Great Lakes Coda

Special thanks to our hosts along the road, Leslie and Ken, Grace and Leo, Zena and Ed, Karen and Michael, Deena and David.  They fed me, sheltered me, made me feel at home and at peace.

So many people showed great kindness along the way.  From buying me food, to giving me discounts, to tooting and waving in support, to offering water and shelter and kind words and advice, to spending the time to talk to me and to listen too – I can’t begin to count them all, some of them never told me their names, and I can’t thank them enough.

Perfect strangers handed me money for Human Rights First.  Some of those people look as if they have little to spare.  Their generosity awes me.  I hope to be like them when I grow up.

People sent me texts and emails, posted kind comments on the blog, donated money, and otherwise showed their support.  On hard days, on broken pavement or with sun beating down or blown rain stinging my face, I needed the encouragement of knowing that people were following the journey.  It never was lacking.  I didn’t answer most messages, but I read them and am grateful for them.

Kathy Jones, Lauren Trinka, and others at Human Rights First – too many to name – were with me all the way.

And my incomparable family – daughters Deena and Rebecca, son Benjamin, son-in-law David, and the marvelous Nancy – were my ground control, my lodestar, my very air.

–Jeffrey

Reenter and Reset

Jeffrey here.  As every year, I get the last word.

People pay for what they value.  That’s how we know (alas) that sports stars and pop stars are valued more highly than the home health care aide who patiently changes centenarian Auntie’s diapers.

If you value human rights … if you respect the effort that went into this 1576 mile (2553 km) three-week Ride for Human Rights … if you enjoyed the stories and pictures that gave you a glimpse of North America that you’d never see another way … and if you haven’t already done so, please cast a vote of confidence and donate to Human Rights First.  If you give more than you gave in 2013, that new gift or increase will be doubled by The Atlantic Philanthropies, a limited life foundation.  $5 becomes $10, $500 becomes $1000, just like that!

Donations come in for months after each Ride.  See rideforhumanrights.com for the latest numbers.  But don’t wait to make your own gift.  Delay and you may forget.  Refugees are counting on you.

Scenes from the last hours of this adventure (the photos from the train were taken through tinted windows):

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The upper Hudson River, viewed from the train.

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We saw this view of the railroad tracks from the Bear Mountain Bridge on our first day out, May 22, 2014.

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Here is the same Bear Mountain Bridge, viewed from those same railroad tracks, on June 16, 2014.

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The Amtrak locomotive pulled into Penn Station almost 22 hours after leaving Chicago.

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Friend Monica, who took this photo, brought me fresh thyme in lieu of a laurel wreath. She captured the most beautiful sight: Nancy’s smile.

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Nancy & Monica helped me with our equipment. (Joey is no help at all.) Here is the boxed trike outside Nancy’s and my building in Manhattan.

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The view across the Hudson from our apartment, 26 days after I pedaled Joey up the Hudson & across the George Washington Bridge, bound for the Five Great Lakes.  Done!

I grew up in the country, spent decades in small towns, and now I live in what some call the greatest and busiest city on earth.  I just spent weeks in a world familiar to me, of which I am not quite part anymore.  Reentry takes readjustment.

But it is worth the effort.  Like everyone, I have troubles and tragedies.  Deal with illness and death.  Suffer frustrations and setbacks.  I care about family, friends, clients.  I stew about them.  I feel their pain.

Like Meriwether Lewis, who with Clark led the Corps of Discovery (1803-06) to explore the Louisiana Purchase and reach the Pacific Northwest, these expeditions suit me.  (Poor Lewis melted down after he returned to “civilization”.  I am not quite so sensitive.)  Life on the road is challenging, yet needs are simple and fundamental.  Everyone I meet is on best behavior.  My faith in people is refreshed.  The sights, sounds, smells of the world, the indescribable richness of life experienced through hundreds of miles each week, is hypnotic.  My pulse slows, my head clears.  For this small-town boy with the big-city veneer, the Rides hit the reset button.

