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The Myth of Processing

My journal and I are in a cooling off period, one of the many minor breakups we go through before a wild and constant stream of fresh love and entries. I’ve already acknowledged how valuable it is to me for the past few months, as the impossibility of the first leg of the journey has only now begun to crystallize, a month after it’s completion. I will need something to remind me that it was real and profound, populated by real and powerful people, and filled with more landscapes and abstract emotions than the Met. This distance I feel mentally, though, can be excused by the even greater surreality that, after a four and a half hour nap, Los Angeles is once again 4,000 miles away and I am back in Durham.

I’m taking my two weeks to say hello and goodbye, and the welcoming embrace of North Carolina humidity and crape myrtles and ivy has my heart singing a familiar song. While I bask in this place, though, I’m mindful that I will be putting my wheels down in Tokyo in two weeks, and I have, as of yet, no shred of itinerary.

I’m not worried about finding my way. Really, my only fear is that I know so little that I’ll miss out on fantastic opportunities simply because I can’t read the signs and don’t know to ask about them. But I trust that, as with my week’s ride down California, I’ll learn quickly and barriers that seem intimidating now will become familiar, at least, if not shorter. I’ve picked up a book on Japanese grammar and writing, so at least I’ll have something to point to.

On that note- the ride down from Monterey to Los Angeles went by smoothly, as adventures go. I did have a night of sleeping out on a beach illegally and regularly snuck into state parks to spend the night, but the ride itself was magnificent. Anyone driving or riding in central California must include Big Sur in their plans, from north to south to be as close to the edge as possible. Truly magnificent sights.

Back here in Durham, the pattern of student life carries my upperclassmen friends through their own version of senior year. As I’ve walked around my alma mater this weekend, seeing the absolutely baby-faced first years squawking and parading their new independence, overhearing party and study plans, I don’t feel as far removed from Duke as I would have expected. Much of this is due to a year of living off-campus and generally finding my roots elsewhere while I was a student. Even so, I believe that the truth of my ambivalence isn’t that I don’t care, but rather that I don’t need to.

With so many hours on the bike, it’s easy to believe that I will make significant headway towards “processing” life events of the last four, eight, or twenty-two years (NB: I’m sure, someday, as a forty or fifty-something, I’ll smirk a bit at my admittedly short, current timeline of life events). Boyfriends, girlfriends, faux pas and fuck-ups, strife and unresolved conversations and grievances- everything will be figured out after a few hours of concentrated thought. Right?

In reality, a brain can only come up with so many ideas when it’s being watched, and quickly mine was spinning in circles to the rhythm of Hermes’ wheels. I kept chewing the same gristle of memories to find if any sinew still needed “processing,” only the hear myself listing the same conclusions again and again.

And now, with another summer brimful of new memories, people, connections, and motifs, I’ve seemingly added a stack to the inbox for future “processing.”

But here’s the purpose of this entry, and a close to it’s lengthy exploration, a conclusion I’m far from the first person to express: I’m not sure if thinking has any impact on processing. I suppose I say that I’m processing experiences when I don’t know how to describe or interpret them, or what feelings I would attach to them. The only experiences I feel are processed fully, though, are the ones that no longer directly inform my life. Their impact is distant enough that I can relate them with as much finality as any human can ever claim, and so time becomes as important a factor as any amount of active mental energy spent trying to “process” something. And processed experiences, ultimately, are ones I don’t spend time thinking about, since they’re no longer on the top layers of sediment.

So, with my bags dumping their few unnecessary contents on the East Coast and my eyes sizing up Japan, I don’t expect to consider anything processed from this year or the next until I’m in a radically different lifestyle again. And, as for the last four years, the campus life and many of the priorities I had here are so removed from road life that I don’t feel the pangs of “needing to process” as I once did. I appreciate them all as they are and look forward to drafting a new set of experiences to heap on top.

Those are my thoughts for now. I suppose I’ll go write them in the journal eventually.

For the present moment, here’s some logistical things I’m considering:

  • Route in Japan: To include a stretch down Kyushu, which I have a basic itinerary of. If you have sites to suggest from Tokyo through the main island, message me your ideas!
  • Hosts in Japan: Similarly, if you know cool people over there, put me in touch!
  • GPS system for the bike: With my iPhone being irregularly useful in the States, it’s time to step up to a real system so I’m not lost at the worst time.
  • To Kindle or not to Kindle: I love my printed word so much, but the weight of Shantaram alone added a good pound to the gear.
  • HOW ON EARTH DO YOU LEARN A LANGUAGE? I used to know this process, but it’s truly foreign now.

