Sunday, August 23

Regarding Sojourners and Detainment

As many of you know, one of the ways in which I justified taking two months to myself, riding from coast to coast, was by speaking on behalf of Sojourners, a non-profit I work with in the city. I've put up links to information about Sojourners but fear not everyone who reads the blog has followed the trail to learn more, so allow me to tell you about Sojourners as well as share with you my conclusions regarding what was referred to as the mission, or what I call the justification of my journey.
Sojourners is a ministry that was started 10 years ago out of the Riverside Church. We recruit, train, transport, and mentor volunteers to visit and befriend asylum seekers and other non-criminal non-citizens held at Elizabeth Detention Center, a windowless converted warehouse near Newark Airport in New Jersey run by a private corporation, Corrections Corporation of America. Though out of the Riverside Church, only 30% of our volunteers are connected with Riverside.  The purpose for the visit is to help break the isolation and boost the morale of detainees, who may be held for months, even years before a final determination on their request for asylum is made and they are released or deported.
Why boost morale?  What do we mean by isolation?  Well, truth be told, the time before the final decision is made is often quiet dehumanizing - detainees fight detainment for long periods of time, predatory lawyers, lack of access to healthcare, separation from family, language barriers, not being allowed any time in fresh air (again, despite being non-criminals i.e. they've done nothing wrong).  We meet to combat this, to acknowledge that they are human and that they are not forgotten.
Though we have partnerships with many organizations and networks working to reform this process (Detention Watch NetworkFirst Friends/IRATE, etc.), Sojourners primarily focuses on meeting the immediate needs of detainees while also working to provide post-release relief as well - everything from helping former detainees acclimate to the city to finding housing opportunities. For example, I got to escort my friend Donzo, who was involved in a Democracy movement in an African country, to a pro bono legal clinic in Brooklyn put on by the Justice for Our Neighbors program (a non-profit run by the United Methodist Church). He had been detained 6 months longer than he should have been (often detainees are unaware of the few legal rights they do have) and since he wasn't familiar with the subway system or the english language, he needed someone to come along. Lucky me (seriously, we had a ball on the subway!).
So my intention with the ride was to talk about the issues Sojourners seeks to address, sharing with folks ways in which they can get involved. I thought this would best happen before congregations, but as I rode and realized I never knew where I was going to be in advance, "congregations" proper went out the window. Instead, it turned into talking one on one with people the whole way, face to face interactions over coffee, dinner, whatever.
When anyone finds out that you are riding your bicycle from New York City to San Francisco, one of the first things they ask you is Why? - obviously opening the door to conversation about detention each time.  This occurred with News Persons in Virginia, Pastors in Missouri, Sustainable farmers in Utah, and fellow Cyclists in Nevada.
One of the more memorable moments of sharing - or, I suppose attempting to share - the circumstances of detainment, I was in a restaurant in Eminence Missouri on the 4th of July.  Enjoying an all-you-can-eat-buffet, a great ally in my journey, I was approached by a waitress who had pieced together that I was riding to the coast (maybe it was the 6 plates she cleared from my table, maybe.)
"Are you riding for a cause?"
"Well sort of... Are you familiar with the term Asylum Seeker?"
"No," she responded with in an inquisitive tell-me-more tone.
"Well, I work with an organization called Sojourners..." Within 2.2 seconds of starting, I had lost her.  Somewhere between a full restaurant and mention of the word immigrant, she interrupted with an "Oh, sounds interesting" before turning to another table.
Was it the topic of immigration? Did she ask only seeking a quick reply? Did I fail to read that the full restaurant needed her attention before beginning with the details?  Who knows. One thing was clear though - she wasn't having it. Thankfully however, this was one of the only disinterested responses, as many people listened intently and engaged in honest dialogue. 
The funraising campaign I ran was also a great opportunity for folks to learn about Sojourners and the work we do.  Letters and emails were sent out to individuals, schools, and business opening the door to the opportunity for them to become involved in advocacy for Sojourners.  Whether they participated or not, and many did, folks heard about it and conversation about detention was generated.
Looking back, I would say most people were surprised at the plight of the asylum seeker, finding it difficult to believe that a country composed of immigrants would participate in an often dehumanizing system of detainment.  They voiced concern regarding our policies and practices despite the country's claim to be committed to those seeking asylum - it just didn't seem consistent to them.  The bottom line: it isn't consistent.
I often pointed the folks I spoke with in the direction of both my blog and the Sojourners blog. There they could find more information, links, stories, and an assortment of ways to get involved with similar work. Did they make it that far? I don't know. I hope. All I could do was tell them about my friends in detention and trust that their voiced concern was genuine, as I believe it was.  Here's for hoping things change.
Upon returning, I found I was not the only one talking about detention this summer. Apparently all summer there were several New York Times and Washington Post articles discussing the issue of detention.  Then, in early August the Obama administration released plans to revamp the way we do detention. Hoping to increase oversight, the plans give the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, a federal overseer to each of the 23 largest detention centers, setting up an oversight unit within the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility.  In a Washington Post article, Morton states, "We need a system that is open, transparent, and accountable... With these reforms, ICE will move away from our present decentralized jail approach to a system that is wholly designed for and based on civil detention needs and the needs of the people we detain."
This is a great first step, however I agree with the many who claim the proposed reform does not go far enough.  Detention Watch Network, a coalition of community, faith-based, immigrant and human rights service and advocacy organizations, of which Sojourners is a part of, claims the overhaul falls short in its failure to address "the lack of alternative to detention and the lack of legally enforceable minimum standards for detention centers."

