Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Our post and essays here most often reflect the Southern Jewish experience, but sometimes our focus is on something “just Jewish”… and today’s thoughts are from a Jewish professional experiencing a longer-than-expected Southern landscape immersion!
One recent weekend, I accidentally rode my bike for 36 miles (a nice Jewish number). Well, it wasn’t an accident so much as it was a spontaneous decision, as I continue exploring my new Mississippi home.
I strapped my bicycle onto the back of my car and drove out to the reservoir, 30 minutes northeast of where I live in Jackson. My plan was to take a short jaunt along the spillway to get the lay of the land. I drove a bit farther than I’d planned, since I was refusing to use the GPS on my phone, and ended up just past the spillway at the southeast corner of the reservoir. I got out of the car, got on my bike, and started cycling north, amazed at the beauty of the scenery and how considerate the passing cars were. But the road on the southern side of the reservoir isn’t along the water. In fact, it’s pretty much a highway with no view. By mile 8, I had to make a decision – turn back, or continue going all the way around the Reservoir.
I knew how many miles were ahead. I’d looked it up the night before and decided against doing the full loop. But in the harsh, humid light of day, I felt like a superhero. So I continued.
I’d planned a fifteen-mile jaunt. So I had fifteen miles’ worth of water, and no food. The ride was so beautiful, I kept going and going– but by mile 23, I was pretty exhausted. I looked down at my watch and saw my pace getting slower and slower. I stopped to stretch a few times, and sang “Cecilia” out loud to keep my legs moving at a good pace. It was hot, and I had forgotten to eat breakfast. I started fantasizing about the sugary drink I’d treat myself to at the end of this. I knew I’d need to efficiently replenish my calories.
I picked up speed when I made it to the southern end of the Reservoir, and realized I only had ten miles to go. I could ride ten miles! That would take about 40 minutes! Easy.
Just as I was rolling onto the North Shore Parkway, three miles from where I’d parked my car, I heard a hissing sound, and it got harder to pedal, and I looked down at a pancake flat front tire. I hopped off my bike to assess the damage, letting out a stream of non-work-appropriate expletives. I’d planned for a quick ride when I’d gotten on my bike 3 short hours earlier, and I hadn’t brought my mini air pump. I’d have to walk.
I watched cars passing me as I trudged along the road in my bike shoes, clacking over the boardwalk and watching boaters float by. I imagined some of those drivers pulling over to ask if I was okay, to offer me a lift, to hand me an air pump. I didn’t flag anyone down. I’d much rather walk a few miles than get into a stranger’s car. Soon, the thought passed and I was back to fantasizing about post-ride food and drinks. It was 3 o’clock at this point, and I’d ridden 33 miles, walked three, and still hadn’t eaten.
I eventually made it back to the road where I’d parked my car. With just a short way left to go, I stopped to fill my water bottles at a well-placed water fountain. When my car was in sight, I let out a whoop and a sigh of relief. I put my bike on the rack, threw my helmet and gloves in the back seat, and drove home – stopping at Kroger on the way for a post-ride refueling fix, of course.
The latter part of my ride got me thinking. How many times have I seen a cyclist on the side of the road, fixing a flat? How many times have I seen someone pulled over on the highway, cell phone to their ear, with a headlight out or a hubcap missing? How many times have I seen those things and not stopped, because I was afraid or because I felt like there was nothing I could do to help? How many times? Probably a few too many.
It’s not that I needed help, really. I was fine walking, and I had plenty of water, and I wasn’t injured or in distress. But I kept imagining how great it would have been if someone had slowed down and just asked if I was okay. Ultimately, the flat tire didn’t define my reservoir adventure. I was having too much fun to let a split inner tube get in my way. But it reminded me of the sort of Southern Jewish citizen I want to be– seeking out adventures, and helping others when theirs go awry.
So here’s to cycling farther than we thought we could. Here’s to pulling over a little more often. Here’s to the water fountain on Fannin Landing Circle. And here’s to orange Gatorade and cheese sticks and full water bottles and great adventures– and helping each other out when the going gets tough.