Dear Bike Rally,
On Friday, the final day of the Bike Rally, I was thinking about this post. I’ve come to see that the Rally always has a thread that runs through the whole thing and connects it for me, and it puts that ride in context and gives me a way to write about it, or process the enormity of what it’s like to do this thing. The feelings the whole week of the rally are gigantic and I always feel a need to organize them, and so there I was, riding along, and casting about trying to give all the feelings a home. We were sweeping that last day, so it was quiet, and I had mostly stopped trying to fill up that quiet with chatter at Cameron (mostly) and had turned inward, to think it over.
Here is what I thought: This year’s ride was hard. Please don’t confuse that for one minute with unpleasant or awful, Bike Rally, you know I love you, but every year something changes, another element comes into focus, and something else shifts out of its way to let it exist. One year it rains a monsoon and the theme is triumph. One year I gather new and old hearts to me, and the theme becomes friendship. Another year everywhere I go I feel the sense of belonging and wonderful acceptance that is the Rally, and the theme reveals itself as community.
This time, I can admit that I was out of step – focused on things in my own life. I came into it worried, and I remained out of step the whole time. When I was ready to be alone, I was surrounded. When I wanted to be with others, I found myself lonely. When my sister texted, sick and upset, I wanted to get off my bike and be with her. When Joe called with a little family crisis, I wanted badly to be with him, rather than at (an admittedly fun) campsite. When I wanted laughter, some people around me were crying, and a few times, when I had given myself to tears, the happiness around me was hard to hear. I struggled to keep up when I rode with faster riders, I wanted to be like the wind when I found myself in the company of riders slower than I am. It rained. I was cold. It was hot. It was hard. This year’s magic was there, and I could feel it, even through all that, though it was quiet and complicated magic, and I couldn’t give it a name.
This year, the theme was not the incredible sense of community and warmth that surrounds everything on the Rally, although, oh… it was there in the faces of the people who sign up for it. It would take all day to recount the thousand kindnesses I saw you give each other. It wasn’t the sense of personal triumph over the difficulty of it all, though I cried like an idiot at the finish line as that swept over me again. It wasn’t the way I was able to embrace the gift of being able to look at everyone I love who does this thing and think again and again about the joy I take in knowing such incredibly decent human beings, and how lucky I am to call them my friends and family. This time it was something else that moved to the fore, though it was stealthy.
It was this: It is easy to take the personal joy from the Rally as your only reward. It is easy to let it make you feel strong and heroic, and it is easy to feel a sense of accomplishment when you climb off your bike at the end and hug that close to yourself. It is simple when you ride with your team, or when you sit in the evening and talk about your day. It is easy, and maybe seductive – to want to say “look what I did” and feel proud, and don’t get me wrong Rally, you should be proud. I am proud. The thing is a freakin’ epic, and that you got on your bike for it should make you so puffed up that people can hardly stand you – but it wasn’t the thing.
On the morning that we were in Kingston, someone who works for PWA came to talk to us. She told us about a typical day. She told us what’s accomplished in a day, what she does, what they all do, how they move from joy to heartbreak and task to task, and how they do that every, single, day – day after day. I was so moved, though it wasn’t until that last day, riding, or today, writing – that I’ve pulled together what it means that it was that moment that stayed with me.
Darling Bike Rally, this time, I struggled with generosity, though I am loathe to admit it. The Rally, while it is an amazing experience, doesn’t owe me squat. It doesn’t owe me happiness – it doesn’t owe me sunshine, or community or friendship, or a sense of personal pride… or any of the other things that I get every single time as a byproduct of what I agree to do. It is not an exchange. I will get something of value, I always do, but I am lucky if it is those things, not entitled to them, and I don’t get to complain when they aren’t served up to me on a silver platter, but when they are overshadowed by something bigger, something more meaningful, if harder to embrace.
The beauty of the Rally, the magic of all of it and what makes it so powerful, is that you don’t get to pick what is going to happen, or how it will feel. Like living with HIV/AIDS, like cancer, like parenting or friendship or rain, what happens, happens, what it dishes out, you eat up, and you don’t get to decide when it stops, or how it stops or what your day is like. You just have to keep going, even if your air mattress deflates every night until you toss it in the garbage in a fit of rage, even if you have to tell Pato that if he rides to the top of a hill at 30km an hour again you’re going to knock him off his damned bike because nobody likes a show-off, even if you stand in the rain and laugh uncontrollably because it’s better than crying, or even if it just so happens, that sometimes people need you to give them – more than you need them to give to you, even if it’s not how it feels at that moment. The only separation between the Rally and all those other hard things, is that the Rally is six days. Just six. No matter what happens, or how hard or wonderful, or challenging or surprising or rewarding it is, there’s just six days, and we are asked to meet that with our bigger selves.
This year, the Rally asked for generosity, asked all of us to be part of a bigger thing, to step up fundraising, to try harder, to give more… and to make those six days what they need to be, not for ourselves, but for PWA. Now that I see that, I’m more than okay. Together we raised more than a million dollars, and we did that with our amazing families and communities and knitters and that it only cost the sweat, flat tires and tears that it did? It’s another Bike Rally miracle, another gift, on top of all that I’ve gotten before. In the end, I remembered that it’s about that generosity, giving happiness, time, energy, money, patience, love, sweat, and about 70 inner tubes. It was swapping six days of my time to change things for someone who’s got a lot more than six days ahead of them, and I was humbled, or at least I hope I was.