A year and a half ago, it was a shockingly different world and yet also remarkably the same.
The headlines were dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Every day pleasant people were vehemently arguing. Normal conversations spiralled completely out of control. Which sounds a lot like today, doesn’t it?
So in October of 2018 I unplugged, punched out, and went on a ride from San Francisco to Tucson along an old wagon route. Ever since I’d ridden Route 66 I’d been fascinated with America’s transit corridors. Where they go cities spring up. When they move cities wither away and die. So, what about a wagon route? What had an old mail route left behind? And in this day and age of increasingly ugly social media could I still find people in the real world who were willing to talk to me?
Over the course of the next 20 days I rode1200 miles on a Huckleberry Bicycles built Rawland Ravn while taking photographs with a 50’s era Speed Graphic camera and a camera lens I made myself. I traversed paved, sand, gravel and dirt roads and interviewed over 15 people. They included an immigration lawyer, US Border Patrol officers, a fish rancher, a Zen Buddhist minister, artists, Native Americans, a older woman who was born and raised in a Dust Bowl era Works Administration Camp as well as the young woman who manages the migrant labor housing unit that same location is used for today.
In a nutshell what I found wasn’t a bunch of statistics or angry online ranters but just folks who simply wanted to talk to someone, be heard and listen in return. Really, in the end, that’s the joy of riding bikes long distances through unknown spaces: To meet amazing people along the way who are different than us. That is the true power of a bicycle. As the world seems to find even more ways to meltdown (Why hello, 2020!!) it’s my hope that everyone can remember that one thing and then, some day, go for a bike ride. Just leave your keyboards and social media accounts behind, even if for just a little while, and go meet some strangers with an open mind. It will do you and them both a world of good.
A feature length documentary about the project, entitled “Ride Slow, Take Photos” is premiering in the San Francisco Docfest on September 3rd. It will show online until September 20th. For more information and tickets follow this link: https://sfdocfest2020.eventive.org/films/5f32d4a905fd37008523be81
I am also fundraising for Kids In Need of Defense to give legal aid to children in the US Immigration court system. If you feel moved to do so, please consider donating.
(Many thanks and props to Huckleberry Bicycles for the ground up build, including a gorgeous wheelset with WTB KOM rims, tubeless Byway 650B tires, dyno front hub and KLite light. I went flat free, well lit and phone charged the entire 1200 miles of the trip. The entire set up was faultless!)
Words & Everything Else: Erik Mathy