Altitudes and Attitudes

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An Arizona dust cloud, whipped up by the ferocious wind that scoured the valley near Kingman.

Today Jeffrey pedaled 80 miles (130 km), mostly under the usual conditions:  rough roads and into headwinds.  We started the day at 5100′ (1550 meters) above sea level.  We worked our way up to 5700′, then descended to 3400′, at Kingman.  We’re a long way from sea level, but Jeffrey can feel the air is richer than it has been since we landed at Albuquerque last week.

I got to come out of my bag, which doesn’t always happen.  Jeffrey let me be held by Alessandra, a visitor from Rome.  She and Gherardo, who is from Milan, were being escorted on a photography tour.  They spotted us on Historic Route 66 northwest of Ash Fork.

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L to R:  Alessandra, Joey, Gherardo

After Jeffrey explained the Ride, our visitors noted that Italy takes in many refugees, far more in number and in proportion than the U.S. accepts.  Jeffrey praised Italy for doing the right thing, and expressed regret that the U.S. isn’t doing its share.  Alessandra said many Italians are unhappy about accepting refugees, yet “there are good people everywhere” who extend a welcome.  Alessandra, Gherardo, and Jeffrey compared notes about our current president and Italy’s former prime minister . . . and they all had a good and rueful laugh.

Earlier today, Jeffrey had a nice talk with Mark, owner of the Ash Fork Inn.  Mark declined to have his photo taken, but was glad to know that we’d report on the converation.  The theme of Mark’s discourse was the prevalance of ignorance.  We don’t have space to do justice to the breadth of his philosophy, but we can say that Mark’s ideas apply to America’s immigration politics.  Mark understands that Americans’ fear of immigrants, of refugees and of asylees, is rooted in ignorance.  Jeffrey said, that’s why we are on the Ride, to tell people that we have more to fear from our fellow Americans than from foreigners trying to escape persecution.  Mark wished us well on our project and our journey.

These experienced cyclists are headed for New York and, ultimately, Rhode Island.

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L to R:  Lyman (an architect who did a header into gravel earlier on this trip), friend Falcon, Lyman’s son Graham (also an architect), and Graham’s son Ben (who graduated early from high school).  All three generations are from Bozeman, Montana.

Graham said there is a lot of talk in Montana about refugees, and some resistance to accepting them. Lyman said it’s hard to understand how people can attend church, then resist helping those fleeing persecution. They support the goals of Human Rights First and will follow the Ride while they have their own adventure.

Other highlights of the day:

These nostalgic signs, with various rhymes, are popular on Route 66.

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Everyone we have met in Arizona has been kind and sympathetic to protecting refugees’ and asylees’ human rights. But of course there are people who don’t know better and haven’t thought things through.

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What does this mean?  No one is ONLY American, or anything else.  We all have varied ties and roles to play.  (Are the backwards “N’s” meant to look Russian?)

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(Sigh.)

These are some of the unusual (to us) flowers we saw today.

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These resemble dried gourds.  The size of baseballs, they grew on vines.

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Is there a cheeseburger without cheese?  This sign is in Seligman, AZ.

There is so much land here . . .
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We had some long descents today, several miles at a time.  We earned every one of them by pedaling up from sea level, last year and this year.  Too bad the roads often were too rough or gravelly, and/or the headwinds too powerful, for us to fully enjoy the descents.FullSizeRender 12FullSizeRender 6

Mmm, roadkill!  George and Jeffrey lunched here.  Every entree came with meat.  The Roadkillers kindly fed Jeffrey an egg instead.FullSizeRender

Tourists like jails.  So do private companies that build and rent and profit from “detention facilities” for immigrants, including asylum applicants.  But that’s a discussion for another day.

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We’re nearing the edge of Arizona.  We’ll keep going west until we run out of land.

Gravity

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We left Flagstaff early, hoping to take advantage of the morning calm.

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Our first California (Los Angeles) sign!

Soon we reached the highest point anywhere on I-40, which runs between North Carolina and California.

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The calm didn’t last.  The wind kicked up.  It was not as ferocious as yesterday, but it was powerful, over 20 mph, holding us back every moment.

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The road became so rough, it was like pedaling over rumble strips, for miles, without relief.

Still, we enjoyed Arizona’s beauty.

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Red soil (this cliff face was nearly vertical) topped by trees.

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See the house at lower left?  This is a cropped bit of the original photo below; the original gives you an idea of how the land and the sky make a visitor feel grateful, and small.

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Pink flowers crept down a cliff face far above the highway.

Finally! After hours of struggling against the wind and the rough pavement and the earth’s gravity, we enjoyed a 3-mile downhill run on asphalt smooth enough for a fast safe ride. We passed the first significant surface water we have seen since arriving in New Mexico: a pond held back by a fragile-looking dam.

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Then, after our 3-mile foretaste, gravity became our friend in an even bigger way.

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From near the top, looking six miles down!

What fun! Jeffrey kept our speed under 30 mph so he could avoid fallen rocks, bits of shredded truck tires, the occasional mammal corpse, and other debris on the wide smooth shoulder. Gravity pulled us down for six miles, to Ash Fork.

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Flagstone capital!  Who knew?  Stones are stacked and leaned around town at various emporia in astonishing numbers.

We rented $29 rooms, one for us and one for George, at the Ash Fork Inn.

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Lois checked us in.  She has a powerful personality, and held forth on her 1980 Chevy truck, her family history back to 15th century France, Oregon, the raising of children, stupid laws, her contempt for liars, her history of fisticuffs, a recent surgery, etc., etc., etc., all in an entertaining and enlightening manner. When Jeffrey told her about the Ride and the mission of Human Rights First, Lois said emphatically that we all share the same blood.  We admire Lois and believe she never would turn away the desperate.  Not from her door.  Not from her country.

At dinner at Lulu Belle’s BBQ, Lacey, our excellent server who guided Jeffrey to meatless options, heard how life-or-death asylum applicants can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government”.  She said that isn’t right.

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Lacey holding her new card.

She took one of Jeffrey’s “ambassador” cards and said she will follow our progress.

We were helped today by another sort of gravity.  Jeffrey received a message from Nixon, whom we met three days ago in Ramah, New Mexico.  You met him in our post, “Three Americans”.

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Nixon wrote:  “I did not say but I am a story teller of Ramah Navajo culture and history, Shaman and herbalist,  So I pray for a safe trip for you.  I will keep in touch.”

These words have gravity of a different sort.  Nixon is a spiritual man, offering something precious to him.  His status gives his prayers a special weight.

Jeffrey is honored to have met Nixon and is grateful for his support.  Like the kind words from friends old and new, posted and written and spoken, Nixon’s spiritual gravity lightens our load.

Three quick downhill miles, followed by six more, were a relief today.  But then they were over, and we had to resume fighting gravity with gravity.

(Pardon the pun.)

Blow, Ye Winds

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Joey here again.

Jeffrey insists that we start this post with some eye candy.  Nancy sent this yesterday from a party she attended in Brooklyn.  Jeffrey is happy that she’s happy.  And he misses her.

Meanwhile, on the Ride . . .

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Shirts with this picture are sold at Meteor Crater.  Read on . . .

Today we faced 30 mph headwinds and crosswinds.  We had to travel on a superhighway, next to motor vehicles that had trouble staying in their lanes.

We still found time to look around us and talk to people.

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Huck is a sophomore English major at the Univesity of Alaska.  He studies for a semester, then spends a semester having an adventure.  He’s biking from California to Pennsylvania, enjoying a tailwind.  Jeffrey explained the Ride.  Huck took it all in.

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What’s wrong with this picture?  Arizona has plenty of sun and wind, yet we have seen few solar panels and no wind turbines.  We passed this coal-burning power plant.

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Fascinating rock strata

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Trooper Anderson.  His special project for today—to escort highway line painters—was canceled because of the same high winds that bedeviled us.

While we were resting on the shoulder of an I-40 on-ramp, Arizona Public Safety (state police) Trooper Anderson stopped to chat with Jeffrey and George. Trooper Anderson (who happens to be U.S. Senator Jeff Flake’s brother-in-law) shares Jeffrey’s policy goals but would attain them differently. For example, the officer sees a federal minimum wage as a blunt instrument that doesn’t take into account local conditions. Yet he believes that businesses, particularly large businesses, should pay their workers a living wage.  He showed the same nuances in discussing the Second Amendment, partisanship in Congress, community policing, and other topics.

On our cause—justice for refugees and asylum applicants—we all are on the same page.  Trooper Anderson noted the chaos that accompanied implementation of SB 1070, the harsh (and largely unconstitutional) Arizona measure purporting to usurp Federal enforcement of immigration law.  He understands why (e.g.)  a Syrian family panicked when he offered them a ride after their car was damaged in a collision with an elk.  (In Syria, civilians often do not survive encounters with police.)

Trooper Anderson thinks.  He has a heart.  He “gets it.”  He’s a good guy in our book.

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Once someone was proud of this Arizona house.

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“High Winds” doesn’t do these high-desert gales justice.  Note snowy Mt. Humphrey in the lower right corner, seen from 50 miles away.

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Several times, Jeffrey’s face was blasted with wind-driven sand.  I was safe in his pannier.

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James is from Bakersfield, CA, “the hottest place on earth.”  He drives a big truck.  He pulled off I-40 and walked out to greet Jeffrey, asking whether Jeffrey was biking in Oklahoma 5 days ago.  Jeffrey did bike across Oklahoma—last May.  James had seen a similar rig.  James asked about the Ride.  Jeffrey explained that asylum applicants can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government.”  James supports Human Rights First’s efforts to  provide those lawyers for free.

Jeffrey, my chauffeur, fought the wind for five hours.  Then he and George folded the Sprint 26, loaded it onto the truck George rented, and took a detour to see Meteor Crater, the best-preserved impact crater in the world.

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Meteor Crater

Both humans are fascinated by geology (about which Jeffrey knows a little, George knows a lot).  This mile-wide crater, made 50,000 years ago by a lump of iron-nickel traveling at 26,000 mph, is surrounded by a seemingly desolate 300,000 acre cattle ranch.  It gives one perspective on the ephemerality of everything, and the pettiness of so much of human activity.

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My chauffeur, Jeffrey

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Jeffrey’s desert chaperone, George

We returned to the Real World by returning to the highway.  The wind still was too dangerous for us to resume biking on the Interstate, so George drove us to Winona.  There, near sunset, in a sheltered spot under snowy Mt. Humphrey . . .

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. . . Jeffrey unfolded the Sprint 26, reloaded me and the necessary gear, and pedaled us another 13 miles.  We climbed from 6200 feet to 7000 feet, through blasts of wind and deepening darkness, to spend the night in Flagstaff.

Here our journey resumes tomorrow.

[Reminder:  For a better look at our photos, to see our daily progress, to donate to Human Rights First, or to sign up to follow via email, please visit rideforhumanrights.com .]

An Empty Promise

Tonight is the beginning of Holocaust Memorial Day.  Joey is silent.

The Holocaust—the systematic murder of Jews by German Nazis and their allies—inspired the promise, “Never again.”  As the late Susan Sontag observed, it is an empty promise.  It means only that “never again” will European Jews be murdered en masse by Nazis in the 1940s.  Mass murders of other people, in other places, have been carried out since, and continue.

Our country can’t (or won’t) stop the killing.  But our country, the world’s richest, the third largest (after Russia and Canada), and the third most populous (after China and India), can absorb lots of people who flee persecution.  Offering refuge doesn’t require us to go to war, nor to sacrifice.  We just have to share a little.

But we barely share at all.  People can’t request asylum unless they physically arrive in the U.S.—which is impossible for most people fleeing persecution.  The current U.S. president has capped this fiscal year’s quota of refugees (carefully screened and processed abroad) at 50,000—an insigificant number in a country of 320 million—and he tried to suspend all refugee admissions, and bar Syrian refugees entirely.

I am a United States citizen.  Today and every day, I am ashamed of what the U.S. president says about refugees and asylum applicants, and what he does to refugees and asylum applicants, in my name.

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A partial summary of the day, in pictures.

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Lori, Brian, and dog Bailey, are moving from California to Tennessee.  We had a nice chat.  They donated to the Ride.

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Hoy repairs airframes.  He’s flying cross-country tomorrow to work on helicopters.  We talked about bicycling, social problems in the Gallup area, and refugees.  I told Hoy that I hope he keeps ’em flying—especially when I’m underneath!

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I met Betty on her morning walk.  A thoughtful and gentle lady, she told me that she was sent to boarding school where she was forbidden to speak Navajo.  She still speaks the language fluently, and regrets that many young Navajo do not.  Betty said we ought to let refugees come to the U.S.  She told me that until she learned as a young adult how bad things can be abroad, she had not realized how good it is to live in our country.  She said her parents never understood her point of view.  I suspect that’s because unauthorized immigrants from Europe, and their descendants, oppressed the Navajo (including Betty’s parents) in the name of the United States.

Above are fallen rocks, and rocks about to fall.  Note the hat on one fallen block, for scale.

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We made a quiet entrance into Arizona.  I had to stick Joey on a fencepost and lean across barbed wire to get this photo; the border sign tilted toward I-40, not Historic Route 66.

Perhaps they’re tourist traps.  But everyone has to make a living.

Eerie remnants of a tourist trap for sale.  Arizona horses.  Dust kicked up by today’s 25-35 mph headwind.

