A Cycletourer’s Burden? (page 3) - CycleBlaze

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A Cycletourer’s Burden? (page 3)

George HallTo Graham Smith

An interesting thread, thanks for starting it.  Much of this thread has talked about poverty in countries outside the U.S.  There is plenty of home-grown poverty in the states as well.  My first long tour was the ACA Transam route, and I enjoyed photographing the numerous beautiful streams and mountain scenery as I wound my way through Virginia.  And then I entered eastern Kentucky and it felt like I had been transported to a 3rd-world country.  The poverty was depressing, folks were living in ramshackle housing with corrugated metal and sometimes cardboard used to patch holes in the walls.  Meth usage was wide-spread and evident. The same beautiful Appalachian streams that were clean in Virginia were littered with trash.  I didn't photograph the littered streams or the awful housing conditions.  It's not because I was trying to present an altered view of the reality - I did talk about it in my journal - but it just seemed impolite to photograph a run-down house that was serving as home to someone.  When you are poor and don't know if you will have enough food, then the litter in the stream isn't your priority.  BTW, these conditions only occurred in a small part of eastern Kentucky in 2015, and central and western Kentucky was as beautiful as Virginia and the streams were clean. 

There is poverty in places along the ACA Great Rivers South route as well.  Parts of Baton Rouge and a small town in Louisiana as well as several Mississippi towns come to mind.  And there are rural homes in Missouri and other southern states that seem to be litter magnets.  Oftentimes it feels like these aren't safe places to stop for a photograph.   And I don't know why I would anyway.  On the outskirts of Cleveland on the ACA Northern Tier route in an area of modest housing a young man yelled at me from a porch and commanded me to stop - it didn't seem like a wise thing to do so I just continued on down the road.  I think what I'm trying to say is that sometimes it may not be safe to stop in places to photograph the not-so-attractive "reality" encountered - at least, not in the gun-crazy criminally insane country known as the U.S.  I'm not rambling yet, but I'll get there soon...

On the Northern Tier route I recall how clean the roadsides were throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont - there was simply no litter to be seen.  But then we entered New York and the route through the Adirondacks was a different story with lots of roadside litter.  Why?   I didn't photograph the litter, but my journal mentioned it.  Why would I want to photograph trash? 

I don't have much experience cycle touring outside the U.S.  I did ride a lot in the Rhine River valley of Germany in 2019, but as has already been mentioned, the Germans are fastidiously clean and there simply isn't any litter anywhere.  I don't have any desire to ride through areas where the "waste management systems are still developing."  But that's just me, and others who are hardier and more adventurous may well wish to brave the risks that such travel entails.   I'm also an environmentalist, and I hate the evil we know as plastic waste.  As a society, we could do much better if we wanted to, but it costs money and many folks prioritize economic considerations over environmental ones.  The cost of cleaning up the plastic waste should be included in every plastic item we buy.  But now I'm rambling...

So then, do my journals represent the reality encountered?  I think they do so, at least in the narratives.  I think my photos represent reality as well, but I don't focus (pun intended) on photographing poverty - so am I guilty of lying by photographic omission?   Perhaps I am.  I do photograph dilapidated old buildings, because they interest me.  And I photograph burned-out sections of forest, not just the pretty stuff.  I've photographed the hazy air from forest fire smoke, as well as the clear-sky sunrises. But photographing squalid homes and the folks living in those conditions and all the litter and plastic waste that goes with that - well, that just somehow seems a little inhumane, so I don't do it.  So I guess all this discussion has led me to the realization that I don't go on tour as an investigative journalist - I'm just a curious guy on a bike who documents things along the way that I find interesting.   

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10 months ago
Graham SmithTo George Hall

Thanks George for such a considered post. Your real world observations of your own country’s social diversity from cycle touring are well explained and thoughtfully worded.

Even though I’m in Australia I can relate very closely to some of your insights, because my own upbringing and family roots are in a rural village in inland Australia. An asbestos mining / farming village at the end of the rail line in hill country.

Like so many other rural settlements, my home village has suffered numerous economic and environmental setbacks over the past few decades. Decreasing, ageing population, flood, severe droughts, business closures and so on.

When I cycle tour regional and rural Australia, I see so many towns and villages which remind me of my own village and my own childhood. For example, there are a lot of characters in these places, ones that wouldn’t be found in cities very often. Indeed I feel more at home in such places than in cities because of the type of people I meet, and also the country feel of the towns.

That said, I’m also conscious of journaling about such towns with the respect they deserve. It can be tough living in such places, and I’m grateful that people are still there doing their best. Whereas I, and so many of my relatives and friends, joined the diaspora from rural areas into cities for the educational and work opportunities. Good for us. Not so good for the communities we left behind.

Much of what my cycle touring mate is currently struggling with in rural Indonesia, is also a result of similar, major shifts of population from rural areas into cities chasing dreams of a better life; and leaving rural communities without enough young, working age people. Poverty isn’t the only cause of the garbage problems. Indonesia is a very wealthy country undergoing massive economic and social changes which generate highly visible inequity, and inefficient governance. 

