Guest Blog - The Beautiful Crossing: a cycling tour and exploration of refugee stories
Guest blogger Alana Murphy recounts her journey of biking across the U.S. and exploring the many journeys of refugees that she met along the way.
This past summer, I biked 4,380 miles across the United States, starting at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and ending just south of Astoria, Oregon, where my Surly Crosscheck and I finally touched the Pacific Ocean. The trip took me a total of 88 days – approximately three months of self-supported cycling, traveling 65-80 miles a day. During my journey, I often relied on the generosity of friends (or far-off distant cousins of friends of friends) who hosted and fed me along the way. Alternatively I camped, sometimes beside the side of the road, and ate a ton of beef jerky and Clif Bars. I was blessed to have the company of a female friend for the first part of my journey, but I was on my own after leaving Kansas City.
Along the way I stopped in 15 different cities, including Cascade Bicycle Club’s base, Seattle, in order to meet with and interview people who came to the U.S. as refugees. Rather than focusing on why someone became a refugee, I chose to instead open up the floor for participants to talk about starting life over in the United States, as well as to express their opinions about U.S. culture and values. My project, called the Beautiful Crossing, encompasses a digital archive presenting participant stories and photos, as well as snapshots from my cycling tour and additional resources for those seeking more information about the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
The Beautiful Crossing was born out of the realization that very few people have had the opportunity to actually meet individuals from a refugee background. This lack of personal connection enables us to often put refugees in two different categories, either villain or victim. My project seeks to humanize the issue and bring refugees' stories and opinions to those who have not had the chance to hear them in person.
During my coast-to-coast expedition, I spent the majority of my time biking through rural areas and staying in small towns where people traditionally feel threated by any kind of immigration, including refugee resettlement. I found that cycling presented me with a unique opportunity to engage intentionally with these communities. Many people would stop and ask where I was heading or check if I had enough water or food. Often these initial greetings led to insightful discussions in which I listened to and learned from my fellow Americans, as well as had the opportunity to address questions or concerns they had about refugees coming to the United States. I am very thankful that biking provided me with the opportunity to physically meet and intentionally engage with those who might not initially think or feel the same as I do about refugee issues.
My journey this summer has only reinforced my belief that cycling can be a powerful tool for advocacy and community building. I have always loved biking, but it was only after participating in a series of Critical Mass rides in Los Angeles and Chicago that I began to see the true potential of human pedaling power. You don’t have to plan a long cross-country tour to use your bike as a way to purposefully connect with your community! All it takes is the willingness to travel a little slower and get a little sweaty while doing so.
You can listen to former refugees tell their stories in their own words at www.beautifulcrossing.com.