Stories, Memories, and Reflections from the Southern Tier – 1

This southern tier trip was transformative and traumatic and wonderful for me. So much of life isn’t just one word or two but not every period we go through is transformative.

When I entered Arizona cycling over the Colorado, I saw the Arizona flag and got transported back to my twenties and being at Arcosanti and the pair of running shorts patterned with the AZ flag that Richard gave me back in the way beginning of our relationship. Arizona for me has become a dependent clause in the story of my life — Arizona where I went after Binghamton (undergrad years) to go to Arcosanti, city of the future, and where I went to graduate school for my masters. That had been Arizona for me for years now until I crossed back into the state.

I had forgotten the details, the scent of the desert, the names of the cacti, the intensely dry air. I had forgotten the sunsets and the sky. I had forgotten the 22-year old who went to Arizona as her next adventure, who thought life would be just one adventure into a different world and experience one after another. And life was a big adventure after my almost four years in Arizona, but it was a 35-year old adventure. The adventure of marriage and motherhood and a career that I was passionate about and a deep attachment to my community.

At a rest stop in Arizona, the picnic tables were full, so Fuat and I sat down on the other end of a table were two men sat eating their lunches. As ACA leader, I was supposed to ride sweep and allow the last rider to have “his or her own ride,” but from the first day, it became clear that Fuat, a quieter and more reserved guy,  didn’t really want to ride alone. He lives his life quietly building boats in the Adirondacks and growing much of his own food. He signs up for organized rides because he loves bike touring and he wants the company of others. With me riding sweep, he got not only me but the varied people I would strike up conversations with during the day.

That day on that I-10 rest stop (out west on the Southern Tier, the route takes you on the interstate in empty areas where there is no other road), a small conversation about the delicious homemade food the two men were eating led to a taste of the food and an encounter that will stay with me a lifetime. Kousay Al-Ani was the talker of the two. His friend, a cousin’s husband Rasoul, had immigrated from Denmark he said. He didn’t look Danish and with a few more moments of conversation, we learned that he had been in Denmark for several years, but he was really an Iraqui refugee who had found refuge in Denmark and was now resettling in Kansas City. Kousay, on the other hand, had immigrated to the US from Iraq over twenty years ago. He is an engineer and clearly an experienced U.S. contact for many family and friends, close and distant, coming to the US from Iraq.

fullsizerender 26We talked some more about places we had in common. I told him about my friend Hadeel and her son Ahmed, a twenty-six year old, who we had just had over for dinner back in Athens. Hadeel is a super education, modern Iraqi women, with a masters degree in plant and pest management. She had to escape her cosmopolitan life in Baghdad because agricultural research work she had done had been funded by the US and now she was seen as a collaborator. Ahmed is one of he last of of Hadeel’s children to have gone through the refugee resettlement program. All her children are super educated. In Athens, he is attending my old workplace, Athens Technical College, and driving for Uber on weekend nights.

And I almost forgot a most important connection — so much happened during the time I was away that the more recent memories of the trip have blocked some of the earlier very significant ones. The group met officially on a Sunday, but starting Friday some of the riders had already started arriving in the hostel. That Sunday morning, though, I had another important event — Anne and Abdelatif were having a lawyer and city clerk sign their marriage papers. The process had been going on for months it seemed and involved layers of bureaucracy. In September there will be a large wedding celebration, traditional Moroccan style and we will all be there for it.  The civil union took place at Abdelatif’s family home, with lots of family delighting in the union and dancing about. Clare and Alessandro in Paris, me in San Diego, Richard at home in Athens, and my sister Rosemary all were present at the ceremony on IMO, an international version of SKYPE with each of us in our own square on the screen. I told Kousay about this and wrote down the word “Congratualations” in Arabic for me to share with the newlyweds.

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Kousay and I exchanged contact information, and I told him if he were ever in Georgia, he could stay with us. We are Warmshowers hosts for touring cyclists, but I extend the same invitation to many people I meet when cycling. Kousay and I had the same level of enthusiasm for this chance encounter. We both wanted to take photos and had big grins on our faces. Rasoul’s English was limited and so though he was quite sweet, he also couldn’t quite understand the conversation. I’m not sure what Fuat thought at this point, his first encounter with my random but special conversations with people on the road. He seemed to like it but not with the same wide smiles that Rasould and I had.

There is something about traveling that makes it easier to encounter other people honestly and share moments and kindness and laughter with them. During the trip, I realized that this ability to make these kind of connections with strangers is a gift that I have. It wasn’t something that everyone has. It’s not something that I have to try to have. It is just there. It is the same thing that connected me to students from all sorts of backgrounds during my community college career. It’s what made each day on my Northern Tier trip special and kept me from ever even thinking about being lonely. It’s what enabled the encounter with Irene working in the children’s bookstore at The Louvre that led to sixteen-year old Clare spending two weeks with her family in Paris. It’s why the cashier and owner at the Sandy Cross convenience store back past Watson Mill Bridge State Park asked me what they could do for cyclists and planned a tentative bike ride during which cyclists would stop at their restaurant for chicken salad sandwiches.

