As I sit in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, waiting for the other girls to wake up and start the day, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to write this and reflect on our trip thus far. What a jam-packed adventure we’ve had! In these first few days of riding from New Brunswick to Warren to Bridgewater to Plainsfield to Morristown, we’ve covered more miles than I’ve ever biked in such a short period, weeded gardens, cooked meals, and helped sand and paint a house.
In addition to the physical exertion of bicycling and the social demands inherent to interacting with so many different people, I’ve found that I am constantly learning new factoids and skills, from identifying mugwort to driving and parking large vehicles to putting the finishing touches on a newly-built home. Even the smallest scrap of information pleases me beyond words, as I feel that it is through committing them to memory that I begin to grasp the vast and varied dimensions of a human experience that I can only hope to comprehend more fully, never completely.
Of course, learning anything almost invariably requires making mistakes, and needless to say, we’ve encountered plenty of those as well. Sometimes we miss a turn when riding, or slip off the edge of the road while climbing a hill, or underestimate how long it will take us to get from one location to another, or struggle with the bike rack for forty minutes (who knew it would be so hard to fit all three bicycles on there?), or accidentally back the van into a post (fortunately both van and post proved far hardier than initially feared). I can’t deny that these are frustrating, discouraging, and sometimes even frightening, but we’ve emerged from each obstacle intact and with wisdom to avoid them in the future - such as not straying too close to the edge of the shoulder and budgeting more time to travel.
While breaking for lunch at the Habitat for Humanity build yesterday, I remember one of the more experienced volunteers expressed appreciation for our willingness to engage with some of the “less glamorous” tasks we were assigned, such as sanding windowsills and carrying things to and from vehicles. She commented that new workers treating these jobs as beneath them indicated a lack of respect for the other people at the site, particularly those for whom smaller assignments might be the most accessible way to help out. I’ve thought about this quite a bit since yesterday, both in regards to volunteering and our own errors or lapses in judgement. I don’t think it’s possible to engage effectively with either component of what we do - the cycling or the service - without the sense of humility she described. Sometimes you have to relax your grip on the bike to coast over bumps in the road without falling. Though I expect we have a good deal of bumps and falling ahead of us, I have faith that if we remain willing to listen to each other and those we serve, we’ll emerge better riders and better people.