Biking a Bit of the Bluegrass State

Sunday afternoon, after spending seven months in Detroit, Michigan conducting fieldwork for my dissertation, I began a journey southward to Jackson, Mississippi. While in Detroit I dug through countless archives, interviewed several of the city’s long-time activists and observed, took part in, and challenged a number of changes occurring in Detroit. I also purchased a Jamis Nova Sport, which I rode extensively throughout Detroit’s expansive neighborhoods. When my neighbor, Amina Daniels, founder of LiveCycleDelight and the 2015 winner of the $50,000 Comerica Hatch Detroit Contest, asked if I would blog my about rides throughout the South, I took her up on the opportunity.

Needing to break up my 14 hour journey to Jackson, Mississippi and desiring to meet with friends and mentors along the way, I stopped in Louisville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Muhammad Ali and a city known for Derby and mint juleps. The weather in Louisville is far more pleasant this time of year than in Detroit. Having braved my first – and hopefully not my last – Detroit winter, encountering Louisville’s balmy 60+-degree weather was jolting. I'm currently battling a cold courtesy of the dramatic shift. My connection to Louisville goes back to 2008 when I started a Master’s Degree in Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. Seeing as how I would be staying in the historic Old Louisville neighborhood, a trip to the riverfront seemed appropriate. I really wanted to trek through Cherokee, Iroquois, or Shawnee Park - three beautiful parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of landscape architecture, and the mastermind behind New York City’s Prospect and Central Parks. But, alas, time wouldn’t allow it.

Louisville began redeveloping its riverfront sometime before I arrived in 2008. Since, my departure from the city in 2010 the riverfront has morphed into a beautiful pedestrian space. Pathways and sculptures adorn Louisville's side of the Ohio River. While parked at the river’s edge one can look right across to Jeffersonville, Indiana. The Big Four Bridge that towers above serves as a pedestrian crosswalk connecting the two cities. Neglected for some time, the city of Louisville opened up its entrance to the bridge in February of 2013. Jeffersonville followed suit in May of 2014. The view from the bridge is amazing. As I rode and walked my bike across I noticed families, teenagers, and the elderly all taking advantage of the opportunity to walk, jog, and bike between the two cities.

Once on the Jeffersonville side of the bridge, like a child, I hit the curvaceous downgrade leading away from the bridge with full speed. After turning around and peddling back up the steep grade, I sped back down the Louisville end. The path from this side of the bridge leads directly to a monument to President Abraham Lincoln, a native Kentuckian. The large statute is of Abe sitting on a big rock as if he were sitting at the dock of a bay. Two books are by his side and one is in his hand: a book on law, one on philosophy, and the last is the Holy Bible. The noted sculptor and Louisville native, Ed Hamilton, created this work of art. Hamilton is also responsible for the majestic statue of York located in downtown Louisville. For the uninitiated, York was an enslaved Black man and guide that aided Lewis and Clark on their westward expedition. In addition to these pieces, Hamilton is well known for his Spirit of Freedom monument, a celebration of Black Union soldiers that greets pedestrians at the eastern entrance of Washington DC’s U Street Station.

Following my tour of the riverfront and parts of downtown, I returned to Old Louisville to patronize a barber I hold in high favor. I enjoy his trims so much that when I know that I will be visiting Louisville, I make an effort to let my hair grow out. This time his skills were even more in need. The last cut I got in Detroit was less than satisfying. Going to a barber truly is akin to having open-heart surgery. You’re putting your life in someone’s hands – at least for the next two weeks.

Yesterday, I completed my drive to Knoxville, Tennessee. Here I plan to spend time with more friends and to trek new environments. In fact, I have an exciting ride planned for the weekend. So, stay tuned!

beau-willie