Trip Log – Day 386 – Montgomery AL to Andalusia AL

to-andulusia-alDecember 9, 2016 – Sun, 40 degrees

Miles Today: 93

Miles to Date: 20,147

States to Date: 47

A bicycle touring rule of thumb: fifty miles before noon is easier than thirty miles after noon. I started prompt at 7 a.m. in 30-degree temps and navigated twelve thorny miles to extract myself from Montgomery. Once I turned onto US 331 south everything turned to clear sailing. I reached Luverne and logged sixty miles before noon, a new personal best. The season was in full bloom all along my path: nature provided the mistletoe; humans provided the inflatable Santa’s.

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There’s always some snag in those thorny last thirty miles. Immediately outside of Luverne I hit some sizable hills, but by the time I rolled off US 331 I enjoyed fifteen miles of sweet Alabama country roads in the filtered December light.

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Trip Log – Day 385 – Selma AL to Montgomery AL

to-montgomeryDecember 8, 2016 – Cloudy, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 69

Miles to Date: 20,054

States to Date: 47 

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In 1964, on the steps of the Alabama State Capital, where segregationist George Wallace served as governor, four months before President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech at the close of the five day march from Selma to Montgomery. He paraphrased Unitarian Theodore Parker in a quote now largely attributed to MLK. I never heard it until I began this trip, but it has become my mantra, my lens, for understanding what I hear and see across our country.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

img_8703We do not always move forward, all of our strides are not in the optimal direction, but over time, we move toward equality, towards peace, towards love.

As I pedaled today my legs empathized with the effort of the marchers demanding their right to vote. But I my mind also pondered the White Supremacists. Surely they knew, in their hearts, their case was unjust. We are all victims of our perspective. The more our perspective is tainted by power, and fear, the more distorted it becomes. Segregationists did not construe their actions as hate; they couched their bigotry as heritage, as honor. But maiming unarmed people and denying citizens basic rights moves beyond the bounds of tolerance. It is wrong.

The march from Selma to Montgomery would not have taken place if the eyes of the wider nation had not peered into Selma’s soul and found it rotten. But the rest of us have no cause to be snug. We did not respond in horror when a Black man was killed; we only acted after inhuman violence flooded out living room TV’s and a White minister was murdered. Circumstances that propel us towards justice are not as pure as we pretend.

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Still we make progress. The progress is slower than my legs can pedal. It is slower than thousands of protestors can walk. But it is progress nonetheless.

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Trip Log – Day 384 – Marion AL to Selma AL

to-selmaDecember 7, 2016 – Cloudy, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 40

Miles to Date: 19,985

States to Date: 47

I did not know, waking from my sound sleep, that today would mark the historical as well as chronological precursor to my ride from Selma to Montgomery. Signs along Perry County Road 45 from Marion to Selma proclaim the Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, in honor of the young man whose death, at the hands of local officials, spurred the protests that began as marches from Marion to Selma, and later grew to the historic march to the capital.

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The land is gentle and benevolent, fertile fields and thick forests. It is easy to see why, under the order of a two-tiered society; it was such a pleasant place to be a White person. But order based on oppression is never stable. And so Jimmie Lee Jackson protested and died, and I am drawn here to follow the path of the many who trod before me to protest the ills of this land.

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The city of Selma is poor and tired. So often, the biggest struggles of man are fought over scraps so tarnished we wonder in hindsight whether they were worth the trouble. But what began in Selma resonated well beyond downtown facades in need of repair or barbershops lining back streets. That the violence and unrest of Selma had to occur at all is tragic. More than fifty years later, can anyone envision a time when the city will be known for anything else?

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Trip Log – Day 383 – Demopolis AL to Marion AL

to-marion-alDecember 6, 2016 – Cloudy, 55 degrees

Miles Today: 38

Miles to Date: 19,945

States to Date: 47

 In the lexicon of touring cyclists, Alabama = dogs. Today, after a lovely morning ride through Hale County farmland and an invigorating visit to Auburn Rural Studio, I headed east on County Road 20 and turned north on Highway 23.

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There they were, commanding the top of a rise like a posse out of the old west: a line of dogs. What could I do but approach, cautiously; glad for the warning their elevation afforded me.

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screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-6-39-28-pmThree…four… a truck came along and scattered them before I got a full count … at least four. I descended a swale in full view. They caught my scent and came on, six in all, frisky and still growing, happy and playful as Spanky and Our Gang. I had nothing to fear, and neither did they. I turned east at their intersection, but they didn’t follow. They stayed in their pack at their corner, the rural equivalent of a street gang.

