A Mighty Woman

Jeffrey here. As every year, until next spring’s Ride, Joey gives me the last word.

Nancy brought me home by plane, 5 weeks to the day after I left for Albuquerque.  We arrived before dawn.

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Home!  My first view west from our apartment. That’s New Jersey across the Hudson River.

This seventh Ride achieved my goal to propel myself across the United States.

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Not shown: the Rides from NYC to Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, the Great Lakes, & New England.

The circuitous route of over 3500 miles (5700 km) more than compensated for some tens of unpedaled dangerous desert miles through which my truckin’ New Mexico friends, Jesus and George, powered Joey and me on the 6th and 7th Rides.

L to R: Jesus, Joey (2016); Joey, George (2017)

Every Ride is a hypnotizing mix of mental and physical challenge, solitude and human connection, focus on the moment and absorption in the vastness, staggering beauty and ugly motor traffic, and people of all backgrounds. I need time to process it. Channeling The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962):

The thread through every Ride is American kindness and fairmindedness. When gently shown that our law abandons persecuted foreigners to fend for themselves in court, the People say NO.

It’s why, every year, I fall in love with Americans again.

Emma Lazarus loved America, too. You know her 1883 sonnet. Please read it again, with added emphases.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Refugees are the Least Among Us.  They have no country to protect them.

In this land that belongs to its inhabitants, no matter their papers (what papers did the First Nations, the Conquistadores, the Pilgrims, Alexander Hamilton, and most Ellis Island arrivals have?), Americans want to be fair and generous to strangers, as their Scriptures tell them to be.

Some of our kind neighbors don’t realize they have the tools to help.

Let’s speak up softly but firmly when people are misled into fearing refugees. Refute lies about immigrants: even unauthorized immigrants commit less crime, spread less disease, create jobs for Americans, and work harder than the America-born. Be a friend to the stranger. Join with others in the community, and with nationwide organizations like Human Rights First, to see that asylum applicants get the professional help they need to have their cases fairly heard.

Let’s lift our lamp beside the golden door.

And now, some thanks . . .

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America is wonderful. Each year, I roll through a land set like a banquet table. Even its worst roads, are roads.  Even its poorest food, is food.  Even its simplest motel is shelter.  My needs are met by new friends I make every day.  People are kind and generous.  I am but dust, yet it seems that the whole world was created for my sake.

Question:  If a kangaroo puppet is pedaled across the country and no one notices, did it really happen?

Answer:  The answer is irrelevant, because this year, as every year, friends like you show that you notice.  You email and text, you post encouraging comments on the blog, you donate to The Cause, you spread the word, you are the wind at my back and the descent after a hard climb.  I don’t often respond, but I see, and I remember, and I’m grateful.

I’m particularly grateful to friends and family who took me in:  Peggy and George in New Mexico; Steve and Michele, Hillary and Courtney, Cindy and Lou, Terry, Julie and Nattie, in California. They made a home for me, far from my home.

Peggy and George went above and beyond. For 12 days, George (in a truck he rented and fueled) made sure I got over the mountains and across the desert.  George supplied me with iced water, tuna subs, sugary snacks.  He explained area geology and suggested detours into the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and Meteor Crater.  After he saw me past the Mojave, George needed 2 more days to drive home.  Peggy gave her time, money, and blessing to make it happen.  And imagine—through our mutual Maryland friends Elisa E., Irene and Mario, we first met less than a year ago!  I can’t thank them enough.

Emma Lazarus called Liberty “a mighty woman with a torch”.

There is a mighty woman for whom I carry the torch.

IMG_2433Nancy is brilliant, principled and determined.  She has run businesses and ran (not walked) the NYC Marathon.  Someone has to run our family; talent and circumstance chose her.

Without her annual fearful assent, the Rides would not happen.

On every Ride, I eat and sleep because Nancy works to pay my way.

This year—when the route included hundreds of miles of desert beginning in New Mexico, followed by 250 miles across California’s arid Mojave— Nancy asked me to find a chaperone (enter George!).  The dangers I encounter are less scary than the dangers Nancy imagines.  But she never says that I can’t go.

If I am the kite, pretty Nancy is the string.  She lets me rise, keeps me steady, and at the end of the adventure, draws me home.

To be with my love.

Where I belong.

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A Busman’s Holiday

Jeffrey here. Joey has been resting in a drawer.

Soon after Joey and I took a pause in San Jose on May 11, Nancy flew to San Francisco. I met her there.

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How I missed Nancy!

Clockwise from upper left: Alcatraz, Nancy on the Sausalito ferry, San Francisco at night, with our NJ friends Donald & Nancy, poignant street art.

Then, with Donald and Nancy, we embarked on a bicycling (!) vacation in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Pedaling there, and in San Jose and Santa Clara, brought me to this year’s final total: 1,356 miles (2,197 km). If you waited to donate to Human Rights First until all the miles are in, there you are!

I didn’t let Joey intrude on Nancy-&-me time. Still, along the way I talked about asylum applicants & their need for legal counsel. Meet a few of our new friends.

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Justin, ace bicycle mechanic, rejuvenated the Sprint 26, last serviced over 2500 miles ago. Chain replaced, desert grit removed, brakes overhauled, wheels aligned, derailleurs adjusted. Justin loves our “ride”—his other customers were fascinated & he found pedaling it a joy—& he loves the Rides.

