If you follow this link to Partners In Health’s homepage, you’ll find a picture of the seven of us smiling our faces off in Boston. Its been sixteen days since we finished our cross country ride, and some really flattering articles by Stephanie Garry (http://www.pih.org/blog/cyclists-ride-4000-miles-to-raise-funds-for-pih) of Partners In Health and Kathie Ragsdale (http://www.wickedlocal.com/lincoln/features/x1837077530/Lincoln-resident-rides-across-America-for-the-world) of my hometown newspaper, the Lincoln Journal, have inspired me to write my own end of the trip blog post.
I think that this picture, accidentally taken by my mom as she tried to record a video at the beach in Boston, sums up how I felt that day:
Saltwater, 63 days of untamed facial hair growth, and closing the book on an incredible 3,850(ish) mile bike ride led to that beautiful smile. After staying in Lincoln the night before and seeing some of my best friends from high school – many of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation – I was feeling indescribably good. I remember telling a friend one or two days after the ride that I had never felt quite so content in my entire life.
Due to the incredible generosity of friends, families, and strangers from all walks of life, I managed to raise over $2000 in the last 2 weeks of my ride, and I accomplished my goal of raising $10,000 for the life saving work of Partners In Health and FACE AIDS, which helped that smile stay on my face for even longer.
Sixteen days after the fact, I finally have the time to reflect on my summer and think about what I actually accomplished through cycling and fundraising. Personally, I managed to tighten my ties to both the United States and its people. For instance, before the trip I thought that Nebraska and Iowa were home to corn, John Deere tractors, football, and more corn. After passing through there, I realized that I was completely right.
But, I also found incredible people there, like a community organizer we met up with in Grand Island, Nebraska, a professional pie maker in Des Moines, Iowa, and a crazy, fun-loving family in Bettendorf, Iowa. The people, rather than the landscape, made me want to get off my bike for a few extra days, spend time following each of them around as they lead their unordinary lives, and figure out how they managed to make the most of everyday.
I cannot think of any banal platitudes to sum up what I learned from all these people. Maybe a combination of ‘act up,’ “do what you love” and “do unto others as you would have done unto you,” but that feels too impersonal. The only real, concrete goal that I’ve made for myself after visiting all these people in countless towns is that I need to learn Spanish. I remember vividly how, in a rural town in Central Pennsylvania, I had a brief conversation with a man from Guatemala that I did not have the skills to continue. I cannot fathom how many more people I could have spoken to and learned from if I had only continued to learn Spanish after finishing high school.
As far as global health and the power of fundraising, the past two weeks have helped put the $10,000 I raised in perspective. Every night before going to bed for the past 16 days, I have been reading a few pages of Paul Farmer’s new book To Repair the World, a collection of graduation speeches and presentations that he has delivered between 1999 and 2012. Each speech is a passionate appeal to graduates to involve themselves in the fight against some of the worlds’ worst inequities. Money has and always will be a part of solving those problems, and I’m glad to know that my efforts, however, small, will make a positive difference in the fight against those inequities. Most importantly, however, To Repair the World has shown me that I can contribute far more than money. Taking action, organizing people, and fighting the status quo are all skills that the Ride Against AIDS has helped me develop.
Ever since Kindergarten, my teachers and professors have been teaching me how to think – how to analyze difficult subjects like Thoreau’s Walden or the development of a new government in Egypt, and develop an opinion. In class, however, students rarely have the opportunity to take action on those opinions. Extracurricular activities like the 2013 Ride Against AIDS, however, have connected me to the very real issues that plague the world. Experiences like this will always be at the back of my mind as I work through college and eventually find myself in a position to make a difference.
Here are some of my favorite photos from the final few days: