Sunday, April 1, 2012

Post Trip Stress Disorder & Journeys that Never End

the closest thing I have to a cape is humility.

I knew it would be hard because everyone said it would be hard. They tell you your body takes at least a month to recover. That was true. For a month, I sat completely still, save my whimpering. Who knows where the endorphins store--where they wait for you to reach them. They tell you that you might gain weight, eating like a touring cyclist while moving like a 9 to 5er. I avoided that one. Not quite sure how. I'm glad. They tell you that you'll miss the road, the adventure, the unknown view shooting into sight just after you've rounded the bend. That was true, too. But manageable.

What they don't tell you is that you'll miss each other. Maybe because they didn't do it like we did. Maybe they didn't choose together every time, even when alone would've been less torturous. Maybe they didn't choose to meet in the middle of two impossible hopes--to walk a tight rope journey with unpredictable winds--falling, getting hurt, getting up, trying again anyway. Maybe they didn't become like one--him setting up the stove, her chopping the vegetables; him locking up the bikes, her brokering a barter; him fixing the flat, her filling the waters. I'm sure they crossed mountains together--we all do, we all do. But maybe they didn't sob at the top thinking No one will ever know what we've done together. This will always be us, booba. Just us. Just us.

And then maybe when they got home they didn't go from always to rarely, from over-time to wish-I-could-get-more-hours. Maybe those people didn't tell us how hard it would be, because their journey ended differently--together, telling stories. 

Who knows. Maybe it's always harder than they want to reveal. Maybe no one wants to tell you not to blow up your life. Maybe they still know something I don't, further out, with more time and perspective underway.

Our journey didn't end when we boxed up those bikes. Some days, it feels like that was just the beginning. That for every inhale, for every mile we stretched, there's still an exhale, a sojourn home.

A year ago today, we left on those bikes. Brian's 25th birthday--cold, rainy, windy. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror on the first floor of the Green Vine Co-op, glow in my eyes, invincibility my secret superhero cape. I knew we were going to make it. I knew we were going to rupture the norm and do something completely incredible. I knew we were going to do it together. I knew I would reach the edge of my sanity, and I knew I would survive.

What I didn't know, what no one told me, is that when I returned, another edge would be waiting. That I would look in the mirror today, humbled and stripped down, but certain with a less glamorous glow, that I'll survive this, too. I know now that survival looks much more like bags under your eyes and going 5 more miles with nothing left in you. I know now what I'm capable of doing for love.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where Travel and Loss Will Lead You

Traveling so many miles, you're bound to lose things...

Your mind, your comfort, your stability, your prisons, your sense of self, your phone charger 1 million times.

This is why I urge you to travel.

Traveling invites loss. Loss invites you to be achingly alert. When your eyes and heart are wide open, despite what they see, there's a way that you're liberated from the anxiety of occupying more than one space at a time.

I invite you to lose it all.

Lose the words you don't have the time to write. Lose your favorite ring you don't have the wits to turn back for.

Lose your temper. Then really lose it. Then lose it so often that you stop looking for it and you just chill out, turn toward laughter, start calling your lover nonsensical nick names that make you both giggle like 7 year olds.

Lose hope. Rub so hard on that tattoo you've marked to your ring finger that you make a rash. Go to the wits end of your faith and fearlessness until you begin to learn that those qualities derive from hitting the bottom and surviving. Sweat and tears, and then more sweat and more tears.

Lose your cool. Lose your shame. Lose your self-awareness in public places. Be too loud for the timid small-town diner. Order pie at 9 am. Moan. Excessively.

Lose yourself completely.

I promise--you will have regrets and you will be wiser for each one.

Lose weight. Lose options. Have 3 outfits and 3 pairs of panties that you wash in the sink when you're lucky enough to remember. Lose your sex appeal.

Lose money. Tip too much to the woman who gave poor service. Get haggled by the homeless man and drop him a big fat 20. Lose your so-called standards.

Lose your future investments. Lose your illusion of security. Lose your maybe-one-day dreams and just do it already.

Lose your map and your perfectly calculated directions. Lose your battery life. Have nothing left to do but flag down a stranger and ask for help, stick your thumb out, become human again.

Lose your vanity. Lose your make up, your razor, your deodorant, your hair products. Take a scary-as-fuck picture of yourself and post it on Instagram for all the world to see.

Mostly, lose what you grasp the tightest... Your safety, your soul, your sense of purpose, your image.

