Day 30: I Have Snacks for 4; I Just Need 3 More People 

Thus spake Young William in the kitchen on our last morning at Sally’s (nothing gold can stay). I was intrigued (as well as sensitive to the plight of needing riding partners), so I invited him to join Kayla, RTK, and myself. I had a minimal breakfast to try and dig myself out of the leaden stomach I had burdened myself with over the weekend: just eggs and berries and burnt bacon. 
Outside, Jack surmised that pocket pudding would be the worst ride snack: he didn’t like pudding anyway, and then to have it warmed up by the sun and your own sweat…

The ride started in fairly crowded traffic, with us even getting stuck in a morning traffic jam. Younbul dispensed some of the New York Times 36 questions to make anyone fall in love with you. If they could invite anyone to a dinner date, Kayla would have Obama; Younbul, Freddy Mercury; and RTK, Kayla. 

The ride segued into a ritzy neighborhood that had painted bicycles on the roads and put up signs that said bike route. It reminded me of LA’s Hancock Park, but that’s probably only because I’m trying to distance myself from more obvious choices for fancy reference neighborhoods from earlier in my life. 

We pulled over into an elementary school’s yard for Younbul’s fabled snacks. He took out a bag, handed us spoons, and pulled out… A four pack of pudding! I ate a vanilla. Later, we stopped for ice and bathrooms at Waffle House and split a chocolate chip waffle. 

We passed through a cute town and lost RTK to the redhead crew, who were going out for lunch. “I just wanted fries,” she explained when pressured at first lunch as to how anyone could skip communal lunch on the day with Sally’s leftovers and parting food gifts. The three of us continued onto first lunch instead, where I combined spinach, cold brisket, pasta salad, and BBQ sauce in a bowl in a move Rob called much too refined, pointing to Jack’s hotdog bun of brisket and chips as the truer Bike & Build lunch. 

Younbul set off alone, leaving Kayla and I to do some of the tougher miles I’ve biked. The road was flat but busy, and the heat and my paranoid nerves that maybe I was responsible for losing half my ride group and Kayla only stuck with me out of obligation all conspired to slow me down. I begged Kayla to take the lead. When she did I was relieved that it was easier to match a faster pace than to keep going when I set a slower one. Feeling watched had made me uncomfortable, which made me slow. Invisible in the back, pedaling was mentally easier. 

The day got progressively hotter, and chip seal made a villainous return. Kayla was tired and quiet, and seemed to turn into a cycling robot, with no need for breaks. I asserted my strategy for staying alive and in the game: taking a lot of breaks to stand still and pant. I just wish it hadn’t only been me needing and asking for them. 

Lunch 2 was a sad affair. Kayla and I were the only ones there and Rob and Hilary didn’t even come out from the van to greet us. Luckily some more people showed up so I discovered that a) we weren’t in the back, just a lonely middle and b) it wasn’t only my body that was struggling to push through 90 degrees. Also, I had scratched a bug bite and gotten a long, thin trickle of blood down my leg as a result, and was hoping to freak some people out at lunch with it for fun. I had been disappointed that this plan seemed doomed by our empty lunch, so getting to see people’s reactions after all was a sweet surprise. I would say perhaps I should get a hobby, but I’ve taken up cycling and it hasn’t seemed to make a difference. 
I finished out the day with my butt in so much chafe pain that my face started to hurt as well from all my grimacing. I put on probably 4 applications of chamois butter throughout the day. We rolled into the church around 6:20. I surprised myself by really getting into a bowl of hot soup that was basically heated up cream, but I guess it’s a mental thing to get to choose heat rather than have heat thrust upon you. 

Town hall meeting did its best to turn our lives into bootcamp, with a stricter, more regimented morning schedule being agreed to. You can timetable things all you want; I still don’t own a watch. I only got to shower the salt off after the meeting’s close, then put myself to sleep next to a basketball hoop in the inexplicably carpeted gym. Amazingly, my dried blood trickle had left a tan line, while my jersey farmer’s tan had been erased by one long day with rolled up sleeves. 



Day 29: Who Shot B&B?

Back at it again with the yard work. Sarah J and I took the red mustang for a spin down the block to the other worksite because there is no Walking Culture in Dallas. She and I touched up Patricia’s shutters with white paint, which is harder than you’d think thanks to the crevices of all the washboardy parts of the shutter and if you cannot see the top part of the shutter because you are an average-heighted American woman. 