Pacific Coast Eve

On the last night before the end of our Bike and Build trip, I want to put words commemorate this complex moment. With weeks having flown by but also slowed sticky on the hot asphalt under our tires, it’s hard to understand what time means. But I’ll give reflection a shot, since I’m sure there’s so much more of it to come!

The last few weeks have widened our eyes with the steep spiraling reds of Zion and the Grand Canyon, the impossible expansion of Yosemite, and the (luckily) bearable heat of Death Valley. I’ve got pockets full of sights and experiences that will take weeks to lay on the table. We also finished our last few build days and allocated our grant money to three impressive projects that we hope will continue to change the affordable housing landscape in significant and efficient ways.

But enough business talk- this moment is more about the raging feelings of doubt and accomplishment, confidence and mild terror, familial bond and still a sense of strangeness. Most of it will come out in the wash of the salty water, when the trip is really done and we’re getting our first beers as equals and soon-to-be total individuals. But in this crazy last hour before I sleep, and the last forty miles over the coastal mountains to chilly Monterey, everything still feels quite balanced but tremulous.

As for the next step, I have a flight, one-way, to Tokyo in September. I have a tent, a quilt, a steripen, and various necessities for the trek to LA. I shake off the fear of injury abroad regularly, even though a brush with an RV in Yosemite left me quite shaken though unhurt. I have a few contacts to track down in Asia, and am always welcoming more. And. And. Most importantly. I have two weeks back on the east coast thanks to a cheap plane ticket (ugh, though I hate plane travel for what it does to my knees!) to see my most lovely and loved ones again. I think some processing time is in order.

Thanks to all for your support in getting me this far. I cannot believe what we have done and can barely understand where I am now without staring at a map. Every year has felt like a new life, and this is by far the most challenging and totally saturated of all.

I hope to reorder this site soon to better accommodate photos and the blog, as well as to provide a donation page should you be feeling so inspired. As soon as I have Internet, I’ll try to be on top of my game. For now, this trip isn’t over yet, and while 45 miles a few hours from now is nuthin’, I should go in somewhat rested.

Happy Eve, chrysalis watchers!

News from the Road

With a few weeks of riding behind me, it’s past time I gave an update. Finding both technology and time to get online is a challenge in the small towns. More than anything, I’ve struggled to decide just how thorough a blog to keep. Likely I’ll update more after I hit California. Til then, here’s my first entry from the road!

On May 16th, our Bike and Build team arrived in Jacksonville, Florida for orientation. We learned more about our mission, assigned our daily responsibilities, and built at two Habitat sites to get our hammers wet. Three days later we set out on our first ride for St. Augustine. Now, six weeks and about 1600 miles since then, we’ve crossed through 5 more states and are plowing toward the New Mexico state line.

Each day we cover anywhere from 60 to 100 miles. We have a 120 mile day coming up in a week, as we leave Santa Fe. The daily wear and tear of biking and the lack of sufficient sleep is beginning to take a toll, as knees, muscles, and scrapes aren’t healing as completely as they did at the start. We have a break from the bike at most two days a week, which is spent building or on a rare day off. But for the weariness and the long rides, I’ve loved watching America’s landscape redden and expand as we move West.

Our team is 27 strong- we lost a few to injuries that proved early on how dangerous riding cross-country can be. I’m grateful to have ridden with this group of kids. I learn from them how to stay safe on the road and how to take care of myself. It will be a very different experience to be on my own in a few weeks, but I look forward to that with more confidence, realistic understanding, and determination than before.

For the gear enthusiasts, Hermes is well! A little squeaky after so many miles, so I’m giving him a full check up today at the bike shop across the street. He’s keeping up well with the aluminum Giant bikes, despite being well over 10 pounds heavier. We’re somewhat slower, but we make up for speed in our short breaks and stubbornness. We also have had 0 flats on the road, so the thick Continental tires are a worthy extra bit of friction. Our fellows on gatorskins have had 5 flats in a day, at times, and seem to blow through tubes, literally. I’m glad to have stuck true to Hermes- knowing his ideal sounds and feels is truly one of the most important ways of making sure my bike’s in good shape.

We have felt the magic of a stranger’s extraordinary generosity, the simple wonder of a hot shower, and the effect of a mattress on a good night’s sleep. And with every mile, the next seems both harder and more possible. I’m falling in love every day with the vagabond story. The ideas I had of adventure as a kid make sense in my newly adult world, and I can’t wait to find more.

Also, I’ve added Japan as the first next destination before the rest of Asia. I’ll be booking that flight soon, unless anyone knows someone sailing that way! Let me know if you’ve got a hookup!