Great Lakes Tour

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009 - Friday, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009

The End of The Line

A Note From Ashley Biro:

Before beginning Otesha, I thought that the journey would change me.  I wasn’t sure how but change was a definite.  What has been interesting to me is that I’ve not so much changed as I have come back home to my real self.  I’ve had the opportunity to retrace these lines of identity and consider the steps taken to my arrival in the present.  As I’ve cycled along these roads, making my way across the province, I’ve actually been moving back...back to a time where terms have meanings that aren’t loaded with conventions and generalities.  With every pedal and hill I managed to let go of some false promise that I let in, that I allowed to influence me along those rocky years of youth without realizing that “what’s fake, looks good”.  What was wrong for me was easy. Prior to these last two months I valued the comfortable, the familiar.  It was a flawed ethic and I felt stuck.  Like so many other liberal arts students, I woke up earlier this year with a degree, a pile of debt and absolutely no clue where to turn.  I kept promising others that I lived for the Truth, while lying to myself.  I didn’t know what to do...I felt like a person who loved existence so generally that I didn’t actually care about anything.  I was paralyzed by my freedom of choice.  As if lost in a forest and needing to take a step in some direction; it must be done, but how?  For me, it was easier to just sit under that tree of simplicity in Ottawa.  It was easier to sleep. So I did.  I was bored, frustrated and lazy.  I spent almost all of my time alone and drove myself mad with abstract contemplations...

But, like many of us, I always fancied bikes, and this past year I rediscovered the joy of cycling.  Her name was Betty, a beat-up, sky blue Montreal road bike from 1976 with a basket and the worst brakes.  I loved her.  But she was dangerous and needing stability in that kind of relationship I had to up and leave her for Louise.  Louise was a rusty white bike with a weight problem and no gears but she had charm.  Waitressing late nights over the summer, I would thank Louise for protecting me and keeping me safe underneath the moonlit sky.  I saw the world again in that incredible way that we all first discover as children when we first learn to ride a bike.  There is just nothing else like it.  I wanted to be outside, I wanted to move.  I wanted to combine reflection with the Active.  I started to remember that when I was younger I really cared about the environment, and that I still did, I just let myself get distracted for awhile.  I spent more time connecting with nature, and It Was Good.

When I discovered Otesha (purely by chance) I was shocked at how perfect the timing was.  I’ll always thank you God for that one!  I used to say to people, “You know, you really do have to try at life.” Otesha was my chance to follow my own obnoxious advice.  This would be my first adventure.

Breathe..........                                                                            The wind is blowing in my face and ITS SO LOUD THAT I CAN HEAR NOTHING ELSE.  It is blowing so hard that I can’t stop smiling!  Almost the entire city of Hamilton is within my field of vision to my right.  I am looking at the road.  Leaves, colour, life everywhere.  It’s beautiful.  I’m peddling in a creative waltz with these scattered leaves along the trees for our audience.  My dancing partners make me think of the cutest little creatures which they are.  They tell me secret stories of change and remind me that the times in my life when I will see them that colour, are numbered.  They assure me that the changes that I have made are for the best.  They remind me of things that I had forgotten.  This and so much more happens in an instant before I yell out some witty banter to my riding partner (who, I would like to mention, is a unique and brilliant gem of a person) before we head downhill.  I wanted to share this because it was only one, tiny moment from the past two months and I will cherish it forever.  And it’s these kinds of moments that make me not think but truly believe that there can be a different way of living life now.  Now.  Here.  This.

Adventure has become a reality instead of a book that I read or some Disney film.  Courage has made an appearance on my doorstep and we’re eloping.  I just personified a virtue and spoke about marrying it in front of all of you...if that’s not an example of freedom I don’t know what is!  I’m free.  This incredible process has allowed me to travel deep, really dig, to get filthy and rescue that girl inside.  Today, I’m standing here, me.

   

***

 

 

Sep 21 to 28, 2009
Notes From de Old Road: Week 4!

Another week of cycling! This one started fairly easily fromPeterborough. We left our host, Scotts’ house and hopped onto the old rail trail that would lead us all the way to Lindsay. Too easy! We were all feeling charged from our great performance at the OPIRG house, we had full bellies and some new (old) gear from the free store!

