A Bicycle Tour With An Agenda

by | Jan 5, 2022 | Blog

In 2008 I took a job at St. Cloud State University teaching a court-mandated class on race relations. In Spring 2010, dozens of us adjuncts were perfunctorily terminated in a Great Recession sweep. That same week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, signed into law SP 1070 banning Ethnic Studies in Arizona public schools. Sitting on my porch in my pajamas, I began calling teachers, K-12 and college, organizing a network to implement a national Ethnic Studies Week, October 1-7, 2010 under the slogan You Ban It. We Expand It.

When the week was over, I lost my post-employment fight-back, and sunk into a serious depression. Out of that low, came a new plan: To bike the perimeter of the United States. I had read the study by Daniel Ariely, and  Mike Norton (discussed here)  that found that the vast majority of people in the US across urban/rural and red/blue/ independent divides, want a much more egalitarian society. I decided to pursue the obvious rhetorical question: Why don’t we have what we want, by talking to people I met on my bicycle.

I was in no shape, physically or mentally to live on a bicycle for 14 months, but I also felt I had little to lose which can lead to a foolish kind of courage.

I did bike around the perimeter of the country from June 2011 to August 2012, with my spouse David, who took a year’s leave from his middle school social worker position. I did meet all kinds of people, collected amazing stories, had some death-defying adventures, and returned home with some profound thoughts about how we can create just sustainable local economies, address historical trauma, build radical hospitality and destroy nativism.

I spent the next ten years working on a book about that experience, while teaching as an adjunct at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. That book: Allegiance to Winds and Waters: Bicycling the Political Divides of the United States is due to come out March 2022.

David Roediger, American Studies Professor at the University of Kansas, author, most recently of The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History says this about Allegiance:

“It is hard to know whether to recommend reading this moving and intelligent book as I did–in one rapt sitting–or that it should be parceled out to savor longer. Allegiance to Winds and Waters succeeds as odyssey, as life story, as a showcase for its author’s skills as an historian, and as a loving appreciation of a land, if not a nation. It imparts the mechanics and travails of a life on the road, capturing the costs of governmental austerity and the daily practices of mutual aid.

Ruth Voights, one of the founding instructors of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Professor Emeritus, of Minneapolis College of Art and Design says this about Allegiance:

We experience the beauty, and awesome power of the land. The importance of Mother Earth and the need for sustainable economies are always present. Anne shows us vividly that more is not better if it is not tied to environmental outcomes.

We meet Americans who graciously share their stories. Many open their homes; even more open their hearts. The storytellers are a diverse group, rural, urban, reservation, employed and unemployed, from different ethnic backgrounds, and differing sexual preferences. Near to home, Anne listens to Native American writer and Vietnam veteran, Jim Northup.

Winkler-Morey retells their stories, respecting each giver, placing their testimonies in the context of peoples’ history and current politics.  The past and present illuminate each other. Allegiance to Winds and Waters shows us how our collective stories can heal us.

Elizabeth Faue, Professor of Labor and Women’s History, Wayne State University, and the author, most recently, of Rethinking the American Labor Movement writes:

Allegiance to Winds and Waters recounts a bicycle journey around the United States at a time of deep political division. Written in a pre-pandemic world, it is a travel book that informs us about the landmarks and hazards of bicycle touring around the United States and a memoir of a journey and a life dedicated to learning about and changing the world.  At its heart, the book is about meeting people where they live and learning from them—and ourselves—as Winkler-Morey tells stories, invokes ghosts in her and our past, and explores the haunted places of our history. It’s also just a good read.”

Alex Kuo, American Book Award winner, author of a dozen books, including Cadenza (2021), whose work focuses on the Chinese American experience and colonialism in the American West, writes:

“Anne Winkler-Morey’s Allegiance to Winds and Waters is a narrative of those close, personal encounters within a nation in the midst of another deep, politically and morally divisive period.  If what we do matters, so is what we read.  This book is a prayer.

You can now pre-order Allegiance to Winds and Waters here.