July 7, 2010: We are 12, but not Apostles, we are bicyclists. We are 4 more, but not a Mathew, Mark, Luke or a John, we are support drivers. For nearly 40 days, like apostles or disciples, all of us have been cast into a unique mobile community, a bicycling commune. We have over 60 more days ahead of us. We have sacrificed our comfort… sharing rooms with former strangers. We have sacrificed our privacy… the “ladies’/men’s room” is in the bushes on THAT side of the road. We have compromised our sleeping habits, and our eating habits. We share our physical aches, and our emotional ones. The forge of our condition has tempered us into “family”.
I have pondered the inevitable times that we would be called upon to bring “others” into our fold. Segment riders, people who wholeheartedly embrace our undertaking, but because of work, family, or other considerations, are unable to assume the obligations of our entire coast to coast journey. What a challenge to suddenly appear, bags and bicycle in hand, among 16 people who have evolved their common experiences into understandings that need no words. We read the shrug of a shoulder, the furl of a brow, the shuffle of a step, as a melody in another member’s day. Sometimes our emotions sing the same song, sometimes another, but almost always with harmony. We are a chorus. Enter the “stranger”, the unknown voice.
Tom, was a stranger. He arrived in time to join us for the long and challenging ride from Rawlins to Riverside, Wyoming. That day’s ride saw us persevere over rough and narrow roads, through thunderstorms and hail, with headwinds and crosswinds gusting to over 50 miles per hours. There was no time for small talk, and no polite social graces were exchanged. At the end of the day, no one was in the mood to “welcome” anything other than a hot shower, a cold beer, and a warm bed. That night, our accommodations consisted of rough-hewn log cabins, likely built in the early 20th century.
At 5:30 a.m. the next morning I reluctantly stuck my head out the warped doorway and through the shredded screen door. I was looking to see if there was some sign of another day of hell-weather. The sky was ambiguous, but the scent was not. My nostrils were assailed by the rich pungent aroma of fresh roasted coffee. There was real caffeine in the air. Not the thin hint of the tepid dark imitation that is served up by most drip machines, but coffee with the raven darkness of abused motor oil. Tom, like the Pied Piper, was calling all of us coffee loving “rats” out of our lairs with the melody of his brew. He stood upon the dew sodden grass, illuminated by the early hint of dawn with a large, old style pewter espresso coffee pot in hand. I and the other “customers” lined up at his bidding, cups in hand. The tribulations of the prior day were forgotten, and Tom was instantly “one of us”.
The next few days gave me pause to consider the genius of Tom’s foresight. It occurred to me that anyone entering into a social order has a limited number of options with regard to the established group. One may ignore the group, not rejected or rejecting, but never accepted either, a non-person. One may choose to identify oneself to the group by emphasizing the distinctions and differences that exist between the individual and the group. This is a recipe for non-acceptance. There is also the less malignant, but no more effective, “I am one of you, but what makes me unique from you is…”. Then there is the “coffee pot”. The foresight to think of the others, to strive to embrace what we have in common, what we share, what we understand.
In our cycling group, we are not lawyers, clergy, doctors, business persons, social workers, retirees… we are people, we are family. Among us we strive to be “we”, “us”, and “our”, never “them”, never “they”. This is how it should be in the human family. It makes it so much easier to help and be helped, to accept and be accepted. Coffee anyone?
Peace Everyone! Pete Schloss