Lose it for just a month, a few days, an afternoon in mystery walking down the block. But lose it wholly, with no reservations.

When it's all said and done, you won't feel "found", per se. Rather, you'll feel as though you've arrived carrying only what's truly needed in your bags. Nothing more, nothing less. And it will be strange and vulnerable and magical.

You will know that the sweat and tears and suffocating bike shorts were your uniform of sacrifice. You had your protests, and rightly so, but that uniform brought you to the boundaries of your dark territories, the terrors of life you never wanted to see, the edges of your strength and also your humility, your meek existence in this glorious, overwhelming world that you absolutely needed to travel in.

You will lose a handful of illusions in this sea of loss. The greatest of which being that things last forever. No. You will see clearly that everything eventually surrenders.

One day, you will not only understand, but accept, this jewel of truth. Perhaps the deepest truth you could ever grasp.

Until then, you will continue to travel, to lose things, to wander at the crossroads of terror and letting go into love.

So travel. Travel to the end of the world and back. See what needs to be lost. See what's waiting to be found.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's Called for in the Final Stretch

LOVES! We have almost completed our crazy MadWard Adventure!

I'll save all the notes on HOW for another time, and just say this much for now:

It took a village of support to get us here (really) and it will take a village of support for us to finish. So we're going to make a request:

A spiritual exchange of motivation.

Yes! This is hippy-dippy! Yes! It is also fun!

Okay...We are traveling the Pacific Coast and it is an endless road of ups and downs--this time I'm being literal.

We need your motivation (really!!) to make it to Mendicino, CA where we're meeting my parents in 9 DAYS!!!

Give Mojo
Will you call us & leave silly/serious/suspicious voice messages? Will you tweet/text us daily with encouragement? Will you let us know, in one way or another, how our journey has affected you? The small seeds of courage we've possibly planted? What it would mean to YOU if we were to finish?

Get Juju
In exchange, when you send us some good mojo, we will climb a hill with you in mind. Really!

It will sound something like this:

Huff, puff, this hill is for Jen... huff, puff... And all the people who aren't sure if true love exists...huff, puff... And all the people who are piecing their lives back together...huff, puff... And struggling to get over yet another hump.....huff puff huff puffgg HUFF!

You can start with a comment right here. Fill in the blank:

This one's for me & all the people who ____________!

Heaps of gratitude for your solidarity as we run the final mile of our marathon. Lovin' the spritz of bubbly and marching band already!

Rach & Bri

Sunday, October 9, 2011

1,000 Gratitudes

After 6 months of traveling, mostly by bicycle, we finally reached the Pacific Ocean from Washington DC. I can hardly express how much commotion our lives have consisted of, and still, how often we lost track of our moving bodies and simply glided. Like b

Arriving in Place

Yesterday, we caught a ride to the Oregon Coast from Portland. We meandered through pine-forested mountains and lush family-style farms that had trees hugging houses. The sweet smell of cow dung whisped through our open windows, and memories of my grandma flickered in my mind. She used to say that the smell reminded her of home; that it's kind of silly, but she just loves it. I feel the same way. We breathed in the sounds of Iron and Wine as we rounded the final bend before the ocean shot into sight. The Pacific Ocean. We arrived. We made it to the other side of the country.

the paths we travel
A small path caught Kate's eye, and she asked if we could stop, wander down to the ocean. Beside huckleberry bushes as we stepped slowly on slippery grounds, my chest rose and fell, full of something I couldn't quite grasp. Until it hit me--hard--like 1,000 tears flooding in all at once.

We made it across this land, to this very ocean, with help. Tremendous help. Help from strangers full of so much love and desire to give. Help from sunshine reaffirming beauty, reminding us to hope. Help from songs in my ears and songs leaving my lips. Help from friends on the phone who said things like, "It makes perfect sense." or "Now's not the time for quitting." or "I'd want to kill something, too!" Help from my parents, who gave me the greatest gift of all: their confidence in me, in us; who said things like, "You're my hero."

It all helped. Every e-mail, every friendly honk, every asshole who jabbed into my fragile wounds, only to make me stop and breathe and pray and grow stronger. Every bed, every celebratory glass of wine, every sign made my siblings still growing strong--every tiny bit was huge.

Arriving in Time

At the pacific :) 1 year
Today is our very first wedding anniversary. This time last year, we were surrounded by the most collective expression of community I've ever wittnessed. Hands and hearts were offered in full for celebrating love. No one held back with their generosity, with their gifts. And I don't mean presents. I mean, everyone gave what they were put on this earth to give, in one way or another.

