Dear Bike Rally,
I’ve started and deleted this post about 16 times. The problem isn’t that I don’t know what to say, but instead that I can’t seem to say it without reducing myself to tears within two sentences. I’m hoping that the Bike Rally didn’t actually break me, and that this is just some sort of bizarre state brought about by intensity and exhaustion.
Have I ever told you that the Bike Rally scares the snot out of me? I love it, but so many parts of it are frightening. The fundraising – well – let’s be honest. I am surrounded by knitters, arguably the best fundraisers in the world. There’s none that can compete with the way they give, and other than the fear that we won’t be able to raise what PWA needs, the money part is the only part that doesn’t leave me with a nervous tummy. (It does contribute to the crying though. Did you guys see what you did? There’s no words for that. Just no words. I’ll try again tomorrow to thank everyone for that, because short of posting a video of me snivelling at my desk, I’m just not going to be able to do it. Let me get through one emotional thing at a time.) Aside from that part, there’s nothing I’m comfortable with. I am afraid to be alone, I am afraid to be with strangers, I am afraid I will fall off my bike or get hurt, I’m afraid someone else will get hurt, I’m afraid… well. You get the drift. The Bike Rally pushes all my buttons, and this year, it was worse.
I guess I didn’t talk about it much, because I didn’t want to make any of it real. I didn’t want to acknowledge the things I was really worried about, because I thought it would either be a lousy thing to be caught thinking, or because I’ve really always believed that you get more of what you pay attention to, and I didn’t want to create anything lousy – to bring the things I was afraid of into being by thinking about them too much. I can tell you now though, because it’s over, and I lived.
I joined the Steering Committee for the Rally this year. It was a lot of work, and I loved it, and I loved the people I got to work with, and it brought people into my life that I wouldn’t have ever met otherwise. It was good work – and it felt valuable, and important, and… risky. The Bike Rally makes its own magic every year. Something happens, everyone comes together, and the thing is greater than the sum of its parts, and you spend the week boggling that such a thing could exist in the world. I was worried, very deeply worried, actually, about spoiling that. I worried that the work I was doing would be like seeing the man behind the curtain, finding out how an illusion actually works, or giving into the urge to unwrap a present while your parents aren’t looking and ruining your own birthday. I comforted myself by thinking that there was sure to be joy in making the magic for everyone else, even if it couldn’t happen for me this year, but I was still afraid that the loss of the magic wouldn’t be enough to get me through the hard parts.
Then, Jen had to withdraw. That was the second thing. I didn’t want to say much, because I knew that she already felt like complete crap about it, and I didn’t want to make her feel any worse. She was right to do what she did, and I knew that, but in the smaller, darker corners of my heart I felt a little abandoned, and scared about being alone, and between that and the Steering Committee, by the time it was departure day, I was already pretty upset. I said brave things. I reassured lots of people. I did my best to look like someone who was brushing it off, soldiering on and being good with change. I wasn’t actually doing any of those things.
Carlos and Luis drove me over in the morning (Joe had gone to Edmonton for work) and it was a good distraction. Luis helped us all pump our tires, and my sister came down, and we took photos all together and I signed in and we got all organized, and I went to the bathroom for the sixty-ninth time (I have a nervous bladder) and it was almost time to go, and it was rally time, but there was no Rally Magic, and then something happened. I looked up, and Jen was there. She’d texted saying she was coming, and then just “Have a great ride” which was totally her saying that she couldn’t face it, and I knew that and had already forgiven her, and then there she was. She was dressed in cycling gear, and she was crying, and then I was too – and then we hugged and said we were sorry. I don’t even know for what, because we’re both just doing what we had to do, but we were sorry anyway, and it was the way things are with friends, when things are right… you know? It was time to go a few minutes later, and the whole Rally got on their bikes and started to ring their bells and Jen hopped on her bike and rode with us as far as she could, then peeled off and was gone, and suddenly, something shifted.
