Thursday, December 15, 2011

Floods of water and wisdom

First, an article on Iceland, which went bankrupt in 2008 and is now refusing to pay the debt of the bankers that got them into that mess! A true case of governance of, by and for the people:

And, speaking of doing the right, radical thing, consider this: Rewriting the Constitution

Also you can see my latest video of Kentucky flood-waters HERE 

12/13/11 Clinton, KY to Ripley, TN: 72 miles

After further consideration, I believe that the thing Americans are most afraid of is giving up what they have. Security, certainty, routine and knowledge. We, as a society, are afraid of giving up what we have accumulated and accomplished, even in the pursuit of something better. It feels like too much stress and pressure and pain to let go of our current systems of operation. Too much chaos to give up what we have already spent several lifetimes building and coming to understand and working with and finding success within. But when we finally acknowledge that there is something better than what we have now, shouldn't we have the courage to break our current ways of life and embrace the adventure of building a new, healthy society? When we collectively realize that the American way of life is broken, isn't it our duty, as individuals in addition to being parts of the whole, to find ways to fix it and support new ways of life? How can we sit back and ignore the wrongs that our own nation, our own people, our own selves are exporting to the world? The answer lies in facing our fears. The new frontier lies not in discovering new lands or new planets or new species, but in new methods of operating in harmony with the Earth and our fellow humans. Let us acknowledge that the American experiment is in need of drastic revision, and let us have the courage to let go of what is wrong.

Since St. Louis, I have seen at least 10 Red Tail Hawks during the ride. They seem to be scared off of their perches just as I ride by. I often see them in pairs, and several times, I have heard the characteristic screech that immediately adds so much atmosphere to an otherwise hum-drum situation. I feel like they are a good sign.

Yesterday, I had more of an adventure than I planned. Riding through Columbus, Kentucky, I was following the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), a route designated by the states bordering the river which runs alongside the river from beginning to end. When he was president, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the capital of the nation be moved to Columbus in order to be closer to the center of the country. His petition failed by just 1 vote in the Senate. At one point, I passed a rather faded looking sign which read something like “road closed 6 miles ahead due to water in road.” I looked at my GPS, and decided that there were several other ways I could go if I ran into trouble, and it hadn't rained in at least a week, so I thought the water might not be such a big deal, and I rode on.
Through what was probably the most enjoyable stretch of the MRT yet, I slithered through gently sloping valleys lined with fields of green grass and old farmhouses. The sun dropped as I chased the sunset southwest, trying to outrun the early winter night. Finally, I approached a series of signs which read, “Road closed, 1500 ft, 600 ft, ROAD CLOSED (local traffic only). There was no sign of water, and though there was a temporary fence blocking half the road a few hundred yards to the left, the road to the right was open, and according to my GPS, would get me to the town where I was heading on a more direct route.
I pedaled off up the well-packed dirt road to the right, heading slightly uphill. Around a corner about ½ mile along, the road sloped sharply downhill, and became paved once again. “What luck!” I thought, as I followed the road past another sign which read, “water in road.” The next gully after the sign was dry, and I smirked and congratulated myself for making the right decision. And then I came to the water. About 200 yards of what appeared to be a straight, flat section of road had turned into a shallow lake. Murky, brown water surrounded tree trunks and inched up the grassy slope on one side of the road, while the other side was water surrounding tree trunks as far as I could see. I weighed my options. I decided to turn around, pedal back the ½ mile to the intersection with the “road closed” signs, and try the other direction. But before I pedaled off, my sense of adventure kicked in.
I took my front panniers off and placed them on the back of my bike, with the rest of my gear. The rear panniers are waterproof, so I wasn't worried about them getting wet. I then pedaled down the road, straight into the water. I figured it was probably a pretty flat road, judging by the terrain, and thankfully, I was right. I was a bit worried at first that it might get too deep, and seep into the top of my panniers, but it was never more than up to my knee. My bike had no trouble slogging through the opaque brown water. I imagined snakes and alligators and leeches might be lurking in the depths, but I saw nothing move but myself. I had no exposed skin anyway. The reflection on the water was beautiful, full of clouds and trees and sunset. A few times, I ran into what must have been potholes or small piles of gravel, but never toppled over. My biking sandals, wool socks, and the thermal bib tights I was wearing all got soaked up to the knee, but everything else fared just fine through the first crossing. Victorious and elated on the other side, I made a short video, documenting a successful adventure. I got back on the bike and rode for another 300 feet until I came to the next “water in road.” The sunset was beautiful orange now, and reflected brilliantly on a pool of water so large, I could not see where the road came out on the other side. I could not cross.
So back I went, across the first pool of water, freezing my feet in the frigid wetness, thinking of a new plan. I was short on drinking water, 15 miles away from my planned destination, and about to be riding in the dark. I did not think it would be a worth-while effort to test the other “water in road” direction, so instead, I headed back toward Columbus. Not too far down the road, I stopped at a house with a big streetlight on, just before dark, to ask for water. As I approached, I could tell that the house had fallen into disrepair. I knocked and shouted, but no one answered. Mud-wasps had made their nests in the corners of the door frame, and cobwebs were thick. I tested the door, and found it unlocked. I yelled one more time to make sure, and then stepped into the kitchen. A dust-covered kettle sat on the stove, and more cobwebs filled the sink. I tried the faucet, but it made no hint of providing water. A telephone stuck to the wall with its cord wrapped around the outside. I peered into a room which had a mattress on a dirty carpeted floor, but little else. The electricity also didn't work, and the sun had set, so light was not in great supply. I decided to glimpse in the fridge, mostly for entertainment's sake, before I took off. Just a box of baking soda. The freezer, however, contained a half-case of 16 ounce bottled waters. I helped myself to 3, and drank one before departing. I silently thanked whomever had put them there. That night, I camped in a farm field not too far down the road, and it rained on me all night. Then, it rained the whole next morning, until around 2 pm, as I rode on.