At son Benjamin’s June 13 baccalaureate service before The University of Chicago’s 519th convocation, a student read an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road.  Except for the lack of wheels and asphalt, it might have been written for me.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune. Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing. Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient, I do not want the constellations any nearer, I know they are very well where they are, I know they suffice for those who belong to them. . . .

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines, Going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. I inhale great draughts of space, The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

That, dear Reader, is the Stuff of the annual Rides.

Drunk with the freedom of the road, living a safer and more comfortable version of the ancestral hunter/gatherer lives that may be hard-wired into us, how can I stand to be caged again in a city?

In a word: Nancy.

I want Nancy, the love of my life, to feel to her core that I am there for her, ever and always.  At times I may succeed so well that I feel invisible.  But when I ride into the Heartland, I see how Nancy suffers.  She works hard to pay the Ride’s expenses.  She imagines the roads, the traffic, the weather, the people, and she imagines the worst.  She bears her burdens – supporting the family, working and mentoring, generating retirement income for thousands, providing gifts and taxes to support the needy, teaching and inspiring our children and making charmed our own and our children’s lives – alone.  Through her efforts for me, through the worries she expresses (and I gather she hides most of those worries from me), I know I am loved.

Love.  It’s why I do everything.  For Nancy’s love most of all.

Home is wherever Nancy is.  The rest doesn’t matter.

Now I am home.

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Aboard the Lake Shore Limited

Jeffrey here. Last night we left Chicago by rail, with boxed trike and bagged Joey in cargo, the rest of our gear on the train’s overhead rack, and me bouncing along in a coach seat.

The train trip to New York City is scheduled to take 20 hours. That’s an hour for each day we spent pedaling from the sea.

The train route is hundreds of miles shorter than our bike route. The first part of our return trip closely tracks the Cleveland to Chicago section of our 2011 Ride to Iowa; the second part closely tracks the first week of this year’s Ride, from New York City to Buffalo. In reverse, of course.

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Here are some views from our 5-day stay in Chicago:  Lake Michigan from the Hilton Hotel. Fireworks in the museum area. A Japanese-style garden. Part of The University of Chicago campus seen across the Midway Plaisance (site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition).  Part of the skyline as we were driven to the train station.  Me with the boxed trike.

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Some scenes from this morning:  Sunrise over Sandusky Bay, Ohio, on Lake Erie.  New York vineyards along Lake Erie.

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Here is Nancy, wearing the seahorse pendant I gave her on the occasion of the launch into adulthood of the last of our children. The seahorse mother is most important to her fry, but the father physically carries the offspring. This is symbolic of Nancy’s and my relationship, as is the fact that seahorses pair for life.

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And here we are with the offspring: Deena (A.B., M.A.T., UChicago), Nancy (A.B. Duke, M.S. Maryland, M.B.A. NYU), Benjamin (A.B. UChicago), me, and Rebecca (A.B. Grinnell, M.S.W. Columbia). I am surrounded by cultured, hypereducated people.

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Each of them quietly works to repair the world. Deena and Rebecca, as third grade teacher and social worker, do it formally and professionally. Nancy and Benjamin do it on their own time. All four’s accomplishments dwarf my own small works.

Education gave them tools to repair the world. It has helped them see and understand, which can strengthen empathy.

But education does not guarantee a kind heart. Plenty of evil is done by educated people. I don’t need to give examples; you know it is so.

I have biked over 5,200 miles for Human Rights First, through 18 states and a Canadian province. I have spoken with many more than a dozen people each day on each Ride, but even twelve daily encounters means over a thousand conversations with people of every level of intellect and education, from all over the USA and all over the world. Every one of these face-to-face encounters has been at least polite. Nearly all were friendly and warm.