Further on, a trio of dogs came on me from the left. Later, a quartet. All sharp barkers with no bite. Thank goodness for that.

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Trip Log – Day 382 – Newton MS to Demopolis AL

to-demopolis-alDecember 5, 2016 – Rain, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 86

Miles to Date: 19,907

States to Date: 47

Every long distance cyclist worth his or her salt has tales of bad weather. Few have to wait over a year for Mother Nature to get long-toothed and ugly. My journey has been blessed with freakishly good weather. Until Mississippi I woke to rain exactly twice and never failed to reach my proposed destination.

imagesI’ve just finished three days of rain – the entire width of Mississippi from Catfish Row in Vicksburg all the way to Toomsuba. As weather sagas go, mine is still lightweight. The rain fell from still and somber skies. Mississippi showers are less dangerous than Kansas’ crosswinds; I got wet, but not blown or destabilized. Except that US 80, which girdles the state, is so narrow and has a rumble strip that forced me to ride inside the white line and signal every car in each direction to make sure I was seen. My left arm got a harder workout than my thighs.

I woke before dawn and got out in the first grey light; fifteen miles before the drops started to fall. During the first torrent I decided drastic action was in order, so turned into Waffle House when I reached Meridian. Good call.

images-1Those big round lights are next-best thing to the sun. The second major downpour occurred while I chatted up four obese waitresses and an aging Black man intrigued with my rig. I devoured eggs and grits, toast and bacon and a sweet waffle, then drowned them all with coffee. Waffle House has the worst coffee; all part of its charm.

imagesI met a pair of cross-country hikers walking US 80 from Atlanta to San Diego. (facebook.com/thehikeacrossamerica). Mississippi’s incessant rain was harder on Jacob Whedbee and Musunga Mubuso than on me.

The precipitation did not stop at the state line; it remained a steady downpour all the way to Demopolis. Fortunately for me, if not the natural environment, US 80 mushrooms to Interstate proportions in Alabama. All character is lost in the service of speed and safety, which, on this particular day, I did not mind. On my own shoulder, separated by a rumble strip, my mind drifted just as free as any sunny day.

imgresSixty-nine miles in I realized I needed a snack before the final push. The rain dissipated. I stopped along a guardrail and ate a Clif bar. The downpour resumed. I stood along the blacktop on a featureless hill. For a moment, I considered the absurdity of my trek. What am I doing in Alabama – for the third time – in the middle of December, in the middle of a rainstorm? Then I got mounted the bike and pedaled on. Within moments it didn’t seem absurd at all. Bicycling is just the perfect way to get most anywhere in most any weather.

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Trip Log – Day 381 – Jackson MS to Newton MS

to-newton-msDecember 4, 2016 – Mist, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 72

Miles to Date: 19,821

States to Date: 47

I am due some unpleasant weather – and Mississippi has decided to serve it up. The forecast is for three days of rain. Yesterday I rode in heavy downpours. Today was easier – a light mist tracked me from Jackson to Newton.

img_8658The first fifteen miles out of Jackson were on a great bike path along the reservoir and lakes. Then I enjoyed fifteen miles of country roads to Pelahatchie, where I picked up US 80 East to Newton. Since that road has no shoulders and a rumble strip, I rode within the white line and waved at passing cars all day. Thankfully, there was little traffic on a grey Sunday, so I still got to enjoy the tall pines. Mississippi is quite beautiful, even in the mist.

I am particularly fond of the architecture of the Deep South – stately and symmetrical. Buildings really convey what they are about. The civic buildings of Pelahatchie are small, but have stature. Even modest houses seem grand.

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Trip Log – Day 380 – Vicksburg MS to Jackson MS

to-jacksonDecember 3, 2016 – Rain, 45 degrees

Miles Today: 63

Miles to Date: 19,749

States to Date: 47

The northwest winds that pushed me out of Arkansas shifted to the west, then south. Yesterday the air grew heavy and the breeze pushed from the east. Sure signs of rain.

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I heard the first drops on my roof about 5:00 a.m., rose in the dark at six, and was on the road by seven’s first light to give myself plenty of time to buck the storm. The weather proved less severe than it might have been, though my route turned long because of so many missed turns on unmarked roads. I sang every rain song I knew to satisfy my mind through long stretches of deep forest and rolling fields that were picturesque even in the rain.

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-4-17-12-pmNot a bit of traffic until the last few miles. My host was doing errands on busy E. County Line Road when he snapped this action shot of me in the rain. My neon sash is very bright. “I knew it had to be you. How many crazy cyclists would be out in Jackson on such a rainy day.”

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