Memphis is a city of black and white. Or so I am told. I have not been here long enough to judge for myself whether this is true, but it feels true. My couchsurfing host, Giovanni, told me of the racial inequalities that still exist here, 50 years after the civil rights movement was at its high. Memphis has a higher violent crime rate than any other city in the US, surpassing Detroit just this year in crime and poverty levels. I was warned, literally, not to cross the railroad tracks into the “black” areas of town, where the overwhelming majority of violent crimes takes place. Because the neighborhoods of Memphis are so segregated, the schools, jobs and other societal constructs are as well. I didn't know this still existed in the USA, but as I make my way further south, I suppose I should be prepared for reality.
Today, I spent the afternoon in two museums of tremendous cultural value here in Memphis, the Stax Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum. Stax is a record label which signed and brought to fame some of the most famous and influential soul artists of all time. Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, James Brown and others came through their doors at one point or another. More important than this, however, was that local artists, some of whom literally lived down the street, came in and formed groups that hit the charts in a big way. A great collection on the roots and history of soul music (most commonly described as a blend of blues and gospel) as well as a small mom-and-pop record label that bent the rules and enjoyed wild success. Their success was so great, in fact, that they lost the family feel of their small record label, and fell apart shortly after Martin Luther King was shot here.
The National Civil Rights museum is housed in the defunct Lorraine Motel, where MLK spent his last night alive, and was shot on the balcony. I stood below that balcony (and took a few pictures), and imagined the sense of loss that must have been felt that day when such an amazing leader was taken. The message that carries on from his legacy is that you can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream. The museum cataloged the history of African American struggle since the beginning of slavery in 1619 until present day. I learned more than I ever knew there was to know about the KKK, Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks, the integration of schools, and so much ignorant prejudice I was aghast. I watched old footage of countless white Americans explaining their reasoning for being mad about blacks demanding equal rights, and I cringed. Without a doubt, one of the saddest and most shameful legacies of American culture.
Today, homosexuals are on the front lines of the battle for equal rights, and experiencing the same types of ignorant, hateful discrimination. I took a photo of a map from the mid 19050s which shows which states had racial discrimination built into their laws, and it looks very similar to the maps today of which states discriminate against homosexuals. It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now, and when people look back at America of the early 21st century, they will cringe at our prejudice, not understanding how so many people could be so stubbornly hateful and wrong for such a long time.  

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