Find out more by following the links below.

Friday, August 21

Then it happened: The Ocean

I really don't remember a whole lot about the last day's ride, as the events which followed after arriving to the Pacific are more memorable. One thing I do remember however, is that everything seemed to be against us. Well, that and the fact that I didn't care. I had one thing on my mind: San Franfreakincisco.
Kevin and I had planned to head out from Winters early in the morning, but were sidelined after we found Kevin had apparently acquired a flat. The evening before, Kevin and I changed his back tire after he road over some goathead, but his front was good, all signs pointed to still inflated. However, apparently the front had gotten a puncture as well and spent the night leaking, leaving us to find a completely empty tire in the morning. First delay.
After breakfast, we got on our way with just 60 miles to do for the day. Every pedal we neared the coast, the wind picked up. We had checked the weather the night before and saw that the days wind was supposed to be a south wind. Good thing we were going West, right? Well yes, the whole trip was a westward movement, however our final day's ride was primarily south. That's right - straight into the wind. Did I mention we were out of the mountains yet? So then there was that. But I could not be stopped.
30 miles out, I popped a spoke. Being the first since Colorado or Utah, I was a little weary to see what I would find when I stopped to check it out. It was a drive side spoke (on the side of the wheel with the gears) which meant I would have to take not only the wheel off the bike, but the gears off the wheel. Not something I wanted to spend the next 30 minutes of my time doing. And besides, I had never done it before. Instead, I unscrewed the spoke from the wheel, returned to my saddle, and kept riding. I thought about the time I rode from Lancaster, PA to DC with a broken spoke. That was a good three days. I had no doubt about making it 30 miles. Again, I laugh at the cycling gods that try to impede the journey - nothing could stop me. I pedaled.
Vallejo, CA was the site of the ferry. Yes, a ferry. Not the ideal way I would have liked to end the journey, but there really aren't any other ways into San Francisco that don't involve interstates (illegal to non-motorized vehicles anyway). We pulled up to the terminal, paid for our transit tickets, and waited for the next ferry. Sitting, looking out over the bay, I noticed another bike with panniers (basically saddle bags on the front and back wheels) indicating that someone else was touring. Not but a few seconds later, Sidra turned the corner. I could see she had seen our bikes as well and was in search of the two others touring when we made eye contact.
"Are you touring? Where to? Where'd you start?" my questions came out in a flood.
"I started today. Riding to New York City," she said excitedly.
I froze. Here I was on my last day, and she, on her first. I couldn't believe it. I had so much I wanted to say, but she had so much before her I didn't want to overwhelm her. I learned she too was going solo, though meeting up with some friends for a bit in Kansas, as I had done as well when Grace and Ashley joined me. I offered her my speakers, but after not being able to find a way for her to attach it to her bike, and learning that she had an iPod mini, which don't fit in the speaker well, causing the music to stop at every bump (trust me, tried it with Jordan's mini in Nevada and it was painfully annoying), she shrugged her shoulders and I wished her well regardless. And then she was gone. All the experiences I had just accumulated between NYC and San Fran, they were right before her in the opposite direction. It was so surreal.
The ferry arrived and Kevin and I loaded our bikes on board. The ferry in the Bay was much larger than the one which traversed the Ohio on the Kentucky-Illinois boarder, which was good because the ride itself was about an hour. Next thing we knew, we were in San Francisco, with just seven miles of riding left, from the pier to the Golden Gate.
Those seven miles... Well, I suppose they just seemed like a recreational ride. Nothing too difficult really, we wrapped around the edge of the city to Fort Point, soaking in the views of Fort Mason, Alcatraz, the Marina, Crissy Field, Hippy Hill, and finally the Bridge. The route ends at the top of Fort Point, not in the Pacific. Well, the Adventure Cycling Association route that is, not ours. After snapping some pictures of the Golden Gate, we headed down Lincoln Boulevard to Baker Beach. That part was all downhill and like my time on Omo Road, I think I was flying, this time from shear amazement.
Once at the sand, I ripped my clothes off and ran into the sea. Reveling in the moment, we documented the feat and stared into the water for some time before I realized it was nearing 5:00pm. My stress rose - hella fast, in fact. If any a time to be rushed on this trip, it was now. The one bike shop that was open on Sundays was closing at 6:00pm, and seeing that I had a flight to catch the next morning at 6:00am, I had to get there in order to ship my bike back east. Oh, and did I mention I didn't know where the shop was?
In a sick combination between pedaling 8 blocks and calling the bike shop to readjust directions, I arrived there at 5:52pm. The shop was large and many more folks were still in there, each renting, returning, and buying bikes. My stress lessened as it became clear that others, not just myself, were going to keep the employees here beyond 6:00pm. I began piecing the bike apart on the shop floor, explaining to the guy who was looking at me that I needed them to box it up and ship it out at their convenience but that I had to catch an early flight the next morning and couldn't come back. A bit stressed out that so many people were still there, the guy told me he'd be back.
When he returned, it was around 6:15pm and I had made all my belongings into two piles, one to take to Michigan for the wedding and the other to send back with the bike, if it fit in the box. I heard the front door close and lock when I noticed it was just me and the bike shop employees inside. The guy who had been helping me approached again, this time with two beers in hand. "Welcome to San Francisco!" he said as he passed one over to me. I reached out and took it, instantly stress free.
I got out of there by 6:30pm, carrying just a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and my wallet. Everything else was to be stuffed in the bike box and shipped to Indianapolis, IN, where it would arrive well after my departure from New York. Good riddance. Great Ride.

