I remember sitting on the carpet in the living room of the barn-shaped house where I grew up in Mineola, New York watching a character in the classic television show The Little Rascals (on reruns) whip down a hill on a runaway go-cart.
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way!” he exclaimed, leaning in to the inevitable fact that there was no turning back.
That’s how I feel right now.
We’ve been whipping down a hill on a go-cart the past three years with this global pandemic, not to mention (okay, fine, I’ll mention it) the increasing political and climate crises both close to home and around the world. The war in Ukraine. School shootings. Wildfires. Drought. Job instability. Ageism. Sexism. Racism. Rising costs. Rising hate. The rise again of antisemitism. Opioids. Suicide. The overthrow of the right to my body that I’ve had since I was a little girl (since two years after the very first Earth Day ever, when I joined my first-grade class onstage in a performance — I was a tree with one line: “Please prop up my branch; it is about to break”).
Death, death, death, everywhere and no sign of any relief or even a national or global day of mourning yet. No one really knowing where they’re going, including me. I’ve been trusting the journey, as is my motto, riding my bike, planting seeds (the ultimate act of faith in the future) but it’s just one runaway day after another. And time, that nonrenewable resource we take for granted, is running out.
And so here I stand, right now, today, testing out a yellow folding bike and red backpack holding a microfiber towel and three outfits and nuts and dark chocolate and flip flops for the showers.
I’m clutching a black and white composition book with a taped-in itinerary that will take me via buses and trains more than 5,000 miles to barns, yurts, tiny homes, and trailers (and maybe even a random geodome and earth ship) for five consecutive months of what’s called WWOOFing — a global program at participating organic farms where you barter a few hours of work each day for room and board and the ability to pick the brains of seasoned experts on the front lines of survival. I just got home from pilot-testing it for two weeks while living in a Tiny Home on a nonprofit farm named Our Giving Garden in Mableton, Georgia.
I’m currently reaching out to seven dramatically different farms from coast to coast, featuring everything from llamas to swamis, die-hard cowboys to the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
As a street photographer and writer, I’m also bearing witness like a modern-day Dorothea Lange with the Farm Security Administration (a U.S. government program in the 1930s — the same timeframe as the original airing of The Little Rascals, by the way — that sent photojournalists and writers out to document the Great Depression and Dust Bowl) in an additional 12 geographically-diverse cities across the USA.
My itinerary includes an historically-conservative city obliterated by a tornado years ago that built back green and that I covered in a feature story in a national magazine in 2007 (I’ve been at this awhile). What’s become of it? What’s become of us? What can give us hope and promise for a better tomorrow, not only from the list of 100 best ideas from Paul Hawken and others for climate improvement featured in the stunning compilation Drawdown but also unsung heroes doing, as Mother Teresa suggested, small things with great love? I will find them. (You may enjoy following my Today’s Nice Stranger photo album on Instagram.)
Yes, I am married. Thirty-two years. Yes, I have a family. Two grown daughters. Yes, I have a home and bills and responsibilities. But I turn 60 on my next birthday, at the very end of this trip, and this needs to happen. Now. I recently dodged a pre-cancerous condition and also survived a hit-and run while riding my bike in the place I call home. No one currently needs me as a caregiver, but that’s coming again. I’m on borrowed time.
I’m doing this with the support of my husband as well as my daughters and octogenarian parents. I say that because it’s the very first question almost everyone asks –“What does your husband think?” They obviously missed my book, Bucket List, and my Peace Corps story. This is one long love story, team.
The rest of my backstory doesn’t matter that much. We’ve all got them. There’s a saying that everyone has a story that would break your heart, and let’s just say that’s mine, too, and surely yours. I see you.
And now, onward. You, me and the duck. Oh, yeah, Disco. My rollerskating buddy Caryn brought him back from Amsterdam for me. I Gorilla-glued him onto an old bike light strap and hooked him around my handlebars and he’s been going everywhere with me. He makes me laugh. He makes people smile. There are already lots of TikToks that feature him. Here’s the most recent, on my way to Mableton:
Here’s another, coming home from my Sharing Garden at a community garden for refugees and featuring his signature song from the 1970s when I used to disco rollerskate (yep). That’s actually a different bridge even though it looks the same.
Are all bridges in life the same at heart? Are all hearts really just bridges that connect us?
Those kitted-out lycra guys who usually blow past me now nod at lights and say, “I like your duck.” It’s nice. Will he perhaps help me bridge our increasingly wide divides out there? Or will he perhaps just keep me company at a time when loneliness, along with everything else lately, is killing people?
I don’t know where I’m going beyond an itinerary that’s sure to change, but I’m on my way. Join me. Follow here and at SpeedOfBike on TikTok for updates. I’m currently working on a dedicated web site with the ‘Round America with a Duck* book proposal, bonus content from my recent two-week road-test, other pre-trip developments, and interactive ways to join me hands-on from the comfort of your couch.
It’ll be awhile before this currently-unlived, unwritten book is available in both physical and digital forms (like two of my other books: Food for My Daughters and Traveling at the Speed of Bike). In the meantime, maybe I can change the world for the better a bit — prop up its branches, so to speak — or inspire you to make a change or two you’ve been wanting to make as well, even if it’s just living out loud (or outside the box) a little bit more, or trusting the journey.
Let’s shake our tail feathers.
* title inspired by my favorite book of all time, ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge