This represents an excerpt of a Changemakers Alliance conversation we hosted with Anne Winkler-Morey, author of “Allegiance to Winds and Waters: Bicycling the Political Divides of the United States.” It includes some of the conversation with CALL members who participated in the discussion.
…To build on that, that was one of the things that kept happening on the trip; people would tell us that this is a safe community, this is a safe place, you’re welcome here . . . but be careful about the next community, about the next neighborhood. Across the state or the city versus a rural area, we would go to that place, and they would say the same thing. It was kind of overwhelming to have that happen over and over again, and to realize the way in which we have this fear of the other that is universal and we all share it.
When we were considering a move to another state, we did our research by spending weekends in successive parts of the state. We’d meet with a realtor and go around, and we were trying to figure out what market we felt we could fit into economically. At each place, the realtor said exactly that, “oh, things are good here. But they’re all inbred in that next area and all up the coast. ” Same thing. I’m wondering, sometimes I am more open to initiating a conversation with a stranger when I’m with a friend. Did traveling with your husband help with that barrier for you?
Oh, absolutely. I’m an introvert, and he’s an extrovert, too. So in addition to the gender issues, and just having another person, we also have that. I relied on him to keep conversations going. I also relied on my bicycle to do that, because it was a great icebreaker. People had people had so many questions that that got the conversation going. The other thing that I used, that David couldn’t use, is that I was able to say I lost my job. That was a real opener, because even if it wasn’t something that wasn’t parallel, they hadn’t also lost their job — and lots of people had — it was just any kind of tragedy, any kind of thing that they were working on, that people felt more comfortable telling because of that. That sort of became a gift that I was able to use that.
What happened is that my hierarchy of fears toppled. Everything that that I had very carefully figured out and really dysfunctionally figured out — I had all these strange, strange rituals for keeping myself safe that make no sense. I write about carrying a heavy backpack, which makes no sense whatsoever. But maybe it makes me feel safer for some reason. When the hierarchy of fears topples, and when there’s something else that is most important than never was before — for example, trucks, or just having to get off the road — suddenly, people are your saving grace; people that I would never have talked to before because I have to get off the road and I have to get away from that truck, and they have to help me.
It kind of makes you question everything. All these things that you didn’t even realize that you were constricting your life based on. If it topples, and you’re still okay, then it kind of does make you question everything. I didn’t even know I was ordering my life that way. I wasn’t really conscious of it, but here I was operating in a very different way. Does that make sense?
In the summer of ’82, I also was in Central America. I was not an activist, I was a volunteer for a mission school, but ended up spending a week at a camp for refugees from Nicaragua who came in. I was 19 maybe, and got to go off — of course before all this digital stuff we have, right — they sent me off with a stack of papers to do census so they could figure out how much food to order for the refugees in the camp. It was very interesting summer. They said, “Oh, just walk down there, you’ll see some cabins. Just pick one and sit on the porch and count numbers.”
I just love adventure, I think from a very young age. When I was 18, I rode my bike from Rochester, New York to Bar Harbor, Maine. But I didn’t know any of these people. I remember sitting in this camp in Honduras, sitting there counting numbers going, “there’s not one other person in the world that knows where I’m at right now. No one. My parents, my friends, even the people at the camp.” I thought that was the coolest thing. I just thought, “Oh, this is so free. Wow, this is so cool.”
I just love people and I love stories. I’ve always gone through life thinking every person has a story. Every being is a story. I could talk all day to just about anybody.
I recently moved, and I’ve been carrying those pictures of Honduras from house to house just stashed in a corner. I haven’t looked at them in 30 years and I started looking through them, read my notes and kept thinking “shoot, I wish I had kept in touch with these people. I wish I had written more notes.”
I guess we never feel like you have enough time. But I love the fact that you just did talk to these people. And you did tell their stories and your history. And being able to put it in issues of today was just beautiful. I kept saying to my husband, “Look, you gotta read this whole story. This woman, she’s with us, she gets it.” Life is what you make it and it just is exciting to me. I wanted to see, “Oh, who is she going to talk to next? What’s the next story gonna be?” So I was very impressed. The fact that it took you 10 years, that’s fine. I’ve never written a book. I don’t know. But how fun to be able to do what you did. I’m very impressed and think it’s really cool.
