“The Unarmed” by Kathleen McElligott | Akashic Books
One day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president, women and like- minded people in the US and around the world took to the streets to make their voices heard. I was there along with Mary Jo and Bobby and Kelly and 150,000 others…and that was just in Chicago! Approximately 500,000 marched in Washington DC and countless others in India, France, Africa and elsewhere around the world!
Chicago’s rally was a testament to grace, dignity, sisterhood, kindness, unity and a hunger for justice. The weather was sent from heaven-sunny and warm. We couldn’t ask for better! Not the task at hand is to turn our enthusiasm into votes, voices and activism. Can we do it? The future of our country and our world is in our hands. What will we make of it? For myself, I refuse to lay down and shut up, not anymore. The stakes are too high for my children and nine grandchildren.
Nashville is the gathering place for the Adventure Cycling Natchez Trace bicycle trip. My flight to Nashville arrived on time–the taxi ride to the Super 8 hotel was a little dicey. I had to look up the address on my phone for the driver and he ended up going right past it! But I’m here now, waiting for my roommate Julia to arrive. Bruce, who very generously schleppped my bike here from Chicago, is already here and I met one other cyclist, Eric from Alaska.
Tomorrow, Sunday, we will all pile into the van and head South to Natchez Mississippi to begin our trip on Monday. It will be a long day-about 8 hours in the van, but my
The weather cooperated, the police escort was thrilling and lunch on the beach at Anastasia State Park was delicious, but it still hadn’t sunk in that we had really done it.
Left to right above is Kathy, Nan, Jill, Nancy and Suzy. That’s tour leader Katie with the flag, and of course, Nan and I. I spent the rest of the day exploring St. Augustine with (left to right) Patricia, Wendy, Soonil and Mary, That’s Mary’s Bear Simon peeking out of her pack. He completed the journey, too, sometimes with his head under a plastic bag. I worried about him. Nan spent the day with her twin sister, Ann. They are remarkably alike even though they are not identical twins.
The city of St Augustine is preparing for their 450 year anniversary in the fall. Scaffolding is up on many of the historic buildings, including Flagler College, in preparation for the event. It should be quite a celebration. Besides the lighthouse, (no, we didn’t walk up 200+ stairs in cleats) we couldn’t miss the oldest house, the fort, and buying T-shirts on St. George St.
Later that evening we celebrated our accomplishment with a banquet at Le Pavillion. The seafood was delicious and we got to hear our “Senior Superlatives.” I was “Most organized” because all my stuff was in labeled zip lock bags, (doesn’t everyone pack that way?) and “most precise” because at the morning snack table I cut my PBJ neatly into quarters (do I sense a pattern here?) and finally, thanks to Nan, “most likely to get tangled in spokes.”
My advice to anyone contemplating an epic journey is to follow your dream and you can’t go wrong. I’m so glad I did it and that my readers were generous enough to share their time and read my blog. I don’t regret my decision for a minute. For those of you who are planning for upcoming Woman Tour adventures, please, keep me posted.
This is a good time to mention that I am an author. Check out my novel, “Mommy Machine” (Heliotrope Press 2008) on Barnes & Noble website http://www.bn.com under Kathleen McElligott or Mommy Machine. Most of the riders on the ST read it and “loved” it. We had a book signing in Silver City at the Little Toad Brewery. Thanks especially to Rita Rowe, who brought the book with her and generated all the interest in it. Thanks, Rita. If she hadn’t brought it, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it.
I wish all my fellow riders and readers the best. Jill and Alex will be planning our reunion in 2018. Oh, and one more thing, I am only a few hundred dollars away from reaching my fundraising goal of $1600 for the Alzheimer’s Assoc. My mother Josephine had this terrible disease and passed away in 2013. If Alzheimer’s has touched the life of a loved one you know how devastating it is. Any amount will help me reach my goal. The Alzheimer’s Assoc website is http://www.alz.org/the longest day, my team name is Kathys Cross Country.