 

The trail was so flat and breathtakingly beautiful in places...with names like Buttermilk valley what else would you expect?

Upon arrival, we set up camp in Laura’s backyard with our tents looking like penguins huddling close for warmth. Generosity flowed in Lindsay! From Laura’s house and all of Lauren’s enthusiasm and delicious cooking to the amazing staff at Pope John Paul the 2nd who gave us delicious free lunch of veggie wraps and vegan brownies!

From Lindsay we had a leisurely 80 something ride to Rama. (near Orillia) As good as the ride was for us, there were many unlucky frogs that were literally all over the road for a good part of the way. Thanks to some group contacts we were able to stay at the YMCA Camp Geneva Park. Here we had luxurious access to showers, laundry and free hot drinks in the lobby! Wow, I love free things...

 

Our scheduled evening rehearsal turned into a rainy puddle jumping session and a spontaneous game of POWER BALL!! The rain carried over night and stopped long enough for us to have some breakfast and pack up our tents. Once our bikes were loaded, the rain encouraged us on our way out. This was in fact...our first official rain ride...This just goes to show how AMAZING the weather has been for us.

Our destination was Collingwood; Dunedin to be exact, and the hills that were along the way loomed in the distance. As we (Sebastian, Lindsay and I) left Oro-Medonte the rain clouds above looked serious. I couldn't help feeling like James from, ‘James and the Giant Peach’ when the Rhinoceros comes out of the clouds at him (and gobbles up his parents).

In Dunedin we stayed with some friends who were working as farming interns at the New Farm with the CRAFT program. A huge Thank You goes out to these lovely ladies for letting us use their basement, kitchen and showers. Also a special Thank You for the farm tour and delicious veggies! Another delicious treat in Creemore came in the form of a guided brewery tour and some lovely samples. Yes!

Our departure from the Purple Hills (more green, red and yellow in my opinion) was one I will never forget; the scenery was gorgeous, fall coloured rolling hills, the smell of fall and cool crisp air. As we were welcomed by our early morning ascent of the escarpment, I had one thing on my mind that kept me peddling up those steep hills. That one thing was a small town called Glen Huron, and a rumour of “the best butter tarts you will have in your life.” As the hills sloped down for a nice breezy cruise into Glen Huron, I hoped to myself that the rumour was true...those hills made me hungry.

Then in the distance I saw a small, ordinary looking country market but... as we approached, Tanis, Kat, Kate and Farah literally cheered us into the market! As we entered it was like walking into an oven full of fresh bread and delicious baked goodies! (minus a few hundred degrees) We were greeted by some friendly locals who were very excited by our tour. They introduced us to “Granny” who was 91 years old and had been making butter tarts ever since she could remember. I purchased some of these said butter tarts and let me tell you... They were undoubtedly the best butter tart I have ever experienced! To say the least it was well worth the extra hill and detour. After this delicious stop we were off to Collingwood!

As we arrived in Collingwood, our incredible host Ivan Chan greeted us! He let us use his back yard for our tents, his kitchen, bathroom, trampoline and unlimited pears from his pear tree! Ivan was such an engaged host, he invited us to play Scattegories with him, as well as set us up with a spontaneous performance the next morning at the Collingwood farmers market! Our impromptu performance went extremely well, and Ivan even hopped in to replace our missing Backstreet boy! After our performance we passed the hat and received amazing feedback, and donations in the form of cash, fresh fruit and veggies from NEO organic farm, as well as some clothing donations from a local clothing designer!! Wow! Talk about a receptive audience! From the market we all went off on our separate ways for our day off in Collingwood.

A brief goodbye, and a song that summed up our stay and our gratitude to our phenomenal host marked our departure from Collingwood. The song went something like this…(sing it to yourself to the tune of the spiderman theme)

 

Ivan Chan, Ivan Chan, does whatever an Ivan Can,

Hosts Otesha, anytime, he makes his panniers from election signs

Ivan Chan (x3)
Ivan Chan, Ivan Chan, your friendly, neighbourhood Ivan Chan,

Cans a pear in no time; in his basement he makes apple wine.

