I have met some of the most amazing people during this trip, as I have indicated in earlier posts. I have decided to share their stories, as they become inevitably influential and intertwined with my own. I have learned a lot about myself, and about the world during conversations I hold with these individuals. There are some who have never left the comfort and safety of the town that they grew up in, there are some who have been transients living on the road for years, and there are many in between those two extremes.
Today I approached an older gentleman. He pulled up to a coffee shop wearing large rimmed plastic eyeglasses remiscient of decades long passed. The worn red bicycle jersey he was wearing is a testament to the longevity and resiliency of the human body to outlast manmade fabrics. The jersey was not the only indictor of a veteran cyclist; his strong trunk like legs carried his torso into the coffee shop. All the while I sat observing the situation, determining whether or not to approach him. I felt drawn towards him for some reason and I decided to ask to sit with him, as he had just taken a seat outside in the sun. I got up from where I was sitting indoors, and asked if I could sit with him. He immediately responded positively and we chatted about each others place in this current place and time in the world. His name is Tom and he is a history professor from Asheville, North Carolina. I inquired about his profession, and about what he was doing in Damascus, VA. He comes to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail, a multi-use trail that supports the town of Damascus by bringing in around 200,000 tourists to the area a year. It is a beautiful gravel trail that parallels a river and is lined with lush green forest. We then started speaking about my goals of raising money for Save the Children, and for interviewing people about their opinions and views regarding refugees and immigrants. I spoke with Tom about traveling through many small towns, where industry has dried up and jobs are scarce. We spoke about how it takes an immense amount of privilege to be able to hold a physical or emotional space and observe ones health or happiness when one is struggling to put food on the table. It makes sense that many rural Americans respond to many situations with fear, specifically with regard to outsiders (refugees and immigrants) when they are struggling to survive in their small towns that are no longer able to support them.
I spoke with other locals about how meth addicts had taken over their town as well, in Wytheville, VA. I think it is important to try and understand where these complex viewpoints arise from in order to increase understanding and compassion, and work together, trying to bridge the deep political, ideological, and emotional divide that currently exists within our great country.
While we may not all agree on how to best solve these complex issues, we should at least be able to communicate and empathize with each other as fellow human beings who have the amazing capacity to respond with compassion.
I also met two younger gentleman who are 25 years of age and who are also biking across the country. I stayed with them in a cyclists hostel in Damascus. Their names are Lincoln and Jordan. They are kind individuals who have embarked upon what they call “The Freedom Tour”. Interestingly, they too are concerned with what really unites us as a country. Before even telling them that encouraging dialogue between opposed inviduals was my goal, the said that their mission was to unite people within our country and encourage communication between typically opposed individuals.
From the first time I met them, it was clear that they are also about having fun. They continually cracked hilarious jokes throughout the time I spent with them. It really made me realize how serious this last year has been for me since graduating college and moving home to help my mother and stepfather during their recovery from my mother experiencing a stroke last December. It also made me feel a little bit lonely, wanting to have another person along to make the trip a little more light hearted and to share incredible experiences with. They reminded me to enjoy this experience and have a little more fun rather than be caught up in my own mind thinking of serious existential crises this whole trip and missing the beauty and joy of nature and companionship that surrounds me.
Here are a few photos: