In the 5 years that I have been curating this blog, I have never used this forum as a means to push my personal agenda or to vent. I apologize because this post (and series to follow?) may be the exception. Please bear with me; this will go somewhere useful, I promise.
Although I’ve bicycled and been a bike owner for most of my life, I only started mountain biking last year. An epic trip to Moab with friends got me hooked. After the trip, I knew I had to buy my own mountain bike (a.k.a. MTB). I couldn’t bring myself to buy a new bike –between the cost and the resource impacts– so I was determined to find a good but used one. I poured and drooled over Craigslist ads for used bikes and test-rode several. Within a couple of months, I had a new-to-me bike that fit me perfectly and was a 29er to boot. We rode trails together and wiped out together. Generally speaking, I try not to get too attached to stuff because stuff tends to make me feel overwhelmed and I like my freedom. I try to live by the adage, “less is more,” but in this case, I was attached: I was in love.
Fast forward a year
I was unloading canoeing gear from a float over Memorial Day weekend and discovered -to my horror- that my beloved MTB was gone. It had been stolen, despite being locked up in the bicycle shed attached to my home. I felt violated. I was sad. I was mad at my neighborhood and my town. I was, as they say, ROYALLY PISSED.
Within a day, I had reported my bike stolen to the local police department, checked pawn shops, spoke with local bike shops, joined stolen bike forums and followed up with folks that had placed stolen bike ads in my town on Craigslist. I discovered that I wasn’t alone and that DOZENS of bicycles had been stolen from my town over the past month and that this was nothing out of the ordinary, in fact, it was down right common. I soon discovered that I would never see my beloved gain. No one ever does here. I was became more sad and more pissed off. I learned that in my own neighborhood, which I adore for its character and characters, that several locked bikes had been stolen within a 2-week timeframe of mine, along with a neighbor’s construction trailer and another neighbor’s saw horses. I was told by the cops, “There is nothing we can do. We have bigger priorities.” What the heck? I thought this was an awesome community with awesome people. Where was all the awesomeness now?
A bit of context
I live in a town that is touted as one of the best places in the US to live. In fact, locals despise all of the recent attention that the town has been receiving that shares their secret knowledge of one of the prettiest, wildest and funnest places to live. I get it, and I agree, Missoula is a kick-butt town, but I’m here to say, it isn’t perfect. (I know, no town is.) It has loads of problems -like most towns- many of which are gaining national attention that Missoulians don’t want (but may need).
But, ahem, let’s get back to my story…
So, after my MTB was ripped off I started pulling inward. I started locking my car. I took anything of value from my yard into my locked house. I didn’t trust my community to respect my property or my things. Every piece of trash littered in the street added to my tally of town of misdeeds. The list was growing exponentially. Everywhere I looked I found reinforcement for my idea: my town sucks.
Then, to add salt to the wound, my Moose-Lodge reclaimed-wood, husband hand-built fence got vandalized (again!). Oh yes, I was even more pissed. At first I couldn’t help myself from telling everyone I came upon about how this town had a dark underbelly. The more angry I became, the more I felt obligated to (and tried to) burst people’s bubble about my town (which I may have just done for you — sorry!). At potlucks or on camping trips I would tell people about the thefts and vandalism along with any current fact about a local, controversial issue…poverty, rapes, food insecurity, INSERT TOPIC. I was beginning to depress myself. I was definitely bringing down the positive vibe at INSERT EVENT.
Then I forbade myself from talking about it anymore because it was seriously impacting my ability to function happily in my community and I was becoming a major bummer to be around. I was feeling untethered. How could people stand to live here? I was ready to pull up stakes and move to a better town. I started talking about moving back to Canada. (My husband predicted (likely correctly) that I might be going through a mid-life crisis. Was I mid-life already?? What? I got even more pissed.)
Fast-foward a few weeks
One morning, a few weeks into my crisis, I woke up with an idea. I felt alarmed yet joyful. What if I’m not doing enough to strengthen my community? What if I am at least partly responsible for all of these bad things because I’m not doing enough? Was I really helping to build community? What could I do more of or differently? What would happen if I believed in my community and town again?
I’ve decided to challenge myself. My homework is to figure out things that I can personally do to help to build a stronger community and to take action by doing as many of these things that I can over the next year. I know none of this will bring my MTB back, or prevent others from being stolen, and it certainly won’t fix larger, complex issues that plague the town, but I’m hoping it will help me to believe in my neighborhood and community again. I will keep you posted about my efforts in this How to Build Community (H2BC) series. Stay tuned.
What are the things that you do to build your community?
p.s. A piece of advice: buy and use a very good lock, or several. No cable locks!
Image courtesy of Jill Alban