A long time ago in a place far away, I decided to ride my bike down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. I was a newbie, green to the sport. I’d never heard of bike touring until some dude I had a crush on mentioned that he was into it. Wanting to prove that I could do anything a guy (who didn’t have a crush on me) could do, I started to do some research. I had a bike. I borrowed a trailer. I bought some maps, learned how to change a tire, and found a really cute jersey. I booked a flight to Seattle. Then I rode my bike. That was it. Yes, it took planning and navigating, and a bit of organization. But I was on my own, every turn was either right or wrong, and there was no one around me to be excited or disappointed by these moves. Solo. Self supported. There was no one ahead or behind me gauging my pace, my packing skills, or if I had a milkshake at lunch every day (I did). Someone along the road asked me "do you feel human again?" and I answered, "yes."
Sometimes it takes riding a bike to feel human again.
Ten years later I finished my second tour, in the San Juan Islands of Washington, this one quite different than the first in some ways. This was a group tour, instead of camping we poshed it up in B&Bs with real beds every night. I rode with panniers instead of a trailer, and this time instead of a laminated map, I had Google maps. But the essential qualities of bike touring remained. There was always a hill to go up or down. Strange mantras and single lyrics to songs I didn't quite know popped into my head. "Despactio, this is how we do it down in Puerto Rico" on repeat. I still amassed a mini library along the way. Books are obviously counterproductive to the goal of light and fast packing, yet there they are, accumulating in my bag. And I love them, so I carry them.
Here's a little story about my first friend in Missoula. It's relevant, promise. When Spencer and I first moved to town I was unpacking, missing all of my friends in Colorado, and feeling lonely and glum. I texted my friend Dan and said "I have NO friends here!" He texted right back and said "didn't you just move there four days ago?" He told me to treat the experience of living in a new town like the experience of showing up at college. In other words, be friendly. Be social, take risks. Ugh, I thought. That sounds like a lot of work.
In the process of putting our house together there were a few things that didn't really serve a purpose, so we listed them on Craigslist. This gal showed up to buy a kitchen cart we were selling and I thought huh, she seems cool - what did Dan say again? So, I sent her a follow up email asking if she wanted to hang out. Ha! I really did. And she said yes! And that's how I met one of my bestest friends.
As a job perk of working at Adventure Cycling Association (coincidentally, the organization that made the maps I used on that first bike tour), Cassie got to sign up for a group tour and take a friend. And she chose me! When she invited me on this San Juan Islands tour, I might have been almost as excited as when Spencer proposed.
The roads were amazing, it felt like traffic watched for and anticipated us. We rolled through deep, dark forests. We rode through small fishing villages, over bridges, out on an isthmus, around islands. We ate muffins and drank espresso to start, split pizza and wine to finish. In between there were so many views, so many miles of beauty.
The most challenging day of this ride was a long climb to the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. After the first hill, I thought to myself what do I have to prove? I should turn around. But just as quickly another thought popped up. It said you literally have nothing else to do today except to climb this sucker. And that was true. There was no reason to give up. And there were a lot of reasons to commit. The two biggest reasons popped into my head, the mantra said you are alive and you have legs.
Being alive. That is a gift.
Having legs. That is also a gift.
Those two statements are not lost on me. To be able to do one simple thing like this in a day is a privilege. So I rode my bike up that giant hill. I rode as slow as a human can ride a bike while staying upright. I passed people who smiled and said "you're so close," only to find out that "close" is a very relative term, especially to people driving cars. The road wound steeply up through the trees, through the moss and dirt and dense, dark woods. There were overlooks along the way, and beautiful sign near the top that announced the small, first summit. When I saw that sign, I started to cry. Because of a friend I missed, and because I knew I was close, and because many things that were too big to let go of were just gone like that.
And and the top, there was a pretty awesome reward. Yes, the view. And also, the reminder of what it means to be a human, again.
This climb was for CLM, who I think of and miss every single day.
There are so many places to get lost in Montana, and the many bumper stickers, t-shirts, and kitsch stamped with that slogan "Get LOST - Montana" is constantly there as a reminder. I love getting lost out here, it's my childhood dream come true. Except now, instead of building a fort and a fake fire with sticks for lunch, we have espresso in the morning and Spencer's pumpkin chili for dinner. I can hike for hours without seeing another human. Sometimes that's scary (not as much so now that I've started carrying bear spray), but mostly it's just sublime. Hanging out here in nature totally solo is a reminder that the world is huge, and still untouched in some places. And at this moment, the untouched places seem to be the best ones.
We were 100% checked out this weekend, meaning zero cell phone service or access to an internet connection. Disconnecting is always a double edged sword, it's tough because I want to be available if my family needs to call me, but also want to try and be less reliant on being plugged in. And what can happen in 48 hours that could be so horrible?
Coming out of two days lost in the woods and reading about what had happened in Charlottesville, VA - a group of ignorant, hateful people marching to spread their small, petty, horrid message in front of the rest of America. And then, the violence those people inflicted towards a crowd of people who bravely showed up that day to protest. To propel a message of love and human connection in a time of fear and division. There are no sides in this. There is one side, humanity, goodness, love, and acceptance. Acceptance isn't even the right word. Tolerance isn't either. Togetherness?
It would be so easy to get lost again. To walk back into the woods and ignore everything that feels awful. It would be easy to move four hours north to a place that doesn't have a racist running their country. But that's not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to speak out against this shit. When I was in 7th grade Jason Edwards would come up to me after school when I was at my locker and whisper "nazi" under his breath, you know what I did? I smiled at him. Isn't that crazy? I smiled because I was too scared to say anything brave. When he started yelling "nazi" out of the bus window, I still smiled. But I'm not smiling now. Not fucking smiling. I'm speaking. I wish there was more I could do. I'm sure there is, it's time to figure out how.
