I read the following at my church this morning.
In 2010, in the first few weeks of my cross-country bike ride, I heard a lot from westbound riders about the wind in Kansas. About half of them told me I sure was lucky to be riding east since I’d have a sweet tailwind across the Plains. The other half told me I was foolish to be riding east since I’d be heading right into the wind across the Plains. When I finally got to the Plains, the wind I actually encountered was strong, gusty, and out of the south. I was told it was always like that, and I was told it was very unusual, the result of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, or something like that. I realized pretty quickly that all I could really know about the wind was whatever it was doing right at that particular moment.
For my first several days in Kansas, I rode on one road that pointed exactly due east, straight and flat with absolutely no variation whatsoever. For the entire time I was on this road, the sidewind out of the south was my near-constant companion. I camped in tiny city parks and the wind made my rent flap noisily all night. I woke up very early in the morning, packing up my tent in the dark in order to get on the road before sunrise and try to beat the heat. I’d watch the sun rise ahead of me over whatever distant town I was riding towards that day. After several days of this, the road finally turned—south—directly into the wind.
I was about six weeks and a few thousand miles into my trip, and my boyfriend at the time, with whom I’d ridden from Oregon to Colorado, had gone home to start grad school. I was lonely and sad to leave behind not only my riding companion but also the breathtaking mountains and well-stocked bookstores of Colorado, and that plus the fierce wind made me think a lot about why the heck I was doing this ride at all. In the time I’d spent planning the trip, a few friends and family members had tried to convince me that the middle of the country would be boring and I should skip it, and as I rode across Kansas, tossed around by the wind, I kind of thought they might be right. But, the beautiful mountains of Colorado aside, some of my favorite memories of the trip are from the flat middle parts of the country. The homeowner who saw me stopped across the road to check my maps, who ran outside with a bottle of cold Gatorade for me. The woman who pulled me over to ask about my trip and offer me a place to stay at her house that night. The motorcycle-riding pastor who stopped while I was struggling with a flat tire and an inner tube that just didn’t want to stay inflated, who called his friend and congregant in the next town, who just so happened to have a bike tube that would fit my tire and actually drove to bring it to me in the middle of nowhere. The chain-smoking construction workers from Seattle, also riding their bikes across the country, who rode with me across Missouri and managed to sweet-talk their way into no-cost shelter for us three rainy nights in a row. The kind people who provided us with that shelter — a motel room once, a church sanctuary another time. The woman at a bed & breakfast who made me delicious vegetarian lentil burgers and sent me off with the recipe written on an index card. The little placard on her wall that said, “Don’t worry when you begin that you don’t have the strength. It is in the journey that God makes you strong.” The town in eastern Kansas where I watched from the back of a pick-up truck a fireworks show, rescheduled from the 4th of July to September, when I just so happened to be riding through.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these people and places over the past couple of weeks, because I think, with the possible exception of the construction workers from Seattle, they most likely voted a different way in this election than most of us here in Portland. It’s possible, also, that many of the people I met wouldn’t have been so kind to me had I not been a white woman traveling for the most part alone. But I can’t hate these people. The host of one of my favorite storytelling podcasts, Snap Judgment, said in his most recent episode, “you cannot simultaneously know someone’s story and hate them,” and I think that’s true. But to know someone’s story, you have to be in the right time and the right place to hear it.
I want to bring this back to the wind that I turned and faced in Kansas. The wind, unlike the mountain passes of Colorado, is not a thing you can get to the top of and ride down the other side. It just is, unpredictable and powerful, and the only thing you can do is lean into it and keep pedaling until you get where you’re going, or until the wind ceases or changes direction. It feels like the wind is blowing hard against us right now, and after eight years of a moderate tailwind, that is overwhelming. But the only thing to do is lean into it and keep telling our stories—shouting them above the wind, if we have to—and doing our best to hear those of others.