The winds were so powerful and dangerous that after pedaling 49 miles to Chambers, AZ, we loaded everything in the truck and George (seen below) took us on a tour of the nearby Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. George knows plants, animals, fossils, and geology. His comments added a lot to the spectcular sights. After we emerged from the park’s southern entrance, I pedaled another 16 miles to Holbrook, the day’s destination.

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Three Americans

Here is our route so far.  Four days, 197 miles (319 km): slow.  But pale frail Jeffrey, ox-like, keeps going.

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The road today dropped and climbed and dropped and climbed again, and again, and again. We got up to 36 mph on downhills.  On some of the poorly paved, steep uphills, sometimes 3 mph was a push.  Winds were calmer; what a relief!

Words and photos don’t do justice to the beauty of the country between El Malpais and Gallup, but words and photos are all we have to share with you.

We listen to the meadowlarks and to the wind, and we look and look and look.

Local squirrels have extravagant tails and tufted ears.  This squirrel lives at the Cimarron Rose B&B and is comfortable around humans.  At the same site, we were buzzed by hummingbirds too quick to photograph.

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This roadside bull snake would eat the squirrel if it could catch it.  Jeffrey reckoned the snake was at least 4 feet long.

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Something dashed across the road too far ahead for Jeffrey to identify.  Elk?  Note the rumble strip that narrows the shoulder.  Today’s pavement varied from wide smooth shoulder, to gravel on asphalt, to no shoulder at all.

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This corral was built against a rock wall.

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This corral stood alone on the range.

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We passed from Navajo territory to the El Morro National Monument and through Zuni land.

Here’s a full frontal of the rockface you see to the left of the El Morrow sign.

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To see the forest fire watch tower, look about halfway between the left edge of the photo and the rocks that resemble a castle tower.

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Rocks and trees, in doses small enough to grasp.

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There are rock columns toward the right and left at the base of this mesa.  Formations like this are in every direction.

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The people are as great as the landscape.

Meet Nixon.

Nixon, descended from the Navajo and Apache nations, was to have been named Nixion, an Apache name.  The birth certificate was misspelled, and as he noted with understated wit, he has had to live with the consequences.  Nixon lives on a small Navajo reservation.  He maintains tanks and equipment for the local water system.  Like other First Nations people we’ve met, he doesn’t think it’s right to turn one’s back on refugees, who are people—as we all are people.

A couple of bystanders (one of them a former bicycle racer) admired the Sprint 26 but declined to take a spin.  Nixon gave it a try.  He’s our man!  (He loved it.)

Meet Sanjay.

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Outside Gallup, Sanjay crossed the highway to greet us.  He’s training for a bike race in Durango that takes place above 11,000′ (3300 meters).  He works with a nonprofit that helps the homeless of Gallup, a city of about 21,000.  Sanjay met his wife at UCBerkeley and followed her home to Gallup (as Jeffrey followed Nancy to NYC).  Earlier in his career, Sanjay worked with human rights groups, including some in Asia.  Although he was biking in the opposite direction from Jeffrey and me, Sanjay’s work to give shelter (a human right) makes him a fellow traveler of us, and of Human Rights First.

Meet Emmad.

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Emmad grew up in the city of Nablus, in what variously is called Palestine, the West Bank, Samaria . . . for him, it was just home.  Then, as a teenager, he joined relatives in Gallup.  Now Gallup is home.  He is a successful hotel owner, a kind man, and a philosopher.  When Jeffrey told him about the Ride, Emmad thanked Jeffrey warmly for helping refugees, and gave a generous discount for rooms for Jeffrey and George.  (Kangaroo puppets stay free.)  Then he and Jeffrey talked about how people everywhere just want a decent life—but selfish rulers have other agendas.

Emmad said he always felt welcome in Gallup.  As he should: an aspect of “American exceptionalism” is that America is the country of its inhabitants.

Nixon, Sanjay, Emmad: all Americans.

Theirs is the America we love.

We Cross the Divide

This is how the day ended: we crossed the Continental Divide (from where rivers drain to the Atlantic, to where rivers drain to the Pacific) . . .

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. . . and we met delightful Sheri, proprietress of the Cimarron Rose B&B.  Sheri is a gentle soul who is kind to people and is surrounded by amazing wildlife attracted by her lush property and her care.  She gave us a big discount as “Friends” and a second discount she reserves for “humanitarians”.

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Sheri was not the only person to touch us today with generosity.

Yesterday we (and you!) met Gilbert.  He said he hoped we’d meet again.  At about 10:15 this morning, a white Tacoma pickup pulled off Historic Route 66 ahead of us.  Gilbert was at the wheel.

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Gilbert told us about himself.  He is a retired deep-rock (2600′ down) uranium miner.  The mines were closed; the workers were paid a settlement sum, and promised periodic medical checkups.  Gilbert’s health is pretty good, but the amputation of his leg made things more difficult.  Jeffrey encouraged him, noting that when we met, Gilbert was walking, going places, doing better than some people who have two whole legs.

Gilbert asked for Jeffrey’s phone number.  Jeffrey gave Gilbert a card and invited him to call.  At about 1:30 PM, Gilbert phoned to say that his wife wanted to meet Jeffrey, and asked where we were.  Jeffrey told him: heading south on NM 53.

A few minutes later, Gilbert and his wife Becky pulled up alongside Jeffrey.

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We stopped to talk, and took their photo with their permission.  George, always looking out for us, drove up too, to say hello.

Gilbert said again that his people welcome refugees—and he said, a bit sadly, that no one asked the First Nations who should live in America, and that America’s leadership does not care about his people’s problems.  Then he and Becky gave Jeffrey a generous cash donation for Human Rights First, and asked God’s blessing on us.

Think of how far out of their way Gilbert and Becky went to do these kindnesses.  We are moved by the purity of their generosity and love.

A few other sights:

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Letisha took and shared this photo yesterday, before we biked into the worst of the sand.

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George snapped this photo at Sky City Hotel (Mt. Taylor is in the background) as we got rolling this morning . . .

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. . . and this photo as we passed him to enter Grants, NM.

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Grants has many relics (like this motel sign without a motel) from the heyday of Route 66 . . .

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. . . and modern Route 66 kitsch too.  Jeffrey snapped this pic of me on the Sprint 26.  The giant frame is illuminated in neon at night.

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This enormous bull pawed the ground in a cloud of dust . . . and stopped before we could snap a photo.

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Ranch country.

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Foreground volcanic, background sedimentary.  Desert geology is raw.

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We followed this bike route—on the shoulder of a lightly trafficked road—for almost 30 miles today.  It had wonderful stretches that were wide and smooth, and parts with loose gravel and broken pavement.  Bikes are an afterthought.  But at least they’re a thought!

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Experience confirms George’s observation that New Mexico has unusual highway signs.  Another we saw on a bridge: “Gusty Winds May Exist”.

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This beautiful tree, in the El Malpais National Monument, thrives at over 7400′.  At that altitude, Jeffrey . . . manages.  Tonight we’re staying at about 7700′ (over 2300 meters) above sea level.

 

Tomorrow we head northwest.

The Road Not Taken

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This morning, George returned to Rio Puerco with the pedal wrench Jeffrey needed.  High Desert Cycles in Albuquerque did not have one in stock.  When George explained who needed the wrench and why, the mechanic sold the shop’s wrench to George for a pittance.  So many people are looking out for us!

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Jeffrey could eat only half this stack of pancakes. The Rides kill his appetite.  Too bad. He needed this energy later.

On our way out, we met Gilbert, a member of the Acoma nation, who was on his way to see his doctor and proudly showed Jeffrey his artificial leg.  Jeffrey asked Gilbert what he thinks about refugees.  Gilbert thinks America should accept them.  As a member of a First Nation, he should have more of a say in this than do people of European ancestry.  But no one in the immigration bureaucracy has asked Gilbert what he thinks.

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Our first few miles this morning were on fine pavement, sparsely traveled.  Then the road turned into sand.  It took us about 3 hours to travel 10 miles.

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Often the sand was so soft and deep that Jeffrey had to get off and push.

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Which way?

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We took this route to avoid I-40.  It added 9 miles to our trip and wore out Jeffrey.  But it led us to meet wonderful people.

Letisha called out to us.  She was picking up trash along the road as part of a community cleanup.  A full-blooded Navajo, she studies environmental science at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and works in the records department at a local hospital.  Letisha said she can’t speak for others, but she believes that helping refugees is the right thing to do.  She talked about the American notion of land ownership and the power to exclude others; the futility of much of political life; and the importance of doing what one can in one’s own community.  She asked to take Jeffrey’s photo by the Tohajiilee sign—we’ll share it later (we are unable to receive emails tonight)—and told him the origin of the village and the role it played in the TV series Breaking Bad.

Later we found ourselves outside the Canoncito (band of Navajo) Health Clinic.  Nurse Cindy called out to Jeffrey and invited him and George to join the staff for a lunch to celebrate Nurse Jamin’s new job with the Veterans Administration.  She invited Jeffrey to talk about the Ride.  He did, briefly explaining the history and purpose of the Ride, the plight of refugees, American misconceptions about them, and the mission of Human Rights First,

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Cindy and Janis

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Jamin is standing at left.  The staff presented him with a silver bolo tie and praised his techincal skill and warm humanity.

Many staff members took Jeffrey’s card and said they will follow the Ride.  Dr. O’Shea, who was deployed twice in Afghanistan and has tried for years to bring her interpreter to the USA, has a friend in DC who works in nonprofit refugee law and likely knows our friend Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First!  Candyce and Kerby took rides on the Sprint 26.  Everyone gathered outside for a group photo.

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What warm and generous people!  We made a lot of new friends.

We left the clinic, gave up on back roads, and headed for the Interstate.  It was paved, with a wide smooth shoulder.  For about 17 miles, we even had a 13 mph tail wind!  Then Jeffrey suffered through a dozen miles of rough pavement, in a 15 mph head wind; he had to pedal even when going downhill!

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Out here, where roads are few, bicycles are allowed on the Interstate.

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Officer Mariano of the Pueblo of Laguna Police Department pulled up behind Jeffrey to make sure we were ok.  He offered to follow us through a dangerous stretch of highway.  Jeffrey gratefully accepted.  The officer gave Jeffrey permission to take this photo.

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Officer Mariano guarded our rear through this pass on I-40, which is followed by a curve, a drop, then a long steep climb.

George and Jeffrey worked out a simple chaperoning system.  George drives a few miles ahead of us, then waits until we catch up.  In dangerous places, sometimes he follows us as the police officer did.

Here is a potpourri of some other views of the day.  As usual, we have many more photos than show up on this blog.

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6040 feet (1840 meters)

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A ghost bike, Casa Blanca, NM.

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Railroad tracks seen from an I-40 overpass.  We saw several very long freight trains today.

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Unfenced Navajo horses.

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Bullet-riddled road signs are a familiar sight in rural America.

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Modern windmill, old design.

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Moo.

Into Thin Air

Peggy fed Jeffrey a wonderful omelet, and croissants with three kinds of homemade jam.  Then it was time to get on with it.

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Here we are, pulling out of the Wilsons’ garage.  We stopped to buy a new helmet on our way out of town.

Peggy and George live at 5500 feet (1680 meters).  We reached at least 5900 feet (1800 meters) this afternoon.  The air up here has 20% less oxygen than at sea level.  I don’t mind because I don’t breathe.  Jeffrey feels it.

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5900 feet

George rented a truck.  He drove a few miles ahead of us, then waited for us to catch up.  He saw us across the Rio Puerco to tonight’s destination, then drove home.  Tomorrow we’ll pedal beyond quick driving distance from Rio Rancho, and George will stay with us as our chaperone until, some days from now, we’re past the worst of the Mojave.

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Ariana and James believe that refugees should be treated with justice and kindness. They could use a little in their own lives.

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Sonny worked in the medical equipment field, and retired here from California. He’s a gentle man who supports the principles of Human Rights First.

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Jan is an avid bicyclist, affiliated with groups that do rides for causes and for fun.

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Susan is into mountain biking and gravel biking – way too daring for us! She wished us a wonderful trip.

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Eric and Duaine, son and father, retired from the military. We talked about bicycling and San Antonio, Texas.

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Bob pulled off the road to talk to us. He’s about to leave for a bicycle trip through Denmark and points east. His daughter is in the Peace Corps in Uganda. We hope he’ll follow the Ride.

Some scenic views:

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On our way out of town.

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Note the pebbly shoulder.  We had better pavement for much of the route today . . . and worse too.

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A ghost bike near little Double Eagle airport. There is a story there.

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This sign on I-40 understates the distance for us.  We will take some detours to avoid the superhighway.

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Jeffrey liked this ranch sign because of all the R’s.

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What a great bike lane, in the middle of nowhere.

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We’re spending the night at this gambling oasis.  It’s the only hotel for miles.

We saw fauna and flora.

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This anthill cone is different from the ones we know back East.

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Here I am, perched on a tumbleweed. These things are everywhere, blowing across roads and fields, piling up against fences.

For the last 8 miles today, we pedaled into a 19 mph (31 kph) headwind.  We are steeling ourselves for more of the same tomorrow.

Out West Again

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Sunset seen from our NYC apartment, April 17, 2017.

This morning, Jeffrey’s best and prettiest friend—Nancy!—took him out for breakfast, and then to LaGuardia airport.

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We’re off!  I’m stuffed in the red pannier.

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Our building, from which we saw last night’s sunset, is marked with a red dot.

Most of America is empty. As we flew west, we looked down on a vast territory through which in five weeks, split between two years, we had pedaled our way to Albuquerque. Today’s trip took about five hours.

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The disks are irrigated fields.

 

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Rugged New Mexico, with snowy peaks near and far.

We were met at the Albuquerque airport by our good friends Peggy and George, who took Jeffrey to a nice restaurant.  At the restaurant, Jasmine took one of Jeffrey’s new calling cards, heard a little about the Ride and the plight of refugees, and voiced enthusiastic support.

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Peggy and George brought us to their lovely house in Rio Rancho.

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Here’s the Sprint 26.  In the 10 months since we left it in Rio Rancho, it gave birth to a baby trike!  Peggy introduced us.

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Tonight’s sunset view of the Sandia (“watermelon” in Spanish) Mountains, east toward NYC.

Peggy and George will play a big role in this year’s Ride.

The weather, the terrain, the political climate, and the vast stretches of desert that pale frail Jeffrey must traverse, scared Jeffrey’s family and friends . . . and Jeffrey too, a little. Today, George offered to shadow us on the road in his car. Peggy said, why not rent a truck, so if a rescue is necessary, the Sprint 26 can be rescued too.  George made the arrangements!

We have a long, hard road ahead. Thanks to Peggy and George, until we get through the Mojave Desert, we will not be on that road alone.

Guest Post: Heads in the Sand

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A red kangaroo digging in the desert . . . to bury her head?

Nancy here, with my annual pre-departure guest appearance.

It would be easy these days to put one’s head in the sand and try to ignore it all. Some days, I don’t want to open the newspaper.

And now, with Jeffrey and his kangaroo puppet heading off into the desert, there is more to worry about and more reason to be distracted. Jeffrey and Joey will fly to Albuquerque tomorrow, April 18, to pick up their tricycle and continue the journey to California. Most of the route will be hot, sparsely populated, and often at high altitude.

This year, I have two apps to track Jeffrey, one based on GPS and the other relying on cell phone towers. I should be able to pinpoint Jeffrey’s location most of the time. On other rides, I have phoned directions when Jeffrey took a wrong turn, but this time there will be stretches when he won’t be reachable. Whatever the circumstances, our children and I will do our best at ground control.

Please read the illustrated blog that Jeffrey posts every night from the road. You can sign up on the WordPress site rideforhumanrights.com to get the daily post automatically. On the site, you can post words of encouragement to our cyclists on their goodwill tour to talk to our fellow Americans about freedom and the right of good people to live in the USA if they can prove a well founded fear of persecution.

Jeffrey’s new title is Ambassador for Human Rights First, an outstanding organization that helps immigrants, particularly refugees.

Please consider clicking here to donate to honor the ride.  Jeffrey and I pay all the expenses of these journeys.  Your entire donation supports Human Rights First.

Don’t forget that I’m available for phone calls, coffee breaks, and other put-your-head-in-the-sand activities, until I see Jeffrey again on May 12.

—Nancy

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Ambassador!

 

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Joey, clad in diplomatic garb (high hat, bow tie, cummerbund), portfolio in paw, photographed in nostalgic sepia, waits in vain to present ambassadorial credentials to the American public.  [Tied bow courtesy of Benjamin Heller]

The nerve!

I am the Kangaroo Court Puppet, symbol of injustice, a tangible reminder of cruelty to refugees, a cruelty grounded in myths and bigotry.

Jeffrey is my chauffeur and my scribe, merely because he happens to have jointed legs and working fingers.

Yet he, not I, won the Human Rights First ambassadorial nod.  He even gets official calling cards!  Here’s a card, obverse and reverse, with the addition of a sticker you’ll get on your donor postcard at the end of the Ride.

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No matter.  I’m no stranger to speciesism.  Humans, and Human Rights, come First around here.

Call Jeffrey “ambassador” or “chauffeur” or “scribe” or what you will.  I remain the Voice of the Ride.  I will be there for every mile.

Next week, we go out among our own American people, into the great American desert.  We’ll pedal from New Mexico through Arizona and Nevada, to California.

Arizona is where America’s attorney general announced, on the eve of Jewish Passover and during Christian Holy Week, that in “the Trump era”, law-abiding refugees, worthy immigrants, and their American families and communities, henceforth will be treated with special harshness.  The attorney general and his boss are readying more private for-profit jails to cage people lawfully seeking refuge in America.  They will pay corporate jailers millions of tax dollars to cage thousands more people whose “crime” is working and paying taxes and feeding their families.

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When our physically delicate, conveniently amnesiac Alabamian, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, finishes jailing hard-working immigrants, who will harvest our American strawberries?  We nominate . . .

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. . . Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. • We do not blame children for their parents’ sins, but perhaps a name reflects the environment in which one is raised.  He is his family’s third generation to perpetuate the names of Jefferson Davis and Pierre G. T. Beauregard, traitors who broke their military oaths to defend the Constitution, traitors who made war on the United States rather than accept limits on the spread of slavery.

An ambassador is an emissary to a foreign land.  We hope—even in “Trump era” Arizona, where the attorney general felt comfortable bragging that America will violate its legal duty to refugees, will bully immigrants and those who help them, and will betray America’s historic, moral, and religious roots—that we won’t really be ambassadors.  We hope the Southwest will feel like the 29 American states we visited on our six annual pre-“Trump era” Rides.  We hope all of America still will feel like our country, our home.

But as with the weather, the terrain, our bike, and Jeffrey’s bones, we must accept things as we find them.  We will do our best to take the pulse of the “Trump era” Southwest, to learn from people we meet, and maybe to help them learn a little too.

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Citified country-boy Jeffrey on his Brompton in Manhattan in January, Bronx-bound to visit clients of The Guardianship Project of the Vera Institute of Justice. Do Jeffrey & I still have common ground with our fellow Americans in the rural West? Time will tell. [Photo courtesy of friend and passerby Viviane Topp]

Whom Shall We Let In?

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L to R: Jeffrey, Nancy, in March at the Roman forum. If their ancestors entered Rome, it wasn’t as citizens. Not shown: Joey, left behind in New York.

 

Jeffrey is back in NYC, preparing for the 2017 Ride, which begins on April 18.

He’s home because at JFK Airport on March 31, U.S. Customs and Border Protection let Jeffrey in.

Jeffrey was prepared to defy federal agents’ demands for access to his mobile phone and social media accounts.  He erased his phone before disembarking from the airplane, so that even if seized, the phone would yield nothing.  But Jeffrey’s readmission to the U.S. was accomplished in moments via a Global Entry kiosk.  No one from CBP asked Jeffrey anything.

It was a time-consuming pain to restore Jeffrey’s phone at home.  Some apps disappeared.  Never mind.  It was worth it to protect Jeffrey’s clients’ confidences as he prepared to stand up for American citizens’ rights—only to be ignored.

Some other American, some other time, will be the plaintiff in a test case to challenge CBP’s claim of right to see our most intimate secrets at the border.

“Well, OK, they let Jeffrey in without fuss,” you say.  “Jeffrey is a citizen.  He’s not a scary scimitar-swinging gun-toting bomb-making Syrian terrorist!”

Yes.  But as an American citizen, Jeffrey is more likely than a Syrian immigrant to be a terrorist or criminal.  Acts of crime and terror in America are carried out disproportionately by Americans!

While we’re letting in American Jeffrey—who by the numbers is a risk—whom does the present administration seek to keep out?

If you’ve followed this blog, if you’ve “Seen Us On TV” through the links at the top, you know Renaz and her family.

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Scary Muslim family from Aleppo, Syria, on a Thanksgiving 2016 visit to NYC.  Not shown: scimitars, firearms, bombs, hate literature.

Renaz is unusual in her willingness to speak up.  She is brave—all of Jeffrey’s refugee clients are brave—and because her extended family has escaped from Syria, she is not afraid that they will suffer on her account.

Renaz arrived in the USA in 2013 with a valid visa.  She followed American law, availing herself of the right to ask for refuge.

If the present American regime had not been stopped (for now) by Federal courts, Renaz would not be allowed to board an airplane in 2017 to come to the U.S. to plead her case.

If Renaz and her family had been barred from the United States, would you feel safer?  Would our country be better off?

Let Renaz speak for herself.  Hear her stories on Meet A Syrian Family and Refugees Renew America, two new videos (less than 2 minutes each).

Shame on Americans for giving in to nightmares peddled by American extremists.

Let’s stick with the current refugee and asylum system.  It already carefully screens and evaluates refugees and asylum applicants before they join our community.

Let’s keep the Golden Door open for people like Renaz.

Then let’s give Syrian refugees, and ALL refugees, a warm American welcome.

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Keeping Secrets: Pushback

L to R: Joey, Jeffrey, clad in matching Liberty ties.

Joey here.

Nancy took this photo before she & my chauffeur left the U.S.A. for two weeks. Then Nancy took a selfie, with Jeffrey in a seahorse tie (symbolic: seahorse dads carry the babies). Jeffrey flies in ties because others fly in pajamas.

L to R: Jeffrey, Nancy. Jeffrey doffed the Liberty tie; he thinks it’s in poor taste to flaunt one’s national symbols when abroad.

They travel light and fast. There was no room for me. And no need. They will tread quietly, as guests, to see and to learn. Not like on the Rides, when our goal is to see and to learn . . . and to be seen and to teach.

At month’s end, I hope Jeffrey will be allowed to come home.

“What!?” you ask. “Why is that in question!?”

Because, Dear Reader, our America the Brave has become America the Fearful.

I’ll explain.

Jeffrey is a New York lawyer, duty-bound to protect his clients’ secrets.

Like most Americans, Jeffrey carries a password-protected mobile phone. It contains slices of the lives of Jeffrey and his clients.

Jeffrey may not, without his clients’ permission or a court order, disclose to third parties the texts, emails, documents, calendar entries, and other particulars of his clients’ lives, that reside on Jeffrey’s phone.

Empowered and encouraged by White House edicts, supplied with guns and jails, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agents have begun to demand — allegedly for our protection — mobile phone and social media passwords from many of the people arriving at U.S. borders. They seize phones and upload data. They “detain” even U.S. citizens until the passwords are divulged.

CBP hound and gunbelt.

America is beginning to look like a barnyard of sheep led by chickens.

Jeffrey posts on social media only to promote the Rides. He has nothing subversive to hide. So why resist?

Because the protections of our Constitution weaken if they’re not observed.

Jeffrey concedes the right of CBP to search for contraband at the border. He acknowledges that foreigners’ rights at the border are limited.

But Jeffrey is a citizen of the United States. He has the right — not the privilege, but the right — to enter our country. He does not accept CBP’s claim of right to read the contents of a U.S. citizen’s phone. He declines to give to government agents the password to his phone or to this blog.

CBP rifles and trigger fingers.

Citizenship aside, the client secrets on Jeffrey’s phone are not his to divulge. If CBP demands access to those secrets, Jeffrey will decline to provide it, the same as if CBP demanded to copy a client’s papers.

Benjamin Franklin said that he and his colleagues had created “a Republic — if you can keep it.” Like you, Jeffrey is determined to keep it.

Jeffrey’s determination never has been tested. Not really. He was bruised and his suit torn when he peacefully refused to obey an illegal order of an unarmed immigration court rent-a-cop in Manhattan. He resigned from the New Jersey bar rather than obey the unethical order of a judge who threatened Jeffrey with a fine or jail. These were little low-risk pushbacks. In contrast, his asylum clients from around the world have stood up for principle in the face of death.

Chances are my soft spoiled native American chauffeur won’t be tested this time either. People who look like Jeffrey — and like Mem Fox, a 70 year old Australian children’s author who recently made her 117th visit to the United States — generally pass under CBP radar.

I expect that Jeffrey and Nancy will return home without incident on March 31.

Yet if Jeffrey is detained, now you will know why.

CBP handcuffs.

Then — please — scream bloody murder!

As we should be screaming to Congress and the White House about every American subjected to CBP’s privacy-violating citizen-bullying unAmerican demands.

CBP bullied Fox. And an American rocket scientist. And a French Jewish Holocaust scholar. And thousands like them. Do you feel safer now?

Hunting Fugitives, Then and Now

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In 1851, Bostonians whose “crime” was escaping slavery were warned to avoid local police.  The president now wants local police to capture people whose only “crime” is BWF (Breathing While Foreign).  Déjà vu?

Joey here.

The 1787 U.S. Constitution didn’t mention slavery.  Not outright.

One must read between the lines.

Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 (substituting “Slavery” for the original “Service or Labour”):

No Person held to [Slavery] in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such [Slavery], but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such [Slavery] may be due.”

The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act decreed severe punishment – fines ($30,000 in today’s dollars), payment of restitution, and imprisonment – for Americans who did not deliver escaped slaves to their masters.

Today we are disgusted by the people who obeyed the law (and the Constitution) and returned slaves to slavery.

We honor people like Harriet Tubman and Luther Lee who defied the law.  Good people hid and harbored escaped slaves.  They pushed back against the Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling (1857) that no one of African ancestry could be an American citizen.  They were part of the Underground Railroad, transporting people to freedom in Canada.