I am sure that some of the people I meet vote for legislators who favor cruel immigration policies. Some may favor such policies themselves. But talk gently and ask about specific situations, move the conversation from “the Immigrant” to “the individual” and you see kind common sense in my unscientific sample. People from all walks of life, in cities, towns and countryside, agree that everyone has to make a living. They agree that America should offer refuge to people with a well-founded fear of persecution and that it is wrong to expect asylum applicants to navigate our legal system without a lawyer.

These people show that they have kind hearts.  And they show that empathy doesn’t require sophistication.  People on every Ride have handed me cash for Human Rights First, saying that if the cause is important enough to move me to ride hundreds of miles from home, it is worth supporting.  So you see why I say I make new friends every day, for your friend is one who supports you and what is important to you.

A reader recently posted a comment on this blog, saying the reader doesn’t know what to say, or to do, about immigration injustice.

Here are a few ideas.

Let’s speak up to friends and relations about our moral duty to protect strangers. Let’s express support of immigration laws that focus more on the intent of persons wishing to immigrate, and less on whether a person fits into artificial categories created by a Congress ignorant of real-world needs of their fellow Americans and of our foreign sisters and brothers. Let’s insist that the people who operate our country’s immigration machinery do so humanely, exercising every lawful opportunity to, as Abraham Lincoln said to a gathering of Germans at Cincinnati in 1861, “do all in [their] power to raise the yoke [on immigrants rather] than do anything that would tend to crush them,” and that those who break up families and expel good people when the law does not absolutely require it must lose their sinecures as unfit for their positions of public trust.

And even as we – all of us – continue to fall short, let’s try to observe some version of the Golden Rule in our own relations with others. If enough of us do that, Joey and I can stop our frantic no-days-off 80-mile-per-day Riding for Human Rights and take dear Nancy on a nice leisurely bike tour someday.

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Come back soon.  We’ll wrap up this year’s travelogue in a couple of days, from New York City.

Why Don’t They Get It Right?

Jeffrey here.

Today Nancy flew to Chicago, reaching and crossing the Great Lakes in 2 hours.  It took us – albeit by a less direct route – 20 days by recumbent tricycle to reach Chicago.

We met on the Blue Line platform at LaSalle Street.  We had not seen one another for three weeks.  (Daughter Rebecca, who flew in also, took this candid photo.  You see her below in her Columbia University graduate school regalia with her brother Benjamin, who graduates from The University of Chicago this weekend.)

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This happy occasion, and how much I missed Nancy these past weeks, makes poignant the plight of refugees whose families are divided by persecution that forces some family members to flee.

Those divided families suffer unnecessarily because of America’s crushing and incompetent immigration bureaucracy.

Consider two examples.

A few days before pedaling off to the Great Lakes, I filed an asylum application for a pro bono (free) client – currently in lawful temporary status in the United States – who risked life and limb to protect Americans abroad, and whom fanatics have promised to kill for reasons tied to that protection.  While I was on the road, the Government returned the application to me, more than three weeks after it was filed.  Immigration authorities refuse to accept it because they say that my client is in immigration court proceedings, so we must “tell it to the judge” (my words, not theirs).  But my client is not now, and never has been, in immigration court!

Another pro bono client just received a summons to appear in immigration court to defend against removal (deportation).  But months earlier, that client – whose presence in the United States always has been lawful – was granted asylum in the United States and has the right to live and work here!

Both these problems will be solved, eventually, after I spend time and money to force the Government to do its job properly, and after the Government spends more of the People’s time and money to fix what the Government itself has broken.

What would these clients do if they had no lawyer to speak for them?  How would they know where to begin to set things right?

These examples, writ large, are the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration administration.  Waste.  Human suffering.  Injustice.  I could tell you stories . . .

When cases involve separated families, those families can remain separated for a long time.  When we must “tell it to the judge,” the immigration courts are so sclerotic that we might not get a hearing for three years.

Think of what is being done in our names.

Kid Stuff

Today we rode 21 miles, from the North Side to the South Side, to talk to first graders and third graders at the Donoghue School.