Ivan Chan (x3) 
Ivan Chan Ivan Chan, your traveling circus Ivan Chan,

He’s so smart, he’s so cool, his backyard doesn’t even need a pool!

But he’s got a bathtub!

Look out here comes Ivan Chan!!!!

 

So another fun filled, action packed week comes to an end, with many more to come. So long for now,

Peace, love and rail trails,

Seb Ramirez

***

On Wednesday, we rode our hardest route yet (by far). It was supposed to be 85km long but turned out to be 110 km. We set out (soaking wet) just after sunrise and I was still biking as the moon rose up. That was kind of horrible. At times that day, in the sun, wind and rain, I questioned my decision to participate in the tour. I had to keep going long after I had nothing left. At one point, we got lost (needlessly using energy to go up a massive hill), and my riding mate got 3 flat tires. That ride was from Orilliato Creemore, and I was convinced that Creemore was a fictional place, that we were never actually going to!

Once it was dark we began to worry. We didn't have enough lights with us. So, there we are, hour 11 of biking, panting away (I was also cursing everything), slowly making our way up hills we cannot see, on some random country road, ready to give up on life altogether, when I hear the sound of a bike bell and see little lights to the left. I say to my friend, "I think that I see some other bikes." She, in frustration and assuming that I am delirious, responded, "It's just another truck!" But no! We soon realize that it must be others from our team! Why it was Mike and Seb! Oh, glorious moment! We were so happy! They immediately informed us that we were only 5km from our host's (which was still brutal in my mind) and gave us apples and water. I could not believe that after that agonizing ride they would get back on their bikes to offer those of us still riding their support. It was beautiful!

 

With refreshed morale, we were almost at our host's when we see that (of course!!!) there is one more little, steep hill to get up right before the house. I, covered in sweat and filth, exhausted, force my legs to push myself upwards, when I see before me the rest of my team out cheering and clapping for us! I think that I managed to say, "I hate life," to them and hear their laughter before throwing my bike down in the backyard. Food was waiting and we all fell asleep very early. A friend asked me about my ride and it was so soon after that I just cried. It was such an overwhelming experience. A triumph! Week four was full of incredible moments but that is the one that I remember best.

Ashley

***

 

 8 October 2009

Notes From the Road Numero Trois!

Our lovely Great Lakes team has been so very lucky in the past week to be covered in beautiful sunshine everyday. We love the sun! This week we have put about 250 km on our bikes cycling from Kingston to Lindsay with 8 awesome performances along the way. Let’s begin in Kingston…. 

À notre arrivée, nous avons présenté notre spectacle dans la cour de Queen’s University devant un public d’étudiants et de parents venus partager un magnifique moment avec nous sous les arbres et dans le soleil couchant.  Après la représentation, nous sommes parties vers Regiopolis High School, et nous étions vraiment excités de dormir dans une école pour la première fois depuis notre départ.  En effet, depuis le début de notre voyage, nous avions dormis dans les champs derrière des fermes, dans les cours arrière ou dans des parcs provinciaux et nous avions presque oublié tout le confort qu’un toit peut offrir.  À notre reveil le lendemain, notre excitation était à son comble puisque Regiopolis était notre première représentation dans une High School et devant un public de plus de 200 personnes !!! 

De Kingston, nous avons roulé une cinquataine de kilomètres jusqu’à Tyendinaga et nous avons présenté devant une communauté Mohawk.  L’échange avec cette communauté a été très enrichissant et nous avons discuté longuement avec les spectateurs présents, échangeant sur la culture et la réalité autochtone. 

Par la suite, nous avons roulé une autre cinquantaine de kilomètres jusqu’à Trenton, où nous avons présenté la pièce à St.Paul Catholic High school.  Nous avons eu droit à un accueil de roi puisque nous avons eu l’extrême honneur de dormir dans la bibliothèque.  Moi qui suis une littéraire avouée et une étudiante dévouée, je dois dire que cette expérience me permettait de vivre un fantasme longtemps refoulé ... 

