Across the Rock Tour

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Friday, September 12, 2008 - Friday, November 7, 2008

November 7, 2008
Across the Rock Tour bids adieu

The Otesha Project's Across the Rock Tour spun to a joy-riding, world changing finale last week in St. John's, Newfoundland. The team went out with a flurry of fabulous performances and a Critical Mass ride in Canada's most easterly provincial capital. The following dispatch is the team's final instalment of Notes from the Road.

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Hello Folks!

We made it! We actually biked all the way from Halifax to St. John's. We conquered The Rock – and in October no less! And so we thought we would treat our readers to a seal flipper pie full of factoids from our tour! Here goes:

Total distance biked: 1700 km 
Days on the road: 49
Number of blizzards: 2
Number of church pianos: 15
Communities visited: 25
Presentations given: 27
Total audience: 2, 724
Number of ping pong tournaments: 1
Maximum life of cooked oats: 3 days
Number of failed attempts by Lukas and Jess to reach Cape Spear: 2
Broken chains: 6
Spontaneous haircuts: 7
Attempted moustaches: 5
Most surprising host gift: spam sandwiches
Jars of peanut butter consumed: 38
Items of used clothing purchased: 28
Items of used clothing lost, traded or given away: 28
Original songs written and performed: 9

Love, peace and lots of bicycle grease, 
The Across the Rock Crew

***

October 18, 2008
From the tour journal of Jenna Kessler

Half-way into October...

...the air is certainly crisp and the leaves are feeling festive. We travel past giant mountains dressed in orange red and gold... the wind tunnels through my knitted mitts and leg-warmers as we struggle up and down the inclines. Yesterday we rode from our cozy temporary home in Cornerbrook to a random beach-camping spot in Birchy-Lake. From there we cycle to Springdale... the total trip being 200 kilometres. I'm struggling with the idea of seasons and times... a time for rest, a time for grueling activity, a season for gorging on delicious foods. I often feel guilty about eating my gourmet, wholesome food... about being cozy and clean. This trip is allowing me to taste what it feels like to be cold and uncomfortable, but it is also teaching me what celebration and rest means... a little bit of both extremes are healthy to experience.

Late-mid October...

...Everything was golden and shinning today as we rode along the #230 HWY on our way to Milton, about 170kms from St. John's. The sun was setting and shafts of light made our shadows 10 feet long. We approached the town, a sleepy village on the coast and wood-smoke puffed out of the chimneys atop roofs along the way. I walked up my first hill of the tour – not a defeat but a conscious effort to save my energy for the next 70 kilometers of biking. So here I am in another little hospitable United Church, with the alter candle near by and a clock tick-tocking in the background. Last night, after a day of biking through what felt like a waterfall of rain all day, we set up shack in Terra Nova, the national park in these parts. All of me was soaked and drained of energy, but in grand spirits as I had spent the day with the lovely Kat, singing, pretending, talking, grunting and biking biking biking. These past two days have been the most physically challenging to date... my leg muscles can't be tamed now! I'm getting used to this lifestyle... packing, unpacking, dwelling in a new location every night, carrying everything on my back (or in this case, my panniers). This Otesha group is more and more feeling like family.... it's going to be difficult to part... 

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October 10, 2008
An evening adventure

We've reached the halfway mark of our adventure together and a new adventure unfolds every day. The other night after a long day of working through team challenges Jessica and I decided to take a trip down to the sandy beach. The days are getting shorter and it was pitch black as we set out to find the sea. We got lost in conversation on the way to the ocean and made our way down a moonlit path towards the sounds of the waves. Although we doubted our sanity a little we decided that there was no turning back... so we made our way to the shore and jumped into the waves. As our bodies entered the water we noticed something sparkling in the black water below. The magical liquid fairy dust, also known as phosphoresce, kept us in awe until we were too cold to keep swimming. We rushed back to shore, only to discover that it's harder to find your clothes in the dark than you might think. 

At first we thought we might have to walk back naked, but after about 10 minutes of searching Jessica stumbled upon our clothes. We set off back across the grassy, mossy, prickly bog. After what felt like an eternity, we finally saw streetlights in the distance. I have never been so happy to set foot on pavement in my life! Although we were on the road, it wasn't quite the same one we taken to get there. So we decided to test out the famous Newfoundland hospitality by knocking on the first door we found. We were waved inside and greeted with warm smiles and lots of chuckles as we explained that we were lost and trying to find our bikes and our friends at the rec centre. They set us straight and we were off to find our trusty metal steeds. We eventually saw our bike reflectors in the distance, and without a word took off at breakneck speed to our trusty bikes.