After lunch (spinach wrap again holllllaaaaaaaaa at me, vitamins K, A [in the form of carotenoids], B2, B6, E,and C), returned to the yard I was at the day before because I was such an essential worker then they needed me back to do a bit more watching people do things. This is called being in the managerial class, and it is at a higher pay level and requires more advanced degrees. 

Then it was to the bike shop to get my bike fit. For the first time. When I told Jack I wanted to go to get my bike fit, he said, “oh, you want it refit?” No, I corrected him. Fit at all. He gave me a look as angry as if I had just said I had been on my stock fit, which I essentially was, since I was riding on the fit my bike had out of the box. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “I hope that sorry was to you,” he replied. At the shop, one guy checked out my bike and told me my rear derailleur was broken, preventing me from smoothly getting into my easiest two gears. I knew that I couldn’t get into those, but I’m happy to have a reason. He said he could try to snap it into place, but it might break and they didn’t have my brand int he shop. I was willing to take the chance, but he wasn’t. I don’t need those gears for now anyway, I guess.

A guy named Kevin fit my bike for free because he was “bored and had nothing to do.” Kevin is pretty much the only 26 year old in Plano, and at his lowest point he just played video games all day. Now he is trying to become the fastest sprint cyclist in Texas. He said he goes super fast for a few hundred meters and then sits for ten minutes. I have been training and have gotten my sitting time up to ten minutes so I am halfway to being the best cyclist in Texas too. Kevin made changes to my bike like moving the seat in some direction, bumping in my handlebars so they look like I fell on my bike on both sides, and selling me a shorter stem. He told me that I should have gotten a smaller sized bike, but I went to a Giant dealer in LA and tried on the bikes with a guy, so that’s on that guy. An unexpected benefit of this trip has been the chance to hear men try to figure out how to refer to female genitalia in a professional and athletic manner. While one person just straight up said, “is your bike seat hurting your clitoral area?” I have more often heard references to “soft tissue” and “sensitive tissue.” I might bring these terms into the bedroom. I also bought a new pair of high, turquoise socks, replaced my long-lost water bottle with a better one than the starter water bottle I had bought at WalMart, and got a pair of gel gloves. Kevin said he liked minimal gloves, but perhaps Kevin does not ride on chip top. 

Back at Sally’s, she had gotten us a pizza truck so we could order individual pizzas, and people had turned on the Bachelorette. A line I heard from the show was, “don’t poke the Chad bear,” Chad being a contestant for Jojo’s heart, and I have really taken to this expression. I am aware that it has no lasting power, in a broader cultural sense so it is and will remain something I really just say to myself, in my head or out. It had been so long that I forgot to go to bed early, but in the end I hunkered down for one last night in my Amish quilt sandwich next to Meegan and Youn Buhl in the front room.


Day 28: I’m On A Boat And

We rolled out relatively late for our first build day in the Dallas metropolitan region. (I told Jessica that all I had seen of Dallas was its suburbs and freeways and she said that’s all Dallas is, so perhaps I saw the city?) Melissa loaded some of us into the Excursion (like an Escalade) and its diesel engine and we drove the half hour to the other suburb our work was needed in. Apparently the Muhls usually like to have a house ready for B&B to frame, but this year the inspector was slowing things down, so Sally asked a local church that was having a rebuild weekend for any leftover jobs. And that’s how we ended up doing yard work for several elderly people who live alone. The day was laughably short, especially compared to our first build day’s relentless hard work, but maybe that’s because I didn’t volunteer myself for anything too taxing, as is my custom. I am not your point person for manual labor, or if I am, you should revise that. I pulled up weeds, raked on mulch where weeds used to be, and walked around half helping different groups. In the middle of our 9-2 day, we had a lunch break of sandwiches in their own boxes. I got a vegetarian sandwich that was almost straight spinach, with avocado and some other cool stuff thrown in there. So exciting to eat a hunk of spinach, even more exciting to have it come with avocado. 

Then it was time for an actual party boat, which, for the uninitiated and/or unwilling to parse what those words in proximity means, it’s a party on a boat. A company supplies the boat and you BYOP(arty [also alcohol]). A highlight was watching the teams of Rob and David and Jack and Kevin take turns shuffling awkwardly to carry the heavy cooler of alcohol down the dock. I walked immediately behind it for the entire way. I do not have television access very often. 