The good news from my friend today is that he only has 800 km remaining to cycle. With 8400km done, he feels that he’s on the homestretch.

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10 months ago
Wayne EstesTo George Hall

Very interesting thoughts. Thanks for posting them. I want to change the subject slightly and write about safety. People in wealthy areas mostly think that impoverished areas are unsafe for traveling. I recall conversations such as this:

You pedaled across east Fort Worth and didn't get mugged?

You're pedaling across the Pine Ridge Reservation? I wouldn't even drive there in a locked car. (it's the poorest county in the U.S., with 90% unemployment)

My personal experience is that impoverished areas have a lot of theft, but violent crime isn't necessarily worse. I suspect that people in rich areas of the U.S. have far more guns than people in poor areas. I suspect that rich drivers are more likely to run over a cyclist due to malice or negligence.

What are your experiences? Are impoverished areas less safe than wealthy areas? Do you feel particularly vulnerable to crime when pedaling a bicycle? I don't. I have a caution gene but not much of a fear gene. My experience is that poor people tend to be more helpful and empathetic than rich people.

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10 months ago
Graham SmithTo Wayne Estes

Wayne your post is very timely. Yesterday my adventurous friend had an extraordinary day on an extraordinary tour. He cycled 175 km on a heavily loaded Thorn Nomad in the tropics.

But even more extraordinary, he was chased by a couple of guys who were repairing a broken down truck.

Why chase?  They wanted to give him money! Not rob him. And they did give him money. He couldn’t give it back, so later in the day he gave it to someone who looked more needy than him.

An Indonesian friend has told me that locals do think my cycle touring mate looks homeless. Despite his PhD in Science and healthy retirement pension. 


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10 months ago
George HallTo Wayne Estes

"My personal experience is that impoverished areas have a lot of theft, but violent crime isn't necessarily worse."

I think that depends at least somewhat on the size of the impoverished area.  It has been my experience that the more us Sapiens are packed together in close quarters, the worse we behave.  For example, gangs that exist in larger cities are certainly capable of violent behavior.  After I passed through Baton Rouge on the Great Rivers South route last year, I discovered this article in a local newspaper -->Increased Gang Violence.  In the article there was a map showing areas the police were targeting due to an increase in gang shootings.  My route passed through the shaded area in the upper left.

I enjoyed the ride through Baton Rouge, except for the part on highway 61 leaving town.  

"I suspect that rich drivers are more likely to run over a cyclist due to malice or negligence." 

This may be true, I don't know.  But drivers in poor areas don't necessarily respect the safety of cyclists either.  I recorded a stat for bad drivers that I encountered on the Great Rivers South route.  The first 2 were recorded leaving Baton Rouge on highway 61 in the shaded area above.  Both of these were just being unnecessarily aggressive and endangered my safety by cutting over too close to me.  One of them was doing the Gangster Lean, and that alone adds an aspect of danger for pedestrians and cyclists.   I recorded 13 bad drivers in total on the Great Rivers South route, and I'm pretty sure that most of them weren't what we would define as "rich."  Now, to be fair, I don't have any way of knowing that for sure, but I'm assuming that a guy driving an older pickup truck isn't rich - I could certainly be wrong about that.  I was even assaulted by having a drink thrown on me from a passing vehicle on the Natchez Trace.  The thing about wealth is that, in general, the more educated folks are wealthier than the less-educated ones.   So doctors and lawyers and engineers, for example, are usually wealthier than factory workers.   It seems unlikely to me that such folks would be more inclined to harm cyclists out of malice. On the other hand, folks who are struggling to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter may be more likely to feel angry at the cyclist who is slowing him down on his commute to work.   I really don't know - I'm not a psychologist (proud of that, actually), so I'll leave it to the psycho-thinkers to ponder on such things.   But I will say that from my personal experience, I believe that population dynamics also plays a role here.  Drivers tend to behave at their worst when you crowd them together in large cities, versus the relaxed driving in a rural setting. 

"I suspect that people in rich areas of the U.S. have far more guns than people in poor areas."

One would think that rich folks have more of everything, so they should have more guns, right?  But it's complicated; as it turns out, the more educated folks tend to eschew gun ownership while the lesser-educated folks tend to own them.  Ain't that just peachy? Here's an article discussing who owns guns --> Gun Ownership.  White men own the most guns, so you're somewhat correct if we assume that the wealth is concentrated with them.  And a really weird thing is that about half of all the guns in the U.S. are owned by 3% of the population.  So while lots of folks don't own a gun, a few folks own a shit-load of them. But it varies a lot with the geography as well, as quoted from that article; "The Northeast has the lowest rates of gun ownership at 16%, while roughly a third of people in the South, Midwest and West report personally owning a gun."   

"Are impoverished areas less safe than wealthy areas?"

