Monday, March 31, 2014

"Wild" dogs, "wild" spring

~30 mi to Henderson
~48 mi to Durham

When I awoke the next morning, I was due to ride 45-50 miles to Oxford, NC. After doing 90 the previous day, I expected this would be a piece of cake. Little did I know what was in store.

I was just a few miles from the border of North Carolina, which excited me. Further south. Not yet warm, but I knew it would be soon. 

This ride was hard for several reasons. First of which, soon after crossing the NC border, I got chased by a dog. I'm riding predominantly through rural areas with little to no cars, people, businesses, etc. nearby. Still riding on Route 1 South, alone in what, to me, is the middle of nowhere, all of a sudden I hear a dog barking. The next thing I know, the dog is sprinting across a field towards me. It gets to the road, slightly behind me, and starts sprinting after me.

Just a week prior I was warned by my host (Paul) in Manassas, VA, to watch for wild dogs, because on his bike tour last year he was chased by a wild dog which actually jumped for him and punctured his pannier bags. Luckily, he was left unscathed.

I kept replaying Paul's story in my mind. Not knowing whether the dog had the intention of attacking or only had the intention of guarding its property (bicycles are strange things to dogs, especially in these parts), I sprinted for as long as I could until I looked back and no longer saw the dog running after me.

I mentioned biking involved surviving, but even I didn't yet understand fully what that entailed. And further still...

The crosswinds were so treacherous during my ride that it was truly dangerous to be riding, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent myself from being knocked over.

I shifted the bike into its "granny gears" and just slowly kept at biking, telling myself that I just need to make it to the next town, and I can sleep there. I knew it wouldn't be possible or safe to make it to the originally anticipated destination.

I eventually made it to Henderson, NC, both grateful to have made it safely, as well as bummed to have to stay at a motel, and frustrated I couldn't make it the anticipated mileage (ego).

I was very glad to be safe, though,and thankfully I'd have the opportunity to finish the ride to Durham the next morning (Monday), still in time for Tuesday's class.

I'm in Durham now, catching up on emails, the blog, etc. It is difficult sometimes to be able to blog with sparse internet opportunities. And I also still sometimes feel too tired to write. I'm working on my rhythm. Please feel free to reach out if you have specific questions you'd like me to address in the blog.

It is such a blessing to share this with you all. And such a blessing that spring has arrived.

Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.

3:30 mantra

~90 mi to Bracey (Lake Gaston)

I awoke Saturday morning at 5 AM to gather my things in preparation for my ride to Bracey, VA, just miles from the North Carolina border.

I think that all of the constant activity, cold weather and rain had finally caught up to me, because I woke up sick. I'm fairly certain I had a fever, and every muscle in my body was sore.

This was the ride I was so fixated on, so nervous about. "90 miles," I'd say to myself in shock and fear. "In the rain. And I'm sick. How will I ever make it?"

It's not necessarily that I doubted my own ability. In fact, that's the very thing: I couldn't really describe why I was nervous, but I was.

I left before the sunrise, for I was expected to meet my host family Dan and Pat at Love's gas station 90 miles away by 3:30 PM, to allot them enough time to get to church afterwards.

90 miles, a thing that was not only new to me, but foreign to me. And there was a time limit. And a cold, windy rain. And I was sick.

To readers: I'm not setting up this story for sympathy points. Rather, I'm giving you an idea of how my mind works sometimes when I tunnel-vision on circumstance and stray from present moment awareness.  

I think if you project onto something that "this is going to be hard," well, how could it not?

I stopped 30 miles in to get breakfast at a cafe in Petersburg, VA. I met a nice human there (Kent) who, curious what I was doing, came up to me to introduce himself and ask just that. We chatted for a few moments before I had to head back out on the road. 3:30 time limit. "I will make it on time," I told myself. "And if I don't, then I don't, and that's okay."

My interaction with Kent was a pleasure and had a lasting effect on my day. I biked 90 miles down Route 1 South towards Bracey, and I only planned to stop for water and bathroom. "3:30. 3:30." My mantra.