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The image of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who helped dozens more slaves reach freedom in Canada, will appear on a new U.S. $20 bill.

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From The Autobiography of Rev. Luther Lee (1882), pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Syracuse, NY:  “I never had obeyed [the Fugitive Slave Act]—I never would obey it. I had assisted thirty slaves to escape to Canada during the last month. If the United States authorities wanted any thing of me my residence was at 39 Onondaga-street. I would admit that they could take me and lock me up in the Penitentiary on the hill; but if they did such a foolish thing as that I had friends enough in Onondaga County to level it with the ground before the next morning.”

Jeffrey has defended refugees from countries where slavery still exists.  His clients suffered from physical and psychological atrocities as horrifying as what American slaves endured.  So forgive us if we see parallels between America’s slaves and their descendants – who were deprived of citizenship until after the Civil War, deprived of human rights for 100 years after that, and still suffer the effects of this persecution – and today’s refugees and other desperate migrants.

We ask ourselves:  In 1850s America, would we have hunted down fugitive slaves?  In 1930s America, would we have rejected refugees fleeing the Nazis?  In 1940s Europe, would we have ignored or betrayed innocent Jews and others whom the law declared were enemies?

We hadn’t thought that Americans would be faced with such questions in our own era.  The application of our immigration, refugee and asylum laws, in fits and starts, has tended to become more humane since 1980 . . .

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Jeffrey created this clipart montage to evoke a government (!) poster he recalls from (perhaps) the second Bush administration, showing the American eagle sheltering refugees.

. . . until now.

The new president has tried to bar refugees from the United States.  That is illegal and immoral.

He has ordered the arrest and expulsion of millions of our neighbors, friends and families.  That is legal and immoral – like the Fugitive Slave Act.

We will not turn our backs on the new slaves, the new Jews, the new refugees.

We denounce presidential orders that lie about refugees, that slander and ban refugees as mysterious and dangerous.

We will not cooperate with those who hunt down peaceful members of our community, to take them from the people they work with, worship with, do business with, and love.

Since years before I joined Jeffrey and Nancy in 1991, they and their children have housed and transported and fed and supported refugees from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.  They do it because . . .

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. . . Jeffrey’s and Nancy’s people were refugees . . .

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. . . the Bible says to welcome and protect the stranger, to treat the stranger the same as the citizen, to love the stranger . . .

. . . if they didn’t help, they’d be ashamed . . . and because they are Americans.

Let’s say NO to enforcement of the modern version of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Let’s fight it, however we can.

To start, let’s stop the slurs against people who exercise their moral and legal right to come to the U.S. and ask for refuge.  Let’s stop the slurs against unauthorized immigrants who have settled here.  Let’s gently explain the destructive power of careless language, to friends and neighbors who are cruel without realizing it.

Listen to Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust survivor, the late Elie Wiesel:

“You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal.  That is a contradiction in terms.  Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal?  How can a human being be illegal? … [O]nce you label a people ‘illegal,’ that is exactly what the Nazis did to Jews.  You do not label a people ‘illegal.’  They have committed an illegal act.  They are immigrants who crossed illegally.  They are immigrants who crossed without papers.  They are immigrants who crossed without permission.  They are living in this country without permission.  But they are not an illegal people.”

And let’s band together, through groups like Human Rights First . . .

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. . . to stop the president from reinstating torture; to stop the villification of women, Mexicans, Muslims, refugees, Jews, immigrants, Democrats, Syrians, the LGBTQ, the press, and others, who do not conform to a ruler’s idea of the “norm”; to stop refugee bans that violate our laws and morals; to stop seizing and deporting people whose “crime” is living and working and caring for family; to stop propaganda that encourages the misinformed to bully our neighbors.

Let’s put Human Rights FIRST.

Javert or Valjean? Which Side Are You On?

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Joey Valjoey, clad in a sack, feeds stolen bread to a starving youth. The penalty for bread theft can be eternal banishment from the U.S.  The same crime put Jean Valjean in a French prison.  But Valjean was not banished from France.

First, a reminder:

As every year since we planned the first Ride in 2011, we post occasional essays in the weeks before our departure.  This year, we will leave NYC on April 18.  Once we are on the road, we will post every night so you can share the adventure.

*     *     *

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean went to prison for stealing bread to feed a starving child.

A boy in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath risked jail too: “Last night I went an’ busted a winda an’ stoled some bread. Made [my pa] chew ‘er down. But he puked it all up, an’ then he was weaker. . . . He’s starvin’ to death, I tell you!”

These fictional characters reflected real life in an 1830s French monarchy, and during the 1930s Great American Depression.  People were severely punished for committing minor crimes even to save a life.  It had been worse.  In Merrie Olde England, stealing bread was punishable by death.

Modern criminal penalties are, for the most part, more proportional.  And most crimes have an expiry date.

Here’s how to get away with armed robbery in (for example) hang-’em-high law-‘n’-order Texas.

Load your gun, rob your victim (you may pistol-whip her, just don’t kill her), stay in Texas, and don’t get indicted.  After 5 years, you’re untouchable.

Not only Texas forgives and forgets.  For most crimes, American law has statutes of limitations.  The state recognizes problems of proof and of justice.  It declines to pursue or punish perps of long-ago crimes.

For American criminals, there’s another way out.  Juries (and to a lesser extent, judges) have discretion in verdicts and sentencing.  Like any discretionary power, it can be abused.  Yet when the letter of the law is unjust – as when a trespasser seeks shelter from a storm, or an abused spouse clubs her abuser, or a starving person steals a loaf of bread – discretion can set things right.

And who among us has not exceeded the speed limit, cut across someone else’s land, or violated some aspect of the Internal Revenue Code?  In NYC, letting your dog pee on a sidewalk can get you a $25 fine and 10 days in jail; how often is that enforced?  States and cities have tax amnesties: tax cheats pay up, sometimes at a discount, and all is forgiven.  The driver who shattered Jeffrey’s leg in 2014 was not issued a ticket, despite her lawyer conceding that she was 100% at fault.  Amnesties and discretionary enforcement let citizens get away with stuff.

For noncitizens, it’s different.  Immigration law rarely forgives and never forgets.  Something you did decades ago, even if a new law made it a “deportable offense” after the fact, can get you banished from the United States.

Uninformed people say, “The law is the law.  Foreigners are here illegally.  Get rid of them!”

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These laypersons – including the president, who shows no knowledge of the law and does not vet his remarks with knowledgeable people – speak without understanding our complex immigration system.  Most immigration violations are civil, not criminal.  Many people facing removal from this country would qualify to stay if they get their day in court.  Federal agents have arrested, jailed, and even deported U.S. citizens.  On our first Ride in 2011, we ourselves met a U.S. citizen who had been jailed illegally by immigration cops.

What happened to common-sense fairness?  A person who lives and works here, supports her children, participates in the economy as producer and consumer, pays taxes that enrich the commonwealth, joins religious and civic groups that help the community, becomes one of us . . . at some point, justice demands that we recognize that America is her home.

Years ago, an immigration judge – a refugee who became a U.S. citizen – told Jeffrey that we need careful border controls, but that after someone has lived here and become part of our society, we owe that person compassion.

The judge was right.  All laws, criminal and civil, Biblical and Constitutional, require interpretation.  Law making, interpretation, and enforcement, are human enterprises.  Immigrants are human.  Are they not entitled to humane treatment, in light of all the circumstances?

We say yes.  We say that immigration law must be changed to reflect our universal moral values.  Temper justice with mercy.  Make the punishment fit the offense.  Don’t criminalize normal constructive human behavior.

Until then, common-sense discretion should temper enforcement.  There is no excuse for cruelty to individuals, families, communities.

Consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation; we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1, line 196

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Say it ain’t so, Joey! (With a nod to the 1919 Black Sox scandal)

Afraid of . . . Nothing.

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Joey, in a borrowed University of Chicago doctoral cap, holds § 101 of the Refugee Act of 1980.  Background:  Erté’s 1978 serigraph, Wings of Victory.

[To honor George Washington’s 285th birthday, today: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” December 2, 1783]

The current president of the United States campaigned on a promise to effect a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”  Now he is trying to deter some refugees (many fleeing persecution in Central America), and to ban other refugees (many fleeing persecution in the Middle East), from entering the United States.

(“Refugees” are people found to have a “well-founded fear of persecution” on particular grounds, who undergo months or years of background checks before they are allowed to come to the U.S.  “Asylees” are people recognized as refugees after having come to the U.S.; they undergo extensive background checks too.)

We don’t know “what is going on” in the president’s imagination. We do know the law and the facts.

The Refugee Act of 1980, 8 U.S.C. § 1101, begins (emphasis added):

The Congress declares that it is the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands, including, where appropriate, . . . aid for necessary transportation and processing, admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concerns to the United States, and transitional assistance to refugees in the United States. . . .  The objectives of this Act are to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.

Our law says foreigners have the right to ask for refuge, outside our country, at the border, or from within.  It says we respond.  We hear them.  We adjudicate.  We admit.  We resettle.  We absorb.  And we set aside money to pay for it.  That’s the American way!

Let’s keep things in perspective.  Eight hundred thousand refugees have been admitted to the United States since the 9/11 attack.  Americans killed by refugee terrorists:  zero.  Depending on how you slice the numbers, American deaths from terror attacks worldwide since 9/11: under 400.  American deaths from U.S. gun violence since 9/11: almost 400,000.

The president seeks to ban immigrants, workers, visitors, and refugees from seven countries, regardless of vetting:

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(Curiously, he did not single out the home countries of the 9/11 terrorists: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon.)

You already know that citizens of those seven countries have not committed any terrorist murders in the U.S., and that everyone coming from those countries is carefully screened.  “Extreme vetting” has been law and practice for years; it has kept us safe; yet the president insists, without evidence, that it is not enough.

“An example is not a proof.”  But here’s our perspective on the people we know from four of those seven “pariah” countries.

Among his hundreds of clients in 34 years of asylum work, Jeffrey has represented victims of persecution from Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia.  All exercised their legal right to come to the United States and ask for asylum.  While their cases were pending, sometimes after their release from immigration “detention” (jail), refugees from each of these countries were guests of Jeffrey’s family.  His home was their home.

There was risk on both sides.  The refugees feared that an American lawyer’s hospitality came at a price.  (Nope.)  Jeffrey and Nancy knew it was possible for these strangers to hurt them and their young children.  (The guests would be horrified to know that the thought even crossed Jeffrey’s mind.)

Act or fail to act.  Be kind or be cruel.  Stand tall or crouch in fear.  No matter what one does, or does not, there is risk.

We believe in American exceptionalism.  Rich America is big and strong and good enough to welcome the oppressed.  A small fraction of refugees will turn out to be bad people, just as a small (but larger) fraction of American babies grow up to be bad.  So what?  That’s life.  We’ll take the risk.

Common sense, based on reality (not posturing), demands that we be prudent.  Our laws, and the Bible most of us claim to respect, demand that we be generous.

We insist that the government that speaks in our name, be both.

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For those who forgot what America stands for, this caption was briefly on display on February 21, 2017.

Ride for Human Rights: Joey Goes to California

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We’re crossing Your Land, we’re crossing My Land, to California, from the New York Island.  “Surfin’ USA!”

The star.

Joey here.  Kangaroo Court Puppet.  One pound (1/2 kg) of Australia-conceived, Korea-made artificial fiber.  Bicycle passenger for over 7,500 road miles (12,000 km) through 1 Canadian province and 29 of the 48 contiguous American states.  Symbol of an immigration adjudication system in desperate need of overhaul.  For the seventh consecutive year, riding for human rights.

The crew.

Puppets need a puppet master.  For travel, they need a chauffeur.  My person, Jeffrey, does dual duty.

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Jeffrey, with the sign he carried on the 400,000-strong Women’s March in NYC:  obverse and . . .

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. . . reverse.

We travel on a 2014 ICE Sprint 26.

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100% human powered

We ride alone.  But we aren’t alone.  Once again, Nancy will be our ground control, watching over us from the East.

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Nancy is Jeffrey’s Favorite in the World.

Kind words from family and friends, and from friends of human rights, give us the courage to keep going.

And we roll with the blessing of Human Rights First as we introduce people to the organization’s 39 years of support for human rights, their programs for refugee protection, and their efforts to stop the violence that forces refugees to leave their homes.  Nancy and Jeffrey pay all expenses of the Ride, so 100% of your donations go to Human Rights First (rated 4 of 4 Stars by Charity Navigator).

The plan.

On the road, we talk with people about our rights and responsibilities as Americans, how best to be generous and fair in the spirit of our faiths and our laws.

The world has dangers.  We recognize the human tendency to exaggerate those dangers.  A Cato Institute report puts the odds of being killed in America by an immigrant terrorist at 1 in 3.6 million; by a refugee terrorist at 1 in 3.64 billion; by an unauthorized immigrant terrorist at 1 in 10.9 billion.  The National Safety Council says 1 in 114,000 will die by dog assault, 1 in 3,400 will choke to death on food, 1 in 358 will be shot to death by a criminal, 1 in 114 will die in a car crash.  Banning refugees doesn’t keep us safe.  We’d be smarter to ban dogs—or hot dogs!

The people we meet teach us.  Their worlds are not entirely ours.  Jeffrey often is clueless, but he’s willing to learn.