Much of our trip was along the Lake Michigan shore.  The remarkable Chicago skyline – Chicago is where skyscrapers originated – was befogged.

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Here I am at the school, sitting on the fairing, camouflaged in front of some soil so you must look closely.  And here is Jeffrey, answering the kids’ questions.  (For privacy reasons, you can’t see the kids’ faces.)

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The children asked Jeffrey some of the same questions as adults, and some new ones.  How long did it take you?  (20 days.)  How far did you go?  (1555 miles as of yesterday.)  Did you train before the trip?  (No.)  Do you get bored riding so many hours each day?  (No.)  Do you listen to music while you ride?  (No.)  Do you get sleepy? (Only at night.)  Did you camp?  (No, but I was prepared to sleep outdoors if I had to.)  What if the trike broke?  (I would fix it with the parts and tools I carry.  But nothing broke, and I had no flat tires.)  Why did you do it?  (To help refugees, to explore, to talk to people and to learn from them.)  How many lights are on the trike?  (Six, and two more on Jeffrey’s helmet.)  Et cetera.  Jeffrey explained asylum and how important it is to have help to present one’s case; teacher Deena restated some of the concepts to be sure that even the first graders would understand.

This afternoon, a parent wrote to teacher Deena:

Can you please tell your dad thank you for coming to the school and sharing his stories. [My son] has not stopped talking about riding his bike all the way from New York. He wants to know how he can give some of his money to support human right cause.

When a young person hears and understands, it gives one hope that one’s values and ideas will live on.  It is a vote of confidence.  It makes one’s day.

That must be one of Deena’s rewards for teaching.  We’re glad she shared her bright, energetic students with us.

After leaving the school, we put the trike in a box for our planned rail journey home.

We will be posting less often for the next few days.  You will hear from us again no later than when we embark on our return to New York City, or when we arrive there early next week.

Promises Kept

Jeffrey here.  In a moment, a word about promises.  But first:

Today, with no help from that 1-pound kangaroo-court puppet, I pedaled 101 miles – the last 40 or so in the rain, the last ten in pouring rain – to Chicago.

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Every story needs a cute dog.  Meet Charlie, my hosts Michael and Karen’s companion.  He hunted for Joey on the trike, but Joey was safely sealed in our yellow plastic dry-bag.

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Michael snapped this pic of me before Joey and I hit the road.

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We rode along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan, through fancy Milwaukee suburbs, then through Milwaukee itself.

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We paused at an open drawbridge.  This time no one had to call me “idiot” to keep me off the bridge!  Here you see the deck being lowered, and an iron bridge pivoting back into place.

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The only subject cuter than dogs, is kids.  Aspen, Gigi and Brandon asked about the trike and its sign when I stopped in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to buy a sandwich.  I told them in simple terms about persecution, refugees, and Human Rights First.  They put Joey stickers on their shirts, and I hope they will see themselves on this blog.

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Dan works for a Wisconsin electricity provider.  He told me about the utility’s state-of-the-art pollution controls.  I told him about Human Rights First.

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We reached Chicago via a combination of highways, city streets, and bike paths like this one in Lake County, Illinois.  (Its counterpart in Kenosah County, Wisconsin, was paved.)  Some of the roads we encountered, particularly in small cities like Racine, Kenosha and Waukegan, were terrible jumbles of cracked pavement, potholes, and lumps of asphalt, which made pedaling difficult.  When it began to rain hard, water covered the worst hazards, making them tough to avoid.

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When I reached her Chicago neighborhood, daughter Deena came out in the pouring rain to lead me to her home.  Son-in-law David carried in our bags.  Here is Deena in her building’s basement, where we stored the trike.  And here I am, safe in Chicago.

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Now . . . about those promises!

We promised you that we would visit all five Great Lakes on this journey: Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, Superior.  Done!

We promised you that we would pedal 1500 miles from the sea to the Great Lakes.  Better than our word, we pedaled – so far – 1555 miles (2519 km).  Done!