I think, truthfully the things we fear the most are not what we're not capable of, but rather what we are capable of. 90 miles. My body is gliding 90 miles down the country. On a bicycle. How could I possibly be more lucky?

With this invigorating sense of gratitude and my "3:30 mantra" as my companion, I knew that I in fact could do it, because I was doing it.

I kept a steady pace, stopping every now and again for water refills, and I made it to Love's gas station promptly at... 3:21 PM! Before the "deadline"

When I got to Dan and Pat's home on beautiful Lake Gaston in Bracey, I listened to some Van Morrison, ate dinner, and passed out immediately with the lights still on and all of my clothes on, 90 miles now under my belt.

I think we are probably capable of doing anything but are afraid to find out.

Connection is the cure

~60 mi to Richmond

It was a cold and windy ride to Richmond, but I was filled with so much excitement for the upcoming classes that nothing could stop me.

Biking through different areas on a windy day makes for an interesting bike ride; when passing through woods, the trees give bodily form to the wind. Thus, it is somewhat absorbed. But when you're biking past wide open fields in rural areas, there's nothing to give bodily form to the wind except, well, your own body. And, with about 40+ pounds of weight on the back of my bike! staying on the bike on a windy day is actually very challenging. It demands your attention. Focus. Strength.

The ride to Richmond was pleasant, nonetheless, and I napped immediately upon arriving to Dana Walters' house. Her and her husband Ben would be hosting me for three nights.

Dana is a yoga teacher and founder of Project Yoga Richmond, a yoga studio which offers donation-based classes , education, and outreach programs in their community. She/they are phenomenal.

Dana set me up with four unique opportunities to share yoga while in Richmond. On the first day, I taught an hour long class to students at Thomas Jefferson High School. In the evening I had the opportunity to co-teach with the lovely Jonathan Miles at Project Yoga Richmond (PYR). 

The class "sold out" and we squeezed mats a half inch from each other. Dana later mentioned that class afforded PYR to provide 8 future yoga outreach programs in their community. Awesome!

The next day, Dana and I held space (a PYR booth) at a health fair at John Marshall High School. Students had a sheet of questions they were supposed to answer after visiting each booth. Their question for us was "What is yoga?"

I love that question. Because yoga can be anything. Doing anything with an attention to how you feel is yoga.

After the health fair, Dana and I headed to Brook Ridge School, where I was to give a talk with the students there about yoga and about what I am doing. I wasn't sure what to expect prior to arriving, but the room was packed with students, faculty and parents. 

The moment I asked if anyone had any questions for me, half the room raised their hands.

Kids are so inventive, so honest. I answered questions for the next 45 minutes and only stopped there because it was time to go. I even had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with a few students briefly after the meeting.

Afterwards, I was donated a 60-minute massage to which my body, so sore and tender, thoroughly enjoyed, especially with my oncoming cold. 

My few days in Richmond were a true pleasure, and I thank Dana a thousand times over for all of the opportunities and support as well as for hosting me.

One of my favorite questions from the kids was: "What will you do if you get all the way to Miami and realize you forgot your bag?"

Hah. Connection is the cure.

Practicing surrendering

~60 mi to Manassas
~40 mi to Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg was beautiful. Sarah Perry (of Downtown Greens INC) warmly welcomed me and set me up with a bed in my own apartment.

It was Virginia, and I was finally starting to feel "south" which I think meant to me that it was all starting to feel "real". 

It's such a strange thing packing your life into a bag, putting it onto the back of your bike, and just going. I suppose my bike is my home now. But, surprisingly, I don't feel displaced. In fact, I feel comfortable. Adjusted. Grateful, truly.

It snowed (again) in Fredericksburg, and I (only half-jokingly) thought to myself, "what if winter never ends?" Of course it would; it was just one of those passing thoughts that came to me when I seeped too far out of the present moment. I'm constantly working on this...

Due to the snow, class with the Boys and Girls Club of the Rappahannock Region was canceled. I've been practicing surrendering because sometimes circumstances are just of of our control. I hope to reschedule class with Downtown Greens (community garden) and the B+G Club perhaps sometime in the summer.

