Friday, June 15, 2012
Shenandoah to DC
Visiting various intentional communities has prompted some conflicted feelings within me. On the one hand, every time I get to a place like this, I think, “Wow, this is great!” Like-minded people living together with shared values and purpose, taking care of each other, sharing responsibilities and freedoms and making life less about working for money, and more about spending time with the people you know and love. Spending time growing, nurturing and cultivating healthy plants and animals for food, friendship and beauty. I feel like I want to raise my kids in a place like this. Where they can wander through the woods for hours, take in nature, and run into people they know well and live with every day.
On the other hand, so many of the people I run into who live in places like this seem to have forgotten or shrugged off or just plain don't bother with the outside world anymore. Yes, income is still procured, and for that to happen, everyone must interact with other people in other places at some point. And the place I'm staying now is geared more toward independence than some of the other communities I've been too, but still, I get the feeling that sometimes, this lifestyle is so fulfilling and comforting that it just seems like the rest of the world no longer matters. And I don't think I'll ever feel that way, no matter how good my own situation is.
My host, Rollie, lived on what he calls a commune for 30 years. The Twin Oaks community, which he speaks of, is a place where shared income and shared responsibilities are required. A large percentage of the folks there work together on producing just a few types of products (hammocks and tofu were the products while he was there), while others work in the kitchen or garden or doing childcare. Everyone works an approximately 40 hour week, but childcare and cooking and gardening for the benefit of the community are all included in that time. Rollie said he thought most people took about 7 weeks off every year, someone did a grocery run once a week, and their needs were all met, so they didn't really need to go anywhere. He was one of the longest residents there, whereas most lasted 7 years or less. 30 years in one place sounds a little crazy for a species that evolved as nomadic hunter-gatherers. But I know there are many people who live in one place for much longer!
What I really want is this: To travel and adventure for work, climb mountains, navigate canyons, raft rivers, jump off cliffs, slide down powdery mountainsides, spend days on end in peaceful wilderness in utter love with the world and the people in it. I want to conduct an orchestra of lost souls in a symphony of finding their hearts, letting them speak, and coming back into harmony with the earth. I want to spread love and true freedom and time without money and oneness with all things. I want to be able to see and reach and call upon the bigger picture always. We have the power, as a species, to control the future of an entire planet! We have the power to control the future of the human race! We have the power to stop harming ourselves, and our future generations, and instead, focus on the things that matter. Love, community, understanding, sense of purpose.
I want to raise beautiful, happy children who play outside every day. I want to show them what a wonderful place the world is, and teach them to find meaning and purpose. I want to love them so much that they don't know how to handle it.
I left Shannon Farms Association this morning in the middle of a downpour. Yesterday, I was able to help out in their beautiful, lush organic garden for a bit before the rain started. Today, I sort of tried to put off my departure for a while, hoping that the rain might let up, but it did not. I packed my things as watertight as I could, ditched the rain jacket due to the warm weather, and pedaled off into the wet. As I made my way back up the 1200 foot mountain I had descended two days previously, the rain continued, and I got soaked through. Just as I was approaching the post office in the town of Afton, VA, the rain let up just long enough for me to retrieve from my panniers the package I had wrapped up earlier in the morning, and send it off to NYC, lightening my load for climb up into Shenandoah NP.
After a visit to the information center, where I sent off my latest photos and blog post, I started pedaling up the hill from Rockfish Gap into Shenandoah. The rain came on and off as I climbed up, wound around and glided through the beautiful, green curves of Skyline drive. The road is nicely graded compared to some of the small back-roads I had been on a few days earlier, and my legs felt strong after a good day of rest. Then it started pouring buckets. I had just stopped to have a snack, and was opening up one of my front panniers when it hit me like a wave. I was instantly soaked through, and started getting a bit cold, so I got back on the bike and started pedaling; the only way I know to get warm for sure. Eventually, the torrential downpour calmed. I wanted to record the event, but I was afraid to open any of my bags for fear of instant soaking. I ended the afternoon with a nice hike down to a couple of stunning waterfalls on Doyle River.
Upon arriving at Loft Mountain campground last night, I ran into a guy at the registration booth who immediately asked me about my bike trip, and then revealed that he was on a solo motorcycle journey. Since I was already planning on asking someone to share a site, I asked him and he agreed. Doug is in his early 60's, an ex-navy guy from a small town North East of San Diego, CA. We shared stories of traipsing about the country, the world, relationships with women, and life in general. He was easy, honest company and I appreciated his hospitality. He made us hot cocoa after dinner, and I shared my granola with him for breakfast. We both complained about how hard it was to keep a tent dry, though it sounded like I had been much more lucky with weather than he.
I hiked another waterfall along the way today, as well as a short loop on a flat trail through some beautiful vegetation. On the second hike, about ½ mile along, I came a across a pair of folks sitting on a bench who beckoned me over. They let me know that they weren't sure they could make it back to the parking lot, and that if I saw a ranger, I should let him/her know. Though these folks were clearly overweight, they seemed in good spirits and certainly not handicapped or desperate. I let them know that I thought they'd make it, there were plenty of places to stop and rest along the way, and that if I saw a ranger, I'd inform him/her of the situation. I walked on, and completed the 1.3 mile flat loop in about 20 more minutes. The pair had informed me that they were driving a red PT Cruiser, which was still in the parking lot as I loaded up and pedaled off. I am still not worried about them, though they seemed awfully convinced that they were doomed.
Before getting on the highway yesterday, I witnessed a black bear meandering across the road, and then nearly filled my bottles at the closest rest area before reading the “DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER” signs plastered all over the walls. Coliform and E-coli had been found in samples recently. Apparently their supply was a spring that had been getting contaminated by surface water. Blech.
The ride into DC began with a huge, swoopy downhill out of Shenandoah National park into the “piedmont” of Virginia. I followed minor highways and neighborhood roads through miles of suburbs before getting close to the capitol. It was amazing to me that even at 50 miles out, houses were so packed together that no one had a yard to speak of. At about 25 miles out, I got onto a bike path, and stayed on bike paths all the way into the heart of DC. I saw the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington monument from a great distance, from the path that I was on, and it was all quite pretty. There are so many more trees here than I had envisioned!
My ride to my friend Matt's apartment took my right through the middle of the capitol complex, so I stopped and snapped some photos while I was there. Matt and I met through my first girlfriend in college, Shelli. He was good friends and study-partners with one of her roommates, so we all hung out together. Later, I convinced him to join the ultimate frisbee team, and we had a great time tossing a disc and drinking beer. After UCLA, Matt immediately went on to grad school at Cornell, and I haven't seen him since...until last night! Now we works as a Post-Doc doing research for the Navy on fire-suppressing foams, after earning his PhD in electrical engineering. A smart guy, for sure, but what foam has to do with electrical engineering...neither of us can say.
Today I will visit a few of the vast myriad of free exhibits in the town, starting at the Smithsonian ones.