B A N G !

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Jeffrey here.

Alive.

By inches.

On October 23, 2014, at 12:30 PM, on a mission for The Guardianship Project of the Vera Institute of Justice, aboard my Lightning Phantom bicycle, 13 miles from home, I stopped at a red light in Brooklyn.  I wore a brilliant orange jacket and a helmet with a flashing white strobe.

A black SUV rounded the corner — on the wrong side of the street!

B A N G !

The impact broke my left lower leg in three places and knocked me to the pavement.

A crowd gathered.  The pain was excruciating.  I calmly asked a bystander please to call 9-1-1.  The SUV driver approached me.  Putting myself in her shoes, my first words to her were, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”  She replied with nonsense about how the crash was my fault.  Later she told a police officer that I had rear-ended her SUV on my speeding bicycle.

Witnesses confirmed that I was stopped at the traffic light, that the driver drove on the wrong side of the street, and that her SUV hit me head-on.  It’s all in the investigating officer’s report.  But the cop did not issue a ticket because (he told me as I lay in the ambulance) he did not see the crash.

After 8 hours in the ER and 2 hours of surgery, I went home the next afternoon with the titanium rod and screws you see below.  The hardware is permanent.

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Here I am 3 weeks later in the jacket that, to the amazement of the police officer, the driver didn’t see.  This crash was no “accident”: the driver chose to make an illegal turn and to look away from where she was going.

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Six months post-crash, with the help of medical professionals and the love and labor of family and friends who cooked and cleaned and phoned and wrote and kept me company, I have shed crutches and cane.  I am relearning to walk.  I am biking again.  I joined Families for Safe Streets to help protect NYC pedestrians and cyclists from injury by reckless drivers.  (This New York Daily News photo shows me at a January rally at City Hall.  The yellow sign reads “Survivor”.  The photos are of FSS members’ loved ones who were killed by motor vehicles.)

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As you read this, as when I write, we are separated from deadly electricity by a wisp of insulation.  Body and mind rely on a delicate balance of water and minerals.  On the road, inches separate us from metal missiles guided by fallible humans.  Et cetera.

It’s a near thing, is life.  We can’t dwell on that, lest we be paralyzed.

But sometimes we get a reminder.

After 9/11, when one of my children shrank from airplanes overhead, I said, we can’t live like Wile E. Coyote, holding a flimsy umbrella (as if it would help!).  We go about our business, try not to do anything stupid (good luck with that!), and get on with life.

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My life includes Riding for Human Rights.  I will get on with it.

Please subscribe to this blog (look above the “Donate” button at the right or the bottom of this page), or check back again soon, for news on this year’s destination and on America’s refugee protections that, like life, hang by a thread.

And be careful out there.

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.