Every year, the Rally has a theme. Not officially, but it’s something I always discover. I never know what it is until I’m there, but at some point I always see it. Last year it was challenge. Rising above great difficulty, being stronger than I thought I could be. In a previous year it was generosity – I was asked to give more of myself than I expected, and meet more people with kindness and patience than I am usually good at. This year, as I hugged Jen, and then she left, and the Rally started to fall in around me, it was revealed. This year the theme was friendship, in all its exquisite forms, and with all its edges and soft places, and that profound force worked its way into every moment of the Rally, and the magic arrived.
I don’t know why I had thought for a minute that I would be alone.
There is an intimacy that happens on the Rally, and it happens right away. There is no way that this many people, all moving toward a common goal, all hurting for the same thing, all in the same place, eating together, riding together, putting up tents together – can avoid feeling a togetherness that’s remarkable. You become each others world very quickly, you’re the only people who really understand what’s happening, and friendship is the thing that makes it so – and friendship in all its forms. The sort that springs up when you brush your teeth with someone you just met, together at 6am, all squeezed into spandex and about to do something epic. Another sort thrives as you see old friends revealed in new ways or discover new depths and build on a friendship you thought was at its fullness.
I know this sounds ridiculous. I know it does. It sounds trite and saccharine, and like maybe I spent a little too much time in the sun – and maybe it is, and maybe I did, but I can tell you that everything I was afraid of was exactly wrong. Everything. Seeing the man behind the curtain didn’t ruin the magic, it made it more magic. As I watched the Steering Committee and the Team Leads do what it takes to make this thing work behind the scenes, nothing was spoiled. If anything, it made it more magic. The concern, the caring, the steps taken to make sure that the threads of friendship grew through the whole Rally, the selfless efforts to make a travelling town work the way it did – problems being quietly solved, love extending to people who were overextended – generous offers of help to each other- knowing that those people weren’t just doing the ride, which is bloody hard enough, but that they were using any energy left over to make it easier for others? I’m ashamed I didn’t have enough words to tell them how they made me feel.
Past it all, past the deeply personal friendships, past the friendships driven of respect for the people who choose to be part of building this, past the friendships growing out of shared time, was the real miracle.
The last night, we stayed up late, as a team, and the night grew around us, and the rest of the rally started to quiet down. The conversation turned slowly toward how we’d all found ourselves here. What had motivated these people to do this much work for PWA. Gently, the stories were told. There were stories of fear, of pride, of love, of terrible loss. There were stories of joining up on a fancy, and getting so much more out than they had put in that now, there was no way to stop, no way to imagine a summer without the Rally. It was a kind of friendship that was a gift. Not to any one person, or bound to any one relationship, but something extended to ones community and world, saying that we’ll build a better thing together, for each other.
I cried in the tent a little that night. I cried every time someone wasn’t looking the whole rally, actually – and that’s not like me at all. I’m not a hard-hearted person, but I am deeply practical, and horrifically sensible, and crying on my bike because the world is such a beautiful place isn’t something I have a lot of experience with, but there I was.
I got up the next morning, and I looked around at my team. Not just the one I was camping with, but all the riders, all the crew, the Steering Committee, PWA and I was so overwhelmed that I had to go back in my tent. I got a grip on myself, and went out and we all packed up our tents for the last time, and got on our bikes for the last day, and we started the last leg of the epic. That whole day I had no words. That whole day I laughed, and tried not to cry and finally just after we arrived in Montreal, I found what I wanted to say.
I looked at Ken, who’s been doing this just forever, and is the whole reason that our family is in this deep. I looked at Pato, only 23 years old, and this is what he’s done with his summers since he was 17. I looked at the people I know who cycled to Montreal with big burdens that only friendship revealed, and people who were doing it for the very first time, and looked so stunned by what they’d achieved that I laughed out loud, and then I found the words.
I’m so proud of you.
That’s what it was the whole time. Jen, Ken, the Rally, the fundraising, the cycling, the rain, the heat, the personal obstacles, the tremendous efforts, the patience, the hard work, the meetings, the deep breaths, the speadsheets, the tears, the accidents, the laughing, the everything. Bike Rally, I’m just so proud of you.
(PS. I signed up for next year you jerks. I just can’t quit you.)