Land of Lobster

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Hello from South Portland!

We started the day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Next to an elaborate Civil War monument – with fresh Memorial Day flowers in honor of people no longer remembered – and an unflowered plaque dedicated to Spanish American War (1898-1902) vets, we met Chris, who is cheerful despite being, um, between things.

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Chris was not surprised to hear that our government doesn’t provide counsel for refugees seeking asylum, and that private efforts are not enough.  He’s glad that Human Rights First does what it can.

We were delayed a few minutes by the open drawbridge across the Piscataqua River.

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Then we entered Maine’s oldest town.  The first commercial establishment we encountered touts Maine’s signature food, which reminds us of a large insect.

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Up and down we rode through the countryside.  Stoneyards.

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Woodyards.

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And too many old graveyards to count.

The GPS sent us on a bike route that turned into 2 miles of sand and gravel . . .

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. . . then into undulating packed earth.

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Just as it started to rain, threatening to bog us down beyond Jeffrey’s ability to extract us (remember his broken leg!), we reached pavement again.  Then we were directed to a paved bike path that quickly turned to sand.  We had just survived two miles of dirt; we were not going to try to pedal through 6 miles of sand to an abandoned railroad bed that might also be dirt.

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We preferred to add miles to the trip to keep it on pavement. And that’s what we did.

Some of that pavement was on U.S. 1.  That highway has great smooth shoulders . . . except when they shrink to 6″ (15 cm) or disappear altogether.

We saw lightning.  Danger!  We stopped, covered the Sprint 26 seat with Jeffrey’s rain cape, I stayed in my plastic bag, and just as rain began to pour, Jeffrey went into a shop with a covered porch.

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He refueled with a sandwich, the rain stopped, and we prepared to leave.

Patty Martel came out of the shop, asking if we accept donations.  We gratefully accepted hers.  She is charming, but shy and modest and declined to be photographed.  She gave me a sticker to publish instead.

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We had a nice talk about how asylum applicants in the U.S. can get lawyers only “at no expense to the government” – this information had led her dad, who made Jeffrey’s sandwich, to shake his head in disgust and disbelief – about reckless drivers on cell phones; the recent death of her boyfriend’s biking companion, hit by a driver who “didn’t see him”; and her son’s admission to law school.  We wish this kind family well!  And they make a great sandwich.

Maybe Patty’s son will participate in the law school clinic that won asylum for E, a 25-year-old refugee from Djibouti.  E, shy and modest like Patty, also declined to be photographed.  We met him as he walked to the bus to go home from work in South Portland.  E’s English is good, but his French is much better.  He is grateful to the clinic lawyer who helped him (and continues to help him) for free.  He is grateful to the U.S. government for granting him asylum.  He is grateful to have work.  As for his American neighbors, he said he knows some wonderful people here, and others – he wouldn’t say anything bad, so he said nothing.  Jeffrey told E what we see on our travels, that people have good hearts but they know little about immigration and asylum, and understand even less.  When people learn the truth, things are better for refugees and for our country.

Kevon, born in Jamaica, didn’t mind being photographed outside our motel.  We talked about how diverse Maine has become.  This evening at a nearby mall, Jeffrey saw a significant number of women in hijab.  If those women aren’t already American, through engaging in that most American activity – mall shopping – they soon will be.  As when Americans learn the truth about immigration and asylum, that will be good for the shoppers and good for our country.

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Round on the Ends and Hi in the Middle

That’s what Jeffrey’s late mother used to call Ohio. She and Jeffrey’s father met at Ohio State. But for Ohio, there would be no Ride for Human Rights.

Today we rode 90 miles from Fremont to Montpelier. Montpelier is near Burlington. Sounds like some Vermonters migrated to this area way back when.

All that riding, against fierce headwinds, through two rainstorms and a hailstorm, over numerous railroad tracks and among green, tan, and muddy brown fields, didn’t leave us time to hobnob with the locals. So today we’ll leave you with a few visual highlights … and some thoughts.

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This silo is west of Fremont. Almost obscured by the ivy is a little tower that makes the silo look like Rapunzel’s tower. Jeffrey couldn’t resist the whimsy.

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This photo, taken in the rain, shows one of many ungated railroad crossings we traversed today. Freight trains were everywhere.

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We saw many Civil War monuments. This one, in White House, is unusual because the statue is painted.

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Jeffrey had a baked potato with his dinner. “Sour cream?” asked the server. “No thanks,” said Jeffrey. You see what came: a potato with almost as much butter as potato, and a tub of sour cream too. Even when you don’t want it, in rural Ohio you get it. And fast!

There was a time when Ohio was considered The Typical American State for marketing research and survey purposes. Maybe it still is. From farm to town to suburb to city, there is something of everything in Ohio. And it’s all accessible.

You can see it in that baked potato.

The potato is cheap. It was included with Jeffrey’s inexpensive dinner. It’s nutritious alone; with butter and/or sour cream, it becomes a rich delicacy. So this cheap item, this food for the poor, is a veritable feast when done up American style.

Ohio is a feast. We saw huge fields, luxurious houses, vast industrial complexes. There was plenty of everything, and room for everyone — woods, fields, abandoned buildings waiting for someone to think up a use. We were passed by lots of rattletrap cars, the potatoes of the road, cheap but they do the job. (And like potatoes, many of them lack proper mufflers.) Here, even the poor have cars and can get fat from free butter and sour cream on their free-with-dinner potato.

Ohio is largely empty. People here don’t have to get on one another’s nerves. They can do their own thing and stay out of each other’s way. And it’s rich; there’s enough for all. With those ingredients, many things that at first look like problems, such as newcomers who want to live and work and create more wealth, turn out to be no problem at all.

And if Ohio is The Typical State, as goes Ohio, so goes America.

(P.S. – Don’t forget that roadsign we saw in Pennsylvania. Remember the Sabbath, whatever that means to you. Take a break this weekend! Have some fun! We remember too. But like Mr. Frost, we have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep. We’ll take our breaks on the road.)