunk of solid free time long enough to get out a post. Because of this, the words pile up, become outdated, there is too much story to tell. But I’ll do my best….
From Kansas City we set out through the Midwest. In Columbia, Missouri we entered a vortex where, for our entire time there, it was as if time had slowed down and we were able to get done all the things we had set out to do with ease and relaxation, and somehow managed to take a dip in a quarry, take a yoga class, and rehearse for a few hours to re-choreograph the final scene of the play.
There was a detour through Alton, Illinois to visit with Alexis’ 100-year-old grandmother, and a few days rest in Chicago, where we were greeted by old friends and family and a big beautiful city to explore. In Detroit we stayed with John’s friend Emily, learned about the fascinating history of the city and the Superheroes (an awesome group of bikers who tour in superhero costumes and offer their assistance to anyone in need) and had one of our best shows at The Trumbullplex. In Ithaca, NY we made new friends, did a Rasasboxes workshop, swam in the Gorges, and had a workday to catch up on business that had been piling up. In Northampton, MA we met the Pedal People (an amazing group of bikers who haul trash and recycling on their bikes) and had to get very inventive about where and how to perform our show, and in the Boston area we got soaked in a gorgeous summer downpour, lounged around my parents’ house, and had an excellent show in the beautiful Somerville Armory.
When we moved through the plains and into the rest of the Midwest, it was remarkable how so much of it still looked like Kansas. Mile after mile of Missouri, Illinois and Michigan were nothing but stalks of tall corn on one side and dark green bushes of soybeans on the other.
By the side of the road, John picked a soy plant and carried it along with him for a bit. At a rest, we all examined the fuzzy little pods that seemed so innocuous as it slowly wilted on his bicycle.
There are several references in the play to how, after the drought in California, the grocery stores on the East Coast are full of nothing but soy products. Originally the line was about corn products, but we changed it to soy in the new version of the play, thinking it was more appropriate and funny as well. But what we learned as we biked across the middle part of the country was that the truth lay in the prediction of both soy and corn.
In Cope, Colorado, population 588, we stopped for lunch at a small café run inside a small community hall. As we ate our microwaved Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, the two women working there told us of how their town had shrunk so drastically in the past twenty years. They credited it to the fact that all the young people had been forced to move away because the main industry there- the farming industry, was just too expensive to enter. Even if they had inherited a plot of land, it was impossible for them to be even remotely competitive with the “Big Agriculture” that had bought up so much of the land around them.
It’s hard to miss the connection between these endless miles and miles of corn and soy and the endless aisles and aisles of chips, candy, cakes, meat and canned food we see in the little stores along the way, all full of these two ingredients. And for us, the glee at eating junk food quickly gave way to frustration at the lack of fresh produce available as our bodies felt the effects of so much processed food. (We had been so excited to see Canada, and then found that the part we were riding through was more of the same, soy and corn.)
We were so grateful when we began to see tiny stands along the side of the road in Ontario? and Upstate New York, where farmers would put fresh squash, beans and tomatoes by the side of the road beside a little donation jar.
In a way, as the landscape changed from the mountainous western United States into the long flat plains of the Midwest, something settled for us as well. The steep terrain had evoked the sense of a life and death struggle, but now we had entered the long slog. Things weren’t so dramatic anymore, they just became the realities of daily life, weighing the task of distance each day against the limited amount of time we had and our ever-changing bodies.
And as we passed through the long flat stretches of farmlands and the two month anniversary of our departure date, we were suddenly able to see the end of the trip faintly in the distance. If this project was founded on the question of possibility, then we are finding the answers. No longer do we ask “what could this project become?” Now we are inside of it. We can see its shape and edges, what it is, what it still can be, and what it most likely will not become. Now we begin to ask ourselves, what has this been for us? And how will it inform our lives after this?
We have mostly figured out our systems, our rhythms and how to navigate each other. In talkbacks and the homes we stay in, people sometimes comment on how we resemble an amoeba, or superorganism (especially when they eat with us at mealtimes). Even our fights have a kind of rhythmic predictability to them. They are like an erratic and shrill whistle in a jazz song. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to matter what the fight is about, as long as it happens, as it serves as the letting out of some kind of trapped collective steam.
When you embark on an endeavor like this, I think there’s a tendency to anticipate the shape the story will take. In the movie of this trip that I made in my head before we even departed, the narrative went something like this ““Hurrah! We make it across the country and to all our performances! All seven of us! And although it was hard, and although it tested us physically and emotionally, we did it!. And we learned to love ourselves and each other in the process. What a triumph of the human spirit! What stick-to-it-ishness! Let this all be an inspiration to you all to follow your dreams and never give up!”
And admittedly, there is a strange and deep underlying feeling of quiet triumph in the project (in the slow accumulation of miles behind us, in the too brief connections we make with people at our shows and on the road) and admittedly we have been challenged and have learned many things. But some of these things are hard lessons, especially when these lessons are about ourselves and our relationships to each other. And about what is and isn’t possible to change in ourselves and our relationships, at least, not in this short amount of time. As we pedal for days on end, it can sometimes feel like we’re just sitting inside of these hard lessons. It can feel really disheartening to still rub up against the same old problems, have the old same fights, hit the same old walls.
But I can only hope that after we get off our bikes and scatter, the things that have happened on this trip will no doubt keep moving through us, giving us all lots to reflect about. Because although this trip might have felt infinite and epic, three months is still a relatively short period of time.
It will be interesting to see what the story is we each end up telling about this journey. Which parts of it will fade, and which will get re-written by the constant retelling. When our bodies have healed, will we speak as emphatically about our injuries? When we are well rested and well bathed, will we forget what it was like to be so exhausted and so dirty? How will we speak about our play once we no longer have to step out on stage and inhabit it? When we talk about the fighting will we laugh with affection at each others quirks, now that we no longer have to live and work with each other each day?
We finish our tour in New York next week with a show on Friday and a show on Saturday. We are really almost done. But even though the end is near, we are still inside of it, and though we may be anticipating this end, none of us can really know how we will experience the end or what it will feel like when it’s over.