As one might expect, the boat was named, “Little Toot.” It also came with a first mate/not sure what he did who looked 14 but at least said he was 19 (and said people did indeed ask him that all the time). We bumped the jams including such classics and Yeah! by the year 2004 and Tipsy. I drank some but I had eaten so much of our dinner fajitas and also hadn’t fully stopped eating in two days so it didn’t matter how much drank I tossed back in there, it was gonna hit a soft landing of endless food to absorb it all. But I like to get proximity drunk, that is, stoop to acting the level of intoxication of those around me, and my group did not disappoint! People were beautiful messes, dancing and posing all Titanic-like at the front of the boat. But, as in the song Remix to Ignition, the real party was the afterparty, and by the afterparty I mean the van ride back and the pool and hot tub at Sally’s. If you would like to know what went down, take 29 20-somethings and for a month, deprive them of sleep, expose them to extreme heat, have them exercise for the majority of each day, keep them in close proximity for 24 out of 24 hours a day, then give them some alcohol. It’s good science, because it’s a controlled, repeatable experiment. Just make sure to run it by your university’s research ethics board first.


Day 27: Welcome to Sallywood

Woke up still shaken from how wiped I had been the day before, plus my right forearm felt inflamed and unwilling to play gel in the bottom of a running shoe anymore, so I got myself into that van. Not an especially compelling story to tell about the ride, but it was the one day I planned to get in the van far enough in advance to choose what I brought with me into the van. I chose my laptop so I could write blog posts because I prioritize taking care of y’all.

What I heard from people at lunch made me confident in my decision. The chipseal hadn’t let up, and it was a rough day. I love being validated in my choices, because I hate making any.

I had heard rumors of a legendarily great host somewhere on the SUS route, but I didn’t know who or where they were. It turns out they were Sally, and they were located right outside of Dallas, in Sunnyvale. So ready or not, we were headed to the Hellmouth, and the biggest blowout host “weekend” of the whole Bike & Build organization, on any route. It was just funny that while most people rolled up to paradise after biking through hell, I just stepped out of a car.

Sally Muhl volunteers as a Habitat coordinator, so a SUS group eight years ago contacted her about a build day, their host fell through, she volunteered to have them at her place, and the rest is history. Apparently there is something so rewarding about having a bunch of smelly 20-somethings with drastically lowered alcohol tolerance blunder around your house as they try to condense a summer’s worth of weekends into two build days that is fun enough to do it every year. (PSA: Host Bike & Build trips! We’re so great.) But Sally doesn’t just host. She hosts a party. As each person walked in, she greeted us with, “would you like a milkshake?” And every surface of her house, whether inside, outside, on table or in a cooler on the ground, was covered in food and alcohol. Buckets of candy, mini brownies topped with frosting and a pecan each, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, saltines smothered in a homemade seasoning blend, her sister’s secret recipe chicken salad (so secret that she wouldn’t give it to Sally, but Sally sent it to a food lab who recreated the spice blend and which some of our group is going to order), cucumbers, carrots, savory dip, sweet dip, hummus, and outside, coolers of local Dallas beer, cider, Mike’s Hard, bottled water, and gatorade. Also there to greet us was Jeffery, who works with Sally at an aviation company but was a deep tissue masseuse in a past professional life, and he gets out the ouija board when Bike & Builders come to town. “Put your name down for a massage” has to be one of the sweetest sentences in the English language. We were each allotted ten minutes to roll out some of our many (muscular) kinks, but we got to talking (or rather, I got to asking and he got to answering) about what it was like to be black and in the yoga community and the south, and the end of my session he told me it had crept up to fifteen. (People in the yoga world are nice; perhaps some are nice because they want a black friend and/or “diversity;” growing up, his family moved from an all-black neighborhood to one with only four black families and he learned to use his size to put people in their place when they gave him a hard time). He said that it’s not necessarily my IT Band hurting, as pressure points can trigger pain in far off places in the body, and that when he massages people he can tell where their pain is because of the way they clench up.

After that exquisite pain, it was into the pool and the beer cooler. Then dinner, a masterpiece of Texan barbecue: ribs, brisket, pulled pork, coleslaw, Asian slaw, roast potatoes, and asparagus. I wasn’t hungry going into that meal, but I powered through because I have m We stayed up late, up to no good in the backyard. I made myself a bed of three layered Amish quilts under me and one on top of me in the front room.