We teach our new friends, too.  Jeffrey is a country boy who adapted to the city, a family man, a teacher, a student, a lawyer, a nurse, a driver, a cyclist, a caregiver, a cook.  He finds something in common with almost everyone.  His experiences often give him an angle that a new friend hasn’t considered.

We daresay most of our Ride encounters are fun all around.

The route.

Past destinations include Iowa, Tennessee, Florida, New England, and Chicago.  Last May we returned to Chicago and biked from there to New Mexico.  This April, we’ll pick up where we left off and continue to California, adding 1300 miles (2100 km) and three states to our list, and completing our crossing of North America.

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We’re starting this leg at the big green dot, in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

The atmosphere.

Since we ended last year’s Ride, false and hateful things have been said about immigrants and refugees.  The tone of our national conversation leads us to wonder whether we still can have the fruitful exchanges we enjoyed on our previous Rides, with people of all backgrounds and political bents.  Will we still be welcomed?  Will we still find sympathy for refugees?

Once again, we’ll take the temperature of part of America.  We hope you’ll come along.

We’ll post in this space occasionally until our journey begins.  We’ll post every night when we’re on the road.

This Odyssey Ends

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The six Rides have now gone to 29 states.  NYC is at the little red arrow at right.

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Sunset tonight, seen from my window.

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, Missouri, 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.

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I like stories, too.  Do you?

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This sculpture was installed in a nearby park while I was on the Ride.

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.

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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

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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.

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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. ❤️❤️❤️

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Wheels West, Wings East

George and Peggy, perfect hosts, deposited us at the airport at 5 AM.

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We took off just after sunrise.

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Here is the landscape through which we pedaled a few days ago.  This time, we saw no wildflowers or tarantulas.

In just over an hour by plane, we crossed half of New Mexico, the entire Texas Panhandle and all of Oklahoma.  It had taken us 11 days to propel ourselves over that ground.  In our defense, we fought headwinds.  The plane had a tailwind.  😉

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On May 24, we crossed the Mississippi at St. Louis on a bridge 90 feet above the river. Today we crossed it again, near Memphis, 30,000 feet up.

After a quick transfer in Atlanta, we landed in New York City.

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L to R: Joey (in red pannier), Jeffrey (in Statue of Liberty necktie). Photo by Nancy.

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After 24 days, together again in NYC!

Give Jeffrey a chance to regroup.  Only yesterday, he was pedaling uphill, a mile above sea level, in heat up to 98F (37C), even hotter in the sun.  In the next few days, he’ll post a summing-up of the 6th Annual Ride for Human Rights.

Across the Rio Grande

We loaded the Sprint 26 for the last leg of this year’s Ride.

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As a treat, Jeffrey let me ride on top of the bag.

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Michael and Susie, driving west from suburban Milwaukee, stopped to talk about our machinery, our travels and theirs.  Susie worked for Harley, but doesn’t ride a motorcycle.  They are glad that Human Rights First is looking out for refugees.

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Lisa and Ernie are headed for Alaska, where Ernie grew up.  Lisa grew up in Connecticut.  Her grandfather, a cobbler from Lebanon, worked hard and was grateful to the United States.  She knows today’s immigrants, including refugees, share the same values.

A short distance from the motel, we rode onto the first of a long series of paved bikeways.  Through residential and industrial areas, alongside concrete “arroyos” to channel rainwater, we rode for miles and miles.  After the roaring trucks, swaying motor homes and racing cars on I-40, we relished the quiet and the feeling of safety.

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Alongside a housing development at desert’s edge, we stopped to talk to Chris (I’m on his shoulder below) and Dale.  Dale preferred not to be photographed.

Chris took photos of us to show to his kid.  Dale and Jeffrey discussed politics.  Dale displayed his libertarian bent, which means he should favor giving refugees at least benign neglect.  That would be better for them than the current system, which forces traumatized people to navigate a complex legal maze, often alone, to find safety here.

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We crossed the Rio Grande.  It’s same river that farther south marks part of the U.S.-Mexico border.  Here, before much of the water is diverted or evaporates, it’s a river to be reckoned with.  You see only half the river; this branch is matched by one of similar size on the far side of the island at the left.

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Rio Rancho!  City of Vision.

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Erlene, a full-blooded Navajo, said she left Navajo territory to better herself in the city.  Regarding immigrants, she said no one lives forever, and no matter who we are or what we do, soon the world belongs to others.  She is fine with refugees and other immigrants coming here to make a life.  She said a man running for president, whose name she couldn’t recall, should mind his own business and stop trying to say who should, and should not, come to America.  Remember our new Cherokee and Cheyenne friends from earlier in the Ride?  Both are on the same page as Erlene!

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Erlene directed us to cross this sandy, tumbleweedy strip to avoid construction that had closed the road to motor traffic.  A push, a slog, and we got through.

L to R:  George, Harry, Peggy.  Sights for sore eyes!  George and Peggy are friends of Irene and Elisa, two of the biggest boosters of our annual Rides.  And they have shade, and drinks, and food, and good conversation.  Over three weeks after leaving NYC and pedaling ourselves 1416 miles (2294 km), we feel at home again.  We parked the Sprint 26 in their garage and ended the Ride to New Mexico.

Peggy made wonderful pasta and ice cream, from scratch.

George (in white) took Jeffrey (in red) to see the nearby Petroglyph National Monument, with inscriptions made by First Nations people 700-1200 years ago.

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The view from atop a Petroglyph site.  The Sandia mountains in the background are over 2 miles (3200 meters) above sea level.

This Ride has ended, but not our journey.  We are a long way from home.  The adventure continues . . .

Hail Yes!

Last night, Jeffrey dreamed he spotted smoke in the scrub desert.  There was no water.  Dream Jeffrey raced to a shed where shovels are stored; he would use a steel shovel to beat out the flames.  All the shovels were weak aluminum, or plastic, or rusted to uselessness.  Smoke billowed, fire was spreading, animals fled past him, he could feel his calm dissolving, a steel shovel had to be here somewhere, there had to be, where, where? . . .  He woke up.

The desert can do that to you.

Since leaving Chicago on May 20, we biked for 20 days without pause, for 1380 miles, averaging 69 miles per day.  Jeffrey decided that another long day on I-40 in current conditions was too great a risk.  So for much of today, we were tourists in Santa Rosa.

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Nancy was most hospitable, letting us move our things into the motel office, inviting Jeffrey to hang out in the lobby after checkout time.  She and other motel staffers listened sympathetically to the Ride stump speech and now know why asylum applicants don’t get the legal help they need.

We visited the Blue Hole artesian well, popular with scuba divers.

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Promo photo.

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Jeffrey’s version.

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Danielle and Ryan collected parking fees near the Blue Hole.  We parked for free.  Jeffrey explained the Ride.  They agree with that asylum seekers deserve legal help.  Ryan, a third year pre-pharmacy student, said he doesn’t think many people in this easygoing place think about the issue, nor about immigrants and immigration in general.  (Unless it affects them personally, of course.)

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Quiet Santa Rosa.

This stone and stucco church, built in 1800, was abandoned in 1907, the congregation moving elsewhere.  The sanctuary is filled with weeds.

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Soon after we photographed the sunny scene above . . . a cloudburst!

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Hail!

We were glad we weren’t on I-40.

At 3 PM, the man everyone was awaiting—Jesus—showed up.

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Jesus G., born in the U.S. and raised in the U.S. and in Mexico, is a contractor helping care for rest areas along the Interstate.  He also runs a busy bait and tackle business.  He noticed us yesterday, pedaling alongside traffic on I-40.  Today he loaded us and our gear into his truck, and drove west to get us past a treacherous section of highway.

At 77 mph, we went through rain, winds, construction, and emptiness.  In some sections, concrete walls allow no escape from the shoulder.  Bicycles are permitted, remember.  But it’s not a friendly environment.  And as Jesus said, every day in New Mexico can have weather from all four seasons.  Heat, rain, wind, ice, intervals of calm … we experienced them all today.

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Along the way, Jesus told us more about jalapeño peppers than we imagined could be known.  He rarely finds them powerful enough.

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We talked about his daughter’s 700-guest wedding, refugee rights, the curious things big-rig truck drivers do, and more.  And we discussed the murderous lawlessness (harsh words, but accurate) of some agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

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Safe at the east edge of Albuquerque!  L to R:  Jesus, Joey

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Look how far we’ve come!  (We rode to Chicago in 2014 too, via all 5 Great Lakes; we’re showing you the 2011 shortcut.)

Tomorrow we head NW to find Peggy and George, and a haven from three weeks on the road.

A Taste of Desert

We got going in the cool of the morning.  The air was fresh.  It had rained overnight.

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Last night’s rain notwithstanding, this is desert.

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These cacti were at the foot of a steep, rocky hill.

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Two of these odd structures were in sight of one another in what looks like a flood plain.  What is their purpose?

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Kangaroo puppets don’t fear spiders.  Neither does Jeffrey, per se.  But this 3″ (7 cm) critter gives one pause about sleeping under the stars.

About 25 miles after we left Tucumcari, a car pulled off onto the shoulder ahead of us.  Art got out.  Jeffrey had met Art and his wife at the motel we’d just left.

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They’d been watching for us on the road and were surprised at how far we’d gotten.  Art, an usher in his Orlando church, wore a P-38 cap; he’s been involved in restoring that WW2 plane, and a 1958 Chevrolet Impala too.  Art loved our vehicle, took photos to share with a friend, and gave Jeffrey a generous contribution for Human Rights First.  When it came time to leave, he asked permission to pray for Jeffrey, who readily agreed.  Art then put his hand on Jeffrey, thanked Jesus for bringing them together, and asked Jesus’s blessing for our travels.  Jeffrey was grateful for Art’s kind gesture, and as they say in Brooklyn, a blessing couldn’t hoit.

At Newkirk, a wide spot in the road, there is a truck stop.  Jeffrey bought and drank 66 oz (2 liters) of sugary liquids, but in soaring temperatures and lowering humidity, he still was low-energy and dehydrated.  In the afternoon we did an online check of today’s local relative humidity: 12%, far lower than the 21% average daily low in dry Las Vegas, Nevada.  This is a harsh place for cyclists.

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This truck stop dog prefers lounging to chasing.  Good dog!

At the truck stop, we talked with motorcyclists from Long Island (NY) and Michigan, learning their stories and telling them about the Ride.  Our best conversation was with Remi, a business owner supplying the truck stop.

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Some highlights: Remi is Hispanic, intensely patriotic, a registered Democrat (local races often are decided in the Democratic primary) who considers himself a Republican, and a thoughtful man.  He knows people whom he said would have refused to talk to Jeffrey because they’d assume Jeffrey is a Democrat.  Remi respects people regardless of national origin, thinks asylum applicants deserve legal representation, and longs for politicians who would do the people’s business with common sense.  Before he left, he said he wanted to show Jeffrey that Republicans aren’t all bad (Jeffrey already knew that) and gave him . . .

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. . . a pile of packages of local beef jerky.  In Jeffrey’s book, all this makes us friends.

The wind continued to rise.  Headwinds and crosswinds were upward of 20 mph (32 kph).  It was hard to control the trike; we worried that motor vehicles might be pushed onto the shoulder too.  The I-40 shoulder grew rough, and sometimes it had a significant outward tilt.  Huge trucks and enormous motor homes (the latter presumably with non-professionals driving) roared by inches from us.  We had only 63 miles (101 km) to go today, but it was a long haul because sometimes it took Jeffrey an hour to cover 5 miles in these conditions.

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A construction project that closed the right lane, gave us a welcome (temporary) buffer between little us and those motorized monsters.

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This afternoon’s travel was hard.  Word is that tomorrow will be even hotter and windier, and the only road west from here (I-40) is loaded with truck traffic navigating dangerous construction sites.  Jeffrey decided it’s too dangerous to bike 75 miles into those headwinds, and we don’t have time to wait for the wind to shift.

Jesus may have the answer.  No, not the Jesus whose blessings Art invoked.  The Jesus who spotted our memorable vehicle today at Newkirk, whom we contacted through Jennifer . . .

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. . . an educated, sophisiticated person who used to work in a law office yet was shocked to learn that asylum applicants can have a lawyer only “at no expense to the government”.

Tune in tomorrow to see what our local Jesus has in store for us.

Joey Enters New Mexico

This morning we made great time.  Smooth pavement, cool air, soft winds.  At first.

Windmills, old and new, were spinning outside Vega, Texas.

We covered the 13 miles to Adrian in no time.

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Halfway from Chicago to Los Angeles!  L to R: Jeffrey, Joey

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West of Adrian, as the air warmed, the winds picked up.  Soon we had (according to the Web) a 19 mph (30 kph) headwind.

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The smooth pavement changed to this bone-rattling rolling-resistant stuff, and back again.

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The land at the Panhandle’s edge began to look like something out of a movie Western, raw and dry.

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Gina and her cool machine stopped at a Texas picnic area on I-40.  She was headed for a women’s biker gathering in Colorado.  Jeffrey explained the Ride and the work of Human Rights First.  Gina acknowledged that asylum applicants are poorly treated.  One of Gina’s group’s charitable foci is U.S. military veterans.  When Jeffrey said at least veterans’ U.S. presence is secure and no one is threatening to behead them, Gina replied that they’ve already (metaphorically) had their heads cut off.  Jeffrey acknowledged the point and agreed with Gina that we as a country owe veterans thanks, an apology, and whatever help they need.  Gina and Jeffrey wished one another well in their work and their travels.