Riding 1555 miles in 20 days – an average of 78 miles per day, rain or shine, with no days off – required persistence.  If we kept going, sooner or later we would keep these promises.

Other promises are harder to keep.

Remember what you promised yourself long ago.  You would not sell out.  You would do great things, help others, civilize the world.

And you have!  But not as much as you imagined you would.  Doing great deeds turned out to be hard.  There are bills to pay, family and friends to care for, too many demands on your time and not enough hours in the day.

May I humbly suggest an easy way to become closer to the ideal person you want to be?

Acts of lovingkindness are greatest when the love they express is unrequited.

If you haven’t already done so, donating to Human Rights First will help save someone with a well-founded fear of persecution abroad on account of her or his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  You won’t know whom you’re helping, and that person won’t know you.  The volunteer lawyer found and trained by Human Rights First will get the refugee/asylee’s thanks and love. Neither client nor lawyer will realize that without you and your donation, s/he would have had no lawyer.

What will you get out of it?  You will be living your dream.  You will know that you have saved a refugee’s life, and enriched a volunteer lawyer’s life, from pure selflessness, because it is the right thing to do.

Oh, and you’ll also get a souvenir postcard, signed by Joey and me.

Think about it.  But not too hard.  Just click here, and take the plunge.

If you already have donated, thank you for showing tanglible support for justice for refugees.

Tune in tomorrow.  We’ll tell you about our visit to a school on Chicago’s South Side.

Sharing Paradise

Today we pedaled 75 miles to Mequon, Wisconsin, the home of our friends and relations, Karen and Michael.  You may recognize them; they hosted us on the 2011 Ride to Postville and we saw them in the Shenandoah Valley on the 2012 Ride to Nashville.  They rolled out the red carpet and stuffed Jeffrey with pasta.

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Except for some suburban bits at the end, today’s route was through rich farmland of striking beauty.  Photos do not do it justice.  Some of the terrain was flat; some was hilly with moraines left by glaciers from the Ice Age that ended about 11,000 years ago.

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That last house has a wind turbine.

Along the way, we saw young women bicycling, a guy at a gas station who applauded our journey, farmers on their tractors.  People peacefully going about their business.

Jeffrey was reminded of a remark made by a Burmese client for whom he won political asylum.  The young man was released from immigration “detention” (jail) and Jeffrey brought him home to the leafy old New Jersey town where Jeffrey and his family then lived.  The Burmese saw the river, the trees, the grass, and burst out, “Here you could live forever!”  Jeffrey knew what he meant.  The cleanliness, the peace, the plenty, the order.  No checkpoints or soldiers.  People in America’s green places do not live in the fear that dominates life in much of the world.  It’s Paradise, really.

There are other Paradises.  In Postville, Iowa, on the 2011 Ride, Guatemalan workers told Jeffrey how they came to be in Iowa.  They lived in their own Paradise, a little mountain village, and worked in the rich landlord’s fruit orchard.  The fruit trees were old.  The landlord decided to cut down the trees and plant new ones.  Until the new trees bore fruit in 10 years, the villagers would have no work.  That was not the landlord’s concern.  The villagers had to move or starve.  There was no work for them in Guatemala, no land, nowhere to move.  But there was work in cold, distant, alien Iowa.

Remember this when people tell you that immigrants and refugees who come to the U.S. should stay home.  Many, perhaps most, wish they could.  But because they fear persecution, or they face starvation or violence, they can’t.

American immigration law is indifferent to many kinds of human suffering.  The breakup of families, the exclusion or expulsion of good people who are threatened for reasons that do not fit narrow legal definitions, are business as usual for our immigration enforcers.

Under America’s constricted laws, it is hard to find ways to give relief to those whom our consciences and religions say we should help.  It’s shameful that when a person happens to be eligible for relief, we may not realize it because that person has no lawyer to help present her case.  By finding and training free lawyers for refugees, Human Rights First injects a bit of rationality and humanity into America’s immigration system.

