Ohio. 

Perhaps we were getting too cocky. After conquering the hills of Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania, we were all looking forward to the flat farmland of the Midwest. Ohio will be a breeze, we thought, we’ll be able to coast right through. 

After two weeks in the saddle, we had become overly confident.  Too big for our chamois, if you will.

The Bike and Build gods frown on this kind of hubris. The gods wanted us to remember that we still had much to learn. That the journey is not all naps and snacks and descents. There are also early mornings and bonking and climbs. 

At the unimpressive Ohio state line.

 As we crossed over the Ohio state line, with egos inflated too large for our helmets, the Bike and Build gods decided to knock us down a gear or two. Thus, the seven plagues of Ohio: 

Trekking through all the mud on our way to Gambier (Photo: Z.O.).

  1. Potholes – Ohioans refuse to pave their roads properly, preferring them riddled with potholes that just invite flat tires and bent derailleurs. 
  2. Angry drivers – Of all the states we bike through, I expected New York to have the most aggressive drivers. But no, that award goes to Ohio. I guess I would be angry too if I were forced to drive through Ohio day in and day out. 
  3. Humidity – A 7 o’clock in the morning, 1 o’clock in the afternoo , 9 o’clock at night. It doesn’t matter the time, the still air hangs heavy and damp when the dew point is upwards of 85%.
  4. Rain – You would think that rain would offer respite from the heat and humidity, and it would if you were not sitting on a bike in the pouring rain for 8+ hours. In this case, it’s a little bit miserable and cold; i just had to accept my fate – wet. 
  5. Mud – Relentless rain turns dirt bike paths into quagmires that are nearly impossible to bike on. Kids coats tires and brakes, thereby complicating the slowing and stopping process. Thick mud and puddles are traps just waiting to ensnare hapless riders and tip them over. Mud is also exhausting to pedal through. 
  6. Mosquitoes – Rain also means stagnant, standing water, or the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Ohioan mosquitoes are particularly persistent, leaving their victims covered in red, itchy welts. 
  7. Mennonite country roads – Mennonite country is beautiful and the Mennonites are kind and lovely people. But Mennonites drive horses and buggies. And horses poop a lot. This brings another level of complication to navigating shared roadways. 

 

Buggy wash on a rainy day. in Fredericksburg.

 
But the Bike and Build gods are not malevolent gods. Although the Ohioan plagues reaffirmed my stance that Ohio is the state that I would vote out of the Union, the gods did offer some redemption. 

 

Trailside snacks on the way to Dayton.

 
After days of rain and humidity and red-faced motorists and equine feces, we were no longer so bold as to think we could conquer Ohio so easily. We submitted to the Bike and Build gods and they granted us with a few gloriously sunny days, full of wheat fields, paved bike paths, and a rescued kitten. They also gave us ice cream – sweet, creamy, delicious ice cream from Jeni’s and Handel’e. And finally, they gave us a blessed day off, with nothing to do but sleep late, eat brinch, and drink cold beers. 

 

Rolling deep at Handel’s Ice Cream in Youngstown.

 
Ohio may not be my favorite state (in fact, it may rank 50 out of 50), but during my sojourn here, the Bike and Build gods have taught me much: Stay humble. Ride through the puddles and avoid the mud. Bikes are faster than horse-drawn buggies. Eat ice cream every day, if possible. Ohio does have a few things going for it. 

Enjoying a day off in Columbus.

Insanlar. 

One of my favorite things about Bike and Build is the opportunity to meet people along the road. In our matching jerseys and on our bikes, we attract a lot of attention. Once people find out that we’re biking across the country, they are usually curious and impresses, though some are thoroughly nonplussed. Many people are interested in hearing our stories. However, I have been impressed by how many people are willing to share their own stories. It only seems right to pass these stories on. 