The Lasts: Our Final Days (or was it Daze?)

Did I mention Kevin caught up midway through Nevada? Kevin and I had rode together from the end of Missouri to the east edge of the Rockies, before I broke away to try to make a wedding and he ran into bike difficulties. So there we were, three San Diegans and two Indiana...ians... in Carson City, Nevada. Fresh out of the desert, and on the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. California was a mere 25 miles away, and according to our map, we had one final pass to ascend, before a long 100 mile downhill, taking us from 10,000ft to sea level (not super steep of course, though it had it's parts). We weren't sure when we would part ways, though we knew it would be soon as the San Diegans were shooting for an August 3rd arrival and I an August 2nd.
After a breezy 25 miles, we made it to the California boarder. A little less than significant, we broke to take pictures and cherish the moment of our arrival to the final state.
That last climb was killer. Though we had climbs through Nevada (those elusive mountain ranges always on the horizon), our final climb seemed to never end. Usually, when we were making our ascent, the distance between each rider seemed to widen. Different riders would prefer to take each climb differently - sometimes you really want to go after it; others, you've got other things to focus on than racing up a mountain. This particular climb, I was in an I'm going to beat you Mountain kind of mood, attacking it mildly hard. Jordan was in a similar mindset as well, ahead of me by a number of turns in fact. Mike and Jeremy were riding behind a couple turns, probably in dialogue, and Kevin was in his own place behind all of us.
I remember seeing the final summit, seeing Jordan off his bike eating his prized Wheat Thins and Honey combination. He flexed and I pedaled harder towards the top, shaking my head with a serious look on my face, grinning all the while. The trip wasn't over, but dammit the mountains were about to be. And then I was there, silently standing next to Jordan, treating myself to his snacks.
Triumph at the final summit.
Cars whizzed past, their drivers unaware of what was happening, while we encouraged the others to the summit. After a few minutes of hootin' and hollarin', we returned to our saddles and began the descent. On the way down the views from the Sierra Nevadas were not as spectacular as the Colorado and Utah views. It seemed a low visibility had been caused by a smog which had come east from the furthest West Coast cities. Still, it was nonetheless spectacular.

