Jeffrey here. As every year, Joey allows me the last word.
Before embarking on this Ride—on which I pedaled 1,416 miles, for which kind people have so far donated over $27,000 to Human Rights First—I wondered, after months of vile xenophobic political rhetoric, how people in rural Illinois, Missiouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico would react to the idea that asylum seekers deserve more help than our American community (through our government collective) provides.
The right-wing Chattering Class stirs the Heartland pot, exploiting ignorance (and why shouldn’t ordinary people be ignorant of asylum issues?); up boils hatred. The left-wing Chattering Class regards people of the Heartland as hopeless blockheads, a lost cause.
Yet once again, The People came through. Farmers, students, oilmen, veterans, merchants, truck drivers, devout Christians, members of First Nations, supporters of Trump and of Clinton—everyone I met—wants America to do right by refugees who follow the law and apply for asylum after they reach the United States.
Every one approves of the work of Human Rights First. Every one engaged in real discussion: always friendly, usually as nuanced and sophisticated as you might find in Manhattan. Every person, every single one, wished me well, and/or invoked Divine blessings, and/or handed me cash for Human Rights First.
As an ambassador of cycling, I cycle responsibly and wash, shave, and wear clean non-Spandex street clothes. As a representative of NYC, I speak softly and smile at everyone. As an advocate of human rights and of Human Rights First, I listen respectfully and advocate gently. And people respond. I feel welcome everywhere.
Heartland people take their beliefs as seriously as anyone. I watched a man eating a Tex-Mex dinner in front of a TV; when the national anthem came on before a basketball game, he removed his cap; when the music finished, he replaced his cap and continued eating. That song and the flag on display are that man’s objects of worship as much as any token of the Divine. To awaken this man to the plight of refugees, and to show him that helping asylum applicants is an American’s duty, one must understand and respect where he’s coming from. A citified country boy with a foot in both worlds, I understand a little, I show respect, and I have some small success in finding areas (such as a fair shake for refugees) in which we Americans, as different as we are, can agree.
If—like Homer and me—you like stories . . . and if like Reverend King, you believe that if we live, we cannot be silent about things that matter . . . I hope you will listen to, and tell, stories from these Rides, from other sources, and from your own life. Good people, our American people, are eager to hear true stories so they can understand what is right, then do what is right. Then those who are forced to flee persecution will find a true American welcome home.
On these Rides, I talk, listen, write. You sit, read, think. Now, together, let’s do. And if you are so moved, please donate to Human Rights First.
I can’t thank enough the people from Chicago to Rio Rancho who treated me with generosity and kindness. Thousands of heavy motor vehicles passed me; only a handful scared me. Face to face, and from behind the wheel, good cheer and support were the norm.
My friends at Human Rights First, first among them Ellen Kim, backed me every mile.
Special thanks to daughter Deena and her David for welcoming me in Chicago, and to them and to friends Jeffrey O., Julie W. O., and Ruth W. for the warm sendoff. Terri W. and Kay L. met me in St. Louis to buoy my spirit. Thanks to Elisa E. and Irene S. for introducing me to Peggy and George, who opened their beautiful home to me at the end of the road in Rio Rancho.
Daughter Rebecca, her fiancé Andrew, and son Benjamin sent words of love and encouragement when I needed them most.
To each of you who commented, emailed, or otherwise conveyed support, you flattened the hills, smoothed the pavement, calmed the winds, more than you can imagine. I am grateful.
I’m grateful also to the family, friends and professionals who have helped my recovery from the leg-shattering head-on collision between me (dutifully stopped on my bicycle at a Brooklyn traffic light) and a criminally negligent driver (driving on the wrong side of the street and not watching where she was going) in October 2014. On this Ride, I had more power than on the 2015 Ride to New England. But the story isn’t over. Next week, the surgeon will remove these screws
and two more like them, in the hope that this will reduce the pain when I walk. (Cycling is less uncomfortable.) Surgery scares me. But I am determined to restore my former strength. It’s hard to get stronger when something hurts.
To even begin to convey the richness of experience of any of the Rides, I would have to compose you a symphony. A symphony? I can’t compose a simple piano tune. I can think only of music I’ve already heard. So I do my best with photos and prose.
I have the same shortcoming regarding Nancy. She is symphony-worthy. Yet I am forced to resort to clumsy words. Her brains and leadership constantly save me from myself, on Rides and at home. And as Olga (the St. Petersburg native in Texas) said, Nancy has a special love for me, because while it can be frightening to do what I do, it’s much worse to be at home imagining things. Nancy is at home, her imagination is powerful, she hardly sleeps, yet still she supports me every mile, every year.
And she’s beautiful.
I get into a rhythm on the Rides. Life is simple. I awaken, I bike, I write, I sleep, I do it again the next day. I lose myself on the wide open land. But where is Nancy, is home. She is this Odysseus’s Penelope and his Siren too.
So I come home. ❤️❤️❤️