Last year, part of my COVID response was to take my first ever bike trip on The Gap and C&O from Pittsburgh to D.C., which is something I’d wanted to do for 15 years. But, I am continuing to read about everything that I missed along the way. I missed a lot, I was pushing myself to achieve preconcieved goals of which lodging every night and really overestimated. Well, I made it every day, but I didn’t have time to stop and smell the flowers. I’m kind of wondering what sort of preparation you did in terms of where you were going to stay the next night? How much you knew about the natural history or human history or whatever of the areas you were going through? Because you gave a lot of that in your book. Did you study up on all of it ahead of time or reading up on it afterwards?
A lot of it was afterwards and again, that would be in the in the regrets. It would have been even better if I had done it beforehand, but I think what you’re talking about is the nature of bicycling. We miss things because of that. But we also get things because of that. You know, we get lost or there’s a storm or our plans get all toppled, and then you meet somebody that you never would have imagined meeting. You go down a road that leads to somewhere. That’s what kept happening, and that was sort of amazing. Things kept going wrong but in other ways, those wrong things, or those wrong roads led to some really great experiences. I don’t know how much you can plan it. I do want to do another trip, I want to do the inner states. I do want to do more reading beforehand. But in terms of the planning, where we’re going to be on this day and that day and that day, I know that’s not realistic, right? That’s that’s just sort of setting yourself up for feeling as though you did it all wrong.
After Honduras, I traveled, met a man in college, we’re still married after 37 years. And he’s from Africa. That was huge for some people, but for me, it was just another adventure. Where’s this one going to lead? It has led us many places to many people in many situations. I was this little country girl from Central Michigan, grew up on the farm, went to college, then started traveling. Then one day, my husband said to me, “we need to move back home.” I’m thinking what is he talking about? There is no way in the God’s earth I’m going back to that farm with my two little children in this all-white community that has a racist history. Period. I’m not doing that. He’s gotta be crazy. So my response, and we’re face to face, I said, “You must mean Nigeria, because we can’t move back to my hometown. We can’t do that.”
Because he’s African, living with family is so important and so treasured. He couldn’t even think about the fact that people are racist that badly that you consider not living in your hometown? So there we were. For the next 20 years we spent on the farm, so the kids got to know their grandparents and their aunt and uncle. We were accused of changing the face of the community. Okay, not a bad thing. But it was hard. We’ve since left there now, as of three years ago, and we’re on our next journey in life. I don’t know where we’re going, don’t know what’s next. We’re away from the farm. The parents are gone. My brother still lives there. I always thought the only reason I could go back at that point in my life was because I had travelled; because I had seen other places and talked to different people that I knew that family is important. He was probably right. They needed to know their grandparents.
I always wanted a vacation cottage somewhere. But I could never decide which single place to devote myself to and every summer to. I grew up on the East Coast and moved to Oklahoma for a couple years. I felt like there was not a tree in sight and it drove me nuts. We had friends from Oklahoma come visit us after we moved to Massachusetts, and they felt hemmed in by all the trees. That to me was is very instructive. Living in a small town in Maine, there were four black children who had been adopted from Louisiana or Mississippi. So it was very, very white. But one thing that interested me was that I had spent six or eight years in the south, I’d been all over the place, and every socioeconomic issue, level of society, conflict, whatever — they were all there, and they were all white. And they had all the same problems as in more diverse communities, which I just found fascinating; it tells me more that it’s about people and about that otherness we were talking about earlier, rather than it is about some of these visual cues we have for each other.
I actually was most interested in the places that were the hardest; Western Florida, and Texas. I was constantly learning, I was constantly off guard. It’s not that it didn’t get exhausting, and there were moments where I didn’t want that. But that’s where I felt really, really, really grateful to be able to have the experience that I was having. So I got less and less interested in being a tourist and being somewhere pretty and comfortable, because I felt this kind of urge, this need to understand things and I wanted to be someplace where that would be, and where I would be confronted.
That’s one reason I want to do more bike tripping. Because you’re not a tourist.
I told them I lost my job that helped a lot. I had the bicycle. And, I said that I really wanted their story. But, I think there are ways I wasn’t always successful at this at all. When people are racist, or sexist, or homophobic or whatever, you can still have those be lines that you absolutely refuse to cross and that you’re not accepting. But I still know you’re human. And I still know that you’re hurting for a lot of reasons, and that you have a story. So I go into it with those principles. I’m not always successful, but at the same, you know, that I want to do both of those things. Does that make sense?