One of my favorite roads on the entire ride was on this downhill out of the Sierras - Omo Ranch Road. Carless, curvy, downhill, heaven. To the sides, the road was lined with Cedar trees, tall and skinny allowing one to see far into the woods before the trunks formed a wall blocking the view. We practically flew, we were going so fast. Taking the turns at top speeds, someone behind me began to laugh and shout for my attention loudly. Apparently when I turned at higher speeds, my trailer would slide out and was pretty humorous to see from behind. I then perfected the stunt, whipping my handlebar quickly causing the trailer to Tokyo drift, as we called it, side to side, warning the others not to make me mad as I now had a weapon. That night, we camped in Omo Ranch, beside an elementary school of which the PrinciPAL frequently allowed cyclists to stay.
The next morning, August 1st, we rode out of Omo Ranch and into Placerville. We stopped there for a bit of food, and when Mike, Jordan, and Jeremy all stopped for a visit of the local bike shop, Kevin and I kept riding. It was pretty uneventful, our goodbyes, as we figured we'd run into each other further down the road, as had always happened when someone wanted to stop for one reason or another. However this time, the San Diegans never caught up. We knew we couldn't finish together beforehand, but I think we all thought we'd at least share a ceremonial goodbye. Instead, it turned into a phone call later that evening, us explaining we had to keep riding, them that they had stumbled upon a BBQ back in Sacramento and were going out for beers. Lucky bastards.
Kevin and I got into Winters, CA that night, our last night on the road. As we searched for a place to grab dinner, we ran into a couple, Pierre and Marsha, who not only pointed out a great Mexican Tienda, but also invited us to spend our last night in their backyard. Taking them up on both, we met them on the street again after dinner to follow them back to their house. Along the walk back, we learned Pierre and Marsha were avid cyclists, having toured a number of times themselves, which translated to Kevin and I having incredible hosts who understood the ups and downs of touring. Once at their place, Pierre and Marsha whipped up some fresh peaches and Ice Cream, allowed us to shower, do laundry, check e-mails, and told us stories from their touring days.
We retired in their back garden, and though it took a while for me to fall asleep, it wasn't long before I was waking to the sight of sun above my head. The Last Day was upon us.

Thursday, August 13

Nevada's Terrain and the Difficulties Therein: That is, How Not to Die

As I think I have said, Nevada's riding terrain was mountain range, followed by valley, followed by mountain range followed by valley. Like the back of my shampoo bottle: Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Ok, so maybe there wasn't much lathering or rinsing, but the idea is that it was a cycle. Long stretches of road were placed between mountain ranges that reached into the 9000s. The air was clean and visibility allowed for great views. From the top of the ranges, you could easily see the next range, and the distance between seemed small enough, though when a car passed, you could still see it on the flat stretch 20 minutes later. Basically, desolation.
So I get a lot of questions about my time in Nevada, specifically questions regarding how I survived the desert. Now, since I had never biked a desert before, I really didn't know what I was doing. But, like all things, I pieced together what I did know about both riding and deserts to come up with my plan.
Using the knowledge that I had gained in the 3000 miles I had just traveled and my grade school knowledge of deserts (thanks Mrs. Callahan!) I'd say the two issues that concerned me most were high temperatures and lack of water due to lack of services. So in order to plan for my time on US 50 then, the Loneliest Road in America, I decided I would carry more water than usual.
Now, I had found that I could get 20 miles on each water bottle that I carried so I used that to determine how much water I needed to haul. I could have just loaded the water nonchalantly, but who wants to carry more water than they need? So in my gallon jug I had bought for the long ride into Hanksville, UT, I planned to use the little math skills I possessed and measure 140 miles worth of water for my first day in the desert.
Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't far off; but like most things, nothing goes as expected. And I think there's a proper word for the experience, in fact, synergy comes to mind, but I could still be wrong.
Basically, filling my bottles, I counted my milage into the gallon jug - 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 miles in the gallon jug with another 40 miles in the water bottles. On paper, I could make it the 140 miles. However, in my experience, I suppose I didn't realize that higher temperatures would probably equate into a larger need for water. Further, I also forgot to calculate the water I usually drink in between the 20 miles, while stopped at the gas stations or restaurants. So too make a long story short, I ran out of water about 20 miles outside of the day's final destination.
Thankfully, I was also riding with Jordan, Mike, and Jeremy (from San Diego, CA) who didn't mind to carrying more water than they needed, I suppose because they knew it didn't really matter what one thought they needed. Moral of the story - When in a desert, carry lots of water; more than you think you need even. That and ride in packs. Four minds are better than one.
Truly, this was hot.

