Posted by Sally Holmes, Media Coordinator for Team RICONN
Two weeks ago, we left Lowell, Massachusetts on our separate teams, and headed off to our respective states. It was pouring outside and the hallway was a claustrophobic space of trailer organising. Our directors Craig and Marla sent us off with words of encouragement, reminding us why the work we do is important. I often try to recall their inspiring words when my team, Team RICONN, experiences setbacks—setbacks we have indubitably faced in these past two weeks. The reality, however, is that each team is on its own, and by the very nature of the programme, not depending on its directors or hosts for a long period of time. My team and I have come to realise, nevertheless, that we can rely on the various people that we meet along the way to motivate and push us up both the physical and metaphorical hills we encounter.
Our ride this past Thursday was supposed to be from South Providence, Rhode Island to Mansfield, Connecticut– what would have been a record-breaking 53 mile-day for our team. Naturally, Team RICONN ran into a multitude of problems, including an ATV trail, a state park through which we could not cross, and unlabelled roads. We realised at 4.30 p.m. that we would never make it to Mansfield and desperately called Marla to find housing closer by that night. After some backtracking, we were told we could sleep eleven miles away at the First Congregational Church of Plainsfield, CT. We had a time limit to get to the church before the Pastor left for the night, so three of us raced ahead as fast as we could go.
The Pastor told us it was 90% downhill to the church – upon our arrival, we decided she must have meant to say 90% uphill, not 90% downhill. Those last eleven miles were the worst of the summer for me so far – pulling the trailer up who knows what percent grade hills, swimming in sweat, I could feel my energy sapping by the second. It didn’t help that we were out of food that we could eat on the road, and I knew soon we’d be out of water with no time to stop and fill up. It became harder to push my bike up the hills than it was to ride it. I ran out of upbeat songs to sing to take my mind off riding, so I turned to Christmas carols and School House Rock’s “Conjunction Junction.” I concentrated on Dan’s bike in front of me, and blinking sweat and sunscreen out of my eyes, I willed myself to keep going as fast as I could. After what felt like an eternity, we arrived at the church.
While Dan went inside and Alivia made sure the rest of the team knew where to turn when they cruised in, I stood shakily outside the church and chatted with a few congregation members. One of them looked at me and asked, “So where are you staying for the evening?” I told him that we were planning on sleeping here, on the church floor. The man next to him, who I later learned was Michael, spontaneously suggested that we stay at his house: “I mean, if you want to sleep in beds – we have beds, showers, a pool, lots of food.” Following the quickest team meeting RICONN has ever had, we thankfully took him up on his offer and hopped back on our bikes for one last mile to Michael’s house.
From the moment we pulled into his driveway until we pulled out of it the next morning, my life was a blur of happiness. Michael and his wife, Judy, a self-proclaimed country girl, entertained us all evening with stories of hitchhiking across America and how they met. Some of us took a dip in their pool – this was when Kristy loudly proclaimed, “This is normal! This is normal!
I don’t know about normal, because every moment we spent at Michael and Judy’s house felt out of this world. The house was beautifully decorated, complete with kitchen walls full of shells and stones that Michael and Judy’s relatives had given them. We ate in the sunroom – and oh, did we eat. The couple gave us delicious pasta with eggplant, fresh greens, blueberries, pulled pork for our one carnivore, and my personal favourite, clam chowder. We ate until we could burst, and the next morning they fed us endless amounts of scrambled eggs, pancakes and grits. I thought life could not get better until they sent us off with a bag of chocolate chip cookies for the road, at which a few of us declared, “I’m going to cry” (a traditional saying for Team RICONN whenever we receive cookies). I cannot express how magical it felt sleeping in such a comfortable bed, eating such delectable food, and talking to such phenomenal people.
After spending time with Michael and Judy, and thinking back to those horrid last eleven miles to Plainsfield, I realized it doesn’t matter that we have no permanent home, workplace, or schedule.What matters is that along the way, we are bound to meet people like Michael and Judy, who motivate us to keep on going no matter how bad we’re feeling. People as generous as these two remind me that the human race is actually worth fighting for. As slowly and surely as we pull our trailers up those Connecticut hills (but really, who knew Connecticut was actually hilly?), we are slowly and surely trying to make this world better for the future, so that Michael’s and Judy’s can exist in it forever.