Trudy

Trudy is the proprietor of Trudy’s Secondhand Shop, located on some forgettable stretch of backroad between Ithaca and Savona, NY. The shop is full of little odds and ends and clothes, all dating from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Trudy has been running her shop for more than twenty years and loves her little project. However, her husband got ill about five years back, so the two of them are downsizing, which means closing down the shop. Trudy was truly devastated to have to abandon her labor of love. We bought a few funny trucker hats from her at half price. She then sent us in our way with a prayer and a blessing. 

RC

I actually don’t know RC’s name, but I do know he is a 60-year-old electrician and retired firefighter from Corning, NY, on the NY-PA state line. We came across RC while he and his friend John were flying RC model airplanes early on a Saturday morning (No, they wouldn’t let us have a go.).

RC told us all about his long battle with Lyme’s disease. He had it for nearly five years — he put on a ton of weight, couldn’t walk or see, and fell into depression. After a while, he came to a conclusion that the prescription drugs from the doctor weren’t working for him. He researched the disease to find out what it fed on and used natural remedies to starve out the disease. These days, he’s Lyme’s free, 70 pounds lighter, and quite happy. RC has cut prescription drugs out of his life completely, relying solely on natural remedies. 

 

Unfortunately, this little fellow couldn’t tell us his story.

 
MaryEllen and Sam

MaryElln and Sam are two avid cyclists from Bradford, PA. Every summer, they hop on their tandem bicycle and join up with their kids, grandkids, and 3000 other people for a cycling tour of Ohio. 

A couple of years ago, MaryEllen came across the P2S riders eating lunch outside the Bradford Regional Airport, where she worked. After chatting with the riders, she and Sam decided they wanted to do slime thing for Bike and Build. Unfortunately, they were on their Ohio tour when P2S rolled through last year. However, the stars aligned this year and MaryEllen and Sam provided us with a delicious cookout for lunch at Mile 38 of 67, complete with ice cream sandwiches!

Debbie’s sister

I don’t know this woman’s name, but I do know her sister’s name is Debbie. She works at the Corky’s II Pizza and Ice Cream in Pleasantville, PA. After a rainy morning, she provided all 29 of us with free frozen treats. In exchange, she asked that we dedicate our ride to her sister Debbie, who had recently passed away. The 62.5 miles from Warren to Franklin, PA were for Debbie. 

It’s been a fascinating journey. The scenery is magnificent, but I would argue that the people we meet and the stories we hear are even more interesting. 

The kindness of strangers. 

Here on Bike and Build we depend a lot on the kindness of strangers. Every place we spend the night allows us to stay for free. They usually provide dinner and often ever cook us breakfast. The folks we have come upon along the route have gifted to us soda, ice cream, and not one, but two birdhouses! After life in the Seattle Freeze (I exaggerate), I have been bowled over by the generosity of people we will never see again. 

On our notorious 70-mile ride from Poughkeepsie to Roscoe, New York, we met some folks who really went above and beyond anything I could have imagined. 

C.K.L. and I were sweeping that day, which rant we rode in the back to make sure everyone got in to the host site by the end of the day. It was a long, challenging ride. 

We joined up with E.F. and J.C., both of whom had suffered some mechanical issues earlier in the day, just I time to conquer the infamous Hunter Road, which went over one of the tallest and steepest mountains in the Catskills. It was late in the day and we were tired and sore, but we made it over!

  
However, we still had more than 20 miles to go and some ominous clouds were rolling in. Suddenly, thunder crashes overhead and the heavens opened up on us. The Rafa got slick, our brakes got wet, and the sky got dark. Visibility was next to nothing. The J.C. got a flat tire. We were in a very bad way, to say the least. 

As E.F. and I helped J.C. change her flat, C.K.L. rode ahead to seek out shelter. As the storm picked up in intensity, I grew more worried, unt, out of nowhere, a Kia Soul appeared. The man behind the wheel said that he lived up the road and C.K.L. was waiting on his porch. He promptly loaded J.C.’s bike into his trunk, while E.F. and I rode on toward our refuge. 

