By Amelia Wyatt
When asking most teenagers what they did over the summer, some might say they went to the pool, others might say the beach, even. But as for Mary Harris? Well, she’d say she biked 1300 miles across Europe, of course. In conjunction with the group Apogee Adventures, one of Davidson’s own, 10th grader Mary Harris, endeavored on a summer-long biking program in Europe. In total, she biked across eight countries in a span of 4 weeks, with no less than 50-70 pounds on her back at all times. Whether it be biking over a number of mountain ranges or simply whizzing through the country side of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands (among others), Mary was able to both stretch her physical bounds and expand her mental horizons as well. She recalls it as a transformative experience, but not an easy one at that. “You don’t really understand the full gravity of situation until you’re there,” she mentioned, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, for sure.”
Over the following weeks, Mary was thrown in a confluence of intense physical difficulties and harkening mental stratifications – she entered a world of flat-tires, canned food, bloody scrapes, steep mountain ridges, bruises, long days and quick nights. Yet at the same time, she became part of a new found community of kids coming from all over the US; she enjoyed blissful, long rides in the country side and conquered mountains. By the end, she got to know what it meant to live day to day, and learned to accept - maybe even love - whatever was thrown at her. Mary put it best when she said it herself: “We had no home, but we lived everywhere.”
One of the best ways to experience the places, as Mary recalled it, was simply to look up and take in the view. Places like Amsterdam and Venice seemed to have a particular place in her heart, as she described them as like a somewhat magical haven, like their own quaint little pockets of the past.
Between the sights along the way, Mary also got to know the value of real human kindness. Often, when she and her biking group were on their last string, people they did not know and usually didn’t even speak the same language with would come to help her and her group in their time of need. Whether it be a friendly French shop-keeper who gave their group free water and food when they ran out, or a lovely old couple who bandaged Mary when she shredded her arm open, every place she went, she was able to see kindness in action. As she put it, “They went so far out of their way to make our lives better for no other reason than that they were kind. They were strangers to us; we were strangers to them. We didn’t even know their names. But even with all that people have going on, they still found it in them to care for us. And it was a beautiful thing.” And with how difficult their travels were, those small acts really made a big difference. Some days Mary and her group would bike for 14 hours at a time, often crossing impossible terrain - mountain ridges, country roads, and deep forests alike. In one particularly painful memory, Mary explained how she went across a portion of the Swiss Alps while also attempting to beat out an impending rain storm, having no less than three asthma attacks along the way. But none of these hardships stopped Mary, even if it put a dent in her shoulder. She recalled the feeling after having finished the range: “And I made it past those mountains and I sat there and I was like ‘Wow, I really just did that’. It taught me what I’m capable of doing, right then and there. I can do anything, if I really want it. I know that now.” But even more than that, the process truly made Mary think about her life at large. “It made me stronger. I started to understand other people’s problems, and how small mine were in comparison. And the thing about it was it wasn’t this fairytale scene; it was amazing but it was also hell. It was a human thing. Worst trip I’ve ever been on, but best thing that could have happened to me.”
If you yourself would like to get involved with one of these programs, visit their website http://www.apogeeadventures.comEndFragment