Fortunately, class was still scheduled to happen with the women and staff at the EmpowerHouse domestic violence center. It was snowing/raining, and biking there was not possible, but I did walk with the bike for the 4 miles to the facility. I was so thrilled for this class to happen. I arrived soaked, yet complacent.

We worked through an hour of breathing, movement and meditation, and then all had lunch together at the facility. One woman said her father always told her to try yoga but she was too afraid; now she was glad for the opportunity, she said. Another woman was headed to two job interviews right after lunch and was grateful for the relaxing class beforehand.

I feel so grateful for those connections outside of the yoga as well as for Sarah's hospitality in helping me to feel at home while in Fredericksburg (her boyfriend even lent me his guitar, so you can imagine my excitement). 

The general consensus seems to be, "How are you doing this alone?" 

Well, I'm not. Don't you see?

From the silent student in class, to the shared meals, to the dialogues, to the person on the side of the road waving at me as I bike by...

We are all sharing in this journey together. And the god (of my understanding) is in every one of them.

Winter will end. To whatever is bound to happen, I surrender.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Learning Curve

So, it's been 11 days on the road, and I finally feel like I'm in my rhythm. They talk about how it takes time to get in the flow on a bike tour. They talk about all the changes your body goes through. They talk about losing sleep in the beginning. They talk about trying to maintain your weight.

They say all these things, but I am slowly and surely figuring them out for myself as I go along. There is a learning curve.

I have wanted to do more documenting via blog, but truthfully at the end of each day I have been so thoroughly exhausted (mentally/physically) that I haven't been able to muster up the energy to write too much. I am still in the process of figuring out how to balance all of the constant output (biking, teaching, biking, teaching), but now I am finally sleeping and am feeling stronger and more revitalized.

Last week I received an email from someone asking me to shed light more about the biking aspect of the tour (how I am feeling, where I am staying, etc).

It's funny...I feel so focused on the yoga aspect that I nearly forget about checking in with this other crazy thing I'm doing: biking down the country.

So it's been 11 days since I've left Philly, and I've officially biked about 335 miles, which is about 280 miles more than I usually bike in that amount of time. I'm currently in Richmond, Virginia. 

In this short amount of time, there's been a good deal of rain and snow, and although I am now further south, it is still brisk and cold. In fact, it was colder today than when I left Philly 11 days ago.

In the world of cycling, I am a "noobie." It was just 4 months ago in November that I learned how to ride a bicycle with gears, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned how to ride a bike with clip less shoes. Training before the tour wasn't really an option because of all of the snow we had. I kind of just got up and went. Have I mentioned there's a learning curve? And sometimes I am learning the hard way.

Riding a bike is more than just transporting to a destination; it's a total immersion; it's a meditation. It requires all of your focus and all of your determination. It requires a tuning in to the senses. It requires direction. It requires stamina. And perhaps most of all, It requires a present moment awareness. But it also, surprisingly, requires surviving.

In the beginning of tour, I had a 70-mile ride to Forest Hill, Maryland. It took me 7 hours. There was snow. It was cold. The entire ride was through rural areas of southern Pennsylvania/northern Maryland. And there were little to no resources available. 

See, I'm a city girl, and just generally speaking I have the luxury of always having access to water. It's easy. But when you're biking through the country and going through 30 mile stretches without a gas station or single store, well, it can become a bit frightening. You have to switch your priorities from getting to your destination and instead set out to look to refill your empty/near-empty water bottles. 

When I was riding to Forest Hil, I encountered this very situation. There was nobody on the roads, no buildings in sight, and I was on my last water bottle. Knowing I hadn't seen anything in awhile, and not knowing when I would again, I decided to actively pursue looking for water (and a recharge for my phone which was nearly dead). 

I biked down long stretches of road, no longer en route to my destination, and I finally saw a building which looked promising in the distance. I biked towards it, feeling excited about the prospect of filling up on water and maybe even stopping for a snack.

But when I got up to the building close enough to read the sign, I saw one word which devastated me. That word was: "Fireworks"

Fireworks? In the middle of nowhere? There's been no buildings for miles, and this place sells...fireworks. 

