by Julia Schlesinger, 2012 Cross-USA Rider
After a choking year at college, I find myself a freshman-in-recovery in Amherst, Massachusetts. The smells of not-home filter through me: my mom is not cooking cinnamon toast, I no longer breathe in the honey-roasted “Nuts for Nuts” street stands of New York City, my original home. Mornings now are a furious charge towards the double (so very suburban) doors of my apartment, and onto my Beloved – a snazzy, now-snowtired Bianchi, covered in Yiddish stickers, rust, and life experience. Chronically late, I load up my mule with love and desperation. Hastily shoved into my orange Camelbak: my uniform for my cafe job, a book whose weight will make my back scream in an hour, and lights for the return trip home through the uncushioned dark of the Pioneer Valley.
As most good things, the Hazon Cross-USA Ride took me by surprise. Hazon’s newsletters parked themselves, insistent, in my inbox, but I never opened one until “Grab Life By The Handlebars: Cross-USA Ride” proclaimed itself loudly across a subject line. The ride’s parabolic proposal: dipping your back wheel in the Pacific, and then christening the front in the Atlantic, is super sexy – but the distinguishing feature of the Hazon ride is not the bragging rights it will yield, but the opportunities to connect in between the two coasts.
From June to August, we’ll ride our modern-day camels through the perils of Western mountain ranges, the cleansing summer rains, and finally, the bustle of the Northeast. The group of Cross-USA riders will share our credo of sustainable transportation, environmentally sensitive food production, and tenderness toward the land. Maccabee-like, we’ll underdog-it down highways flooded with speedy, shiny cars. We’ll connect with communities – through service projects scattered along the way – with each other, and most urgently, with ourselves.
Riding my bike has made me feel more comfortably encased in my own body. Before I met my bike, this feeling of acceptance popped up most often in Jewish contexts – during a meditation retreat, or during lilting chants for peace at the close of Friday night services. Returning to Manhattan after finals week at college, and triumphantly getting to know, again, every inch of hospitable city soil, was as grand a homecoming as ever existed. And again, here in Amherst, a strange continuity: with my bike as liaison between my body and the new topography, I have come to feel at home. Smeared with dragons of chain grease, onlookers ask what (the heck) is tattooed on my legs. I wear my bike, literally, through my new streets.
Propelling yourself forward, by your own power alone – be it found in quadriceps or in an internal affirmation – is a satisfying but often elusive sensation, with just too many voices and variables in the mix. The cycle of comfort and discomfort, of panting and coasting, characterizes both an ambitious bike ride, and a well-lived life. “Practicing” in this small-scale way has sensitized me to the ubiquity of this pattern, equipping me for bigger challenges of all stripes. I feel emboldened to take on villains: poverty, environmental problems, and issues of social inequality. Thankfully, I found an experience for this summer that celebrates our collective capacities to help enact the dreams our bikes help us conjure.