In areas of high population density, I think so.  Leaving an unlocked bike outside a store in a depressed area in a big city just isn't a wise thing to do.  In rural areas I think it's safer, if for no other reason than there are less people.  I really think most people want to do good and be good citizens, but there's a small percentage who look for any opportunity to score an ill-gotten gain.  In a large city, that small percentage translates into more folks who are willing to steal or harm you to take your things.   And in a large city, nobody knows anyone, so evil-doers can commit their atrocities and escape anonymously. In a small town you have the statistics on your side, and since everybody knows everybody, it's hard to do evil and not be held accountable.  

"Do you feel particularly vulnerable to crime when pedaling a bicycle?"

No, I don't.  I feel like the biggest exposure for cyclists to potential crime is while transiting the larger cities, and I tend to avoid those anyway.  It helps to know the best routes and/or best time of day to ride through the larger cities when you must.   Crime happens because of people.  If you can just avoid people, especially when there are LOTS of them clumped together in a small space, then you will be fine.  

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10 months ago
Wayne EstesTo George Hall

Buddy, my bike tours have taken me to all 50 U.S. states. I regret to say that Louisiana was the least hospitable to cyclists. Poor quality roads were only part of the problem. Homicidal motorists were the main problem. It was the only place where a tractor trailer going the opposite direction swerved towards me just for entertainment. My only ride across Louisiana was in 1989, long before I started making tour journals and long before navigation software made it easy to find back roads. I remember stopping at a convenience store/restaurant south of Shreveport and asking a local cyclist if he thinks cyclists in the area are deliberately hit by motorists. His answer was "of course".

The weirdest thing about this was that nearly everybody in Louisiana was extremely friendly when I wasn't on the road. Annoyingly friendly.

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10 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Wayne Estes

Interesting.  Like you, I’ve only once experienced an oncoming driver swerving over to my lane to shove me off of his road, the only vehicle I’d seen for at least a mile.  On Highway 26, somewhere between Dayville and John Day, about 35 years ago.  It can happen anywhere.

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10 months ago
Graham SmithTo George Hall

George you might like this wannabe robbery story posted earlier today on my friend’s CB journal comments:

I quote:

Thanks for this very fine journal. I myself was cycling from Dumai to Jambi and then on to Bukittingi some 8 years ago.

Between Pekanbaru and Jambi ( nonstop rolling hills and this 400 km ) a motorcyclist dropped out of a gasoline station, followed me and then drove into my front pannier. When I was catching my bicycle he already extracted my mobile out of my shorts and off he drove. But to my big surprise two truck drivers blocked the street a couple of hundreds meters down , the thief had to stop and they talked to him and when I drove by he handed me my mobile with his fingertips back and drove off again direction gasoline station. That was my little adventure in Sumatra , overall I felt quite secure despite this occurrence.

Wish you strong legs, especially for this horrible 400 kms after Jambi!!“

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10 months ago
John PescatoreTo Graham Smith

I've worked in security my entire 45 year career. There is always a tendency to focus on the dangerous/bad events - "if it bleeds it leads" has been headline guidance for newspapers and local TV forever, and now clickbait follows he same rules.

Most of my career has been in computer and information security (now we call it cybersecurity), starting right out of college at the National Security Agency. But after a few years at NSA, I jumped to the US Secret Service.

At the USSS our department were engineers who mostly worked on technology projects, but we would also do "Technical Security" when protectees were traveling around the world: facility security, bomb security and fire safety around hotels and other places President Reagan/VP Bush would be going to in the early 80s. 

There is always an team that goes out in advance made up of someone from the protective detail, someone from the political/staff and someone from technical security. Among many other things, we'd meet with local police, FBI, Alcohol Tobacco Firearms, Border Patrol, etc. to get the "threat briefing." Inevitably, you'd come away feeling "My god, I'm glad I don't live here - I'd lock myself in the basement." Who knew Palm Springs was so dangerous??

Then during the week you'd work with locals who were involved in logistics of the visit and they'd say "What?  You haven't seen this area? No trip to Heresville would be complete without that" and of course the local PD had said "Stay away from that area. Only eat at this Denny's or you will die of food poisoning."

The more you interact with people and places the number of criminals and wackos you encounter will go up - but the percentage of encounters that are with really cool, generous and helpful people (and even drivers) will usually go up, too. My bicycling touring in those years definitely reinforced that.

By the way, one area touring cyclists usually greatly increase their safety is by trying to get a ground floor room when staying in a hotel, In many cities the fire equipment is pretty useless more than a few stories up and we always had to walk the stairs in hotels to make sure a fire escape route was clear - and it rarely was!

Of course, some of the stays at cheap motels on bike tours have surely reduced our lifespans...

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10 months ago
Kelly IniguezTo John Pescatore


Thank you for sharing your unique perspective on life and locales. I have a friend who retired from prison security 5-6 years ago. Another friend who works in family welfare. I will readily admit that I'm a country bumpkin and probably too trusting - but I will also say that I think their professions have jaded them. It seems you have reached the middle ground of having your eyes wide open, and still being willing to explore. That is a fine line to walk.

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10 months ago