Day 26: The Roads in Hell (and Texas) are Paved in Chiptop

I woke up to my private alarm at 4:59, snuck out of my possibly contraband room and got my bag out to the trailer first, in part because of the minute’s head start and in part because I had no sleeping bag to put away. Over a breakfast of individually sized boxes of cereal (overheard in the kitchen: “every time I eat one of these I get depressed that this is the actual serving size for a bowl of cereal.” “Wait, what?! This??”) and blueberry muffins, I overheard rumors of a hilly day. A 93 mile hilly day. I walked over to a hidden part of the yard and cried for a few moments over this news. Then I went to go find Jack to ask him to ride with me because on a day like that, I wanted someone who was getting paid and had a contract to hang in there with me and be supportive– none of this relying on the goodness of others crap. He was already riding with Kevin, so that was to be my fate as well.

There are a few things that I never thought about before Bike & Build that now can make or break my day. One is the presence or absence of padded conference room chairs in churches. Another is the direction and strength of the wind. A third is the last few degrees between 85 and 90– I can tell the difference once the thermometer’s mecury hits a new ten’s place, as can my body. 

But what has surprised me the most as far as going from never giving it a moment’s notice to slowly realizing it would be the defining factor of my life every day is road material and quality. I don’t drive, so I don’t come into contact with roads even with the buffering of a heavy car and its tires. I have, oddly and wonkily enough, thought about pavement extensively– mostly how there should be less of it covering up the earth’s surface, for drainage and less habitat destruction and fewer heat islands and just making the world a less weird, ugly, fake place. But being on a thin road bike for the majority of the day on major roads means I feel the road all day everyday, more than I feel anything else. I feel weird wishing desperately for brand new asphalt on each road I bike down after my last few years pointing out permeable pavers and looking to groups like Portland’s Depave as an inspiration. But I figure that the carbon non-emissions from biking makes laying down fresh pavement for a bike lane more than worth the trade off of smothering the earth in tar, especially if cars were given a lane of permeable pavers and bikes were given just the thin ribbon of asphalt we need.

On this day, I started out believing that the road was simply uncomfortable. Just over the line of the shoulder, the real road looked okay, but it might as well have been in another dimension for how far it was from us. “Jack, I can see it, look how smooth the road is just over the line. Please, Jack, can we go?” (We could not.) But soon it became apparent that something more sinister than the usual bad roads (see: all roads in Louisiana) was going on. We were getting shaken as heavily as if we were biking on pure gravel (Whenever I do this, I like to shout to myself, ‘mountain biking!’ I would also recommend the experience of biking on cobblestones, if only for comparison purposes forever after). Going up hills was harder than usual since the ground was creating so much drag, pulling me back and creating a technically longer ride, the way the coastline of Maine is the longest of any state because of all its crags. My forearm bones began to throb as they absorbed the shock of constant jostling. Kevin pointed out that the bumpiness meant you could watch Jack’s butt jiggle if you rode behind him, so I tried distracting myself with that for a while. It worked okay I guess. 

The hills kept coming, Kevin and Jack would wait for me, and I would catch up and rejoin them (I will point out that this means that they were taking breaks, while I was not). Sometimes we stuck together, and we talked about Jack’s first kiss, how we deal with stress, and Kevin and Jack continued their habit of mostly communicating with competitive barbs about points they’ve scored on each other in basketball games long ago, calves, and Cavs (Kevin’s and Cleveland’s, respectively). I rode along, stuck in the middle as their trash talk flew around me. I felt good until mile 50ish, at which point I found myself running on steam and mental perserverance rather than calories or muscle power.

Lunch was at an alum’s parents’ house. I enjoyed the rice, beans, and fresh squash immensely, but my body felt like a Big Agnes inflatable sleeping pad after the end of a night with a slow leak. Jack asked me if I wanted go soon, then promptly passed out for a while, so my rest lasted a bit longer. 

But something else came from lunch: we found out that that thing on the roads had a name: chiptop. Alias: chip seal. Essentially, the WORST TSA ever pours on a layer of adhesive, then dumps a bunch of rocks on it. Then they wait for cars and trucks to run over it enough times to wear it away to something manageable and sort of resembling a real road. While this happens, it’s loud and bumpy, even in a car. But no one rides on the shoulder, so that part just remains Rock City by Tyga.

