One Last Sunset Together

Hello, everyone. If you’re wondering, I’m mostly OK right now, with some slight symptoms of withdrawal. I don’t know if you noticed, but I have been trying hard to avoid writing this post. Because it really does put me in an anxious place. Maybe it’s too soon to be talking about the end of this journey, especially since it ended so quickly, and in such an unexpected way. But I figure I should do this as soon as possible, even if my emotions are still in a weird place. I figure this will be interesting for my family, friends, and future self, to read.

In my current state of anxiety, I have started and deleted the first sentence of this post about 10 times, cut off the same number of inches from my almost-dreadlocked hair, and had countless solo dance parties in my room to all the summer tunes I’ve missed while on the road.* I also find a pile of Lindt chocolate truffle wrappers in front of me, and I simply do not know how they got there.

I’m sitting here, consulting the frenzied scribbles in my personal journal, trying to decide what I want to give away, and what I want to keep for myself.

I’ll go back to Stockton first. We had our last build day of the trip in Stockton, California. When we got to the build site, we met George, a man who clearly had a lot of experience with building and wore his Carhartt overalls with deserved pride. He told us about the Habitat for Humanity in Stockton, as well as the importance of location and orientation of homes. George talked about some of the green building methods that the Stockton chapter uses in order to make homes more cost efficient. “Minimize to maximize, maximize to minimize,” he’d say. We were then directed by Rene, a charismatic, and interesting, build manager. As a reader of this blog, Rene was already familiar with some of our team and the shenanigans that we engage in on this trip. We were split up and put to work roofing, fencing, and digging holes. It was great to work with a Habitat affiliate that, days earlier, after our deliberations, we had decided to give a grant to.

The next morning, we set our sights on Palo Alto. My tire had reached the end of its life, and by mile 20, I had a flat and found several large slashes in my tire. I decided to wait for sweep while taking a nap underneath a tree by the road. When Trevor and Stephen pulled up, they had red, white, and blue stripes in their hair and a matching patriotic tire, that had been donated by “Dan from Central”. I set off in high spirits, with a new tire and war paint on my face.** We rode through a pass that was surrounded by hills of dry yellow grass, wind mills, and solar panels. This, to me, was proof that we were, in fact, in California. Lunch, at mile 50, was at Todd’s house, where his parents and siblings greeted us with kindness and delicious food. After lunch, I was still the last person before sweep, so I set off on my own, but rode with Grace and Kelsey for a while before riding on by myself. I was glad to catch up with Cindy and Emily, because we hit a windy and busy one-lane road. Then, things became a little blurry.

The last thing I remember with any clarity, after the accident, was being in an ambulance with a friendly, young guy who was telling me about his life as an EMT. Once at the hospital, I felt a bit woozy, but generally well. Besides some road rash and a bruise on my cheek and lips, I was physically fine. I later found out that I had lost consciousness for quite a while. There was also a conversation or two that I had had, and now have no memory of.

At the hospital, I was given a CAT scan and IV. The doc recommended that I stay at the hospital for at least 12 hours, in case the concussion was more serious than they had initially thought. I was hesitant to stay the night and potentially miss our last day of riding, but I was also too tired and dizzy to really question his advice. Stan, one of our leaders, came to visit me at the hospital and talk out the options. In the end, I decided to stay in the hospital, which would mean I would miss our last day of riding to the shore. I felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to finish this journey the way I thought I would, and knew I could. Even so, I felt more relieved than sad about the whole situation. Concussions (I’ve had one in the past) scare me to no end, and the idea of losing memories is one of my biggest fears. I began to rack my brain, making sure that all the sunsets, inside jokes, valuable conversations, dance moves, and silly moments were still there. I hoped to keep these memories safe and locked up in my brain for a long time, and I was so thankful that they were still intact and lucid in my mind.

That night, Stan left me with an amazing bar of Godiva dark chocolate and a not-so-amazing styrofoam box of chinese food. Then my phone started to buzz. I received so many positive messages, silly photos, and funny videos from my teammates. It felt great to smile, even though it hurt my bruised face pretty badly. There are some gems from Kaitlyn, Beth, and Sarah that really made me laugh.

The next morning, after I was cleared for discharge from the hospital, I met Mr. and Mrs. Huntley, May’s parents, in the lobby. They had kindly offered to pick me up from the hospital, which was a 40-minute drive from Half Moon Bay. The Huntley’s are such a positive and energetic family, and even though I would have rather been on my bike, I am glad I got the chance to ride to the bay in the car with them.

Moments later, I was standing next to my teammates, just yards from the Pacific Ocean, still in my paper scrubs. It was a sunny and clear day, one of the best days I have seen in the bay area. The waves were huge, both threatening and hypnotically inviting at the same time. We ran into the water together. Since I was still not feeling that well, I retreated pretty quickly to the sand while everyone played and swam in the ocean. I found a spot to sit in the sand, and video-called Melissa, one of our riders who left the trip early to start her job in Ohio. I’m glad I got to share that moment of joy and accomplishment with a teammate, even though she was thousands of miles away.

Watching my teammates play in the ocean was a moment I won’t forget. I thought about how we had met just 10 weeks ago, as strangers, eager to embark on a grand adventure that was not yet grand nor yet an adventure. Though there have been other Bike and Build trips, the unique memories that we created, both as individuals and as a family, make #P2C14 so special.

After the wheel dip, we headed back to the church, where I began dealing out some early goodbyes. The initial plan was for me to figure out my own way of getting back home, probably by greyhound or the train, but my worried parents had driven up from Southern California earlier that morning because of the accident. I was sitting at a table when someone tapped me. I turned around to find my mom standing there. I felt a bunch of indecipherable sensations in my stomach, and for a moment, I thought indigestion was the culprit, considering the mess of foods I had stuffed in my mouth earlier that afternoon. I hugged my mom. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but it was so nice to be in such a familiar embrace. My dad joined us in the church, and I could see the concern and relief on both of their faces.

We met later that night on the beach. My parents drove me, Rob, and Cindy back to the shore, where we found some Bike and Build alum working a grill. The sun was beginning to set. We were bathed in California’s golden light, and it was surreal. Everyone was enjoying the view, the food, and the drinks that were thoughtfully provided and planned by our alum. There was a certain satisfied sadness, knowing that this would be the last sunset we would watch together. The Pacific Ocean was a goal, a motivating force, that we had been talking about since Providence, but now that we were finally here, it didn’t seem real. It was romantically melancholy to think that the Pacific was not just a goal, but also an endpoint to this journey. Someone started a bonfire, and s’mores popped out of nowhere because that’s what happens. A cop came and made us put out the fire, because that’s the law.

After the party, we drove back to the church, and after some more extended goodbyes, I parted ways with the strangers that had become my friends and family over the past two months.

*If you know me, you know that I’m just playing that new Taylor Swift song on repeat.
**Bike grease from my dirty chain

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7 thoughts on “One Last Sunset Together

  1. Wow!! I figured you were just sad from the ride being over, had no idea this happened! You have just proved to me again you are one tough lady! Damn proud of you! Gotta ask, how did the wreck happen?

    Very glad you are ok and you accomplished amazing things kid! One last (ok two) pieces of advice. Get on the bike and ride soon. It’s important both physically and mentally after something like this (both the end of the big ride and the crash). Second, start researching your next endeavor. You never want to lose the adventurous spirit.

    Finally, thanks for packing this old geezer along with ya! I’ve enjoyed crossing the country with you. Well done Michelle!

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