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A few miles west, at the top of a long I-40 hill, Jose and Jafeth were waiting.  Jose sent Jafeth running to greet Jeffrey with a bottle of cold water.  The father and son had passed us, were concerned, and offered us more water, a ride in their “Climbing & Tree Service” trailer . . .

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. . . whatever we might need.  Jose’s English was little better than Jeffrey’s Spanish, so Jafeth acted as interpreter.  After Jeffrey explained our mission, Jose (making an assumption) told Jeffrey that a better use of his time would be to accept Jesus into his heart.  Jeffrey replied that a way to honor God is to help people, and that Jose’s help to us honored Jesus.  Jose liked that. And we like Jose and Jafeth.

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We passed many ranch gates, beyond which we saw what looked to us like vast wastelands.  Shows how little we understand of western cattle country.

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A few miles later . . . New Mexico!

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We stopped at the New Mexico welcome center so Jeffrey could cool off inside.  When he came out (he had left me cooking in the yellow bag), he found several people photographing our vehicle.  Miranda and Luke, late of an Atlanta suburb, took particular interest.  Miranda works with Southeast Asian refugees and knows of Human Rights First.  Luke, a doctor, is about to begin a psychiatric residency in California.  Miranda asked whether she could spread word of the Ride on social media.  Of course!

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These New Mexico roadside flowers were new to us.

These sedimentary rocks were formed by sand deposited in ancient seas.  The sand came from mountains that took millions of years to rise and millions more to erode into sand.  Makes you think . . .

At San Jon (pop 200), Jeffrey need to drink and cool down; it was in the mid-90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius).  Taste of India was the only place in sight.

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The place sells Indian meals, Indian groceries, and Bollywood DVDs.  Jeffrey asked the clerk (who happened to be from Pakistan) who in eastern New Mexico buys such products.  His answer: India-born truck drivers!  The place was hopping.  A slice of Real America!

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Trees in this cemetery all lean away from the prevailing wind.

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We couldn’t take full advantage of downhills due to poor road surfaces.  Sometimes the wind was so fierce and the road so rough, Jeffrey had to pedal to go downhill.

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At last, Tucumcari, New Mexico.  A 77 mile day, 1326 miles so far on this Ride.

Thus ended a hard day, but a good day.  We overcame the physical obstacles of weather and road.  We made more friends—for what is a friend but someone who talks, listens, helps, and wishes one well—for ourselves, for refugees in principle, and for Human Rights First.

A Great Day on the Great Plains

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Sunrise in Groom, Texas, 3255′ (992 meters) above sea level.  We ended the day 81 miles later in Vega, Texas, elevation 4029′ (1228 meters).

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We cast a weird shadow as we hit the road.

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A huge cross outside Groom as seen from I-40.  We rode the I-40 shoulder most of the 40 miles to Amarillo.

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Irrigation equipment with wind turbines on the distant horizon.  We passed hundreds (!) of wind turbines today.  Modern wind power generates electricity; the turbines’ locus gives you an idea of the headwinds we face in this region.  Wind power made settlement of the Great Plains possible.  There is little natural surface water here.  Without wind-powered pumps, farmers could not have obtained ground water for cattle and crops.

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More roadside wildflowers, new to us.

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Deer and cattle ignore noisy vehicles but notice us.  When we passed some fenced cattle this afternoon, a bull fled, the herd followed, then all stopped to watch us from a distance.

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Big Texas talk.  The fine print says the whole dinner (not just the steak) weights 72 oz (2 kg) and is free if consumed in 1 hour.

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I-40 got stressful at Amarillo, seen here from a highway bridge.  There were too many trucks and cars whizzing off too many exit ramps.  We got off onto city streets where it was slow going.  Eventually we returned to I-40, noted construction on the shoulder, and stayed on parallel Route 66 to get past it.  After a few bumpy miles, the pavement smoothed and we stuck with Route 66 the rest of the way to Vega.

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A Texas version of the city slickers’ doggy spas.

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With the temperature at 88F (31C), Jeffrey stopped in Bushland (pop 130) for a $2 “icy”, a pint (half liter) of shaved ice with black cherry syrup.  Mmm!  We met Stephanie, the counselor at the local elementary school, who had a carload of at-risk kids who participate in her church’s summer program.  She asked about the Ride and said that although we address different populations, our goal is the same.  Stephanie and Human Rights First help people who need help.  That’s what it’s all about.

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Erick raises horses on land that’s too rough for crops, or for close neighbors.  He’s a musician, a philosopher, a student of history, politics, and human nature, and has a delightful sense of humor.  He told Jeffrey that many people in the area, including his wife and himself, have combinations of First Nations, African, and European ancestry, and that the local culture seems mysterious to outsiders.  He sees the world changing and says the way to deal with it is to accept it.  Helping refugees is part of his worldview.  Erick and Jeffrey talked a long time, and would have talked longer, but Erick’s groceries were at risk in the heat.

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One of many ranch gates we passed.

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This was painted on the pavement at Wildorado and at other points along the way.  The pavement here was good asphalt, not that bumpy-jumpy stuff.

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Blake and Ricky said they’d seen us “way way back” today.  They’re doing “dirt work” for schools being built in Vega.  Ricky is holding his beer can in a salute to Nancy (he had asked whether Jeffrey is married); Blake did not want to be pictured with beer, but if you look carefully at what he’s holding behind his back . . .  Ricky says he’ll vote for the presidential candidate he hates less, and wishes Willie Nelson were running.  Jeffrey cheerfully acknowledged that there’s no arguing with Ricky’s honest feelings, explained why we are on the Ride, and asked him to remember the truth when politicians characterize refugees as lawbreakers or invaders.  Ricky and Jeffrey quickly became friends; Ricky invited Jeffrey to hang outside to talk (alas, Jeffrey had to eat, drink, and write instead).  More of that common ground!  Ricky said we have a visual treat in store in New Mexico.

We continue to get respect from almost everyone in motor vehicles.  Horn blasts are rare.  Toots, waves, thumbs-ups, kind words are common.  Michiganders in a red Camaro convertible were among those who talked to us from their car, having seen us more than once on the road.  A woman in Tulsa took our photo from her truck, saying her father, a veteran, would enjoy it.  Some people respond to the geographic references in our signs.  Some give a thumbs up for human rights.  Many honk and wave from such a distance that they can only be cheering the fact that we dare to be in an unusual vehicle, that we dare to be on the road.

 

In the Texas Panhandle

Our destination this morning was Amarillo, 94 miles away.

It didn’t work out.  We had a worthwhile day, though.

At breakfast, while the TV displayed “news” on the presidential campaign, Tom initiated a conversation about politics.

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Tom, a Texan born in Louisiana, is sick of political phoniness and journalistic hype.  He has a trucking business, moves oilfield equipment, and at first he seems to have a hard edge.  But talk to him and the depth of his humanity comes out.  He has seen whales and sequoia trees, hiked in Yellowstone with his kids, seen the beauty of New York State (he’s not the first person out here to mention it), and he has learned how small and short-lived is humanity.  He has issues with unauthorized immigrants; but when Jeffrey told him how our government treats poor asylum applicants, he said it was unfair; and when he heard someone rail against Mexican men waving Mexican flags in a bar, he told the guy that the Mexicans are entitled to their culture and waving a flag doesn’t mean they’re not also good Americans.  At age 55, he’s keeping himself fit so he can take his grandchildren backpacking in Yellowstone so they will develop a sense of awe.  Texas Tom and New York Jeffrey got on famously, and might still be talking if both didn’t have places to be.

The long talk put us behind schedule.  Jeffrey intended to make up the time.  On this Sunday morning, the roads were empty, the towns seemed dead.

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Shamrock’s iconic relic of old (pre-Interstate Highway System) Route 66.

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This relic in McLean is closer to what we imagined would be here.

The road was lined with wildflowers, including some we hadn’t seen east of Texas.

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And the northern edge of the east-west road was lined, for miles, with spent shotgun shells.  Fifty, a hundred, we didn’t count, but there were a lot.  Only a thin grassy strip separates old Route 66 (note the bumpy surface!) from parallel I-40.  Were the shells fired elsewhere and scattered here?  Were they fired here?  Fired at what?  We have no idea.  We’re new to Texas.

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In Texas, it’s legal to bicycle on the shoulder of Interstate Highways.  We didn’t attempt it near Shamrock, where from an overpass we could see perpendicular rumble strips to prevent cars from driving on the shoulder. Too bad.  The parallel service roads were mostly rough and horrible.

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Remember Blazing Saddles?  “Not Hedy!  Hedley!”

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It’s drier here than in Oklahoma.  Vegetation is less green.  Farmland is turning into badlands, although there still are vast stretches that are table-flat.  Not far from here (but out of sight) is the Palo Duro canyon, the largest canyon in the USA after the Grand Canyon.

On a bumpy downhill, Jeffrey noticed the Sprint 26 wasn’t handling right.  The rear tire was going soft!  He unloaded the machine, failed to find anything sticking in the tire, reloaded the cargo and topped up the air enough to get us onto I-40 and to a nearby rest area, where there would be water and shade.

Under a shelter at the fancy Texas “safety stop”, we met two Californians, Rich and Tish.

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Rich is a retired firefighter.  Tish, an immigrant from Mexico, recently retired after 38 years at her job.

Jeffrey, Rich and Tish had a long talk about politics, law, immigration, asylum, refugees, the sense of entitlement and the welfare state, the wealth of America, and more.  It was emphatic but respectful.  While they talked, Jeffrey found a tiny shard of wire, smaller in diameter than a sewing pin, that had pierced our rear tire and punctured the tube.  He extracted the sliver with pliers, patched the tube, and Rich helped Jeffrey reinstall the tire on our vehicle.

When time came for Rich and Tish to leave, they told Jeffrey they are glad someone is doing what we are doing.  Each said they had felt themselves becoming jaded and hard, and that our talk softened them again, reminded them that things are complicated and multi-faceted.

These kind words made up for our disappointment that the delays would shorten our trip.  We wouldn’t reach Amarillo today.  The next-farthest place with a motel, Groom, was 40 miles closer.  That’s life on the road.

Our trip shortened, we had time to chat with Olga, with whom we had shared the shade.  She had watched and listened quietly while the rest of us talked.  Jeffrey gave her a Ride sticker; she said she already had taken a photo of our Ride sign.

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Olga is an early childhood education expert from St. Petersburg, Russia.  She and her husband are moving from Indianapolis to San Diego.

We had a lovely talk about immigration (it took her years to join her husband here), real cities (as distinguished from suburb-dominated American venues), culture, work and family.  She was very much taken with the idea of the Ride and wished us a safe and happy trip.  We wished her the best for her new life in California.

We took a gander from the rest area . . .

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Note I-40 visible over the hilltop, in the upper right corner.

. . . and headed west on the I-40 shoulder.  What a pleasure!  It was in far better shape than the slower roads we had been taking.

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No danger that we’ll be scofflaw speeders here!  Those perpendicular rumble strips had disappeared, and the smooth area to the right of the parallel rumble strip is ample for us.

At Groom’s only motel, where our marvelous Nancy had given advance notice of our arrival, the hotelier gave us an extra discount in honor of the Ride.

Sometimes, as the Beatles sang, the farther one travels, the less one knows.  We traveled less today, and from Tom, Rich, Tish, and Olga, we learned more.

It was a good day.

Banking Off of the Northeast Winds . . .

. . . Sailing on a summer breeze / Skipping over the pavement of tarred stones. [With a nod to Harry Nilsson.]

For much of today, we had a brisk NE tailwind.  We avoided dirt roads altogether, rolling 84 miles from Clinton, Oklahoma, to Shamrock, Texas.  After all the ups and downs, we climbed 800 feet (250 meters), to 2300 feet (700 meters) above sea level.

Housekeeping:  You can donate to Human Rights First through rideforhumanrights.com .  You’ll see on the site that so far we have pedaled 1116 miles (1808 km).  We carefully read and deeply appreciate every blog comment, Facebook remark, and personal message.  They keep us going.  As you can imagine, after biking all day and writing an illustrated essay each night (paid columnists get days off, but not us!), we can’t respond individually.  Know that we love you all.

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A hayfield outside Clinton, Oklahoma.  We rolled through clouds of small non-biting flies; Jeffrey donned a head net (courtesy of thoughtful Nancy) to keep the flies off his face.

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Red soil and red rocks emerge everywhere.  The bubble at the bottom is the Sprint 26’s fairing.

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Canute is one of the tiny Oklahoma towns along old Route 66 that seem to have had the life beaten out of them.  No mistaking the southern influence here.

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Trisha runs a taxi service.  She and Adon were fascinated by the Sprint 26.  Trisha listened to Jeffrey talk about how our U.S government doesn’t help asylum applicants to exercise their right to seek refuge, and said, “It’s not fair.”

The Route 66 Museum is in Elk City.

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The world has come to Oklahoma!  This sign was outside Sayre.

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We would not have thought that the invention of the shopping cart would be such a point of pride.

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Wildflowers everywhere.

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Trace, 6’4″, a rising high school senior who lived most of his life in Japan (where his father was a phys ed instructor, sports coach, and geography teacher on a U.S. military base), drove with his mom to Elk City, where they saw us and thought Jeffrey was a disabled military veteran, until they read our sign.  After they drove home, Trace rode out on his bicycle to find me.  He did!  We biked together for several miles and talked about bikes, touring, careers, law, philosophy, and human rights.

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Calvin – a cousin of Sgt. York of World War I fame – pulled up in his tractor to check on Trace.  Calvin is on the local school board.  He listened politely to Jeffrey’s description of our mission, then stated firmly that he has no problem with people coming to America so long as they are “legal”.  Jeffrey satisfied Calvin that asylum applicants are following the law and need our help to do so.  Jeffrey didn’t get into a deep discussion with Calvin about how immigration law is a matter of whim and not “natural law”, and how notions of “legality” crumble when one considers (e.g.) America’s wealth, worthy foreigners’ desperation, and innocent people brought here as children who know no other home.  Jeffrey did refer to the law’s lack of common sense, an example being the difficulty of getting temporary farm workers, which has put some farmers out of business; Calvin said he got Mexican farm workers years ago who had (or they convinced him that they had) green cards and doesn’t know how that works today.  Jeffrey and Calvin agreed that in some areas – immigration, and Oklahoma road maintenance – the government falls short.  They talked, listened, found common ground, shook hands, and departed friends.

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Miles more of bumps, gravel, sloppy blacktop patches, tooth-rattling tire tracks cut into asphalt, more dog incidents (one with Trace, two after Trace left us), a last Oklahoma historic marker . . .

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. . . and wonder of wonders, Jeffrey let me out of the bag so I could climb this pole!

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Our first 14 miles of Texas roads were similar to Oklahoma: good bits, bad bits, horrible bits.  We made it to Shamrock, an oil town on the skids.  Here’s the parking lot of our motel.  We’ll do our bit for the local economy and move on.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Well, not really.  It was more pain than nightmare.  And it has a happy ending.

Jeffrey decided on an early start, planning to pedal 94 miles to Elk City, Oklahoma. Google Maps suggested a quick way to link up to old Route 66.  Soon after sunup, we were whooshing along smooth pavement.  Then the pavement ended.

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Good thing we roll on substantial tires.

This packed earth wasn’t bad.  But after two miles, it changed to this.

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For cryin’ out loud.

Sometimes we spun our wheels on pebbles.  Sometimes we had to plow through soft sticky mud.

We turned onto Elm Street.  We thought Elm Street would be . . . you know . . . a street. Paved.  Frequented by humans.  Nope.

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They stared.  Jeffrey stared back.

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Imagine!  A “street” without a Starbucks!

It took us an hour to make our way through six miles of this stuff.  When we reached pavement, Jeffrey could hear the tires hiss.  Mud and sand was solidly packed between our all-weather fenders and our Schwalbe tires, and was oozing out the sides.

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In this part of farm country, there were no trees by the road.  So no sticks.  Jeffrey slid his fingers under the fenders and dislodged as much mud as he could.  He emptied one of our precious water bottles to wash some of the mud off the machinery.  He wiped his hands on the dewy grass and kept going.  A few miles later, he spotted a tree and picked up a twig to spare his fingers.  Every few minutes, more mud would dislodge into inconvenient places and we’d stop so he could de-gunk some more.

On one stop, we met Guillermo, who’d come from Spain (Balboa) to bike Route 66 from Santa Monica to Chicago.

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Guillermo had some questions for Jeffrey about road conditions in Oklahoma and Missouri.  Then each moved on.

After 10 miles of stops and starts, we came upon the Cherokee Trading Post outside Geary.  Jeffrey spotted Tracy near some machinery, and asked to borrow a hose and spigot to clean our vehicle’s works.

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What a nice guy!

Tracy said truckers often ask for water to wash their trucks, and Tracy’s boss has to draw the line somewhere.  Tracy decided that a tricycle pedaled from NYC to western Oklahoma was on the good side of that line.  He gave Jeffrey a hose and access to a hot water tap.  Jeffrey hosed off the mud so the Sprint 26 ran properly again.

So much for an early start.

Jeffrey drank down a 500 calorie quart of sugary soda (no ice!) from the trading post.  (He gets no sugar high; he burns 500 calories per Ride hour propelling man, kangaroo puppet, machine and kit.)  While he refueled, our vehicle attracted a lot of attention.  When Jeffrey answered a passerby by saying that we live not far from Donald Trump, a young tattooed man muttered that he hates Trump.  A nearby woman, who took Jeffrey’s photo with the Sprint 26 “for my daughter”, said she supports Trump.

Then Bo spoke up.

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L to R: Reba, Bo

Bo, a Cheyenne, said his church welcomes everyone and helps everyone in need.  When he learned the reason for the Ride, he asked who named as a deity a particular politician with European ancestry who purports to decide who can enter land originally settled by the Cheyenne and other First Nations.  On this point, Bo and Robin (another First Nation citizen whom we met a few days ago) are on the same page.  Bo handed Jeffrey $10 for the purpose of Jeffrey’s choice; it is going to Human Rights First.

Some sights along the way:

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A sandbar in the Canadian River, seen in Hinton from a long flat bridge.

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What appears to be a petroleum facility.  Note the gas flare at the top of the stack.

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More and different tribal territory.

Scavengers, or large birds of prey, attracted to some road kill:

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OId-style wind power in a grain field at Hydro.

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New-style wind power at Weatherford.

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Harold, a timber man and sawmill owner from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, listened respectfully to Jeffrey’s stump speech about helping refugees.  Then he and Jeffrey talked about the changing times and the virtues of country living until Harold’s womenfolk summoned him to their 4-door pickup to resume their journey home.

Now for the happy ending.

When Jeffrey arrived in Clinton, thirty miles short of our intended destination (thank Nancy for convincing Jeffrey to get off the rough roads and out of the blazing sun and call it a day), motel housekeeping supervisor Maria called out to him.

She was very excited about the Ride, and invited Jeffrey to come to a vegetarian Mexican dinner with her (Durango), Jessica (Guatemala), and Efran (born in the USA, grew up in Jalisco).

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From bottom to top: Jessica, Maria, Efran.

Maria said local people are very accepting of immigrants, and that this is not necessarily true in other parts of Oklahoma.  She said that due to low oil prices, the once-busy motel where we are staying is nearly deserted.  She spoke of corruption in Latin America and of the responsibility new Americans have to our country.  She echoed what immigrants always have told Jeffrey: they want their rights, and they also want to shoulder their responsibilities.

After a delicious dinner, Maria dropped Jeffrey at the motel.  Later she returned with gifts for Jeffrey and Nancy.  I’m modeling one of them.

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Was that not a happy ending?

Oklahoma, Where Polecat & Little Polecat Creeks are Near the Town of Depew

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What a coincidence!

Hot sun.  Pouring rain.  Hills.  Headwinds.  Some tailwinds for a change!  Fast smooth pavement.  Bumpy cracked gravelly rutted pavement.  Dead smelly armadillos.  Overwhelmingly respectful drivers.  Lush greenery (a local said they get their droughts and brushfires, too).  Kind people.  Another 75 miles in Oklahoma.

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This looks like a pile of Lincoln-style fence rails.

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Oklahoma red soil.

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Kelly, Leisa, Michelle and Adrienne took the day off to celebrate Leisa’s birthday. They passed us, stopped us, and we took photos.  For all four women, helping asylum applicants to navigate the legal system is a no-brainer.  We hope they had fun in Arcadia (at the lake?) despite the rain that soon came.

A few minutes later, Chris passed us and stopped us.  Foolish Jeffrey got so wrapped up in talking to Chris that he forgot to take Chris’s photo.  We offer this substitute.

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Chris was born in New England, grew up out West, and is a recreational cyclist and an oil industry professional.  He nailed the refugee issue when he said that leaders everywhere look out for themselves and ordinary people, who’d rather stay home and live their lives, pay the price.  He finds American political logic as confusing as we do; he says the oil industry has made record profits under the Obama administration, yet many people in the industry hate Obama.  Chris gave Jeffrey a business card and offered any help we might need.

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Another common roadside flower we can’t identify.

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The Round Barn of Arcadia, Oklahoma.

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The flour mill in the “Yukon Czech Capital of Oklahoma”—whatever that means.

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We spotted our first oil derrick, at Wiley Post Airport, Oklahoma City.  Post was the first pilot to fly solo around the globe.

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Oklahoma City and environs have fast, crowded, shoulderless roads and limited sidewalks.  The occasional area like this was a relief.  We saw vast tracts of new-looking cookie-cutter 1-story sprawling brick houses.  We avoided the downtown.

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We paused a bit to enjoy a cool breeze and the sound of water at Lake Overholster Park, by the Oklahoma City reservoir.

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In El Reno, we met Lonnie & Sue, on their way home to West Virginia after attending the Mexico wedding of a student they sponsored at Bob Jones University.  In his youth, Lonnie was part of the first Airborne (U.S. Army parachutist) demonstration team established in Germany.  He told Jeffrey how he was selected to perform with the unit and of the support he got from the team commander.  Jeffrey told Lonnie why we are biking through Oklahoma.  Lonnie is very supportive and sent us on our way with prayers for us and for tailwinds.

Reva and Krista welcomed us at the motel with a cookie (eaten, not shown) and a “Thank You” bag of treats (shown above right).  Krista asked for Ride stories and details.  When Jeffrey talked about refugees, Reba recommended that we see “Humans of New York” on the Web; perhaps that would be the answer of art and reality to those who have a distorted, negative view of asylum seekers in this country.

We traveled, we saw, we talked, we listened.  And as on every day, a thousand people or more (that’d be less than two per minute while we’re on the road) saw a Ride for Human Rights sign on the Sprint 26, some taking photos from their cars or lingering behind or alongside to get a good look. Even if they don’t learn what it’s all about, we hope seeing “Human Rights” on a memorable platform will get them thinking.  Our experience suggests that when people think about human rights, they come to see things from the Human Rights First point of view.

A Troubling Past, A Promising Present

Our Tulsa stay (May 31 – June 1) coincided with the 95th annniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, in which a prosperous neighborhood built by freed slaves and their descendants was destroyed, and up to 300 Tulsans were killed.  If that was the “good old days,” we prefer the modern era, in which people in Oklahoma and the USA more or less get along.

Today we pedaled 72 miles to Chandler.

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These three had a long and friendly chat in Chandler where Jeffrey ate dinner.  Something about road repair; the accents and lack of context made it hard for Jeffrey to follow.

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This newspaper clipping in the motel office shows 2013’s top local high school students—among them a Patel.  In 1923, two years after the Tulsa Riot, the Supreme Court ruled that people from India were ineligible for U.S. citizenship, and from 1924-65, their immigration was prohibited.  Things today are better indeed!

We got a late start in Tulsa.  Jeffrey awoke to a flat rear tire.  A bit of gravel had penetrated the tire and tube; evidently we arrived with a slow leak.  Jeffrey put in a new tube, reinforced the weakened spot on the tire, kept the old tube for later repair and reuse, and away we went.

The delay meant we encountered Kerry and Darren, a happy accident.

A serious illness cost Kerry his balance and some of his ability to move.  As his aide Darren was driving Kerry to physical therapy, Kerry called out from their truck, asked Jeffrey about the Ride, and said he no longer was able to bicycle.  Jeffrey invited Kerry to take a spin on the Sprint 26.  Kerry loved it!  Kerry and Darren (a successful salesman who started a second career as a home health aide and massage therapist) are very supportive of refugee rights; Kerry correctly observed that the U.S. immigration system is broken.

Our new friends returned to their truck, and we crossed the Arkansas River, here seen from the east bank and from the middle of a bridge.

On the far bank, Jeff rode up alongside.

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Jeff is a cycling enthusiast.  A relatively recent transplant to Tulsa, he shared some great insights into local culture.  Jeff spent 20 years in the Navy, most of it as a submariner.  Now he studies and teaches nonviolence—not just as a philosophy, but as a way of life, a way of dealing with others—which he says makes him a bit unusual in Oklahoma.  He said the government has expressed interest in having him teach nonviolence in public schools, but there are bureaucratic hurdles.  Of course Jeff thinks people should extend a hand to those fleeing violence.  He gave us route advice and good wishes on the Ride.

Some sights of the day, between thunderstorms:

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Hills!  This one continued around the bend.

Wildlife statues!

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It’s in Sapulpa.  It isn’t a joke.

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We took a 3-mile detour over this old bridge onto part of the original narrow concrete Route 66.

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Much of the old road was in bone-rattlingly terrible condition.  This 2-D photo only hints at how hard it was to ride on this surface.

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This abandoned drive-in movie theater on old Route 66 is for sale.

Some of the wildflowers we passed:

Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907.  Signs still reflect territories assigned to tribes before Oklahoma was reorganized after the 1861-65 Civil War.  Some US-tribal treaties were forever broken in retaliation for tribal support of the Confederacy, which seems fair enough until one remembers that the rebel states themselves were “punished” through Reconstruction for only 12 years.

What we saw of several small towns looked neo-nostalgic, evoking Western movie sets in the wide streets and false-front building facades.  Some looked prosperous.  Some did not.

This Baptist church building is enormous.  A significant number of churches have signs in Spanish, more evidence that this is not your great-grandfather’s Oklahoma.