We had to go at some point, and some point came. But I had left it all on the court and had nothing left for the afternoon court. I was beat and there was no way I was biking another 40-something miles; each tiny hill felt impossible, as did any distance I couldn’t coast for. Feeling defeated, I called the van, then my mom. She said I shouldn’t compare myself to the other people on the trip (I countered that I was comparing myself to our schedule, and yes, everyone else could do it) because what I had done in signing up for this trip was akin to if I had never skied, then saw that the Olympic ski team was leaving on a ski trip soon, thought, “hey, that fits in my schedule, why don’t I join?” and gone off to ski with them. She told me everyone here is an experienced bicyclist, I countered that she didn’t know anyone here; she said she knew everyone (she doesn’t). But either way, I peed in someone’s side yard three times, uncovered YounBul’s handwritten list of questions to make anyone fall in love with you on the backside of his cue sheet and thus accidentally sabotaged his interview of Rob, and got in the van where Sarah and Roy were playing A Tribe Called Red. Then I ate a not very good fudge pop tart and felt bad about not being able to push out the second half of the day despite really wanting it.

Our host was nominally a church in Athens, TX but after eating about four cups of hydrogenated oil each (takeout from Chicken Express, which was eerie because I had just asked Jack that morning where fried chicken was a thing because we hadn’t been served it yet and weren’t we in the south?), we were splitting up and going to host families. This was an old, familiar feeling for me from study abroad, back again five years later. Maddy and I went home with a young couple and their seven months old baby, and enjoyed  a real shower, the most comfortable bed in the world, and a breakfast casserole of eggs, cheese, sausage, and tater tots, as well as berries and mango on the side.


Day 25: All My Conversations About My Riding Buddy’s Exes Live In Texas

Since today was a short day of 44 miles, we got to sleep in until 5:30. I pushed it for five more minutes, which resulted in me getting my bag out to the trailer at 6:01, one minute past the deadline. My punishment, along with Kevin (6:02), Maddy (6:05), Jenna (?), and Luke (?) was to clean the trailer that evening. But whatever, who wants unscheduled time anyway?

I rode with Roy, who gives off such kind vibes that he gets told he’s nice even when he’s making a concerted effort to not talk. He’s apprehensive that being seen as so nice makes him appear weak, so whoever is giving people/American men the message that kindness = weakness, stop it, you’re ruining the youth. own. Kayla and David’s sweepstakes for the day was to best tell the first kiss story of your riding partners, so our conversation started there and continued in that direction. You can assume which destination we arrived at.

We got to talk for most of the ride because the day’s route took us down country roads of cows, horses, MINI HORSES (we took a play with horses break only a few minutes before a play with mini horses break. Meegan: “I thought yesterday was the best day of my life because of the puppies, but today is!”), opportunities for mountain biking aka bumpy AF roads, a little trailer park bend in the roads with dogs, glaring people, and an immersive visual crash course in socioeconomic diversity, and THE TEXAS STATE LINE!!! Unmarked except for chalk lovingly drawn by Nick and Hilary, whose Garmin’s GPS alerted them to the momentous occasion. “Howdy, y’all! Welcome to Texas,” they wrote, with a line pointing out each state’s side of the back road. Texas roads got off to an improved start over Louisiana’s, and the scenery did not disappoint. 

At lunch, I made myself an In n Out style protein style veggie burger and went to the bathroom next to an abandoned television in the woods as Roy played football. Then we returned to the open farm to market road, until Roy spotted a bigfoot cutout and we u-turned to go into a yard whose gate told us it was “ma and pawpaw’s home.” “Excuse me, can we take a photo with your bigfoot?” Roy asked, and the man who must have been Pawpaw opened the hydraulic gate for us. Roy got his photos, and we chatted with the small but extended family assembled under the shaded tent, surrounded by enough smokers to barbecue an entire herd at once. They asked who we were staying with in Carthage (our destination) and one woman recognized the name, telling us the man was an attorney and the woman was chatty. We didn’t catch her name, however, so we couldn’t show up and tell our hosts we knew their friend, or their acquaintance. 

We rode into town, only to be flagged down by a frantic, serious Nick. It turned out he and Hilary had decided their first meal in the new state was going to be barbecue, and now that they— a native North Carolinian and an adopted Alabaman- had experienced the best barbecue of each of their lives right in Comer’s BBQ and Catfish of Carthage, Texas, they were determined to not let anyone in their wake miss it. Roy and I joined their booth and split a chopped beef sandwich with a sweet barbecue sauce on either bun. They had clued us in that the place had given them free dessert, and sure enough when a waitress came to inquire if we wanted anything else, Roy slyly said he’d love to but wasn’t sure how his pocketbook was doing, just to smooth her immediate reassurance that it was on the house. He got coconut cream pie and I took Nick’s advice and got peach cobbler, the breaded parts of which I was promised, “were the most perfect consistency, as good as [his] grandma’s.” Now grandma of mine has ever cobbled a shoe, much less a stone fruit, so I’m taking his word for it. Regardless, it was damn good. 

