Some concepts have legs. Less than 5 months after John “Bobby” Shackelford, a 25-year-old New York City bicycle messenger, hatched a plan for a 1,100-mile experience paralleling the historic Underground Railroad, he arrived in Mobile, AL, prepared to begin pedaling. Along with 4 associates, his intention was bigger than a self-indulgent sufferfest. Instead, the cohort deliberate to make use of their journey as a device for consciousness and activism.
“We felt the momentum,” says Shackelford. “We’re all having conversations about race right now and we didn’t want to miss out. We knew we had to do it this year.” Early in the 2020 pandemic, whereas doing the analysis for his associates’ subsequent large experience, Shackelford realized that no journey biking movies he’d seen had illustration for individuals of shade. “There was nothing we could relate to,” he stated. “So we decided to do it ourselves, to show that these types of trips are for everyone, regardless of your background or skin color. We want to show that bikes can provide freedom for anyone, even kids from the hood.”
Shackelford and 4 companions departed Mobile on September 26 and arrived in Washington, D.C., almost three weeks later. Retracing the path of the underground railroad, they related traditionally important areas together with Selma, Montgomery, Winston-Salem, Richmond and Jamestown, to find out about and share pivotal moments in Black historical past, slavery, freedom marches, and ongoing persecution.
“Without a bike, I may not have gotten out of my neighborhood in southeast D.C.,” stated Shackelford. “I wanted to draw this connection— that bikes are a modern form of freedom. I wanted to document our journey and show the struggles like bad weather, long days, and modern-day racism.”
Using bicycling as a device to interact and give again (the UGRR workforce donated bikes to dozens of children alongside the means), Shackelford spearheaded the journey and introduced collectively a small movie crew that acted as a help group throughout the experience. The venture grew in scope as manufacturers and donors got here on board, which requested the query: What is the path from slavery to freedom and are Black individuals free right this moment?
To be taught extra about the venture, MJ sat down with Shackelford and Edwardo Garabito, one other rider in the crew, to ask them a couple of questions on their three weeks in the saddle.
MEN’S JOURNAL: Where did the thought come from?
BOBBY SHACKELFORD: We plan not less than one or two excursions every year. We’d by no means finished something this large, but it surely’s not our first bikepacking journey. We began digging round for concepts, one thing to get stoked on and nothing got here to the forefront. Nothing we might relate to. Nothing spoke to us. I believed of using the underground railroad and it snowballed from there. We made a teaser, acquired rather a lot of encouragement, and watched it develop. It shortly went from a small factor to a giant factor.
EDWARDO GARABITO: I’m good associates with Bobby and we’ve recognized one another for a very long time. We have a historical past of doing large excursions collectively, however nothing of this dimension. Originally I wasn’t going to be on the experience, however one other rider dropped so I used to be introduced in late. I’m actually grateful I acquired the alternative to be half of it. A month and half after I acquired the provide, I used to be in Alabama able to experience. It was so quick. I didn’t do a ton of coaching, I wasn’t using rather a lot at the time.
What different bike journeys have you ever guys finished collectively?
BS: I’ve finished a euro tour from Helsinki to Latvia, a two-week journey that was supported. We additionally did a self-supported experience from D.C. to Niagara Falls a couple of months in the past. That was totally different and more difficult, struggling with all that weight on the bike.The longest anybody had finished was about 600 miles earlier than this.
Tell me about the crew: How effectively did you guys know one another?
BS: I knew everybody effectively apart from Carson. He was our thriller rider. Our dynamic was actually strong. Of course, everybody had dangerous days and good days however nobody complained or give up or stated they had been too drained. Everyone toughed it out.
EG: Rashad Mahoney is a racer and bike messenger from Baltimore. He’s a really mellow man. Richard Carson races cyclocross and is also a messenger from Indianapolis. He’s quick, lovable, and cool as hell. Alex Olbrich works in a D.C. bike store and was one of our greatest navigators. If it wasn’t for him we most likely would have wasted rather a lot of time. I’m additionally a motorcycle mechanic in D.C. for an unique store. I’ve been a mechanic my whole life and was in a position to assist out with the bikes on the journey, which was good. Bobby is assured and cussed. He was the chief of the group and might experience a motorcycle for years with out stopping.
Why did you guys determine to do that now?
EG: Because of the local weather and every little thing occurring in the world proper now. There’s a ton of media protection for individuals of shade and about police reform. We thought it was the good time to carry this message out. We needed to indicate that anybody can do these lengthy treks. We needed to indicate one thing that nobody else has. We needed to encourage individuals. To present there are individuals of shade doing large rides.
BS: This wanted to occur. It felt like my accountability. The business says it’s missing variety so I needed to create it. I can say all of it I need but when I don’t put it into motion what’s the level. I wanted to get the ball rolling and that is the begin. I wanted to indicate individuals the right way to take motion. We simply needed to indicate actual illustration to a bigger crowd. I suppose you can say it’s my calling for those who consider in that sort of factor.