We need Human Rights First, because Paradise isn’t only beauty and order.  In Paradise there must be “liberty and justice for all.”  For all.

Reassuring Encounters

Joey here.  We hopped 81 miles to Brillion, set among Wisconsin farms and fields.  En route, we found only paved roads (in Michigan, many roads are unpaved), passed through beautiful countryside, and looked out over Green Bay.  It’s hard to grasp that after days and days and hundreds of miles, we still are following the Lake Michigan shore.  Are these Great Lakes or what?

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Today we offer a tribute to the kind common sense of plain American people.

This morning at breakfast, Jeffrey sat in the presence of a television tuned to something called “Fox and Friends”.  Evidently there is an all-powerful wizard named Obama who is responsible for every evil in the world.  Various announcers and “experts” caught Jeffrey’s attention by blaming Obama for a recent increase in the number of unaccompanied visa-less children entering the United States from Latin American countries.  Knowledgeable, reasonable people say the surge is due to crime, violence, poverty and corruption south of the U.S. border.  If it is due to Obama’s supposed lax enforcement of immigration law (despite Obama’s expulsion of unauthorized immigrants at a record pace), then why have asylum applications also spiked in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize?

Jeffrey saw people come into the room for breakfast and focus, as if in a trance, on the TV screen.  They seemed to be absorbing this shallow propganda.  It’s unlikely that they could put the “Fox and Friends” allegations into perspective.  What do people in small-town Wisconsin know or care about the terrible conditions causing children to flee large parts of Latin America?

But get away from the Talking Heads of Television, go directly to the people, and be reassured.

Outside, we met Jeff and Andrea, on their way home to Flint, Michigan.  Jeffrey and Jeff talked trikes and human rights.  The couple were friendly, intrigued, and promised to follow us on line.  No xenophobia, no Obama-bashing, just interest and warmth.

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Later, in the city of Green Bay, Jeffrey ignored calls of “hey, you!” and the like, until he heard, “hey, you idiot!”  At that he looked up and saw the bridgemaster motioning him to get off a drawbridge so the bridge could open to admit a freighter from Wilmington, Delaware, that traveled here via the Great Lakes.

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See the car that ran through the bridge barrier?  Looks like more than one idiot was on the bridge today!  The driver turned around and waited until the bridgemaster raised the barrier and let the driver escape.

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Here are two people who were on the bridge, who are not idiots.  Alex is an IT professional.  Steph has degrees in music and Spanish and teaches Spanish to elementary schoolkids.  They shook their heads at the injustice of expecting asylum applicants to present their cases without a lawyer; Alex, an English-speaking American, has been in court and even he found it bewildering.  These thoughtful young people promised to follow the Ride.

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Tom is one of a group of Harley motorcycle riders who called out to Jeffrey to ask whether we really pedaled from NYC.  He and the others asked a lot of friendly questions; when the others left, Tom hung back a moment and asked Jeffrey whether he would accept a donation.  Jeffrey invited Tom to donate on the Web, but Tom said he wanted to keep things simple, to “pay it forward,” and handed Jeffrey a significant sum in cash.  Now, some coastal “intellectuals” might not believe that a young Harley biker in the Heartland, where “Fox and Friends” plays in motel breakfast rooms, would so readily support Human Rights First moments after being introduced to the organization and its mission.  But Tom did.  Later, he and the others roared past us on the road and gave us a biker salute.  We have new friends.

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Green Bay city and environs have some seedy bits, but much of it was pretty.

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Green Bay has some immigrants, too.  Meet Pietro, from Genoa, Italy.

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Pietro is an engineer who works for a shipbuilding firm.  His current project is to integrate the cultures of the firm’s American and Italian operations.  Pietro was biking to build up his legs for next winter’s ski season.  He seems happy in Green Bay, if a bit bemused by the locals’ worship of the Packers football team.