Wednesday, August 12

Memories from Middlegate, NV

There's this little place in Nevada called Middlegate. At the time, I was riding with Kevin (Indianapolis), Mike, Jordan, and Jeremy (the three from San Diego) and had left Austin, NV that morning. 60 miles later, before coming into Middlegate, we found a tree with TONS of shoes thrown up into its branches. Below the tree was the remnants of a rather large creek that had dug into the dirt, carving out its deep path before drying up. There too in the path of the creek were thousands of shoes - some matching, others by their lonesome.
Several cars had pulled over as well, their drivers walking about the piles, trying to make sense of the phenomenon. In the small crowd were two girls who had just started a trip back to the midwest from San Francisco. They were rummaging through the assortment of footwear, looking for "shit kickers," as they described it. Listing off a dozen places they had lived briefly before, we learned that having grown up in Missouri, they moved to New Orleans after Katrina had come through. They contemptuously explained that because "we don't have a liberal arts degree," they don't live in a specific district, but instead battle being shot at while walking home from work - apparently trying to make a value statement about their lifestyle and the lifestyle of former liberal arts students. A little unsure of what to make of the experience and after snapping a few pictures of the shoe laden tree, we pedaled on towards Middlegate.
Once in Middlegate, we settled at a place called Bar. It's not that we had much choice in the matter, Bar was the only establishment there in Middlegate serving as the local bar, grocery, restaurant, and gas station while also offering several cabins for rent and RV hookups for guests who bring their home. Once inside and at the bar, we learned of the local special: The Monster Burger - a 1lb beef patty on a hoagie-bun, loaded with all the goodies, and a heavy side of fries. By car, Middlegate isn't far from the Navy base further west in Fallon and over the years has become a popular place for many of the soldiers. Bar built the Monster Burger as the local eat-it-all-and-get-a-reward to entice hungry soldiers to come out for a drink and challenge. The server said 1 in 3 finish the plate, "usually Navy boys," upon which one receives a free T-shirt. The burger is $16 so finishing it all means an $8 burger and an $8 shirt. Enticed by the challenge and with hungry stomachs, Jordan and I tried it out.
Notice the monster face?
17-minutes later.
Sweet rags, no?
Middlegate, like most of US 50 through Nevada, is situated along the Pony Express Trail. This was a mail route from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA that ran from 1860 to 1861, before the telegraph was invented. It was an elaborate system of mail stations, horses, and riders in which Atlantic mail could make it to the Pacific in just ten days. Individual riders would ride for 75 to 100 miles each, switching horses every 10 miles (apparently the distance a horse can gallup all out before needing rest), carrying mail from the east to the west despite the dangers of weather, wildlife, Native Americans, and thieves. Their logo was adopted by Wells Fargo, though the system did not involve carriages when it ran. I remember reading a note about the ideal Pony Express rider on the back of my Adventure Cycling map (histories of the areas I was riding were usually on the backside of the maps). It said something about because of the inherent dangers, orphans under 150 lbs were preferred with a promising $25/week as pay. I'll get the word for word description when my maps return from the mail.

Monday, August 3


Well, it's been a long two months, but I've finally completed the ride! Got into San Fransisco mid-afternoon today (8/2). More to come (WITH PICTURES!) soon.