Tell me about the experience: How lengthy was it and what had been the key stops alongside the means?
We began in Mobile, Alabama, the place the final slave ship landed in the U.S. Then we head to Selma, the location of Bloody Sunday, and then to Montgomery, Alabama, the place the civil rights marches happened. We visited the lynching museum in Montgomery (National Memorial for Peace and Justice), then on to Winston-Salem, stopping at some of the oldest African American church buildings in the nation and the first Black communities in North Carolina. Then by Jamestown, house of many plantations, and on to D.C.
EG: We acquired to see Africatown, one of the final locations slaves had been freed. In Jamestown we noticed the place the first slaves lived. In Selma we noticed the place MLK led the civil rights march. And rather a lot of museums, too. We had been doing 70-110 miles per day and rode for 15 days whole, with a couple of relaxation days in between. Took us about three weeks to finish. Honestly, it was fairly arduous. The terrain was brutal and scorching, typically in the higher 80s and humidity. We at all times needed to be ready with meals and water, not figuring out the place we’d discover the subsequent city. There had been some loopy hills in Virginia with lengthy miles that we simply had a muscle by.
What was it like having a movie crew with you?
BS: It was our first time doing this and was difficult at occasions, principally lining up on the schedule typically dictated by filming in good mild, particularly in the mornings and evenings. We did rather a lot of interviews, acquired to fulfill a bunch of historians, activists, and individuals like Ahmaud Arbery’s household. We acquired to be taught from all of them. We labored with the movie crew to weave in biking, principally through the use of bikes to attach all these areas. We needed to indicate how bikes can carry anybody freedom. The bike crew and manufacturing workforce had been each tremendous various. I didn’t need it to be an unique Black factor. I needed a blended group. Native Americans, Latinos, white and Black. We all want to unravel this collectively.
EG: The manufacturing workforce was a bunch of folks that got here collectively at the final minute. High-level abilities but it surely’s necessary to say that no one made cash off this venture. I feel the crew was 12 individuals in whole that adopted us in three vehicles, organising photographs, interviewing individuals in cities we biked by. This modified the dynamic from different rides we’ve finished, however all of us knew the movie was a giant half of the venture.
What had been the greatest challenges?
EG: Well I’m a giant man. I used to be the heaviest and tallest man. I’m 6’3” and was like 250 kilos after we began. It was arduous for me to maintain up at occasions, particularly on the large climbs. These guys are quick and match so maintaining was difficult. Doubted myself rather a lot that I might end it. I don’t assume I’d have on my own, however that’s why it’s nice to experience with a bunch. I needed to encourage different large guys on the market that they’ll do stuff like this, too. People that have a look at a motorcycle and assume they’ll’t experience as a result of they’re large. Bikes have helped me get wholesome. They modified my life.
BS: The greatest problem for me was scheduling every little thing with the movie crew. Just attempting to maintain everybody joyful. This was fairly fixed. I discovered rather a lot and would do rather a lot in a different way subsequent time.
Have you seen something like this?
EG: No, probably not. It’s at all times white guys doing large rides in journey movies. Rapha rode Route 66, which is the same distance however they’re all white. Nothing that’s large miles on bikes with all individuals of shade.
BS: Nothing as actual and uncooked as this crew. The distinction with this movie is that we’re all actual cyclists. We all work in retailers, race native occasions, or work as messengers. We discuss like that. It’s not a professional Rapha race video. This is gonna be actual. Positive of course, however edgy. It received’t be what the biking business is used to.
What’s the plan with the movie?
BS: The plan is for it to return out in eight or 9 months, roughly round June or July, 2021. We’ll attempt to premier at a couple of totally different locations and we’re working with manufacturers to assist distribute it. For now we’re simply attempting to maintain giving again by going to inner-city areas and instructing children the right way to experience and gifting away bikes. We’ve been fortunate to get rather a lot of help doing this. It’s been enjoyable instructing children the right way to bike tour, or mountain bike, or simply primary bike upkeep. Teaching them it’s not about being the quickest—it’s about having enjoyable. This movie is supposed for that child that comes from the hood on the lookout for an outlet. A child on the lookout for freedom. It’s not a movie for a child with a full-ride to varsity. We wish to present biking is an escape.
What manufacturers supported you?
BS: We acquired assist from rather a lot of of us: Cannondale, REI, New Balance, Eagle Creek, Pearl Izumi, Lazer Helmets, Easton Cycles, Ringtail, Backroads, Clif Bar, Jaybird, and SRAM, to call a couple of. I do know I’m lacking others, too.
What was your aim?
BS: Honestly, simply to show. Really that’s it. If I see younger children like myself I wish to give them the inspiration to begin using. If you’re a younger child who’s by no means owned a motorcycle I wish to assist get them began. To encourage and present them that irrespective of the place you come from you possibly can experience and be at liberty.
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