No wonder Pietro feels comfortable here.  You don’t have to dig deep to find Americans’ kindness and common sense.  Federal authorities have been shamed into starting a project to provide legal counsel to a small fraction of the unaccompanied minors who reach our borders.  If they followed the will of the People, as indicated by our unscientific encounters with ordinary Americans, Congress would provide counsel for every indigent asylum applicant, for every poor person facing removal from the U.S.

People in the Heartland who have hearts – which seems to be almost everyone – know it’s cruel to expect someone to face a life-or-death tribunal, alone.

South Along Green Bay

Joey here.  Another short haul: 57 miles to Marinette, Wisconsin.  No rain today (where do you think yesterday’s rainbow came from?), plenty of daylight, but it is a good place to stop.

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The road ran between Lake Michigan on our left, and state forest on our right.  Shortly before we reached Menominee County, Michigan, Jeffrey’s watch clicked back an hour; we now are in Central Time.

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We encountered few people along the way.  There were three recreational bicyclists, one at a time; some folks working in the yards of the houses we passed; and the drivers of motor vehicles.  Our interactions were limited to smiles and waves.

At day’s end, one rude punk in Marinette shouted out of his car, “Ride on the sidewalk!”  This was on a four-lane road, Jeffrey keeps close to the curb, traffic was light, and the punk had a whole lane to himself.  Later, Jeffrey looked it up: unless specifically permitted in a municipality, in Wisconsin it is illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk.  We belong on the road!

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Right after we entered Wisconsin, we met John.

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John read the sign on the fairing and shook Jeffrey’s hand.  He thinks pedaling from New York City to Wisconsin is amazing. Jeffrey said, “You could do it too, if you had the time.”  John replied, “It would help if I stop drinking.”  Jeffrey said it might help at that.  Then John handed Jeffrey a wad of cash for Human Rights First.

We had other human encounters, of course: we never share them all.  Yet today they were outnumbered by animal encounters.  We scared up deer, turkeys, songbirds, hawks, geese, squirrels, and other animals.  They’re accustomed to loud motor vehicles but are startled by the soft sound of a bike chain.  As always, we passed a lot of roadkill, too: snakes, deer, raccoons, porcupines, possums, a fox, turtles, various birds colorful and dull, some fresh, some stinky, are part of the experience.  Roadkill reminds us how close are the margins for all of us – not just cyclists – in whatever we do.

And in the solitude of the road, Jeffrey kept hearing Willie Nelson.  Sort of.

Good morning, America, how are you? / Say, don’t you know me, I’m your native son. / We Ride for Human Rights throughout the Heartland. / We’ll be gone thousands of miles when the Ride is done.

Words versus Pictures, More versus Less

Jeffrey here.  Recently we posted an assortment of photos not previously published, to give you a sense of the sights you are missing because we simply can’t share it all.  Tonight I’ll give you a slightly better look at some of the people of whom we ordinarily can show you only a glimpse.  But it means I must write at more length.  Like Pascal, I lack the time to make it short.

Every day I pedal for hours regardless of weather and terrain.  June sunsets on the Upper Peninsula at the western edge of the time zone are after 9:30 PM, which means we often ride until late.  Then I have to find food if I can, and write and illustrate the day’s events in a hurry.  Sometimes I don’t post until after midnight.  Speed means quality is compromised.  Some readers like photos, others prefer text.  Whether in Joey’s voice or my own, I try to strike the right balance.  I beg your indulgence.  My work is flawed.  It can only hint at the richness of the sights and conversations I experience on these Rides.  If it merely satisfices – satisfies and suffices – then I have done well.

We are in Escanaba, Michigan, on Lake Michigan.  Look carefully and you’ll see this evening’s double rainbow!