Defeated, I biked back down that same road and went to search for something again. By this point in time, I've become hyper-focused on finding water, enveloped in my own panic. Not even sure whether there was a true need to panic, but not being experienced enough to know for certain. 

I soon came to a gas station and refilled on water, feeling utterly relieved. I have since learned to plan my rides better, always making sure there will be access to food and water.

Some days are so painful, or the climbs are so steep, or the rain is so hard, or I get lost what feels like 100 times, and I feel like giving in. And at the end of those days I truly cannot imagine getting on my bike again the next day and doing it all over again. But something pulls me back together again by the morning.

This experience is wild and crazy and difficult and beautiful and new and exciting and terrifying and lonely. All at once. And I am better by it and for it.

I am in this for the long haul, and I am so grateful for this incredible experience of being able to move my body across the country. And I have been so blessed (and spoiled) to have a place to sleep, eat, shower, do laundry, etc every night of the tour.

Which is why I don't actually feel like I am doing this alone. And why I no longer see the yoga and the biking as two separate things; they are a part of a continuum. There is no separation.

Here are some pictures from the tour thus far. Thanks for sharing in this journey with me...

Strange Dreams; 'Ribs onto your limbs'

I have been having some strange dreams while traveling, but my dream last week in Baltimore really stuck out to me, and I wanted to share it...

Okay so, some of the details/specifics get very hairy, but I tried writing some stuff down in the middle of the night:

I was spending time with god (and I knew it was 'god' in this dream, though formless and unnamed...and I've never dreamt this character before), and we were talking about consciousness. I forget the specifics of our dialogue, but it was as if I were being consoled and also galvanized. The god character was talking about consciousness as in this vast opportunity to DO (something). And I was nodding along, affirming the character's words, but also kind of like 'I know'. And god character says ''no. Im talking about I literally put RIBS onto your LIMBS, consciousness.''
(In capital letters because of the intonation of the characters voice in the dream, and a direct quote)

The dream had a wake-up-energizing-motivating-feeling. And I woke up laughing hysterically and couldnt say why.

Rimbs into your limbs; expansion of the breath; taking flight; trusting yourself; surrendering. 

All reminders which I needed

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What makes a "criminal" a criminal anyway?

What is it that makes somebody a criminal? It's a difficult question. And an important one, at that.

On Monday in Wilmington, I met with yoga teacher Charlene Sams at a local cafe. Charlene runs yoga programs with a very specific, thoughtful, state-officiated curriculum several times a week with youth at various detention centers in the area. She is amazing.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join her in back-to-back classes that day at Ferris Detention Center and Snowden Cottage.

According to the state of Delaware's website, Ferris is a "secure care, ACA accredited treatment facility providing services for up to 72 court committed males, ages 13-18. Youth committed to Ferris are identified as serious and/or chronic repeat offenders, who pose a risk to themselves or others and require intensive rehabilitative treatment."

That's a lot of words, so let me translate: it's jail. I'm talking about 24-hour surveillance, metal detectors, uniforms, single file lines, these-kids-don't-see-the-light-of-day, jail. 

They're viewed as criminals (and they know it), and so they view themselves as criminals (because who wouldn't?). 

I think it's important to ask: what makes a "criminal" a criminal, anyway? Is it one offense? Repeated offenses? Perhaps they are born that way, destined from the start to be criminals performing life-long criminal acts eventually left to die alone with their criminal selves? (Come on, you don't actually believe that last one, do you?)

Are there really "criminals", or are there human beings who commit seriously fucked up, criminal acts? (Yes, that can be an understatement, I know)

But what brings a "criminal"/human to the point so low in their life where they commit their first criminal offense? And their second? Et cetera... Do we consider this as we expand our prison systems? Do we care? Are our facilities really rehabilitative, or are they holding places?

I don't know the answers, but here's what it's like to be in a room with these humans when a little mindfulness and breathing are introduced...

Charlene and I enter the room to begin setting up. The kids enter through the doors in a single-file line, heads mostly down.

At the start, Charlene asks each person how they're feeling at that moment, and she writes it down.

"Angry." "Angry." "Extremely sad." "Pissed off." "Angry." "Gucci."

