Contributed by Gayle Lewis, Terry Brand Ambassador & Black Girls Do Bike SHERO
I don’t recall when I decided to sign up for the Selma to Montgomery Bike Ride and take on the route that commemorates the world-renowned civil rights march that MLK, John Lewis, and fellow protestors made in 1965 in an effort to register Black voters in the south, but I knew in my heart I wanted to participate.
Typically when I ride, I look at several factors—distance of the ride, location of the ride, elevation, and most importantly, the weather conditions on the day of. To me, the weather is the most important factor. Who wants to ride in the cold, rain, or wind – not me!!! I remember thinking, riding in March is not going to be pretty. It’s probably going to be too cold, even for Alabama’s standards. When I looked at the route ahead of me, I thought 51 miles is a long time to ride in the cold. However, all I could think about were my ancestors and the 25,000 people that didn’t care if it was cold, rainy, or windy. They faced much harsher realities than the weather. Sadly, during my ancestors’ historic march, they faced a life-threatening condition—HATRED! They faced armed police, police dogs, and the KKK. They faced these obstacles with no protection, no camping equipment, and with no SAG support. They marched with a mission and a goal and they were steadfast in their determination to complete it. So, how could I complain or be deterred by anything so trivial as a little bit of cold and wind?
At 4:00 AM we all loaded into a bus and headed to Selma to embark on our ride to Montgomery. Our route was the same exact path that MLK and John Lewis walked. Standing in front of the Edmund Pettus Bridge gave me chills. To know the blood that was shed there, and now, I was about to cross over that same bridge unhindered and supported by the Alabama police force.
As we crossed the bridge, it was just a humbling sensation for me. Riding always gives me a feeling of being free. It allows my mind to wander and take in all the beauty around me as I’m riding. For this ride, I was literally trying to imagine what it must have felt like for them to start this long journey to the Capital. I was trying to visualize all those people walking along this very path. Around mile-22, I could feel their spirits cheering me on when I got tired after climbing many hills. I could hear them saying, “You got this! We did it, and you are a descendant of us—so you can do it also!!” With their words ringing through me in encouragement, there would be no quitting for me. I found my rhythm and I just kept pedaling. I wasn’t going to stop just because I couldn’t feel my toes or because my hands were a little frozen. If anything, it just made me push harder.
Even though there were other cyclists on the road with me, there was a sense of solitude when I was riding. A sense of peace. At some point around mile-25, that sense of peace really kicked in, and the ride became even more enjoyable and meaningful. How beautiful the countryside looked as the sun kissed the trees and the open fields. To watch the cows grazing off in the distant fields, to see the water flowing ever so gently in the lakes along the way—just gorgeous.
As we got closer to Montgomery (and the city limits), the country meadows quickly changed to urban housing, taller buildings, and more people sightings. As I rode through neighborhoods, I wondered if any of those folks even knew why we were riding, or if they even cared. But, we did get a few car horn toots and shouts of encouragement as we passed through. As I neared the end, the adrenaline kicked in a little bit more and any sense of being tired faded away. My legs understood the assignment and although they may have been fatigued, they started to work harder. As I descended down this amazing hill, speeding up to roughly 30mph, I could see the end in my gaze. Less than a mile away was the State Capital! My heart beat faster, my smile grew wider, my shouts of joy were starting to arise – “I did it, I did it, I did it!”. And although I have ridden longer distances in the past, this 51 miles was different! It had the most meaning of any ride to me.
Just 58 years ago, I would NOT have been able to do this without fear of losing my life. And that day I rode an open road and stood on the same steps where MLK and John Lewis originally stood so that I could have the opportunity to do the very thing that I love – ride!! I say THANK YOU to those people that paved the way for me and everyone else that showed up for the Selma to Montgomery Bike Ride & Relay. If you ever want to experience something truly special, I highly recommend participating in this one. It will forever change your perspective.
To learn more about Black Girls Do Bike, an organization centered around growing and supporting the community of women of color who share a passion for cycling, please visit: https://www.blackgirlsdobike.org/