Thursday, November 19, 2015

Into Georgia

It was until early on Day Thirteen of these travels, after 850 miles and seven states, that a law enforcement official pulled me over in response to a "suspicious character" report, something that has become routine when I'm out in rural America on a loaded bike.  With only three days left to my destination I thought I might avoid it this time.

"Someone saw you coming out of the woods this morning and called 911," the state trooper said.  "Are you on parole or probation?"

That was a question I'd never been asked before.  Generally I'm taken for being homeless or an undesirable, not a felon.  I tried not to laugh too hard and insult the officer.  I'm perfectly cordial and unruffled under these circumstances.  I was just happy he hadn't stopped me to order me off the busy highway I was riding with all its early morning traffic. Having to verify I was no threat to local or national security was a lot less irksome than having to find an alternate hodgepodge of minor roads to get to where I wanted to go.

I'd been on the road for forty-five minutes and welcomed a brief respite while he ran the perfunctory check on my driver's license.  He hadn't been hostile in the least, almost apologetic for putting me through this.  He'd actually seen me ride by before he received the report of a suspicious bicyclist on the loose and was ordered to check on me. He was nice enough to have been the cousin of the friendly fellow the day before at my first stop in Georgia, who gave me his phone number in case I ever passed through these parts again and needed a place to stay.

After he handed me back my license I asked when the rain was due.  There was a heavy overcast and already a mist in the air.  "Not until noon," he said, " but then its going to rain the rest of the day into the night."  It would at least not be a cold rain.  This was the first day I hadn't needed to wear my tights.  But when the rain hit, right on schedule, it did cool me off.  I only kept warm by staying in motion.  My Goretex jacket kept my head and torso dry, but after a couple of hours my soaked shorts, legs and feet were draining my body heat.  

Rare is it for a rain to continue unabated for hours on end.  If it stopped I'd be dry and warm in a jiffy.  Crawling into a tent soaked, even when it is warm, is not on my list of favorite things.  I was passing through a region of thick pine forests that would make for fine camping under any circumstances. They would provide some shelter from the rain and also a nice soft pine needle mattress, which I would need, as my sleeping pad, wrapped around my tent, was getting soaked.  But if a cheap motel turned up, I would not pass it by.  As night approached my country road intersected with an interstate and at the junction was a cluster of chain motels.  I would have preferred a small Indian-run motel, but settled on a Motel Six, which happened to be Indian-run.

When I entered my room and turned up the heat full blast, the warmth made me realize I was much colder than I had thought.  It would have been a rough night in the tent, even with the soothing sound of rain drops.  When I checked on my sleeping bag in its rain-proof bag, I discovered it would have been a truly rough night, as my rain-proof bag was now just rain-resistant, as quite a bit of moisture had seeped through during the five hours of rain it had been subjected to.  My panniers were still fully water-proof, so I would have had plenty of dry clothes to put on and a candle to provide some warmth, but it would have been a semi-survival situation if the motels hadn't turned up.

Once again it was a long, dreary night in a motel.  It could have been anywhere USA.  All I had really seen in two days in Georgia that made me realize I was in the South was the Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga I passed through shortly crossing into the state.

It was the first and largest of the Civil War battlegrounds established as National Parks in the 1890s.  Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Shiloh shortly followed.  The Confederates won the battle of Chickamauga in 1863, but two months later the Union army retaliated and won the battle of Chattanooga right across the border, which turned the tide of the war.  

Perhaps reflecting on the theme of the terror of war was a monster spider in the front yard of a home down the road.

Another Georgian home expressed a sense of macabre with a deer skull sculpture adorning its mailbox.

One of my projects on this trip was to complete my listening to the nearly ninety podcasts that Ralph Nader began broadcasting in 2014 every Saturday.  Though the early ones are nearly two years old the issues he deals with remain topical.  They are all highly informative and entertaining. Nader has such a breadth of knowledge, he is a virtual human Wikipedia, though like Wikipedia, his facts aren't always correct.  He mentioned on one show than a twelve ounce can of Coke has eight teaspoons of sugar in it.  On the next show one of his hosts corrected him, having discovered it is actually 9.3 teaspoons.

In his podcast of Feb.14, 2015 about how he and some of Princeton classmates had contributed to a sizable gift, he cited Carnegie as an example, saying he had funded over 3,000 libraries in the US, when it was actually 1,689.  I was, of course, pleased with the acknowledgement of Carnegie and then pleased again when he brought up Carnegie in one of his first podcasts on May 31, 2014.  It was in regard to Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, who had just bought the San Diego Clippers basketball team for over a billion dollars.  Nader blasted the purchase as an example of "the rancid decay of the plutocracy," claiming Ballmar wanted to please his teen-aged son, a high school basketball player, and match Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, who bought the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988.  Nader said it would have been far better to have devoted that money to building libraries like Carnegie.

The early podcasts were mostly Nader being interviewed by his two co-hosts.  It soon evolved into Nader interviewing one or two guests who supported his favorite causes--single-payer health care, election reform, exposing corporate crime, auto safety, Palestine, banking reform, independent farmers.  Most of his guests say it is an honor to be on Nader's show and that he has been an inspiration. He has certainly been responsible for an incredible amount of things that we take for granted--seat belts, no smoking on airplanes, constructions vehicles beeping when they go in reverse.  Nader doesn't gloat.  He says anyone with a fire in the belly can effect change. He certainly would have  shaken up the established order if he had gained the White House.

Listening to Nader is good preparation for my weekend gathering of cause-driven folk in Columbus.  There will be much proselytizing and re-energizing during the three days of workshops and speeches and demonstrations and protests.

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