Nous avons vu notre premier grand lac à Cobourg, qui nous a révélé  les majestueuses berges du lac Ontario.  Nous avons fait 2 représentations à Cobourg, l’une dans une école secondaire, l’autre dans une école primaire, a Notre Dame.  A notre grande surprise, les enfants nous avaient préparé une magnifique bannière qui ornait le mur du gymnase ou nous avons joue devant eux.  Nous étions littéralement enchante.  Comme nous voulions avoir une photo de groupe, et que personne ne pouvait se sacrifier pour être notre photographe, nous avons  déposer toutes nos cameras sur un banc, avec un retardateur de 10 secondes, et nous avons tous courus prendre notre pose dans la photo.  En plus d'être hilarant, ce fut un bel exercice de coordination !  Ce qui a donné la photo suivante.  Nous avons donc quitté Cobourg le sourire aux lèvres et le cœur  réchauffé par l'accueil de nos jeunes spectateurs.   

On Thursday morning we woke up on the lawn of St. Mary’s Secondary School, and surely our little tent-city was an unexpected sight for students hopping off the school bus. It was the coldest morning we had encountered so far and we huddled in our toques and mittens around another delicious pot of hot breakfast cereal. After our performance we were happy to see the bright and shining sun had returned as we set off on highway 45 towards Norwood. It is a day we shall never forget as the route to Norwood was littered with MORE HILLS THAN WE HAD EVER SEEN! Upon arriving at our host Margo’s house (Olumni!) just outside of Norwood we were treated to a delicious meal and intimate performance with Margo’s friends and family and some members of a Canada World Youth group. It was a beautiful end to our most physically challenging day we had encountered so far (the hills are forever embedded in our minds and thighs).   

The next day we cycled into Peterborough where we had an amazing day with OPIRG at Sadlier House, where we had the opportunity to take part in a variety of workshops such as Olympic resistance, silk screening, G8 info, gender issues, climate change countdown, and many others. We then shared a delicious vegan meal with a wonderful collection of individuals outside under the trees before performing. As we stood in our pre-performance circle hand-in-hand with each other there was an overwhelming sense that the only place any of us wanted to be was right there in that moment. Post-play we danced the night away on the top floor of Sadlier House to some lovely live music supplied by Dub Trinity. Then we all scattered away to wake up on Saturday morning for our very first day off on tour!  

We reconvened Sunday around noon feeling relaxed, refreshed, completely in love with Peterborough, and ready to cycle on to Lindsay! The ride was a memorable one because we discovered the magic of rail trails, meaning most of us rode all the way to Lindsay without being bothered by cars at all and instead traveled two by two under the trees. We were welcomed into another backyard home by the lovely Laura with the assistance of luminous Lauren. After dinner we sat together on the deck and listened to our fellow tour members tell their stories of what Otesha means to them. It was a beautiful evening as you could feel all of our hearts growing closer together. We fell asleep to the sound of raindrops on our tent, into dreams about the road ahead of us and all the magic moments we would encounter together.  

Love and sunshine,

-Tanis (Roxy) and Alexandra (Almonde Chocolat)

 ***

 

 

 14 September 2009

 Onwards!

Notes from Mike Benusic: 

My childhood dream has finally come true – sleeping in a school. I’ve always envisioned a school at night as a place of wonder and mystery, the setting of countless horror movies and Nancy Drew books. Perhaps that is why I’m still awake at 1:00 am, even though we have our biggest performance yet in merely 7 hours. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Exhilarating, excruciating, unforgettable, dramatic, an experience of a lifetime: such was our first week of touring. After an emotional departure with the Otesha staff, farmers, and volunteers at Riverglen, we headed southwest to begin spreading our message and further develop our mobile community. Between cycling 250km, performing on 6 occasions, and taking in the sweet sights and smells of southern Ontario, we’ve strengthened our bonds with each other, the communities we’ve visited, and our environment – the common link which has brought us all together.

Our home has been more CSA farms (Almonte, Howe Island), a youth centre (Perth), a grassy spot near Rideau Lake (Portland), and a Provincial Park (Charleston Lake).

