I must start by saying this was an unforgettable ride for many reasons. I grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, which is between Selma and Montgomery, so I have personal history with this bike route. I knew there would be some rolling hills and some nice long flats along Highway 80 – a perfect mix for a long ride. This bike route also directly follows the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, which clearly has incredible historical significance to not just me, but all Americans.
I arrived in Montgomery on Friday, the day before the ride. There was so much shared excitement from the cyclists in and around packet pick up. Cyclists had traveled from all over the country — nearly 50% of them were representing Major Taylor cycling clubs. Marshall Major Taylor was an 1899 World Champion…and a black man. At a time when “Jim Crow” laws were gaining strength, this American professional cyclist challenged racial prejudice with every race he won. Cycling clubs across the United States honor and celebrate his legacy.
At packet pick-up, many cyclists were all decked out in their fancy kits showcasing Major Taylor cycling. I was particularly impressed with a club from the West Coast; I have a thing for white biking kits and theirs was top notch! After I picked up my packet, it was time for dinner and a good night’s rest.
By the morning of the ride, my anticipation was on “steroids”. We started boarding the buses for Selma around 7am. As I rode the bus to our Selma destination, I was caught up in the scenery of the small town of Lowndes County where I grew up as a child. Before I knew it, we were in the city of Selma. The bikes had been transported earlier on Saturday morning and were waiting at the start for each cyclist. I found my bike and was ready to get this ride started. The energy in Selma was electric. Everyone was full of smiles and well wishes. I couldn’t help but think how different this was 55 years ago as the Civil Rights marchers were about to start their historic March to Montgomery. They were forced to accept brutal beatings and possible jail for trying to secure the basic freedom of the right to vote.
It was finally time to ride. As we approached the Edmund Pettutus Bridge, it seemed every cyclist wanted their commemorative picture crossing this historic bridge – and I was no different. I was riding with a good friend and we, of course, had to have our picture together. In all honesty, we represented a lot of what Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of all those years ago. A Black and White girl holding hands, in friendship and in unity, except we stood here on the bridge posing for a pic and getting ready to complete 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery on our bikes!
The ride began and it was everything I dreamed it would be. The course was heavily supported by MBC (Montgomery Cycling Club), who sponsors the event. There was never a point on the ride where I felt in danger or felt lost. Each stop had historical meaning as well, so we got a tangible history lesson along the way. At the two major stops, Lowndes County Interpretive Center and the Montgomery Airport, there were bathrooms in addition to refueling. As we rode through the small city of Burkeville, where I grew up, I was greeted with waves and cheers from my family… I felt like a local celebrity.
Once we reached Montgomery, I could feel the adrenaline coursing through me because, once again, I thought of the marchers and what they must have felt knowing they were close to reaching their destination….the state CAPITOL. So, I began to pedal harder and with a strong sense of intent. The closer I got to the State Capitol, I felt my emotions getting the best of me as I shed a few tears. I took the time to remember those who sacrificed so much for me and celebrated the fact that I got it done! I looked up and saw cyclists all sitting and standing at the Capitol steps and I felt a true sense of accomplishment. It was a good day to be a cyclist. Great weather, outstanding support, and a historic route from Selma to Montgomery made this my new favorite cycling event.
Content and photos provided by race team member Carolyn Sanders.