  

When we arrived, our savior’ wife was waiting with warm, dry towels. It was heavenly. 

As we dried off, our savior asked us what we needed. “Water? Warm Gatorade? I’m afraid the only cold beverage I have is beer. You want a beer?” That last offer was tempting, but we declined. Instead, his wife brought us steaming mugs of blueberry tea. Then, a plate of cheese and crackers appeared as if out of thin air. 

As I sat wrapped in a dry towel, sipping on hot tea, and munching on cheese, while the lightning flagged and the rain poured down around us, I was floored by the generosity of these complete strangers. I didn’t know their names, nor did they ask for ours, but they opened up their home to us and gave us what they had. They also gave me a little piece of hope. 

  
In a world where we only seem to hear the bad news, it was soul-filling to see that there are good, kind, helpful people out there to lend a hand. 

A day in the life.

6:00 am: Wake up; get dressed; pack up our gear

6:30 am: Pack up the trailer with everyone’s bags and our food bins; fill up the coolers; clean up the host site

7:00 am: Breakfast — either provided by the host or cereal/fruit/pastries/leftovers

7:30 am: Clean up breakfast; ABC check on the bikes (air pressure, brakes, chain); route meeting — go over the plan for the day, share facts about our next town, receive cue sheets with turn-by-turn directions

8:00 am: Roll out

The day is ours to ride and explore. We take in the scenery, stop for food/coffee/ice cream/thrift shops, explore parks/towns/monuments, and just enjoy America at 15 miles per hour.

One team leader drives the van each day, hauling all our gear and food and helping out in times of need. They are responsible for setting up the lunch spot and making sure the day goes smoothly.

Lunch is approximately halfway through the ride and usually consists of PB&J, fruit, chips, and leftovers. On days that are 90+-mile rides and/or over 90 degrees, we get two lunches at the one-thirds and two-thirds mark.

4:00 pm: Arrive at the host; unload the trailer; clean bikes; take showers and get settled for the night

6:00 pm: Dinner — either provided by the host or prepared by us

7:00 pm: Clean up from dinner; free time — read, write, sleep, hang out, explore the town

11:00 pm: Lights out.

Sleep. wake up. Repeat until one day begins to blend into the next.

Yorgunum. 

Update from P2S15. We’ve had two days of orientation in Providence, a build day in Providence, and two days on the road. TL;DR: New England is awesome. It has approximately one million giant hills. I am tired. This is the best.

  
 After two days we have ridden 100.2 miles, eaten lunch in two cute New England towns, crossed one state line, been fed and housed by two awesome  churches, climbed countless hills, gotten one free yoga class and one free bag of popcorn, and have gotten lost on more than one occasion. Despite this hills between them, Providence, RI, Pomfret, CT, and Granby, CT have been super kind to us.  It has been a blast. It’s been two days and I’m in love with everything about B&B.

I want to write something more substantial, but I want to sleep even more. So, if you want to find out more, check out our team tracker page/blog:  http://bikeandbuild.org/rider/route.php?route=P2S&year=2015
Peace, love, and P2S. 

Brake for shakes!

Gidiyorum. 

It’s 6 am here in Newark, New Jersy and my body is silently screaming at me because it thinks it is 3 am. It wants to know why I’m such a masochist who loves to pursue sleeplessness. I don’t know what to say other than, “I’m sorry, here’s a bagel.”

The last few days have been a complete whirlwind of packing up and moving out of my apartment, packing for Bike and Build, cleaning, running errands, and spending as much time as possible with friends. I didn’t know if it all could be done, but yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting alone in my apartment with nothing else to do. Slight disbelief. 

Found while packing. Thanks for the encouragement, Mom.

