Archive | August 2012

Borders in America

This summer, I biked roughly 3,000 miles, coast to coast, across the United States of America. Well, eight of them, to be exact, which meant crossing seven state lines. Given the nature of this trip, some of these crossings were hasty, or occurred at awkward times. New Mexico in the exhausted evening hours while we raced the sun to the horizon. Arizona on a day where 4 members of our group threw up continually from a mysterious illness. Alabama, for me, in a car while I got a ride with an injured team member. California in the dark on our longest day of riding.

This trip, shockingly, was not about borders, differences between states, or anything remotely related. However, I couldn’t keep my mind entirely off the subject and wanted to share some observations from the road, state-to-state.

1. Georgia to Alabama:
Alabama is hillier, the country begins to roll toward the mighty Mississippi. Few cultural differences noted.

2. Alabama to Mississippi:
Mississippi does not believe in shoulders on the road. There are none in the entire state. More dogs chase us here.

3. Mississippi to Arkansas:
Undeniably the most physically obvious, spectacular crossing we have on the entire trip-a real treat to bike over an awesome bridge and survey the wide and slow Mississippi River. Suddenly, the number of African-Americans plummets.

4. Arkansas to Oklahoma:
Our first glimpse of wide open spaces. People are not as warm here, but still amiable. We see oil rigs for the first time. Walmarts begin to diminish in frequency.

5. Oklahoma to New Mexico:
Suddenly, everything is different, and not just because we are finally, miraculously out of the panhandle. Everyone has jeeps or sports cars, not pickups, and they have bikes, coolers, or camping gear strapped to their vehicles. They honk enthusiastically at us. Mountains spring up within the day’s ride to the state border and we are undeniably in the west.

6. New Mexico to Arizona:
A border, but not a border. We are still on the Navajo Reservation, and this seems to trump the state border. There are more foreign tourists as we approach the Grand Canyon, and hostile RV drivers.

7. Arizona to California:
The air crackles with anticipation because we are so close to the Pacific Ocean. Everything in California is cool because it is California. We see many borders within this state: in four days, the desert gives way to the rural, until the mountains, which make room for Los Angeles, inevitably replaced by the ocean. We made it.

While I’ve been globetrotting in conflict zones and other international borders, I have to admit that I completely overlooked borders between American states (not to mention the complex and invisible social borders that permeate areas unmarked). It’s easy to write these off or contest that they ‘don’t really count’ since states are all under federal law. However, it was only 150 years ago that a handful of Southern states sought to upgrade their borders from regional to international by seceding from the Union. Today, state borders sharpen and deepen divides in race, class, education, queer and women’s rights. And I will be moving to Massachusetts in a few short weeks, and am just beginning to appreciate the scope of the different laws that will affect my day-to-day life.

State borders in the United States do count, should be studied, and people in the South still fly Confederate flags. America!