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We started our day in Manistique, by yet another moose statue.  Warned that mosquitoes would attack me if I stop near woods – and woods are everywhere! – I tried to buy some insect repellent.  A clerk told me all stores in town were sold out!  Chuck, a natural gas worker, overheard and gave me a new can from his van.  “You’ll need it more than I will,” he said.  What a nice guy!  Not to repay him, but to make a gesture in return, I asked if he could use Candian money (yes, he goes fishing in Canada), and gave him what was left from our recent visit.  Chuck’s son Brandon, working with his dad for the summer, is studying psychology and intends to earn a master’s degree in social work.  He’s a kind soul like his father.

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We passed the 1915 Manistique Lighthouse, a historic water tower and cabin, and typical lakeshore sandy terrain.

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A bridge was under repair, so a local suggested I take a detour.  Somehow the GPS led me to a closed road.  “Closed for cars, maybe,” I said to myself, and figured the trike would get around the problem.  Nope!  There is no bridge over that stream.  It was too wide and deep to ford.  I turned around, waved down a car, asked directions, and added about 5 miles to the trip.  But I found U.S. 2 again.

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Most of the road was through thick forest, like the past couple of days.  But we came to lush open fields too.

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At a rest stop, the trike and I attracted a lot of attention from mosquitoes and travelers.  I dealt with the mosquitoes with a good dose of repellent (thank you, Chuck!).  That freed me to speak with the travelers, all of whom approached me as I cooled off in the shade.

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Charlotte and Tom live in Wisconsin.  Tom is a pastor, and was chaplain at a South Dakota prison for 9 years.  Tom asked me what we mean by “human rights.”  I explained Human Rights First’s missions.  Like David, whom I met yesterday, Tom is deeply troubled by abortion.  As I did for David, I explained that American law protects women who seek to escape forced abortions, but those women still have to prove their claims, and Human Rights First stands for providing them with lawyers.  Tom also is concerned about the cruel illogic of American immigration law in other areas.  He has a friend who fled violence in Guatemala, has become highly educated and productive in the U.S., and is being returned to Guatemala by our government, where his friend may meet a violent death.  Tom is a people-person – a good thing for a pastor – and he doesn’t like cruelty.  I hope he joins with his fellow pastors to get our lawmakers to follow their consciences on the treatment of strangers.  Tom gave me a religious tract to read, which I have read as promised.  I am touched by his concern for me.

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Wayne and Ina have been married more than 60 years, and still love to travel together.  They tried to retire but still work in the family timber business in Indiana.  They asked, and I told them, about Human Rights First.

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Jocelyn works with the mentally disabled and volunteers on a Twin Cities human rights commission.  Randy is a long-distance truck driver.  They were headed by motorcycle to Mackinac Island.  They were very interested in the Ride.  Jocelyn and I agreed that an important part of the Ride is talking to ordinary people about immigration and asylum issues.  Lots of money and power are invested in maintaining the status quo.  But if enough ordinary people get disgusted enough with the patent inhumanity of leaving lawyerless asylum applicants to fend for themselves, things might change.  Jocelyn said her Human Rights Commission ought to consider a similar approach to getting support for its initiatives.

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This evening I spoke with Ray, a veteran of the first Gulf War and a regular bicycle commuter, who works to maintain the physical side of a major company’s Internet system.  We met while we both were admiring the double rainbow.  Ray’s father immigrated legally from Mexico, and eventually lost his job to an unauthorized Mexican worker who would work for less.  Ray is sympathetic to refugees and to economic migrants too.  Yet Ray fears that even if unauthorized immigrants are authorized to work – so they safely can complain and so become harder to exploit – they will be desperate enough to undercut Ray and other American workers.  We agreed that it is difficult to balance these competing needs.

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Not only immigrants and residents have competing needs.  I hope that tonight, I balanced the competing needs of readers who want words, who want pictures, who want more and who want less.  One can’t please everybody.  But I try!

And now, to sleep, perchance to dream.  For the blog doth murder sleep.

Joey will return tomorrow after another day on which we will keep Lake Michigan on our left.