 
On Friday night, I had the most perfect send off. Friends, food, beer, beachside bonfire. I had all of my favorite Seattle people gathered in one place on a simply gorgeous Seattle night. I found myself asking for the thousandth time, “Why am I leaving, again?”

But I know why I’m leaving. For adventure. For a cause. For a break. For a challenge. For new friends and experiences. For me. For many others, who lack the security and well-being that comes with adequate housing. Because I can’t sit still. 

So, next stop: Providence! In three days I’ll start the long trek home. 

Thank you to all my friends and family for your ongoing humor, love, and support. Special thanks to M.S., P.N., S.D., M.L., A.F. for looking after my things all summer, helping me move, and getting me to the airport. Also for being your spectacular selves. 

  

Mail drops.

We’re in the single digits, folks. Only six days until I’m off! Other than the fact that I have packed precisely zero things in my apartment, I’m ready to go (It’s fine, or that’s what I tell myself). I think I have all the supplies I need. I’ve trained. I’ve fundraised. I’ve shipped my bike east (please, please, please let it arrive by Saturday, FedEx gods).

Yes, I’ll be living the fabulously glamorous life of waking up on a new community center floor each morning and getting an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at our nation’s finest corn fields, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna miss y’all a whole lot. Luckily we live in a world of instantaneous communication and nearly universal internet access (at least in this county), so contact is only a few clicks away. But you know what else we have? The fabulous United States Postal Service! Which means mail drops!

Yes, I’ll send you postcards from exotic locales such as Peru and Lisbon, but I’d also love to hear from you. So send me letters and treats and stupid tchotchkes for my bike. Here’s all you need to know:

Mail drops will be every Thursday along the route. Address mail to:

Bike & Build

ATTN: Elizabeth Johnson

General Delivery

STREET ADDRESS (if noted)

CITY, STATE ZIP

Packages should include a note that says “Please hold for pick-up on DATE.” Only send packages via USPS (FedEx, UPS, etc. not accepted). Late mail will be forwarded to the mail drop two weeks later. Late mail from the last two mail drops will be returned to sender.

June 4

389 North Granby Rd

North Granby, CT 06060

June 18

99 S Walnut St

Youngstown, OH 44501

June 25

123 S High St

Hartford City, IN 47348

July 2

Clinton, IA 52732

July 16

Chadron, NE 69337

July 23

Lander, WY 82520

July 30

2201 Baxter St

Bozeman MT 59718

August 6

Kellogg, ID 83837

August 13

52779 Railroad Ave

Rockport, WA 98283

I look forward to hearing from y’all along the road. Keep an eye on this page for any updates to mail drop information!

Yakında

Have not talked much about my preparations for my Bike and Build adventure, but the start date inches ever closer (actually, if I am being real with myself, it is speeding towards me like a bottle rocket).

I have some mixed feelings about this upcoming, brief chapter of my life. I am so, so, so excited for the journey that awaits me! I know it’s going to be fantastic. But I am sad to be leaving Seattle, my friends, my cozy apartment, and all the Seattle-y-ness (particularly in the summer). Also, I have to start thinking about packing soon –something I am looking forward to with no small amount of dread.

But in the last two weeks, I have hit many Bike and Build milestones, which makes me feel infinitely more prepared. This weekend, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity Seattle – King County, completing my sweat equity hours. Two weekends ago, I embarked on a cycling adventure around Lake Washington with some Bike and Build alumni, covering 68 miles in one day, blowing past my 500 mile training goal, and, most importantly, not dying. The biggest victory for me, though, was reaching my $4500 fundraising goal!! A humongous thank you and shout out to all my donors and supporters (give these folks high fives and/or hugs if you see them).

If you have not donated yet and you still want to, your donations will always be welcome. Your generosity helps provide shelter and security to neighbors in need.

Only 26 days until I hit the road. During that time I plan to continue procrastinating on packing, preferring to spend my time on hanging out with friends and reveling in the glory of a beautiful Seattle spring, as seen by bike.