The next stop on my and Roy’s quest to extend our 44 mile day was Goodwill. We tried on hats and Texan shirts, and left with a hat each, Roy with an NRA baseball cap and me with the Carthage, TX TSA came one he had originally picked up but deferred to me when he found his soulmate in a wearable declaration of his love to concealed carry. 

The host for the night came soon enough, after a few rolling hills lined by lawns and spread out homes. Roy commented that everything felt bigger here already, though the town was small. We were staying in a private home for a change, which turned out tone tucked behind trees off the main road. It was a Spanish-style villa belonging to the parents of a woman who had done the original SUS route in 2006 and now lived in Santa Monica doing special effects. While the “chatty” mom we were promised was away, the “attorney” dad was around, as was his sister, a retired teacher and current reporter and her friend. I was aware that something was up when I saw a Prius in the driveway, but a closer inspection reveled an “Obamacare: it’s here, and it works” sticker. Our host turned out to be that rare breed: a Texan democrat, one whose beliefs lined up with Bernie Sanders’ no less. He said he didn’t face much discrimination about it, but when I asked if he thought that was because he didn’t actually need or use the liberal policies he supported, and would perhaps a say, queer, black woman on SNAP receive a bit more harassment for actually embodying the cause in a way a middle-aged white, male, married attorney did not, he agreed yes, absolutely. 

Because this is my Summer of Beer (I do not usually drink beer because it is a lot of carbs and minimal alcohol, and if I’m going to do that I’d rather just eat a piece of bread soaked in vodka, but this summer I’m being a jock, so it seems appropriate), I cracked open a Shiner Bock (from Texas!), which rapidly began to tire me out. Then I and the other late bag perps cleaned and reorganized the van, which wasn’t so bad, especially because it had been an early day getting in. 

Dinner was homemade barbecue, deer sausage, potato and egg salad, and coleslaw. I then began plotting my sleeping arrangements. I had found a bedroom that seemed a bit foreboding aka filled with stuff, but I was sure that if I moved the things off the bed I could sleep quite happily on it, or at least, sleep on it. But since no one had joined me there, I wasn’t sure if that meant we weren’t supposed to be there, or if everyone else had just been making assumptions along the lines of, “one must always wait in line at Cafe Du Monde.” So I slipped in and out of the room, going to bed there but waking up more than any other night this summer, perhaps from the two partial beers I had, or perhaps from guilt and anxiety of sleeping where I maybe didn’t belong. I had dreams playing out different scenarios of the morning, with people praising my finding a secret bed and yelling at me for being disrespectful to the host, that I had left a jar of strawberry Nutella open, attracting ants, and that I was at a store where they sold hydraulic bags but they didn’t quite have the type I wanted. Also, someone had posted up right outside the door to “my” (judging by the musical theater posters, a former teenage girl’s) room, so each bathroom trip was fraught with the possibility of inadvertent skull crushing. 



Day 24: you think you got what it has?

Today’s title comes courtesy of Young Bouhhl, who said it at our breakfast of grits and New Orleans-style pork at a church from the 1800s down the road, in an attempt to ask if we had what it takes. 

I rode with Christina, Sarah W, and Alessandra. Riding felt weirdly hard, harder than it should have. My thighs burned with the fire of 1000 miles. Christina stayed with me as I rode like a slug dosed up with tranquilizers. We checked my bike, and my rear brake pad was rubbing on my wheel a bit, creating drag. 

We came upon an old school bus painted like an alligator with a bunch of Bike & Builders around it, playing with puppies. Turned out when they had gone to check out the bus, the litter had come out and started playing with the bikers. As the first group got on their bikes to ride away, five of the pups bounded off behind them. One, however, was too immersed in play to realize they had just been abandoned. We panicked and strategized (we is a loose term, I didn’t have strong feelings and kinda figured the puppies might live with some people nearby or would sort things out themselves, Boxcar children style), deciding that it would be easier to reunite one puppy with five than to bring five back to the one. Luke picked up the remaining dog (he had been holding it anyway, with a chant of “babies like to burp, burp, burp,” as he burped the dog’s non-burpy stomach) and whisked it away on his bicycle. 