When Spencer proposed, I was so excited that I yelled out "Wow! I've never been engaged before!" He looked surprised and then relieved.
We were both really into having a long engagement, and didn't want to even think about wedding planning at first. We wanted to enjoy our time and stretch it out. So we totally stretched it...for almost two years. But a lot happened in the year and a half that followed. We sold all of our stuff, moved to Mexico, traveled around the country for a year, bought a house in Missoula while still living abroad, drove back to the States, yada yada, all that stuff. It was so much. So we just delayed until the time was right. Why rush it? Let's enjoy it, we thought.
From the start we both agreed on exactly what this wedding should be - a huge campout party with all of the people we loved most in the world, held at a very special place. This is the place...
My aunt Carmela and uncle Joe graciously offered to host us at their beautiful ranch that backs up to the Tonto National Forest in the desert outside Scottsdale, AZ. It's a truly special area where we both love to spend time hiking, biking, and riding around the area with them. The landscape stretches forever, the sunsets light up the earth like you're viewing it from another planet, and it's just a totally awesome place built and cared for by really wonderful people. We're lucky, and we say it out loud frequently.
We talked about how the whole thing would play out, where we'd set up the camping, the showers, the food, the coolers, games, all of it. When some one mentioned "what about the chance of rain?" Carmela and I looked at each other and smiled. "Nana wouldn't let that happen" we both said, then moved on to figuring out how to get the pizza truck down the driveway.
It was no surprise that Spencer and I came from two very different camps when it came to organization. My planning strategy involved sketching out a flow chart on a piece of paper and making sure there would be ice cream. Spencer's process included a 12 tab spreadsheet with minute by minute instructions for anyone who might be walking by and needed a task. I made so much fun of him for this. Like, I even showed his lists a bunch of my girlfriends so we could all laugh about how insane he was. My little groom-zilla. But then we showed up to put this whole thing together and I was no longer laughing.
Instead, I was frozen in the middle of Carmela's driveway memorizing all of the tasks that were listed out in such a perfect, logical order and I realized something very important. I made the right choice. Never had I been so sure of that. You need a visionary who can figure out how to make everything look pretty, absolutely. But when you're standing there totally zoned out trying to remember where those string lights are supposed to go? You really need a tactical, strategic person to come along with an insane to-do list and save you from early demise.
When my friend Andy showed up, he sent me a text that said "we're in the lot." That was the same text he would have sent me to meet up at a Phish show ten years ago. At that moment, the whole thing started to feel just right.
We hiked, ate, biked, ran around on perfect trails where the only people we saw were those we knew, played games, and talked to every single person. My dad told stories about being a pilot in the Marines and landing on air craft caries in complete darkness. My brother practiced the Lone Ranger theme song on guitar for the ceremony and flipped pancakes for breakfast. Dan double checked his officiant certification from the Universal Life Church and explained the significance of signing the Ketubah. My uncles ran out to grab more ice. I ran out to get more beer. M.E. persuaded almost every person to play board games. Spencer led mountain bike rides, Lindsay led a beautiful yoga class. Katherine motivated folks she'd never met before to go running in the mornings. I wanted to stay there forever, with these people.
True to form, Nana made sure the sun was shining.
After the ceremony, Spencer said that his face hurt from smiling so stupidly for such a long time. But he was still smiling when he said it. I was too. In the back of my head, I always wanted this wedding to be about a group of people, not just about me or Spencer. I know it's a celebration of love and marriage, but I knew it could be more than that. It could be a party, a reunion, a chance to connect with the colors of the desert, to remember that there isn't just one love in our lives, but so, so many loves. You know that heart full feeling that extends all the way up into your throat sometimes? That was it. Fully.
After drinks were filled, pizza was consumed, and people were relaxing around the pool, speeches started. We presented Dan with a medal of honor for his services as best officiant ever. He totally deserved it. Phil produced a series of incredible/embarrassing pictures that confirmed everything I'd imagined Spencer to be in high school. Hemp necklace, bandana, Chacos, and never one to admit he was lost on a trail. Again, reaffirming I'd picked the right guy. My brother got up and said that Spencer was one of the top three guys I'd ever dated. Michelle talked about a life less ordinary. Alexis pointed out in high school I'd written the name of every boy I dated on my wall with a start and end date, and she was glad that Spencer wouldn't have an expiration date. Rhonda sweetly talked about adventure and family, how we were joining together our two tribes. Then my parents got up and my dad started out with a nice dad speech. Then he started talking about Fiddler on the Roof, the story of Tevye and his daughters. "That's cute," I thought. But where was this going. And then. Oh my god. He and my mom started to sing the wedding song Sunrise, Sunset. He sang the first seven words"Is this the little girl I carried?" and I 100% completely lost it. Their voices were the same as when they would sing me to sleep 30 years ago. Ten minutes earlier I'd been up by the pizza truck wondering why I hadn't cried yet, and now I couldn't stop.
And then. Every single person joined in for the chorus. The stars were out, the sky was dark, we could see faces in the candlelight and they were all singing in unison. We were surrounded by song and more love than I can even describe.
Apparently, when we were out on a hike earlier in the day, my parents passed around these lyrics and explained the plan. They organized everyone to learn this song, and to sing it in tune at the right moment. I could not believe it.
It was a perfect finale to a perfect adventure. I thought I had planned out all the joy that we could experience that weekend, but family and friends topped those plans by a million. It was a reminder that we are all connected, we can trust each with open hearts. When we show up in this way, ready to enjoy ourselves, ready to connect "beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing" (as Rumi says), that is where the real magic happens.