With Kousay and Rasoul, I couldn’t help thinking how people’s fear of others from foreign cultures and nations is so sad. They miss out on so much, and in too many cases, this fear leads to prejudice and violence — sentiments that seem to abound since the Trump election and presidential victory.

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I am going to write more about this trip. I didn’t get to write like I did on the Northern Tier, something I missed but something there was little time this time across the country. The demands of tour leading  were more intense than I expected and much different than what the the Adventure Cycling Tour Leader Training and manual laid out. There’s much more to say on that, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. That’s the traumatic part of this trip. I never want to lead another tour for Adventure Cycling, and the tour director there never wants me to do one either, though I had very few conversations with the man himself.

For me to write about that experience will take time and much of it will be private for the time being. If I didn’t have the confidence in my own abilities to lead groups of people and my years of excelling in the workplace, from being a waitress to a teacher to a dean to involved community member, I would be devastated. Instead, my ego, my honor and my integrity have been been bruised and seriously so, but there’s no doubt in my mind and heart about who I am and my competence, intelligence, and abilities and no doubt that I will recover completely and be more wiser about how the world works.

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Another trip across the country

The end of Southern Tier 2017. Love being outside, watching the world from my bike saddle, but in the end it’s the people who make the difference. It’s all these people who have touched my heart with their smiles and shared moments and a kind word. These are the memories I’m focusing on.


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I love Tallahassee, FL

Thank you, Bill McLain, for your Tallahassee “Bill’s Tour” city tour suggestions.  Made it to the old and new capital and even heard the house discussion on the proposed bill for a UGA alumni specialty car license plate (timed that perfectly!). Also made it to Cabo’s and Andrew’s for quintessential Tallahassee food experiences.

Included in the photos are several of the people who made my stay in Tallahassee so special.  Missing are two of the most important people, Cady and Paris, who were angels who appeared in my hotel and guided me through my time there. Thank you, you two.

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Stronger everyday

A collage of photos during the last couple of days. The bottom two are the most recent from the ride into Tallahassee yesterday. On the #southerntier #happytobealive #ridingabike and #biketouring . Each journey brings strength not only from the good days but from all the challenges that bike touring brings. I am stronger and happier than you can believe. Though still a bit exhausted.  So so so fortunate for so much.

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Homage to Dauphin Island

Love Dauphin Island. Love our hosts Ron and Pat. (Thank you guys so much. ). Best, best dinner, Robin and Andy. Bird magic with Fuat.  A ferry ride which is always a joy,  and sharing it with Steve, Matt, Fuat, Evan, Robin and Andy made it even more so.

Alabama rules!


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  Vancleave, Missisippi

The countryside is looking awfully familiar. New smooth pavement, minimal traffic and the gentlest rolling hills when not completely flat made for a very pleasant cycling day. On the road today I learned to identify the song of the tufted titmouse: Peter, peter, peter, peter. Riding sweep I’ve gotten to know the only true tourer-mode cyclist on the trip, Fuat. (Most others have a strong dose of road cyclist in them.) The bird songs all mean something to him, thus the lesson on the tufted titmouse.

The campsite once again was rougher than most wanted but sort of what I’d expect in areas not catering to educated and/or moneyed visitors. Poor southern states have poor private-run southern RV camping sites.  I too would like the place to be a notch or two higher but am not surprised it wasn’t.





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Louisianna – The Best

Lying in my tent. Slept late til almost 6 and today we are doing a late breakfast at 7:30/8:00. The birds are very busy around me. So many songs.

I thought because I have traveled along the I-10 corridor so often that I knew the south. I knew nothing. Louisiana like Texas and New Mexico and Arizona and California has been a beautiful surprise.

Yesterday was my riding day so that means I hang back by the last rider and get in late. That suits my bike touring style just fine. Fuat likes to look around and read historicAl markers and basically ride like I rode across the Northern Tier. We road across the Atchafalaya (so?) and then along the Mississippi. Awe inspiring.

Back in camp, Robin had organized a restaurant night and we all went out for Cajun food. The table was full of crawfish and beer and laughter. An excellent day.

Photos in reverse chronological order.

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 East TX at Mexican Hill Ranch, bike tourers’ paradise

 

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Fredericksburg TX

Last night I wrote something and then this early I went to share post and it seemed to have deleted it.

Back in Fredericksburg where the landscape takes back to car trips to Texas with the girls — lunches on interstate rest stop picnic tables, stopping in New Orleans, TX. Today I passed the Ingram dam where we’d go to swim and slide down the dam wall and road in Kerrville’s main drag to the Walmart Pete would shop in everyday. And then it was in the Ladybird Johnson city park where the first Saunders family reunion started. Feel like I finally know Texas 35 years after stepping into Richard’s family. Loving it.



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Along the border to Del Rio TX and then up to Ft. Clarke. 

Most of my photos are on my camera. The ones posted here are the occasional ones taken on the iPhone. True for earlier posts too.

Surviving.

Note: One of these photos was sent on WhatsApp by my new son-in-law Abdellatif, Anne’s new husband. Guess which one.

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