I got back to biking, leaving with Alessandra because we were ready to be done with the puppy fiasco sooner than the others, who were calling animal control even as they debated if a rural, southern town would have a no kill shelter. We rejoined with Sarah and Christina after a while, splitting and reforming as needed (mostly by yours slowly and truly). Unshockingly, it started to rain. It does not seem safe at all to me to ride on highways slick with rain, not just for you on your bike but for the cars and semis riding alongside you, up and down hills, with decreased visibility from water shooting I’m your eyes, but we do it. Sarah W stayed with me for this leg of the trip, as I oozed along slower than the last drop of conditioner after you’ve left the bottle to sit upside down overnight. At the top of one hill, I need to pull over, so we did, and Sweep came up to join us, barred from passing even the slowest riders. Alex and Lucas were sweep that day, in matching safety green rain jackets, and as they joked it felt as though a vaudevillian duo had just biked up to my little hill. At one point Lucas asked me what I was doing (clutching my hands to my bare arms to try and warm them) and I answered, “holding my arms with my smaller arms,” realizing a few moments later I meant my fingers. Then Lucas shouted that he had stepped in shit before crying out, “ah! Hella ants!” and darting away. “Keep running, you’re losing them,” Alex and Sarah reasoned sarcastically. I reflected that while I had never found America’s Funniest Home Videos-style crash and fall humor funny, it had a certain charm when it was someone you knew and you were losing it in the rain. 

Sarah and I found Alessandra and Christina once again, only for us to all stop and pee in a ditch across from a truck stop. Trucks seemed to linger just a bit too long before pulling out of the lot, almost as if they never seen four girls pee in a ditch on the side of the road before. 

We made one more accidental separation into pairs, then got onto local roads in Great Cane, Louisiana, a town of around 200. We reasoned that in a town so small, even if everyone were on the roads they would be pretty calm, and it was true; the winding backcountry roads were a relief after the rest of the day. We passed farms, a weirdly emaciated horse, and some surprisingly fancy homes, as well as the small downtown. Our hosts had never had a Bike & Build trip before, because our leaders had called around last minute when our expected hosts suffered flooding. They seemed especially excited to see us, and made us hamburgers, veggie burgers, and very sweet baked beans. Fake meat always makes me feel at home, so I ate one of those mysterious discs. 

Marcus, an alum of two Bike & Build trips as well as a pan-American race, came along for the ride, and had set up bike shop in the church’s parking lot looking at what ailed our rides. When I excitedly said I had a pain he had, he flipped my bike over to look at its seat angle. Yes, just as his had been, mine was tilted too far downward, sliding me with it. I told him my brakes were weird everyday, too loose and difficult to clamp down on one day, then tight and rubbing on my wheel the next. He noticed that one of my rear brake pads had the angle of a consistently used eraser, a straight side C of an isosceles triangle rubbed clean. “You’ve been riding with your brake pad rubbing on your tire,” he told me.” “For a while, from the looks of this.” I think it is clear that without said impediment, I would be the fastest motherfucker on the streets. “I’m stronger than everyone!” I shouted to no one.

I set up my customary conference table chair bed (4 chairs in a row, with one facing the opposite way to create a semi-crib) and was out by 9. 



Day 23: I was told this would be a short day

This day was the first ray of sunshine to crack through and disinfect a week that felt like a pair of soiled chamois. Kayla kindly asked me to ride with her, and we were joined by Kelly and Katie S. Then we heard our route was only 54 miles, which was the best news since the investigative report on the baking industry that announced the invention of sliced bread. 

We rode in twos, with me next to Kelly. I asked Kelly why she had moved to Chile and she went back to the very beginning. We then proceeded to go through her life story for the next 15 miles. But then disaster struck– reroute. And with a closed road (that we went down nonetheless until the convincing arguments of a dead end), our lovely short day came to a screeching halt, as we wouldn’t be able to for an extra 16 or so miles. 

The following miles were a Vegas ride, so to speak, in that we all agreed that what happened on the ride stayed among us. Hence, gossip and opinions not to be repeated here for the likes of all y’all!

At lunch, Kelly got in the van to relieve her cramps and saddle sores so we were down to three. We played do/marry/die and I saw how the same person could get offed or proposed to simply because of who they were up against. Truly, context is everything. 