While there has been very little rain to test our weather-worthiness, we’ve been faced with other elements: sweltering days with shivering nights, horrific headwinds, and the often non-existent shoulders of Ontario’s county roads.

Everyday is a new adventure: a new area, 1, 2, or no performances, and a different distance between point A and point B – complete with a new, often unexpected, terrain. Our responsibilities shift as well, dictated by a colourful ‘chore wheel’ with such tasks as ‘schedule monkey’, ‘super helper’, ‘time wolf’, ‘waste and compost angel’, and ‘hug/fun committee’. Mornings often begin before sunrise, with the day’s cooking squad preparing breakfast (more often than not a mixture of oatmeal, bran, grains, and fruit – some love it, all tolerate it). Lunch is packed, tent-city disassembled, and after the navigator gives us directions we hit the road – 2 by 2, for our destination. Some ride without stopping, others explore – we have a deadline to meet, which we meet (most of the time). Our evenings typically consist of a performance, cooking supper, cleaning, rehearsing, and group meetings. While our meetings may be long, they are necessary – all group decisions are decided by consensus, so obviously, some matters take a while to be hammered out. Our daily showers have disappeared – weekly showers now seem like a luxury. As the days get shorter, our meetings have been lit by headlamp-light, all while trying to beat off the swarming mosquitoes.

Back to food – during training week, we set a food mandate, which outlined how group money would be spent on food during the tour. We determined our priorities – vegan, local, organic, and low packaging - which means a ton of delicious Ontario-grown fruits and vegetables. To some, this way of eating is entirely new, and perhaps daunting – especially when you and your squad of 4 or 5 are responsible for 3 meals for 18 people every 4th day with only a 2-burner temperamental camping stove. But now, after a week, I believe I speak for the entire group when I say that no meals have been burnt and everything has been totally edible! More than that, all meals I can recollect have been super-delicious and ultra-nutritious. We have been spoiled on occasion, however, as we’ve had access to a full kitchen at YAK in Perth and tonight at Regiopolis Catholic High in Kingston.

Our form of theatrical environmental education has progressed and profited by the feedback from our team members and our audience. So far, our audiences have been relatively intimate: between 20-100 people at farms, harvest festivals, county fairs, and community gatherings. Our message of conscious-environmentalism is being delivered; people often refer to our performance as inspiring and eye opening. To be able to connect to so many people on so many different social justice and environmental issues, all while having an absolute blast of a time is an incredible feeling. To know that we are truly inspiring change is a feeling like no other.

Gone, however, will be our intimate audience as we perform to 400 grade 12 students in merely 6 hours. So, I’d better get off of this computer and into my sleeping bag – especially since we’ll be also cycling 60km tomorrow as well as performing again!

Big thanks for the last week goes to Kelly from the Otesha office who cycled with us to Portland, our gracious hosts at Teamwork CSA, YAK, Centre for Sustainable Watersheds, Radical Roots CSA, all the folks at the Landsdowne Harvest Fair, and Bob the Baker (Almonte), for the terrific food donations. 

Notes from Farrah Yip:

What a whirlwind of a week! It all began last Tuesday morning where we sadly bid farewell to Riverglen Farm in sunny Ottawa and cycled 35 km to Almonte, where we were graciously greeted by the farmers at Teamwork CSA (and their amazing swimming pool). The following day, aside from a mini tire incident, we had a super smooth ride into Perth and had our first public performance on the road at the Yak Youth Centre on their very own basketball court.

Next stop, Portland, Ontario where road signs became non-existent and gravel roads became more gravel-ly (along with my bungee cord which somehow miraculously found its way tightly wrapped around my gear). We performed at dusk in front of an intimate community with one of the most beautiful lakes as our backdrop, Rideau Lake. 

On Friday, we cycled through Lyndhurst and camped out in Charleston Lake P.P. We sat under the stars while we ate and concluded our meeting in a dark with our first hug-a-thon. All I have to say is WOW!

Our longest day yet and we would like to wholeheartedly thank Samuel - we could not have done it without you. On Saturday, we were invited to the Lansdowne Fairgrounds where we joined the local community and farmers for breakfast and what a treat (Mmmmmm - homestyle hashbrowns...). Soon after our performance, we headed east on the waterfront to Mallorytown Landing for a little fun Geocache session and biked to Howe Island for another evening blanketed under the stars. Total km racked up: 88 - OH YEAH!

