Bearing Witness to History by Bicycle

Apr 25, 2012

I've just finished Edward P. Jones' extraordinary book, The Known World. Published in 2003, the novel explores the painful relationships wrought by slavery, weaving in a little know historical fact that there were freed blacks who owned slaves.

It's a beautifully written, absolutely gut-wrenching tale about the corruption faced by nearly everyone whose lives were touched by this institution. There are no simple characters, no judgement, just clear-eyed storytelling that will rock your soul.

The Known World offers moving entree to a time in our nation's history that is certainly painful to remember, but so important to keep alive in our memory. For me at least, it's clear that this period still reverberates in our culture as we work to shed its legacy.

Reading the novel made me think of many things, one being work-related, about how proud I am of Adventure Cycling's Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR).

This route memorializes the Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine routes by which freedom seekers attempted to escape slavery before and during the Civil War. It guides cyclists through some of the landscapes and landmarks along the Underground Railroad corridor from Mobile, Alabama, to Owen Sound, Ontario. This journey is of course human powered, hinting (in a very modest way) at the arduous physical effort faced by those escaping slavery. The unbearable treachery that faced escaping slaves and those who assisted them is explored in detail in Jones' book and of course no bike tour in the world could (or would want to) mimic this reality. But the pace of bike travel does allow you to take in the many signs, landmarks, and landscapes that bear witness to this history up close, at a human pace. To enhance your ride and appreciation of the Underground Railroad's history, the UGRR maps list key historical sites and you can find listings of additional route highlights on Adventure Cycling's website.

No one route could ever reflect the true Underground Railroad, which was comprised of a vast number of secret routes and safe houses. So, in an effort to explore this complex truth, we've always intended to expand the main Mobile to Owen Sound bicycle route to include other important communities in Underground Railroad history.

In February of this year, we added the new Detroit Alternate, a 518-mile alternate route from Oberlin, Ohio, to Owen Sound. The story of the Underground Railroad is very much alive in many of the communities along this new route and its announcement received excellent media coverage. Our friends at  OutdoorAfro wrote a blog post to promote the new route to their members, the story was picked up by HuffingtonPost Detroit, and  The Morning Journal in Oberlin wrote a great feature about the new route and Oberlin's growing bicycle culture. Pittsburgh's Essential Public Radio (90.5) also did a great  interview with Jim Sayer, our executive director.

Community interest in the new route was also palpable, with local cyclists flocking to gatherings in Detroit, Toledo, Oberlin, Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh (which is not on the new Detroit Alternate but connects to the main Underground Railroad Bicycle Route via the Pittsburgh Spur).

Thanks again to all the communities who helped make this map release a great success and thanks to Edward Jones for bringing this painful but important part of our history alive through his vivid characters and skillful storytelling.


NEWS, NETWORKING, AND NEW MEDIA highlights cool media (articles, videos, photos, etc.) and meet-ups related to Adventure Cycling and bicycle travel. This column is usually written by Media Director Winona Bateman. Writing a story about bicycle travel or Adventure Cycling Association? Contact Winona via email at pressATadventurecyclingDOTorg. Visit our media room, view our news releases, or follow us on Twitter.



As stated on your web-age: Available maps from most of the seven cietis involved in the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan are available here. Are you aware of other cietis in the South Bay with an existing bike master plan? Email us. Please send me any available info. on Hermosa Beach. Thanks.geoff hirschhermosa beach

July 3, 2013, 10:59 PM
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