This past year we’ve been honored to sponsor a cyclist/musician/poet from Minnesota named Ben Weaver as he embarked on a two-wheeled adventure of a lifetime. Ben rode over 6,000 miles on a literal self-supported tour on his trusty Salsa to raise awareness for regional water issues through poetry and song. He rode the length of the Mighty Mississip, circled Lake Superior, and toured the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest.
Ben was nice enough to write up a little guest post for us about his project and share some wisdom that one can only glean from a life on the road. As 2015 moves to 2016, it just might be the inspiration you need to start planning an adventure of your own.
I have been incredibly thankful for the support from the folks at Swrve during the past 12 months. Not a single day has passed where I haven’t been wearing at least one article of their clothing (and to date I only own 4 pieces, you do the math). I am the kind of person who breaks everything and wears stuff out in record time. My Swrve clothing has stood up to the beating and rambling. Thanks for making such awesomely comfortable, sturdy and aesthetically appealing apparel.
“Running away.” These words get tossed around a lot, commonly uttered to imply leaving something less desirable behind for something more desirable down the road. As one who travels I hear “running away” often projected with an envious, not always positive tone, from those who seemingly feel self conscious about their adventure or travel inadequacies. “Oh, you are so lucky, you get to run away on those long bike trips, run away to the woods, run away from real life, while the rest of us have to stay home and work.”
These past 12 months have seen me “running away” quite a lot. I have done a series of long rides around the country, linked by musical performances and poetry readings, following waterways, in partnership with localized and national environmental organizations and with the much appreciated support from my brand partners. The Mississippi River, Lake Superior and the Pacific Northwest Coast have been some of the highlights from this year.
I say “running away” but in reality waking up each morning on the bike never felt like running away, but rather like returning home. Home to the truths of the landscape, the wind, sun and rain. Living companionably with the elements rather than shut off from them. Never ending a day in the same bed felt natural, inherent, and empowering, always drawing me closer to the deeper truths of what it means to be a human living on the land.
The combination of riding and performing afforded me countess interactions with ethnic, economic, and geographically diverse communities. The venues I performed in ranged from bike shops, schools, libraries, state and provincial parks, farms and beaches. Initially I thought, just as the communities were diverse, so to would be the threats their land and water faced. For example, the UP in Michigan was dealing with issues related to mining, the delta in Mississippi was working with youth to correct towards positive recreational practices, the Pacific was dealing with ocean acidification, and the bayou in Louisiana with disappearing wetlands due to oil prospecting.
As I began understanding each of these issues more clearly, following their sources, listening to peoples stories and observing the impacted landscapes as I moved through them, I came to question if many of these problems weren’t actually secondary issues stemming from a deeper seeded problem present regardless of the region.
It’s easy to point the finger at mining, farming malpractice, education, or pollution, but mines and farms are not self-operating, pollution does not make itself. Beneath these problems are choices and actions being made by human beings. While pedaling day after day I started to get curious, wondering if the bigger underlying problem wasn’t one of culture. The culture that tolerates the mining, produces the pollution, supports the farming?
If there was a reason that I set out to ride over 6000 miles in the past 12 months carrying my guitar and banjo on my bike, singing, and reading poetry it was because I have become compelled to offer something back, to work, interact, inspire and strengthen our culture towards the necessary creative approaches to living that make certain to steward our land and water.
When we become stuck in the grind of daily life, jobs, mortgages, and the facades of “reality” and “home,” we grow detached and disengaged from everything around us, friends, families, community, all ecosystems, living and non-living suffer. If our way of life does not cultivate, reciprocate and nurture the necessary relationships between the land, water, animals and communities with which we share this planet, then we will no longer understand or know them, and the truth is we don’t take care of things we don’t know or have relationships with.
In hindsight the greatest impacts I made on people this past year did not come from anything I said, sang or read, but rather from the simple act of what I was doing, carrying my instruments on my bike, riding and performing in support of water. We forget that sometimes the big changes are set in motion by the smallest of actions.
Part of being a poet is tending towards the imaginative and unknown, engaging the possibility of the impossible. I’d like to stay true to that character here and end this little ramble with a call to action taken from my experiences over the past 12 months interacting with some of the most remarkable people and communities.
Run away. Align yourself to the ever present truths revealed by the elements, the dirt under your feet, the water in your oceans, lakes and rivers. Run away. Watch birds migrate and ask why? Notice where they rest. Run away and sleep under the stars. Question the age of the planets. Light a campfire in your yard and cook dinner over it. Run away and explore the unknown landscapes that surround, call, and show up in your dreams. Do this in whatever capacity you are comfortable and for whatever period of time you can spare. Five minutes, 5 weeks, or years. Don’t just do it once, do it repeatedly. Hopefully do it everyday. Keep notes, learn and remember the names of the people, plants, and animals you meet. Let each new experience feed you and kindle visions for the next. Run away every chance you get. Run away and think of it as returning home.