Today, it is just us out here; and then again, it is everyone. So much of this year has felt like a call to see how much we could do "on our own". The greatest lesson in this kind of challenge is discovering that you are never "on your own". Ever.

And through all the ups and downs (in bed, and otherwise) there's still no one I'd rather experience them with than you, Brian. There's no one with whom I'd rather discover the world, in all its magic and all its gory loss. There's no one I'd rather snuggle up against or whose smile I'd rather awake to. There's still no hand I'd rather hold, no voice I'd rather call out to. There's still no one with whom I'd rather share a life.

It's our first wedding anniversary!! And we crossed the US on bikes!!! So much for a first year of marriage. #madward

We're celebrating today. Celebrating how it feels to discover that when you keep going through, the tunnel of darkness really does lead to light.

Thanks to all the living things out there that have been with us every step of the way; that have given so so much. We feel you. Big time. We couldn't have done it without you.

love & gratitude,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Let the Final Month Begin

the crazy ones

Last night Rachael and I bought our train tickets home. We'll be leaving from Sacramento on November 4th and arriving to DC on November 7th. It was actually pretty emotional pressing that purchase button. Putting an end date on this adventure is weird because, up until now, our notion of when we would get home has always been some obscure time before Thanksgiving. Now it's real.

We have been on the road for a little over 6 months! It's the longest either of us has been away from the DC-Baltimore Metro area (outside of my first 6 years of life in Wisconsin). For those of you who don't know, we have been in Portland, OR since September 10th after we started to feel burnt out on traveling while we were in Missoula, MT (which is an awesome city). We then made the decision to rent a car and drive to Portland where we could hang out for a while. Since then, we have been living in a garage apartment, seeing friends and enjoying the city. We're getting ready to leave on Saturday, October 8th, heading down the Oregon and California coast to the Bay Area.

my life is a garage... there's a story somewhere here. excited for @binduwiles 's photo/essay class to help unearth!

We have had so much time to reflect, center ourselves and really start to figure out what we are going to do with the rest of our lives, though our ideas are merely vague concepts. As we leave Portland on Saturday, Sunday will mark our 1-year wedding anniversary, which is insane. The reality is that I am so happy we did this trip in our first year of marriage. We continue to say to people that this has been more of a "relationship workout" than a "physical workout". Through all the ups and downs (and I don't mean hills) we have made it through, in both months of fun and months of fighting and frustration (and yes we had plenty of both). Love indeed is the thing that has gotten and continues to get us through.

As we prepare to get back on our bikes again and enjoy the last month of our trip with a special visit from Rachael's parents, I can only say that these 6 months have been life changing and I am so grateful to be able to do this.

If there is some adventurous idea bouncing around in your head, make it more than an idea. Make it a reality. And expect the best and worst experiences of your life. The world is waiting for you!

Monday, September 26, 2011

"What's the mood of this country?"

We stood there on the side of the road right near the exit onto I-90 just outside of Butte, MT. Rach had been coughing for the pass couple of days and we thought it would be better to hitch a ride over the continental divide rather than ride it. After waiting there with our thumbs out for 15 minutes and watching pick-up truck after pick-up truck pass us by, our ride came in the form of what looked like a badass older couple with a licence plate stating "Union Paid". This indicated to me that we were in for a good 25 mile ride.

Immediately we started talking politics and Rich asked a very profound question to us, "Along your travels, what would you say is the mood of the people in this country?"

Oh man, what a good question. I asked Rich, "do you mean political?" He had a quick response, "yeah, but really just the general feeling."

Both Rach and my first response was "ANGRY!"

Throughout this trip we have gotten into conversations with people from all over the political spectrum and the resounding feeling was that the system itself is broken. It's not a debate of Democrats or Republicans. I can't tell you how many people just said to me that they just want something different. Polls continue to say that people don't approve of Congress's job or the President's job with an overwhelming majority of people in this country wanting another option.

The only problem is that people don't see or have an alternative, they see a 2-party corrupt system that doesn't care for ordinary working people. In 2008 we saw an extreme amount of hope in President Obama, who represented an end to the Bush-era policies with no reigns on Wall Street, endless wars and the continuation of tax cuts for the most wealthy people in this country.