Whew.

I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures along the rugged coast of Newfoundland!

Till next time,
Miriam and the Across the Rock crew

***

October 9, 2008
Rockin' The Rock

The seven hour ferry ride to Newfoundland was fantastic. We even booked a performance on board! Breaking down the message to the 50+ crowd is always interesting, and this time was no exception. There were many smiles and some laughter. And the rest of the ferry ride was smooth sailing, from napping to knitting and even a fair deal of sunbathing on the top of the boat. Yes, the weather was splendid, and ironically enough no one really wanted to leave the ferry when we arrived at Port-aux-Basques.

The view from the ferry as we approached Port Aux Basques was both breathtaking and unsettling. Small mountains covered with greens and reds and browns. Trees were strangely absent from this barren place. We quickly fell in love with the area, and spent the weekend at the community center doing our mid-tour retreat.

Hurricane "Ike" blew across the Rock and gave us a bit of a scare. Locals told us about the "Wreck House," a stretch of highway that was notorious for its high winds, known to gust up to 200 km/h, said one man. All the hype got us feeling pretty nervous. In the end we were lucky, as the Wreck House turned out to be no problem at all, so much so that Lukas dubbed it the "Lame House!"

Turns out they can actually grow a great deal of crops on the Rock. We have been feasting on locally grown potatoes, turnips, cabbage, carrots and beets. Kristian made a delicious batch of pickled beets the other day (and he intends to make more!).

In Heatherton, Justin dropped into E.A. Butler High School and booked a performance for the very next day. And we will never forget the ladies of Heatherton, who brought us to Newfoundland's largest dairy, baked us all sorts of goodies and gave us a bag of salt cod. Hats off to you, ladies, for your warm hospitality!

Eating moose goulash and salt cod in St. Georges we felt like real Newfoundlanders, or something. In Stephenville was our first outdoor performance of the tour! Beautiful day!

We love the United Church and all their ministers! Heather in Guysborough, Kathryn in Stephenville, Wayne in Corner Brook… the list goes on.

We lived in the Manse (the pastor's house) for five nights. Most of us had our own room. From our back door you could see the bike shop and fair trade café. Gee, we are having one rough ride for sure.

A previous Otesha tour was particularly memorable to a lady from Corner Brook's United Church congregation: "I remember you every time I go to the bathroom," she told Kat.

Gros Morne hike. Breath-taking. Awe—inspiring. Winter picnic. Moose mania.

Prompted by the mini-hail storm and snow on our way out of Corner Brook, not to mention the pretty severe headwinds, Kat dubbed this land: "The land where weather is born."

Between Deer Lake and Springdale there is not much. Trees, lakes and probably a lot of moose, though we haven't seen any since Gros Morne. We end up finding a sweet camping spot on the shores of Sandy Lake, so we had our first real camping trip of the tour. A great bonfire, a cold and starry night and some delicious camp dal and quinoa was exactly what we needed to nourish our bellies after the long 110 kilometre ride.

Needless to say, we have left out a lot—we have all been having a blast. Sustainability and these issues are on most peoples' lips, but we're still a long way off from where we need to be. For example, in Newfoundland you can't recycle most types of plastic. That has been particularly disturbing to all of us. Nevertheless, there are some amazing individuals we have met who are doing great work in their communities. From making their own preserves and clothing to fair trade coffee co-ops and local agriculture, there is a lot out here, and there will surely be a lot more to say from us, so check back for more notes from the road. We'll see you there, down by the roadside!

Kristian and the Across the Rock crew
Springdale, Newfoundland

***

October 8, 2008
Farewell to Nova Scotia

Pedaling "across the rock" can be a grueling ordeal, with intense climbs and nasty headwinds that deliver hail straight into your face. As Lukas put it best, the surprise hail we encountered the first week of October "felt like thousands of mini-bullets." Overall, though, we have been spoiled with good weather, great food and very kind people. We've been having such a good time that we've even neglected to submit our Notes from the Road. Now, more than halfway into the tour, we're going to try and catch up. Here's part one:

Highlights from Nova Scotia:

The courtroom musical we staged at the Lion's Club during our goodbye evening with Otesha staff member Genevieve will go down in history as one of the funniest and most absurd events of most of our lives. You truly had to be there! Jenna played piano, Justin was the accused, Paul was the defendant, and Genevieve and Kristian were witnesses.