The last comment stirs some chuckles in the group.

So, that's where we'll begin. But before we start with our centering exercises, breathing and 4-minute silent meditation, I quickly introduce  myself and what it is I'm doing.

The students from both classes gasp aloud when I mention that I biked there and where I'll eventually be biking to.

And immediately they're curious. "What will you do if you get hungry?" "What about the weather?" "Where will you sleep?" "Is that safe?" Et cetera...

Let me again reference the state of Delaware's definition of these humans: "...identified as serious and/or chronic repeat offenders who pose a risk to themselves or others..." And they're worried for me about how ill sleep and eat along the way.

Although honored and grateful for their enthusiasm and concern, I answer some questions and then redirect their attention back to the yoga so Charlene can begin.

We run through an hour of movement, breathing and silent  meditation, to a final closing of savasana. 

At the end, Charlene asks each person again how they're feeling at that moment, and the answers are a little different.

"Good." "Good." "Relaxed." "Okay." "Relaxed." "Gucci." (He was stuck on that Gucci comment)

As we were parting ways, one kid looked me in the eyes and said, "Thank you for coming."

So, what is it that makes a "criminal" a criminal? Do we believe people can rehabilitate? How can our systems better allow for this opportunity?

Perhaps a little mindfulness could go a long way...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Philly, Newtown, Wilmington

Friday March 14th was the first class of tour. It was at Today INC Rehabilitation Facility in Newtown, PA.  10 women, ages 18+

I suppose that I feel a somewhat special connection to that place, because an addict in my life was an in-patient there several times in an attempt to get (and stay) clean.

I thought about what it means to be starting this tour.
thought about how to structure the class for this specific population.
I thought about the holding patterns of someone in recovery.
I thought about my own holding patterns on (and off) the mat.
And I thought about how incredibly difficult it is to get clean
And to stay clean
And to not act out in our addictions, whatever they may be.

I think that changing our habitualizations-- not acting out in our addictions-- requires a tuning in to the present moment. Ie- how am I feeling in this moment? How is my breath in this moment? Etc.
If we have the skills to give a name to how we're feeling each moment, as well as the skills to cope with and regulate these feelings, we can change our habits.

If you think about it, we never set out to act in our addictions in some future date; we don't say, "I'm feeling so shitty right now, I'm going to (insert addiction)...tomorrow." We indulge to change how we're feeling in that moment; and each time we indulge, we strengthen that propensity.

The breath is the link between the body and the mind. If we can learn to correct the modality of the body, we can learn to correct the modality of the mind (and vice versa). If we can learn to breathe consciously and mindfully, we can learn to regulate our own emotions, as well as how we feel about ourselves. As with anything, it takes practice; it's difficult at first to change our habits because first we have to notice what they are. 

Our class at Today INC was very restorative and very breath focused. Afterwards, we debriefed, as some of the students would be leaving the rehab in a couple days to move to a recovery house.

I spent the next day preparing to (officially) leave for tour, as Sunday morning was the true departure date. My friends made me an incredible breakfast to set me on the journey (I truly am blessed).

Leaving my home in West Philly was as strange as I expected it would be. I had left my home hundreds of times before heading somewhere on my bicycle, but now I was doing it for two whole months. I'm still wrapping my brain around that one....

The ride to Wilmington was not too far; 32 miles. A bit cold and grey. I sprinted a lot of the way because I felt like I just needed to be there for this journey to feel real. That, and I am also working on (and always working with) how to be more present in my own life.

This afternoon's class is at Ferris Detention Center for boys in Wilmington. 15 boys, ages 13-18.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the snow quickly dissipates, as I am heading 60 miles to Forest Hill MD tomorrow, and I'm trying not to project too much into the future, all the while feeling a million different emotions about this journey.

To a more present moment awareness...

Stay tuned

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mail time!

Sending out mail to ProjectSPACE supporters from the IndieGoGo campaign. Thank you all for your support. This tour is made possible because of YOU!


Thanks to Philly Area Yoga

Thank you to Philly Area Yoga for the nice write-up about ProjectSPACE!

14 days until departure, no matter the weather!