Toward the end of each day lately, I’ve been reaching a point at which I think, “I don’t want to be doing this anymore.” This point came today when I had been biking through the rain for a while, my eyes blinded by the kicked up mud from Kayla’s tire ahead of me, puddles beneath me. But we made it to the host church, where I worked on this ol’ thang, ate fettuccine and Oreos with peanut butter (just as I was wondering if it was rude to pull out your own peanut butter when a host gives you cookies, I found the table of girls who were already on it), and went to sleep at 8:30. 


Day 22: an unsanctioned break from bike and build

Woke up feeling like the dinosaurs post-meteor. Hoped it would good away with time and/or food, but it turns out that 45 minutes and a bowl of dry raisin bran isn’t the cure all one might expect. Realized I had to go in the van because I could barely process what was happening around me, but was told that everyone was tired and I should just keep going, one pedal stroke at a time. I responded that I needed to sit down. Kevin came over to me and told me he was nervous for me, that the day he had ridden behind me for the last leg of our century I had looked as if I was about to pass out, and that despite continued conditioning, it was still only going to get harder when the mountains came. He suggested I consider going home. I started to.

After a while, people realized I just was not getting dressed (my biking clothes seemed repulsive) and told me to take apart my bike, so I knew I had made it into the van. 

There were eight of us in the van that day: the driver (Sarah J) and Safety Navigator (Zoe), who were both meant to be there, but also Melissa (knees), Sarah W (sinus infection), Alex (stomach), Alessandra (knees), Maddy (concussion), and me (generally weak but without a glamorous, specific injury). Despite the packed house, I tried my best to remove myself from Bike and Build, physically and mentally. I mostly did this by not talking to anyone, which was less effort than talking since I felt so awful. 

When we got to the host site (Episcopal), I called our program director, Natalie. Despite being in Providence for the Providence to Seattle trip’s orientation, took 50 minutes on the phone with me. She surprised me by being incredibly understanding. She said I could get in the van whenever I wanted; that’s what it’s there for. She told me that she respected people who went home for recognizing what they needed, and that they were still full alumni. When I wistfully, forlornly said that I was pretty sure I could complete the trip if I biked just every other day, she surprised me by saying I could do that, and could work out with the leaders a schedule of preplanned days for me to ride in the van so that I didn’t have to fight my way in or disrupt anything. She also suggested going home for a few days and returning, or getting a hotel along the way and meeting up with the group after a few days of mental and physical rest. When I told her that I wasn’t loving my social life, and that I was sure that when I felt lonely or anxious it showed up on my face, making people even less likely to approach me and furthering the cycle, she suggested I tell everyone just that. 

Later that evening (after red beans and rice and my writing personalized, bike-centric pickup lines for each person for sweep stakes), we had Town Hall meeting. I snuck “Fun PSA” onto the agenda, and so when it was my turn, made my personal service announcement that people might have noticed me looking miserable, and it’s not because I’m mean but because I am often anxious and hard on myself, and that I’d love to hang out but sometimes I need an invitation because I won’t otherwise assume I’m wanted. I added that asking people to ride with me in the mornings was stressful, at which point the conversation got hijacked and turned into a heated back and forth between people who felt similarly pained by the process and other, faster people who maintained there was a reason for such exclusivity. Granted, I never even ask the truly fast people, I was focused on the social effort part of it, but at that point I knew whatever else I had to say, the moment had passed. Afterward, several people told me how brave I was to speak up, and since then I’ve noticed people making an effort to approach me and ask me to ride with them. I wasn’t convinced that speaking up would do anything other than make me seem weird, so it’s pretty amazing to see it bring out compassion and empathy in so any people, many of whom have been coming up to me to discuss their own experiences with anxiety and other difficulties. 

Day 21: This is the day that has no end

It just kept going on, my friends. (Immediately after typing this I walked around singing this song for about 3 minutes. I think Lucas thought I was losing it). The morning actually started out real sharp. It was a Twisted Tuesday and I got paired with Katie H., who is a real gusher (a girl who crushes). Katie has recently begun running after our rides to better prep for triathlons. She also has Triathlon Monthly magazine, which apparently exists and has enough stuff to say about triathlons every month that it can continue doing so. But I’ve ridden with Katie once before and found that she was great at keeping to a stable pace that wasn’t a thigh massacre, so I was okay with this arrangement.

We joined up with Alex and Rob and set off along pretty, farmland roads that twisted past homes and fields of monoculture. At every field I asked to everyone and no one what the crop was, but no one would even make up a semi-convincing answer. We biked in a square, with me and Rob following behind the other two. I forced Rob to chat with me despite his biking countenance, which helped the morning go by quickly an di