Foraging apples "down by the roadside" led to all sorts of tasty apple sauces and breakfast deliciousness.

Moser River: Jurgen and Gail are holding down the fort, leading a sustainability learning center, where they are relearning how to live off the land and grow their own food.

Performing to the 70+ crowd in Sherbrooke was a little strange, but we were all touched by the enthusiasm of some members of the congregation.

Yvonne Fox greeted us the moment we arrived in Port Hastings on Cape Breton. This lady was on fire. She had so much energy and character; we had no idea what to make of her at first. She brought us chili and baked goods made by members of the congregation. Then Bernie stopped by. Bike mechanic, firefighter, drummer, DJ… this man could do it all. Bernie was hands down one of the wackiest, most memorable characters yet. He fixed our bikes, warmed our hearts and got us going on the dance floor into the wee hours.

And because our library performance fell through in Port Hawkesbury, we staged an impromptu show at the Kitchen Party down at Shindig's Pub.

The community at L'Arche in Wycogomagh, Cape Breton inspired everyone. We were touched by how people with disabilities lived alongside everyone else in harmony and without any awkwardness. With wind at our back, the ride from Wycogomagh to Sydney was one of the best yet. We had beautiful weather and great views of Lake Bras D'or, Canada's largest inland sea. Staying at Darlene's new apartment in Sydney before she moved on was a great way to spend our last night in Nova Scotia, as we awaited our ferry that would take us across to THE ROCK.

More coming soon…

Peace and bike grease,
Kristian and the Across the Rock crew

***

September 18, 2008 
Down by the roadside

Fifteen cyclists, spinning wheels and weaving dreams in the rolling seaside landscapes of Nouvelle Ecosse, land of reverberating history, echoing music, and quirky roadside attractions (like a roadside mannequin of a bride facing the sea, white veil flowing in the salty wind, guarding a pile of wood for sale). Feeling our lungs fill with salty fresh air, many of us feel thrilled to be so alive and free.

Our many stops along the roadside bring us moments of beauty, calm, camaraderie, and often, hilarity. So far, along the roadside, we've foraged for wild rosehips, hanging from swaying intricately veined bushes. We've smelled wild roses, growing so unintentionally along the highway, a fragrance only those on bicycles could fully appreciate. We've picked wild crab apples and made them into delectable crisps and crumbles full of oats and spice and everything warm and nice. We've taken pee breaks only to spend more than a short break of time picking black berries, warmed by the sun, into our calloused hands.

Down by the roadside, we've passed long stretches of ocean, admired the way the cormorants stretch their wings on rocky shores, watched the seaweed lap our feet. We've had moments of awe, wonder, tranquility, moments where we think of home and those we left behind, but also moments where we find ourselves together on the roadside, palms open and outstretched to one another in love and community. A feeling resides in my heart when we are together: that we can make it together, one cadence at a time. Such a vital community means everything in the world, a community adaptable to change and open to the possibilities of the future.

Down by the roadside... we'll keep pedaling for a better world and for each other.

- Katharine Williams

***

September 13, 2008 
Memories of Sherbrooke

It is early evening, and I find myself on the shag carpet of a little white United Church in the East end of Nova Scotia, in a wee town called Sherbrooke. We just finished up an 80 kilometer bike ride from Sheet Harbor in which many a mountain were conquered. The sound of squeaking brakes of three bicycles penetrate the thin walls of the church; part of the team is home from showering at the home of a kind stranger who has offered us the use of her washroom.

Things are well.

My body is tired.

I find that I'm not thinking about anything while biking, purely concentrating on the rhythm of my breathing and the cadence of my cycling. I'm wishing more epic thoughts would enter my brain but I also am grateful for the time of peace. The scenery is breathtaking and our cycling rhythms are often interrupted by photo-ops.

I have come to picture the concept of gravity as a giant hand resisting all of my efforts to reach higher ground – an image that makes hills seem insurmountable.

There is such a sense of genuine thankfulness and support here. Spirits are high and flying, even after a crazy seven hour day of cleaning, packing, dancing, cycling, and navigating. I don't think I could do this trip without the support of so many wonderful people.

Mmm....sleep now.....

- Jenna

***

September 12, 2008
Across the Rock checks in to adventure

Hello friends and family of the Across the Rock Tour! We have spent our first week training in Halifax, getting to know each other with lots of long conversations, swimming, laughter, dancing, and – of course – play practice. The following are excerpts from the journals of tour members.