Only 2 more riding days! Here’s some shots from the last couple of days. Logging is a booming industry here and these huge tuck loaded with newly cut logs come rumbling along the highway only a few feet from us. I hang on tight to my handlebars and silently curse them. Mostly they try to stay as far from us as they can, but when a car is coming in the opposite direction there’s no where to go. Some of us stayed at the Cadillac Hotel in High Springs on Tuesday night.
Our funny, sassy chef’s helper, Lea, put together a trivia quiz based on our “Q” sheets throughout the trip. Lea is the one who went down on the slippery tracks last Saturday and is recovering in the hospital in Talahassee. Best wishes, Lea, for a quick recovery & thanks for putting together the quiz. Three of us tied for first place: Sandy, Alex and me! Here’s unphotogenic me with my prize, a Slap-on flashing light. Thanks, Lea.
That’s not the only thing that happened to me today. I was standing next to Nan on my bike, my right foot was unclipped and my left foot was still clipped in when I lost my balance , toppled over onto Nan’s front wheel and landed under my bike with my handlebar hooked into Nan’s spokes. I was literally sandwiched between two bikes with my left foot still clipped in and I Could Not Get Out! Nan had to untie my left shoe and I slipped my foot out, but I was still wedged I between the two bikes. I was laughing so hard, Nan thought I was crying. The only part of me I could move was my butt. I was more concerned about Nan’s bike than anything else. Nan tried to help me up, but until the 2 bikes were unhooked, I could t get up. I heard someone coming down the path (this happened in Ichetucknee Springs State Park) so I yelled “Help!” A young man on a moped raced over to the tangled bikes and was able to disengage my handlebar from Nan’s spokes and lift the bike off me. Miraculously, both bikes were fine I I only had a small scrape on my left knee and a very bruised ego and wounded pride!
About half way through our short (47.5) mile ride from Quincy to Crawfordsville today we had the opportunity for a side trip to Wakulla Springs State Park. It added about 7 miles to our day but it was well worth it. A maze of underground fresh water springs and caverns run hundreds of feet below the ground in this area and bubble to the surface at the site of the state park swimming area. Mary, Soonil and I ate lunch at the lodge’s authentic soda fountain before boarding a boat to tour the river with its abundant wildlife including alligators, turtles, and many species of birds including double crested cormorants, blue herons, gold crowned herons roosting on their nests, Anhingas, black vultures and a species with black body feathers and a red bill whose name I don’t remember.
Some of you have asked me to provide “tips” to future Southern Tier riders. The tips I have to offer are things we as cyclists all know but sometimes forget: don’t follow the cyclist in front of you too closely. We’ve had accidents with damage to bicycles and injuries to riders. We’ve all heard it a million times: cross RR tracks at a 90 degree angle, but if the tracks are wet, or even damp from an earlier rain, Get Off and Walk across! A rider was seriously injured & is off the tour because of slippery tracks. A generous rider stayed at the scene to warn the rest of us. I would very likely have gone down, too, if not for her being there. Just use common sense and stay focused, esp as the tour draws to a close and you’re thinking about your flight home and plans once you get there. That’s all I’ve got. Only 4 more days left to ride. I can’t believe it!
We hated to leave Duaphin Island on Wed., but the panhandle of Florida is proving to be a gem. After disembarking from the ferry we rode through Fort Morgan AL, a natural lowland along the golf with pastel houses on stilts. The area was natural & not commercial except for the real estate rental signs. We entered Florida at mile 33 on SR 292 which parallels the gulf and Perdido Keys State Park.
As we rode along Gulf Beach HWY, I saw contrails in the air & thought it might be a tourist attraction. I looked again and saw a jet do a death dive and recover at the last second. We were being treated to a live performance of the Navy’s Blue Angels! It was amazing and jaw dropping. 3-2-1 formations, two jets crossing in what appeared to be a heart, I had all I could do to stay focused on riding while looking up to see the show. Thanks Blue Angels whose home base is nearby.