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Wyal came from Jordan to the U.S. as a teenager. He stocks his grocery with wonderful California fruit, & treats from Lebanon, Morocco, Israel, & throughout the Middle East. He lauds the area’s ethnic diversity.

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Ellie immigrated from Germany as a child. Germany would not allow her to hold dual citizenship; she kept her German citizenship for family reasons. Now she plans to become a U.S. citizen. John worked for the San Francisco Examiner for 40 years. Ellie & John thank Human Rights First for standing up for the persecuted.

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Betty sells gourmet chocolates. She used to work in the legal field. She believes asylum applicants need & deserve lawyers, regardless of ability to pay.

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Vincent, a proud U.S. citizen, was a refugee from Vietnam. He told me that immigrants take American jobs. Openminded, he reconsidered when I pointed out that he & his friends created businesses that, through hiring & purchasing, make jobs for other Americans.

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Erik grew up in Mexico City. In California, he supervises a virtual reality demonstration for a tech company, but he prefers the real world. He has traveled extensively in Mexico, & wants to drive (as we have biked) Route 66. Erik & his family, on their own & through their church, help Central American refugees who make their way to Mexico.

A few scenes from Nancy’s and my 138 miles together in Wine Country: vineyards, seacoast, redwoods, Russian River, wild turkey.

Many vineyards, small and large, are bounded by rose bushes.

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The roses teach a lesson.

We learned that roses, now a vineyard tradition, originated as an early warning system. If delicate roses are affected by pests or disease, a farmer would know that the hardier grapes are at risk.

The hundreds of asylum applicants I have represented since 1983 are the roses of humanity, the best of the best. Plunged into our complex legal system, they are vulnerable, virtually defenseless.

Our country officially ignores asylum applicants’ need for counsel to prepare and present their cases. Their plight warns of a disease (delusions of justice? hardening of the heart?) that threatens the rest of our society.

Save the roses, save the grapes, save the wine.

Save the refugees, save ourselves, save our country.

The next post, the last of this Ride, will come from New York. See you there!

The Way to San Jose

To set the mood, we invite you to click here and listen.

Soon after we left Gilroy this morning, Josh passed us.

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Josh is a helicopter pilot.  He does medevacs for a local hospital.

Josh recently began to commute by bicycle. He loves the way it clears his head. Like most of his neighbors, he had no idea that poor asylum applicants are expected to present their cases without a lawyer. He’s a new friend of Human Rights First.

Attracted by this bright display, we stopped north of Morgan Hill.

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Judith, 32, has lived in the U.S. since she was 16.  Her English is comparable to Jeffrey’s Spanish—but they managed to talk.

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Judith’s children are fluent in English and Spanish.  She hasn’t been to a big city, not even to Los Angeles, and was fascinated by the idea of biking from NYC.  Jeffrey bought fresh Fresno cherries from her, and she added some extra, for friendship.

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Smooth flat roads and a gentle tailwind sped us to the well-paved, sunny/shady Coyote Canyon Trail.

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Water, trees, grass, mountains in the clouds . . . perfect.

About 8 miles in, a sign warned that the trail ahead was closed due to flooding.  Nancy and Melinda waved us back as we approached a flooded area.

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L to R:  Nancy, Dog 1, Melinda, Dog 2.  Melinda said her mom, a nurse practitioner who does charity work in the Third World, will be excited to learn about the Ride.

Jeffrey told them about the Ride, and asked about alternative routes.  Then he walked barefoot into the stream, found it slow and shallow enough for the Sprint 26, and pushed the machine across.  Nancy and Melinda stood by in case of trouble.

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Success!  Jeffrey waved goodbye to our new friends, and continued on the Trail, having outsmarted the people who placed a “trail closed” sign.

Half a mile later, Jeffrey didn’t feel so smart.

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Here the trail was covered in deeper water, sticky mud, and heaps of tree parts.

Jeffrey reconnoitered. With some work, he thought he could get our machine through the water and past the woody debris. But there was no telling whether more barriers were around the bend. Jeffrey decided to return the way we had come.

Melinda had told us of an alternative on local roads. We backtracked a mile and found our way off the Trail.  We continued north and west through 18 miles of moderate traffic.

Silicon Valley!

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We entered San Jose proper.

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We pulled up at Julie’s and Nattie’s house.

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Real-time photo courtesy of Julie.

I cavorted in relief.

Thus we ended the main part of our journey, among friends.

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L to R: Nattie, Joey, Julie. Jeffrey and Julie have been pals since grad school at The University of Chicago. Before Julie’s father and our Nancy’s father became refugees, their families knew one another in Germany. Nattie fled persecution himself.  Julie and Nattie know.

To reach San Jose, we pedaled 1,212 miles from Rio Rancho, New Mexico, through mountains and forests and farmland and deserts, on trails and roads of all kinds and conditions.  We would not have made it without your good wishes, kind comments, and moral support.

Before we close the books on the 7th Annual Ride for Human Rights, we will explore this area a little. We’ll take a break from nightly posts, but you will hear from us occasionally until Jeffrey gets the last word after we return home in about 2 weeks.

If you’d like to provide financial support to help Human Rights First protect refugees and promote American values, click here.

And please stay tuned. 😊