Convincing friends to train with me. Promises of wine help to entice them.

Convincing friends to train with me. Promises of wine help to entice them.

Çocukken/Yaz.

It’s the dog days of summer in the Piedmont — late July, early August. That point where the novelty of summer has worn off. I’m tired of the neighborhood kids; I just want to see my school friends. Too many games of flashlight tag that end in pointless fights, too many profitless lemonade stands. The water in the pool is the exact same temperature and humidity dew point as the air — no longer refreshing. The North Carolina humidity is oppressive, and street after identical street of repeating brick, colonial-style houses trap the imagination within their bounds.

I’m eleven. I lie on my back in the middle of my backyard. It’s so hot and humid, I don’t want to move even an inch. It’s mid-afternoon, past the peak heat of the day, but still several hours off from the evening thunderstorms that will offer a small respite from the heavy stillness that permeates.

I lie on on my back in the middle of the yard. A grassy lawn divided from the woodsier, pine-straw covered part of the yard by a border of creeping lily. Trees tower overhead, dappling the yard in shade. Mostly long-leaf pines, of course, but a smattering of oaks as well. A few baby pine trees sprouted in the woodsy area this spring, but I don’t think they’ll grow to adulthood. This is suburbia; we control our natural environment.

The grass is scratchy and dry on my bare shoulders and legs. Although thunderstorms sweep in nearly every night, they hardly ever bring rain. Just the atmosphere relieving the tension. So, the grass is dry and yellowing. The air doesn’t smell of freshly cut grass and loamy soil, as one might suspect. Instead it smells like midsummer in Carolina — the dry, hay-like scent of dead grass and the always-damp smell of hard, red clay earth. If there were a breeze, it might carry with it the scent of pine and dogwood. But it’s as still as death. And hot as hell.

I’m lying in the middle of the yard because Mom sent me outside. Apparently, “it’s good for” me. I can’t sit on the deck because the screened-in porch is technically “inside,” and the wooden slats of the flooring are too hot to touch. Plus, it’s kind of depressing, being wedged between the gas grill and the wilted, dead tomato plant. I’d lie closer to the porch, in the shadow of the house, but I’m afraid of the black widow spiders that my brother claims are hiding behind the wheelbarrow and the other lesser-used yard maintenance tools (We don’t “garden,” we just “maintain,” because, like I said, this is suburbia). The pine needles of the woods are sappy and they stick to my sweaty back. Thus, I find myself lying in the center of the yard, on a patch of withered grass.

The porch door creaks on its hinges. Somewhere down the street a car revs up and whips out of a driveway way too fast. Probably a teenager testing the limits of his provisional driver’s license. A dog barks in the distance. Otherwise all is quiet and still.

My cutoff jeans chafe my day-old sunburn uncomfortably. A single bead of sweat slips down my back, in the gap between my shoulder blades. My tank top doesn’t quite fit right these days, as a shadow of my soon-to-be breast distort my known body shape. Too many things are changing too quickly. But I’m eleven, and I want to force that change. I’ve finished one year of middle school and I already know it’s the worst. Maybe if I can force these changes, it won’t suck so much.

My tank top is from Old Navy — the kid’s section — but I claim it’s from Aeropostale. I’m a runty kid, still too small to fit into “junior’s” sizes that all the cooler middle schoolers are wearing. We were friends in elementary school, but something changed over the last year, but I don’t know what; it wasn’t me. I want to fit in, so I do what any self-respecting eleven-year-old would do. I lie about where my clothes came from.

Three bracelets woven from colorful embroidery floss encircle my skinny wrist, evidence of a summer-boredom-buster project. My bare feet are tough from walking around the scorching hot, cement pool deck without shoes all summer. A dog-eared, well-loved copy of the first Baby Sitter’s Club book lies just out of reach. Maybe I’m not as ready to be adult as I profess to be.

