My friends at the Otesha Project inform me that applications are now open for this year’s slate of tours and I thought I would share a story from way back in summer of 2009 when I was a rookie Programs Director with the organization. My role was to co-manage the organization’s cycling and performing tour program that brings groups of young sustainability advocates to schools and communities across Canada to deliver performances and workshops about environmental and social justice issues. This story is accompanied by photos from a new set of pictures I have just posted to Flickr.
I was sent to help train the Rising Tide Tour and was spending my first of four days with the team on the road before heading back to the office to support them from there. I began to understand the thrill of cycle touring for the very first time after only a few minutes on the open road as we left Moncton for Sackville.
When we found ourselves lost on a muddy logging road, cycle touring was seeming crazy again. When it wasn’t raining it was unbearably hot and when we weren’t moving we were being swarmed by mosquitoes. Throughout that day several bikes broke down and half of the team got lost in the forest. All this on the team’s first day on the road.
We trickled into Sackville that night to swap stories about the day and gather our forces for the next. The team would have the morning to themselves and perform at the Bridge Street Cafe in the afternoon. We slept in tents on the campus of Mount Allison University.
As team members awoke the next morning to burn their oats, some of us considered taking advantage of pancake breakfast happening at a nearby church. Just then, two tour members realized their bikes were missing and everyone started to freak out. The only two bikes that weren’t locked to something.
This was a bike tour. One person per bike. Disaster! And all this as the pancakes at the church may very well have been getting cold. While most spread out across the town to do something about the missing bikes, some of us went directly to the church to make sure the pancakes were okay.
The reason I mention the pancakes is not to make me sound bad (although it also serves that purpose), but because at the church I saw a familiar face. There was a young man there, not much younger than myself who I was sure I had met somewhere. Was he from my home town? Did I go to high school or university with him? Was he one of the many cousins on my father’s side of the family? Can I get seconds on these pancakes? Can you please pass the syrup?
We rejoined the group to try to find the bikes with no luck. But by the end of the day word had gone out throughout Sackville and many community members were stepping up to support the team with offers to give away and lend their old bikes to that the tour could go on.
That night as the tour members try to rehabilitate some loaned bikes our host at the university comes in to say that someone is on his way with a couple of bikes for them to check out. Even though the tour members now had bikes, our host suggested they just accept the bikes and if they are no good, he will find a good home for them.
About half an hour later that same young man I recognize at the the church came in the room rolling in two brand new bikes to give to the team members. He heard of their plight and bought them straight away. Ever since he first saw an Otesha performance at a Canada Millennium Scholarship conference in Ottawa in 2006 he had wanted to find a way to be involved. The very same conference was where I also saw my first Otesha performance and briefly met him.
It blew my mind how a performance three years earlier in a different part of the country had played a part in the incredible act of generosity that we were witnessing at the same time as it also led me to work for the organization that brought the performance to the conference.
Knowing how difficult it can be for Otesha to deliver every performance it is asked to do, I could just picture the staff back in 2006 debating whether or not to the show. What impact was it going to have? How was it going to effect the members of the audience and support the goals of the organization? They would not have been able to imagine what would happen three years later at a university residence in the Maritimes.
The bikes were gratefully accepted and as a thanks the team delivered an exclusive and hilariously unrated version of the play. A couple days later I returned to by natural habitat, the office. Meanwhile the team went on for several more days of cycling, performing, burnt oatmeal and insanity.
This year tour members will be developing new material, plunging their hands into the soil and donning superhero capes as part of the People’s Performance Tour, Phenomenal Food Tour, Pedal to Plate Tour and Sunshine Coast Tour from spring to summer to fall. Click here for all the dates, details and application information. Bring a bike lock and a pair of those diaper shorts.