I fell in love with Pensacola’s downtown district. It’s parkling clean vibrant with an assortment of cafes, bistros, and restraints, just steps away from our hotel on Palafox St. We walked as far as we could on Palafox, about 3 city blocks, to the gulf and the Port of Pensacola where we saw massive ocean going tankers. My daughter Jaimie loves record stores & Revolver Records was right across the street. I talked to the owner of 28 years, Elvis.
With so many restaraunts to chose from, Nan & I chose V Paul, a rather upscale Italian place and weren’t disappointed. I said we deserved to treat ourselves to a nice meal out.
Plans are underway for our last day: the picnic, shipping our bikes home, and arrangements to the airport. I don’t think I’m alone in not wanting the tour to end and yet wanting to get home to see loved ones and resume my everyday routine. I have to say, though, that the memories of this trip will stay with all of us.
Pone of my readers asked me to talk about reflections of the tour and tips for future riders. One thing is for sure, if you’ve decided to ride cross-country, you’ve made the right decision, whatever your motivation, be it to test your physical strength, it’s on your bucket list, you’d like to see our country on the ground. There’s no wrong answer.
Alabama seems exotic and tropical, yet earthy and primal. You’ve got the elements of sun and sea, perfect for relaxing, but you’ve also got the hardworking fishermen who catch the delicious seafood that we’re feasting on: crayfish, oysters, shrimp and more. We rode over a small drawbridge (before the Big Bridge that would take us onto Dauphin Island) and in a cove the trawlers were waiting to go out to sea. It’s a magical place with salty sea air, sun and a connection to the earth.
I remember reading Carson McCullers as a young teen, enchanted by stories of the Deep South. Her description ofthe “summer kitchen” with its dirt floor, detached from the main house had me mesmerized. I’d always wanted to experience for myself this magical and mysterious place, and now I have.
Tomorrow I’ll be relaxing and preparing for our final 9 days. There’s a bird sanctuary on the island and between the beach, eating and relaxing, it should be a great day.
Mother Nature smiled on us today–not a hint of rain and a beautiful ride through De Soto National Forest. The ride into Pascagoula was dotted with pastoral scenes of houses set back from the road, surrounded by wood fences and well groomed horses out on the pasture. Oh yes, and more than a few dogs racing out to greet us enthusiastically, although a stern “Go home!” Or a whistle or silent whistle gets them off the road and back home. Since there’s apparently rarely cyclists riding by, folks don’t leash their dogs. We all have our own mEthod: I use my mean voice and yell, “Go home! Go,” which usually works, but if not, Nan has her silent whistle which Always works. The dogs just stand still looking a little stunned, but it doesn’t hurt them.
Today we were rolling along just fine when Sunill got a flat rear tire in the Natl. Forest. So, how many women does it take to fix a flat and remount the tire while on the road? The answer is 4! It’s all insurance though. If Nan or I get a flat, we know Mary and Sunill will stop to help.
Although it was warm and very humid riding into Pascagoula, a stiff cool breeze off the Gulf kept us from overheating. Pascagoula is a major port and ship building center. We had to cross 2 major bridges to get here. And to add to our fun, Jill arranged a crayfish boil at Bozos for several daring souls who wanted to try it. I’d never done it and probably will never do it again, so I was game. My Grandson Connor is an old pro at this, having visited friends in New Orleans before. “Grandma, you break the tail off, eat the bit of meat off each one and suck the juice out of the body. I know, it sounds gross, but it tastes darn good. We had 30 pounds of crayfish for 8 women, but we didn’t finish them all. They set big plastic bags of crayfish on the table and you reach in and grab a bunch and to to town!
Tomorrow we ride to Dauphin Island, a resort spot on the Gulf for the beginning of our last rest day. Then it’s 9 days without a break until we reach St Augustine.