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It's been two years, but I'm back cycling in Nova Scotia. Rather than the solo-retreat of 2006, I'm here now with an army/gang/troupe/team/community/circle of others. We come from across Canada with many personal goals and one common one: to cycle 1,800 kilometers and spread a message of sustainable living. We're learning what that means by the many discussions we have with ourselves and the communities that host us along the way. What does local mean in Newfoundland and can it be vegetarian? We're basically a bunch of crazies who have chosen to leave behind our lives back 'home' to try something else and stretch ourselves in all directions. For me, this involves balancing a critique of consumer culture with a hope and strategy for radical social change. And it involves connecting the head with the heart, memory and present-ness with imagination, and exploring the thin boundaries of self and society. Time and space are different on tour. There's an immersion here that I get lost in. And I like it. I was the lucky receiver of the Level 3 training exercise. My only description of the event to date was this:

eyes closed
I inhale
lead or dropped into a sea of affirmation
until someone pulls the plug in the tank
I spiral down (or was it through?) 
with the feeling of red in a child's toy pinwheel
only then to be raised up and lying on a field of hands 
and starring at the bluest sky
only exhaling later that night
in the darkness of my private tent

- Paul Baines

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"Wherever You Go... There You Are" (Chinese Proverb)

Tuesday September 2, 2008 
In the lucid hours of the morning, I sip tea in Linda's kitchen. The moment seems surreal, as I think of all that has happened in the last week: fond farewells to friends in the NWT, a 36-hour bus ride to Winnipeg, visiting my best friend, Iris, and reconnecting with loved ones in Toronto. It's 4:00 a.m. and the taxi is late, but nothing can dampen my spirits. I feel incredibly thankful to have such amazing people in my life, and my mind is in a good place to begin this Otesha journey.

Friday September 5, 2008
Diversity is wonderful, and I'm glad to be here. There is such an incredible wealth of knowledge, skills, and talents within the two tour groups. The ideas that people come up with during workshops and play practice are so rich. I can't imagine one person being able to create something so beautiful all alone. And then there's the music and dancing. It feels like camp, but for grown-ups. I am truly loving all the random sing-a-longs and impromptu dance parties.

I feel that our Across the Rock team is jelling more as a group. Today in our "Fears" workshop, we spoke candidly about our fears towards the upcoming tour. There is a subtle maturity in the team dynamic, and the atmosphere is one of respect and support. It is my hope that we will maintain this attitude – especially when facing those conversations that might be difficult.

Saturday September 6, 2008
Genevieve teaches us about Level 3, and my face lights up. She talks about inspiration, revolutions, and giving the best of ourselves. I think about what I have to give and a deep humility follows. Among this incredible group of dreamers and doers, I can only offer the truest version of my unaccomplished and imperfect self.

Monday September 8, 2008
It's our last evening with the Rising Tide Team. We share snapshots of the week, receive our Otesha t-shirts, and entertain each other with a talent show, complete with music, poi, loon & owl calls, juggling, and gymnastics. It surprises me that in just a few short days, I've grown to appreciate and care for every person here, and these goodbyes are sad. I think about the quote: "Wherever you go, there you are," and it feels so much richer now that these beautiful people have become a part of me.

- Kim Dinh

***

Whew. It's funny now to look back at the nervousness and doubt that filled my heart just before leaving B.C. I scrambled to pack, deal with storage, say goodbye to my Vancouver family (I know I missed lots of you), pick up last-minute gear and disassemble my bike by moonlight. This all happened within 48 hours after leaving a wonderful but intense experience co-leading a wilderness program at Camp Potlatch. I definitely questioned my sanity as I left one adventure for another. I sat on the plane and cracked open the Otesha book for the first time. The reality of being a project participant was beginning to sink in...

The training week was full of inspirational stories, energizing games and play practice. I struggled to learn the lines of my role: Larry, a very serious news anchor who narrates the positive and negative impacts of the choices we make daily from the food on our plates to the coffee in our mugs to the clothes on our backs to the way we transport ourselves to work or school. After a week spent bonding with my amazing Across the Rockers, the nervousness and doubt that had filled my head was transformed into excitement and joy. The enthusiasm was contagious and I know it will fuel our journey over the next two months!

- Miriam Stein

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That's just a taste… stay tuned for more dispatches to come!

Peace and bike grease,
The Across the Rock Tour