The past 3 years have shown the world that Obama's polices are a continuation of the Bush Administration, which includes the continuation/increase of the U.S. occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Libya, the continued handouts to Wall Street and no change to this unbalanced tax system. Currently this economic crisis has made it even more clear where the government's interest lies: drum roll please, with corporations and the war machine (I know it's a big surprise). Both parties always have money for tax cuts and war but will have no problem cutting money for education, health care, programs that actually health ordinary people.

Throughout this trip most people I meet say we need to end these wasteful wars (even the military contractor I met). Does Obama or the Republican Congress listen? NO!! War has always been the ultimate bipartisan issue in this country. This is the fundamental flaw in our current system, the Democrats and Republicans are in bed with corporate leaders, a clear example is the health care system "reform" which was basically a handout to the health insurance companies and had absolutely nothing to do with actual care. This is how capitalism works, it has enough food to feed the whole world while 1 billion people go hungry everyday, there is a housing "overproduction" crisis while we have homeless people, you will find CEOs making millions of dollars in bonuses while they will try to cut benefits and lay working people off. Does this sound like a fair system? The reality is both the Democrats and Republicans are pretty staunch capitalist and we can't count on them to change things.

Unemployment, poverty and inequality will continue to grow unless we build an alternative movement. That's why we need to build an independent left wing movement separate of the Democrats that promotes democracy in all aspects of our life. We have already started to see the fight back with the events that happened in Madison, WI, the Verizon Strike and the "illegal" Tacoma, WA teachers strike that won a new contract. Working people are standing up! Though these struggles are small, they show the anger people have as they see the backwardness of our current leaders/system. They are asked to take a pay cut as banks have received $16 trillion from the government since the beginning of the economic crisis. This also shows that people CAN fight back and win.

These opinions I have aren't just shaped in my mind, but rather they are developed through experiences I have had with working people throughout this country on this trip, whether it's at Wendy's, in a coffee shop or at a protest. I would argue that now is one of the best times to go out there and talk to your neighbor, your co-worker, attend a protest and join an organization to fight the injustices in this country and throughout the world. Just remember you are not alone.

The politicians won't get us out of this, the media won't get us out of it. People power will be the only thing that gets us to a level where we can actually end these wars and end the attack on working people and have real justice in this world.

So don't just get mad, get out there and join the movement.

Here is a thing you can get involved in immediately. They are looking to lay off 120,000 post office workers. Join the post office union in a protest at your local post office happening everywhere in the country on Tuesday, 9/27 from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check out more information here: Save America's Postal Service

For great media coverage of events that the mainstream media won't cover go to:,,, and there are plenty more.


Friday, September 16, 2011

the mountains we cross

This post is an excerpt from my journal from the day after we rode over the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. It's unedited and simple and raw and ready to be out there, after plenty of time to myself. Enjoy.


Why ride a bicycle up a mountain?
I just rode my bicycle up and down a Very Steep MOUNTAIN.

I pushed, cried, lost my shit, laughed, paused, doubted, stretched, hoped, and proved possibility out of an INSANE endeavor.

Now is not the time for rushing. Not the time for explaining. Not the time for "imparting wisdom".

Now is the time for Integration & Gratitude.

For letting it all sink in.

For getting close to my godliness.

Some part of me has expressed some part of my highest self. BIG TIME. In other words...

Some part of me... my body, mind, spirit & heart... carried me into my DEEP WELL OF POWER.

That well, in essence, is the breadth of life and love I've been given as a human being, part of the family of all living things, by whatever mystical power or pattern created me.

Tapping into that well is NO SMALL DEAL.

Tapping into and living out a version of "me" that is beyond "me", but belonging to something larger, calmer, stronger, more free & also more reckless... it felt like the biggest "accomplishment" of my life... the most fulfilling thing I'd ever done.

And what, exactly, did I do?

I let go.

And then... I kept going.

And then... I went all the way.

The story began like most, with Brian packing up three fourths of our belongings, while I did everything in my being to simply get myself dressed and psychologically prepared. Then a talker came over to us at our ghetto-fab campsite. A talker from Chicago. A talker from Chicago who--hahaha--wanted to know what--hahaha--was taking us so long to leave--hahaha--not like someone was holding us up or anything--hahaha. She was amusing, with her ripped button-down shirt and post-smoker baritone voice. I'll give her that. But now it's 10 am and we have a mountain to cross.

So we're pedaling with our daunting destiny in sight. I'm listening to Lakota flutes and drums and praying hard-core because God knows I don't think I can do this on my own. Then, POP! My front tire's flat.

Now it's 10:30 am and we still have a mountain to cross.

Tire's fixed and we're back in commission. Except I'm having physical anxiety over what I think is a metaphorical dilemma, but is, in fact, just the way it actually feels to cross a real-life mountain on a bicycle with 50 pounds of luggage.

The mind-trip is that we are still on the "outskirts" of the mountain, looking at what we're about to dive into, and our positioning is such that the road we're traveling LOOKS flat but is actually VERY FUCKING STEEP. Nevertheless, I am all why-the-hell-is-this-so-hard and I'm-always-so-god-damn-slow and Jesus-Christ-I-just-need-to-sob-because-nothing-makes-sense. And then I sob.

I feel better, emotionally, when we get into the thick of the mountain, because at least then the incline appears as hard as it is.

Still--tears, body aches, doubt, shame, fear, fighting, cursing, stopping, looking for ways out around every single bend, and did I mention shame?--are all present in overwhelming ways.

Every 10 minutes I take a 3 minute break.

I am pushed to my physical/spiritual/emotional edge. Completely. Who knows what's going through Brian's head. I assume he wants to kill me because I'm falling apart completely. You'd hope that on a trip like this, you'd learn to be more compassionate with yourself and be able to assume that others will extend the same tenderness. Not so much.

Eventually it's 3 pm and we've traveled something like 12 miles in 5 hours. We realize this 36 mile climb will not be completed in one day. Egos blown, we decide to rest, digest our troubles, endulge in renting one of the only cabins on the whole mountain, which is, of course, over priced and also cute.

We get to the place a few miles later and are instantly questioned by some know-it-all dude who gives us crap for not finishing the mountain in one day. Shame-dagger twisted, I proceed to curse the man for a total of three hours after our interaction, as Brian and I eat ramen noodles with pre-packaged Indian food.

Wake the next morning with a new sense of confidence that sounded like this: Even if I have to stop every five minutes, I will still reach the top. I Can Do It. Shamelessly.

Then I get on my bike and begin again. Things feel easier. More familiar. Less terrifying. Just as hard. Not as important. More holy.

We ride and laugh and cough and rest, and finally, four miles from the peak, with 25 mph head winds and cool air circling round, we take yet another water break. Only this time, I can see in Brian's face that he's losing momentum from stopping so much. So I let myself hear the call, let myself own my power, let myself go completely. I promise: No More Breaks.

I will not get off this bike again until we reach the top. Pinky swear. Hugs and kisses. Cross my heart.

Why? Because I know I can. Simple.

We mount our bike and 30 seconds later, POP! Flat tire number two.

Eager to maintain my promise, we fix the tire in record time and jump back in. The promise still holds, cutie! All the way to the top!

And I swear, it's like a movie. The sky turns dark grey, the winds gust faster, harder, less lovingly, the thinning pine trees sway violently, unfriendly cars pass quickly, and there's nothing left to hold onto. So I just  let go.

I climb, one heavy leg at a time, as if ascending a never-ending winding staircase that's leading me to the pinnacle of my life. My eyes tear uncontrollably, the thin air barely enters my lungs, I think, I'm definitely going to need a double-knee replacement and I don't even care. Brian passes me with strength and exhaustion in equal measure. I breathe in "everything". I breathe out "surrenders". I recognize my unflappable determination the same way a mother must as she's giving birth: with deep knowing that nothing will stop her from bringing this new life into the world, even if it means the end of her. So it goes. This will be done.

And it was. I finally see the sign, Brian waiting for me 100 yards from it so we can reach the top together. We cycle forward, cross the road, and collapse completely in our sweaty shivering bodies as vacationers in RVs sit inside their temperature-controlled mega-huts watching in wonder the way they watch buffalo in the pastures. I sob, only this time it feels like hope rather than hopelessness. I sob for a half hour, holding my new born miracle in the arms of my dying fear.

Brian whips up a tripple layer peanut butter and jelly sandwich that feeds both parts of me. Then I sob some more. We get onto the bikes to descend the mountain, and still, I cannot stop sobbing.

Something broke crossing that mountain. Something huge. Something in me, that for so long doubted so much of myself, no longer seemed valid.

Nothing's impossible, I think.

Will sweating, cursing, doubting, fearing, crying and wanting a way out all emerge when I attempt INSANE goals? Of course.

Will that stop me? Nope.

Definitely Not.

It takes a mountain to break a mountain. It takes a mountain to build a new one.

And I know mountains.