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A vehicle for freedom

There are many things we all take for granted. One example is the easy availability of everyday comforts, like a warm home, food on the table, a vehicle to get us where we need to go, etc. While there are those who honestly think they are entitled to such surroundings, I choose to believe I'm fortunate and lucky to have the life that I lead.

Recently, I was reminded twice that one shouldn't even take the riding of a bicycle in a light manner. To be sure, when cycling there are normal concerns over things like weather and road conditions, any mechanical issues that might arise, and the ever-present traffic situations. But basically, most of us can just jump on our two-wheeled machines and go — finding freedom around every bend.

Me and my shadow.

The first of two realizations that this isn't so for everyone occurred the other night in Portland when Vicky and I attended the Winter Film Series presented by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. At the screening, we viewed "Afghan Cycles," a 2018 feature documentary about, as the film's description reads, "a generation of Afghan women who are pedaling their own revolution, aggressively challenging gender and cultural barriers using the bicycle as a vehicle for freedom, empowerment and social change."

I came away from the evening event thinking how brave these girls and women are — dodging debris purposely thrown at them or others attempting to run them off the road with vehicles — all because they just want to ride a bike.

I applaud the coalition's efforts to bring such issues to light. As Eliza Cress, communications and development manager for the coalition, said to me, "BCM looks forward to inviting bicycle enthusiasts into our offices to celebrate the joy and empowerment that cycling brings to all different types of riders."

The second aha moment has to do with me just finishing the excellent book titled "The World's Fastest Man, The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor" by Michael Kranish (Scribner, 2019). As the book states, he truly was America's first black sports hero, but nearly forgotten and penniless at the time of his death in 1932.

A world champion, Taylor battled not only with other cyclists, but also racism his entire career. While Jackie Robinson is widely recognized for breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947, Taylor was accomplishing the same feat, albeit against tremendous odds, on tracks and velodromes across America, Europe, and Australia 50 years earlier.

Doing a little extra research, I discovered that Major Taylor actually participated in races in Maine. He took on competitors at the Rigby Park Track in Portland on Aug. 20, 1897, gaining two first-place finishes and one second place. And get this! According to published reports, there were 20,000 people in attendance on that single day, mostly to see this great cyclist. As one newspaper said, Taylor was "the hero of the meet."

Riding a bike still to this day brings me a tremendous amount of joy. But when you think about how difficult — and often dangerous — this simple exercise can be for others, well, we are lucky indeed. I would highly recommend viewing the documentary and reading the book; maybe you too will take a moment to count your blessings. Ride safe!

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