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Vigorous Christianity seems at odds with gun culture (guns and concealed-carry classes are offered everywhere).  What some locals say is widespread suspicion of government seems at odds with the locals’ worshipful respect for the military.  We don’t get it.  But we do get that, when the issue is presented gently and as a matter of fairness, everyone we’ve met so far agrees that America should protect asylum seekers and provide lawyers to help applicants make the best case they can under the law.

We’ll keep talking and listening and see whether this observation holds.

Refugees are Friends You Haven’t Met

Our first Oklahoma motel was prepared for muddy boots.

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And for motorcycle boots.  Rory is a good name for a good Harley man.

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Rory and Jeffrey compared road-crash stories and leg scars.  Rory’s were far more interesting.  They talked about asylum applicants, too.  Rory seemed dubious, but allowed that it’s OK to take refugees if they obey the law.  More on this in a moment.

Richard and Evelyn live in a Denver suburb.

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They were excited about the Ride.  Eight miles into our journey this morning, we met again; they pulled up alongside us and waved hello.  We get nice surprises like that.  And like this: in the afternoon, Jeffrey asked a truck driver for route advice.  The driver began by saying he’d seen us in Vinita last night!

We saw a lot of beef cattle today.

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This lot trotted from mid-pasture to look us over.  Then they ran alongside for a while, on the far side of a fence.  Horses (and dogs!) have done that too.  Maybe it’s the kangaroo puppet scent.

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Freight trains were frequent on our route.  This one carried military vehicles.

One of many roadside flowers we can’t identify.  Jeffrey has skipped photographing some interesting blossoms, intending to do it later.  Sometimes he can’t find them later.

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Roads today were variable.  We had good shoulders and no shoulders; decent pavement and serious construction that required slogs through sand, and pedal-sprints over narrow bridges between waves of trucks.  When there was no shoulder, Jeffrey watched the mirrors carefully.  A couple of times he steered abruptly onto the grass when a motor vehicle didn’t move over.  Once he steered abruptly onto the road to avoid a chasing dog that appeared out of nowhere.

 

The wind rose, and we stopped by a rail crossing for Jeffrey to don rain gear.  Then we proceeded through a thunderstorm.

When the rain stopped, we pulled over to regroup.  Robin (“We’re Native,” she said) and Lakota noticed us when they were coming and going, and stopped in their truck (with official Cherokee Nation license plate) to offer help and a drink.

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Jeffrey told them about the Ride.  Preaching to the choir!  Robin works with refugees. She’s part of a volunteer group that provides free goods and services (including mobile phones) to people fleeing violence in Central America.

Hmm.  Robin and Lakota are members of a First Nation that inhabited North America before Europeans arrived.  On land that is theirs by right (because they were here first and didn’t voluntarily relinquish it), they welcome newcomers who need help.  So . . . by what theory do non-First Nations politicians claim the right to shut U.S. borders and expel people they don’t want?  Whoever Robin and Lakota welcome, is welcome!  It’s their country, their choice! Don’t you think?

This got Jeffrey thinking about Rory the Harley man.  Rory’s a good fellow.  We respect his concern that asylum applicants not be lawbreakers.  But then, Rory and Jeffrey and other Americans break laws all the time.  In Missouri, our vehicle reached 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.  Jeffrey’s lazy lawbreaking (he wanted to conserve downhill momentum for the next uphill) put others at risk.  Contrast that with, say, a woman who crosses our border to work to feed her family, or to seek asylum.  She’s not putting anyone at risk.  She’s just trying to live!

A leading candidate for President has promised to tell Syrian refugees, adults and children, to get out.  Crowds have cheered his tough talk.  Maybe they haven’t met the right people.

In the Ride videos of 2015 and 2016, you met Renaz (music teacher), her wonderful kids, and her charming spouse (who works for a major corporation).  With Renaz’s permission, we share a photo of her and her kids, taken before their status in the U.S. was settled.

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This is a Syrian Muslim refugee.  Scary, huh?  She and her husband were building a house.  Gone.  They come from a cultured city.  Destroyed.  Their family is scattered in half a dozen countries.  Uprooted.

Would any of us look her and her kids in the eye, and tell them to go?  Go where?

We think if the doubters talk to actual refugees, they all will make new friends.  As we do on these Rides.

In NE Tulsa, we met Chariot, Dakota, and Phoenix.

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Everyone (including neighborhood kids) was fascinated by the machine, and by our journey.  Dakota and Chariot also see beyond the adventure, to the ideas.  They understand that a right is not a right if you don’t have the tools to use it.  In matters of life and death, like asylum, there should be a lawyer for everyone.  And when we think, we talk, we act, we vote, we should put human rights first.

A Letter from the Secretary of War

Jeffrey here.  Today, Memorial Day, Joey is silent.

My late mother’s cousin Herbie (their fathers were brothers) graduated from the University of Miami at age 19 with a degree in English.  Soon after, in Normandy, Herbie was dead.

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[Letter courtesy of Cousin Joel]

I can’t remember Herbie on Memorial Day, because I never knew him.  I don’t know whether anyone remembers him—him, not just a name or a photo or a story, but him.  He has been dead for 72 years.

Memorials and honors do the dead no good.

Perhaps honoring the military dead is meant to encourage the living to die for a Cause.  In Herbie’s case, he died for Others’ Survival (remember, Hitler declared war on the USA, caused millions of deaths, created millions of refugees, and intended to destroy our society).  Was Herbie’s death useless?  Maybe what killed Herbie, therefore didn’t kill someone else.  And maybe not.

As for the Americans more recently fallen in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., etc., they died for Games Politicians Play.

Self-defense is a necessary evil.  We’ll always need people trained to do the awful work of killing fellow humans who won’t live and let live.  But let’s stop so readily finding it necessary.

Then, maybe, someday, we can let mourning be private; let life’s inevitable losses be about heartbreak and love, not about the military and the imagined “glory” of violent death; and let the last Monday in May be a welcome to summer rather than what it is today.  Which is a remembrance of military deaths—in our time, mostly senseless deaths—in shocking dissonance with barbecues and shopping sprees.

And if we have less war, we’ll make fewer refugees.  Then you, I, and Human Rights First can find other causes to support.

*               *               *

The Ride:

We biked 78 miles, leaving Missouri, crossing a corner of Kansas, and reaching Vinita, Oklahoma.  We enjoyed benign terrain, reasonably good roads, moderate headwinds, and cooling rains and thunderstorms.  I’d rather bike in cold rain than in fierce sun.

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After the motel staff asked for Ride information, Dick & Janis stopped to talk.  They live in San Juan Capistrano and are on the latest of several long road trips to explore America. Janis’s friend works with Central American refugees.  They asked whether they can donate online.  They can!  (And so can you.)

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Hanh and John flagged me down on a country road.  Regarding asylum applicants, they “get it”!

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Hanh looked over the trike.  Then she and John went off to roto-till.

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I was hoping this meant, closed to cars.

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No cars . . . but several miles of dirt.  Made it in, made it out.

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A beaver lodge?  A tumbledown hut?  I couldn’t be sure.

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This power plant was on State Line Road, which runs north-south.  I turned west . . .

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. . . and saw this truck for sale, with an “antique” Kansas plate, in lieu of a Welcome to Kansas sign.

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These signs lined two cornfields, one on each side of the road. I don’t understand exactly, but I knew enough not to linger.

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This Kansas bit of Route 66 is almost ideal.  Smooth blacktop.  Wide shoulder. Rumble strip between shoulder and motor lane.  Too bad it didn’t go very far.

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Baxter Springs, Kansas.

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That was fast!

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Evan, from Missouri, is studying physical education and the ministry.  He is a skinny-tire road biker.  His friend Dayzah is an Oklahoman.  Evan is horrified by recent political discourse about immigrants and refugees.  He knows that people don’t choose to become refugees; it’s forced on them.  If he becomes a pastor, he will tell his congregation that Christianity and Americanism demand that they help the stranger and the oppressed.  His guidance will make a difference.

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Amber waves of Oklahoma grain.

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Brad has ads all over.  Seems there’s a demand for bail money in these parts.

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We are in cowboy country!

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Frankfurter and Beeves

When Jeffrey came outdoors this morning to load our bags, he found that Sam already had photographed the Sprint 26 and posted his pics on Instagram and other media, complete with hashtags.

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Sam is in town to sell car parts at a classic car show.  His badge reads, “Haywire & Co. LLC” and “Exhibitor”.  Sam’s first language is Farsi.  He is very supportive of refugee rights.

David and David brought one of the many classic cars we saw in the neighborhood.

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The David on the left was stationed at Niagara Falls during the Cold War, guarding missile sites.  He has been in Jeffrey’s native Thousand Islands region and said its beauty is unsurpassed . . . if one can stand cold winters.  Friendly people.  They listened to why we’ve come to this area.  (You already know why.)

We had a headwind all day, and the sun was hot, but occasional clouds provided some relief.  The countryside is beautiful, much like the rolling hills, tiny burgs (see Halltown City, population 173), forest and farmland where Jeffrey grew up.  But here in the south, there are no birch trees.

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This SW Missouri corn is much higher than the corn we saw in Illinois.  All else equal, farther south means earlier planting.

What are these large flowers we saw at the edge of pastures?  We have no idea.  But they are beautiful.

Near Pond Creek, we were passed by a black Camaro convertible with California plates.   A man leaped out and pointed his camera at us.  It was Freddy Langer, travel editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine, which one might call The New York Times of Germany.  At press time, we don’t yet have his photos of us, but we can share some photos of him.  He took the Sprint 26 for a quick spin and loved it!

Freddy and Jeffrey talked about their travel experiences, about politics, and about refugee issues.  Freddy wondered aloud whether some of the million Syrian refugees now in Germany, might prefer to go home.  Jeffrey is sure they would, if they had safe homes to return to.  The U.S. doesn’t have a Syrian refugee problem, because our refugee quota is tiny and almost no Syrians have been able to reach our border to apply for asylum.  Our comparable problem, on a much smaller scale, is people fleeing persecution (in thousands, not millions) in Central America.  So far, despite the efforts of good Americans and of groups like Human Rights First, U.S. policy looks cruel compared to that of Germany.  How times have changed.

While Freddy and Jeffrey talked, State Trooper Bryant M. stopped—twice!—to make sure we were OK.  (So did a couple of other drivers.)

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The trooper answered some of Jeffrey’s questions about Missouri vehicle and traffic law.  He warned Jeffrey about upcoming State Highway 96: one lane in each direction, little or no shoulder, 65 mph speed limit.  Then he told Jeffrey—in what seemed like a friendly warning—that people in SW Missouri love their guns, and that many people carry them, openly or concealed.  Jeffrey said he decided not to carry pepper spray on this trip out of fear that if he sprayed an attacking dog, an armed owner might retaliate.  Jeffrey told the officer that he supports the Second Amendment, yet that he doesn’t think ordinary people ought to walk around with pistols in their pockets.  (For the record, we have heard gunfire in rural Missouri—probably target practice—but no one has shown us a firearm, and the only threats have come from the occasional badly driven motor vehicle and the ubiquitous unchained dogs.)  The trooper and the cyclist wished one another a safe day.

The trooper wasn’t kidding about Highway 96 (old Route 66)!

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This does not look like a 65 mph road.  The shoulder was impassable for many miles; due to the rumble strip and our 3 wheels, we had to stay left of the white line.  Still, most drivers slowed down and/or gave us a wide berth.  Eventually the rumble strip disappeared and we moved right.

As soon as we could, we took farm roads, often badly paved, but traffic was sparse.

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We were not alone!

At the outskirts of Carthage, we interrupted Stephanie’s gardening to ask her about the beautiful houses.

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There is a Fortune 100 company headquartered in the area, which may account for the town’s prosperity.  Stephanie told us to check out the grand old courthouse, and asked why we are on the road.  Stephanie worked for many years for the local sheriff’s office and for county prosecutors; she listened politely; she knows how important it is for people to have lawyers even for small matters, much moreso for life and death issues involving refugees and asylum.  She said she will pray for us on the road.  Jeffrey thanked her, saying her prayer will be a tailwind.

Sixty-seven miles brought us to this Carthage neighborhood.  In more ways than one, we are a long way from NYC.  And the way is getting longer.

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Thirteen Hundred Feet

First, some housekeeping.  To see the latest on the Ride, including daily distances and places updates, go to rideforhumanrights.com .  That’s where you can find the “Donate” button too.

Where we are:

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We left Chicago (at upper right, elevation 600′) on May 20.  Tonight (May 28) we’re in Springfield (at the blue dot, elevation 1300′).  Our destination is Albuquerque (at lower left, elevation 5300′).

This morning Jeffrey had a good talk with Travis, who has a degree in Web design and is getting a business off the ground while he does hospitality work.

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Travis is disturbed by current political rhetoric about immigrants and refugees.  He says no group has a monopoly on goodness nor on evil.  He encounters all sorts in the motel business, and finds something to like in just about everyone.  Travis likes Missouri’s outdoor life but dislikes the weather extremes.  Once his Web business is stable, he knows he can run it from just about anywhere.  Maybe from the road!  The Ride has fired his imagination.

We spent most of today on old Route 66, parallel to I-44.  Route 66 is much hillier, though.  The highs are higher, the lows are lower.  The air was fresh, the hot sun interrupted by passing clouds, the headwinds fierce, the pavement variable.  Another challenging day on the road.

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