Sunday swept over us with a lovely afternoon Garden Tour followed by a performance at the Radical Roots Farm and off to Kingston we went for another performance on Summerhill at Queen's University. Regiopolis High School kindly offered their prayer's room (and may I add CARPETED) for our night's stay.

And Monday, the end of our busy week, we were whisked away from the beloved Kingston (Missing the Sleepless Goat's carrot cake already) and were accompanied by some wicked headwind all the way to Tyendenega for our evening performance at the lovely Mohawk community.

Signing off for now, check back for our next edition of notes from the road. 

***

September 8th, 2009

Our Journey Begins

Early in the morning of September 1st, 18 “fairy jam children” from all over Canada prepared to meet for the first time at a Greyhound bus station in Ottawa. Complete strangers, they cycled in groups on their inaugural Otesha ride to Riverglen Biodynamic Farm outside of Ottawa. Greeted by their “fairy jam mothers” who fed them homemade local and organic strawberry jam, they were initiated into the Otesha way of living. Thus, they began to build a mobile sustainable community together, one full of joy, friendship… and jam.

Since our first meeting, we, the Great Lakes Tour 2009, have spent one week getting to know one another, setting up our own guidelines for our community, and preparing for life on the road. A lot can be accomplished when 18 people sit together in a circle on the grass, patiently allowing each individual to express their thoughts and ideas in turn. Moving forward with a decision only if the entire group reaches consensus, we are striving to make this a community that suits each individual that comprises it. We talked for hours (and hours, and hours) about the way we will reach out to others, how we will ride together, what we will eat, how we will respect each other, what we will do to reduce our environmental impact, and even talking about how we will talk. But we didn’t just talk – we played, laughed, loved, listened. As twilight settled in every night, we opened our eyes to a new activity – showcasing our individual abilities in a talent show, sharing our enviro-knowledge in a game of trivia, and even “shooting for the moon in an old tin can” at a hoe-down on the farm! With a chorus of crickets singing each evening as we walked back to our tents and a moonlit river to bathe in only a short walk away, 18 people began to adapt to the life of the bicycle traveler – connected to nature, enjoying each moment, and focusing on community-driven sustainability.

Throughout the week, we have worked on strengthening our theatrical ability, our environmental focus, and our community, all culminating with our premiere performance of our version of the Otesha play, “A Reason to Dream” at 
St. Paul’s University inOttawa. Full of nerves, we huddled together in a hallway outside the theatre and sang together to our heart’s content, a melody that had been introduced to us earlier in the week – a melody intended to be used to indicate that something very important is about to happen. Each one of us was feeling different things as we prepared for our first performance, but exuberance, eager anticipation, and the feeling that we are part of something truly inspirational were certainly feelings bubbling up inside each and every one of us. As our first performance came to a close and the realization that we can now all sincerely say that we are being the change we want to see began to set in, the bonds we had formed over the past week were cemented together with a sense of hope and accomplishment. We received a standing ovation from our first audience and after chatting with many friendly faces, we got on our bikes and began the night ride back to the farm, only to be greeted by a tunnel of all of our supporters cheering us on as we rode away. The impact this enormous display of love and support had on our tour is almost too much for words. It was a moment we will never forget.

As we leave Riverglen to begin our 2000km journey acrossOntario, we would like to express our gratitude to the many people that made our first week together so phenomenal. To the Otesha staff members that facilitated our meetings, planned our week, and inspired us to exceed all of our expectations, to Riverglen biodynamic farm that hosted us with open arms and an amazing atmosphere, to the volunteer chefs that created amazing gourmet vegan meals for us, often from veggies picked only hours before, to the lovely couple that taught us the boot scootin’ ways of the hoe-down, to those who donated food to us (from fresh veggies to muffins to hemp ice cream, and more!), and to our extremely receptive audience that showed up in droves to support us – thank you so much! Our gratitude toward each of you is enormous!!

And with that, we’re off! Here we come, 
Ontario!