I open my eyes and look straight up. The sky is a blinding, beautiful Carolina blue. A few wispy clouds dot the skyscape, but nothing substantial enough to block out the blazing white sun. I’m bored and have been rendered lethargic by the heat. Moving makes the suffocating heat worse, so I don’t.

My best friend is on vacation on Bald Head Island with her family this week. My other best friend goes to the year-round school and is tracked-in this week. There hasn’t been a dance choreographed to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” in over a week. Nor has there been a stupid, pointless eleven-year-old girl fight. I can’t remember the last time I’ve got this long without crying hot, angry tears as I fought with my best friends over who would get to be in the front of the music video. It’s been quite a dull week.

My little sister doesn’t get home from soccer camp for at least another hour. But when she does, the silent spell will be broken. She’ll come find me to play with her, but also to goad me into picking a fight. At least it will be interesting. But for now, I lay completely motionless in the hot, humid, oppressive, sunny, blazing, still afternoon, as sweat drips from my temple onto the dry, itchy, dead grass.

Görünmez komşular.

Seattle’s homeless population is just about impossible to ignore — it’s huge (3rd in the nation, after New York and LA) and growing. These faces make up the fabric of my daily life. The old man who I pass each time I go to catch a bus, who beds down with his patchwork quilt each night on the stoop of the investment firm down the street from my apartment. The woman who I walk by on my way home from work each evening, who commandeers the bus stop on the corner of 5th Avenue and Denny Way, who constructs a windproof shelter each night out of several battered umbrellas. The men and women who call the Hooverville-esque tent city at the I-5/I-90 junction home. If you take half a second to stop and look around this city, you’ll see the ongoing struggle with homelessness on every corner.

IMG_0685

Yet those of us who have a warm, dry, secure place to spend the night each night tend to look right through these people, treating them as if they are inanimate parts of the urban landscape, like benches or trash cans. Hell, I spend half my week dodging people gathered on street corners, as well as my own conscience. It’s almost too easy — walk quickly and purposefully, keep your eyes focused on a point in the middle distance, and if someone does approach you, mumble something marginally coherent about not having any cash.

This is how I have always approached these situations, and how everyone I know approaches them (I had to learn the steps to the dance somewhere), with blinders on, keeping out the ugly and unpleasant. For some reason though, the cognitive dissonance has caught up with me in the last few months; I am a self-declared progressive feminist, who has been known to rail against racism, sexism, income inequality, the education gap, regressive tax systems, foreign policy led by hawks instead of doves, and a host of other issues. I believe strongly in social justice, and hope to make addressing inequality my life’s work. Yet, when faced with the prospect of engaging with actual humans on these issues, particularly homelessness, I freeze up because I don’t have the experiences to relate. Though I empathize, I am not sure how to act in response. But I want to learn.

This summer, I will be participating in Bike and Build, a cross-country cycling trip in support of affordable housing. Over the course of 10 weeks, I will pedal from providence to Seattle, stopping along the way to participate in affordable housing builds and to educate communities on the issues surrounding poverty, homelessness, and the lack of affordable housing in the US.

IMG_6098

I have wanted to participate in Bike and Build for years, mainly because I love riding my bike and cycling across the country seemed like a challenging and exciting adventure. However, living in Seattle has changed my motivations for this trip. Before it was all about the bicycling. But, as I learn more about the failures of public housing and the stories of individuals, as told by artists like Jesse Rogers, I am drawn more and more to addressing the root causes of poverty and the lack of affordable housing in the US. For a country that bills itself as the land of milk and honey, we have a lot of citizens who are not reaping the benefits of this so-called egalitarian democracy. I plan to learn more about the underlying, systemic problems and what steps are being taken to address them, to hear other people’s stories, and to chronicle these lessons, as well as all my misadventures on the road, here.

If you would like to learn more about my experience with Bike and Build and/or make a donation in support of my ride, follow the link to my Bike and Build profile.