fun, the government will move swiftly
to tax it.”
Outside Vicksburg, Mississippi, on Route 80, my brother Howard and I cranked east through the afternoon heat. Sweat dripped from our noses and splashed onto the top tubes. It ran down our spines in tiny rivulets. It burned our eyes from beads running down our foreheads. Salt stained our black riding tights like the colors of a Zebra.
Howard and I pedaled through the last month of a coast-to-coast touring adventure. Our legs glistened with sweat as our muscles labored under the constant down-stroke on the pedals.
Up ahead, heat waves rippled off the summer pavement, while a blazing sun baked the weeds along the two-lane highway. Trees lined the road, and crows and sparrows scattered in all directions as we passed. One crow struggled to escape from three sparrows darting in on him. They pecked at his feathers—attempting to drive him away. After each attack, he spun wildly in mid air to avoid them.
“Those guys are giving that big fella’ a hard time,” Howard said, pointing.
“I never have figured out why they attack a crow like that.”
“Sparrows drive away crows because crows eat the young of smaller birds,” I said, remembering a natural science class from school. “They’re protecting their nests.”
Howard, dripping in a sweat-soaked T-shirt, cranked ahead of me, pulling his water bottle and spitting as he took the lead. “We should make Vicksburg pretty soon. You want to stop at a salad bar and clean ‘em out?"
Riding in the South during the heat of the summer months could be compared to pedaling in a steam sauna. Heat cooked us and sweat drenched our clothing.
Howard and I left a trail of droplets from our perspiration-soaked bodies. No matter. We looked forward to seeing the Civil War monuments in Vicksburg. We waved at passing cars. The Deep South was laid back and moved at a snail’s pace. People seemed to get a kick out of our riding cross-country through their towns. They took pictures of us--sometimes having family members gather around our bikes.
We pedaled fully loaded mountain expedition bicycles. Condor, my bike, was named for an experience I had while touring in South America where two curious condors swooped down upon me while I crossed a 15,500-foot pass in the Andes. With 12-foot wingspans, they soared 20 feet off my handlebars, while they eyed me as either a piece of meat or as someone who was invading their airspace. Howard’s bike, Bilbo, was his pride and joy. As always, our orange flags (one six-feet up on a fiberglass rod and the other 2-feet into the traffic side) flapped in the breeze. Those flags had saved our lives numerous times.
With so much attention, we had a lot to talk about after leaving a photo session. People said the darnedest things about long distance touring riders. They kept us laughing because they thought we were either courageous or crazy.
We were talking about the comments from a family that had stopped their car to take our pictures when a black-and-white police cruiser passed us traveling west. We waved at him. He waved back, but did not smile.
I routinely wave to police officers out of respect or fear—I’m not sure
which. I know they can give me a ticket for speeding. But, on a bicycle, they
can’t, so I never give them much thought. I watched him go by in my rearview
mirror. A few seconds later, he flipped his car around and turned on his flashing
“That cop turned around,” Howard said, sucking on his water bottle.
“ Maybe he got a call for an emergency back down the road,” I said,
I expected the cruiser to fly past us. But it didn’t. The police officer pulled
in behind us. I looked in my rear mirror to see him pointing his finger for us to
pull to the side.
“That cop is pulling us over,” I said.
“Probably for speeding,” Howard joked. “Maybe he’s going to give us a
ticket for going too slow. Now wouldn’t that be a good one? No! I’ve got it.
He’s going to give us tickets for not having licenses to drive bicycles.”
We pulled our bikes to a stop. A rotund, middle-aged officer in a blue
uniform got out of his cruiser. He sported a chin like a bullfrog’s during mating
season. We stood astride our bikes, looking back, not sure why he had
“Afternoon boys,” he said, walking up to us.
“How are you, sir?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” he spoke in a raspy voice. “When I passed you boys, I noticed
you were smiling and laughing.”
“Yes, sir,” Howard said. “We’re having a great day. We love it here in
Louisiana. In fact, we’re hoping to meet Huckleberry Finn when we cross the
“How far you goin’?” the officer asked, brusquely.
“We’re on our way from coast-to-coast,” I said. “Pacific to the Atlantic.”
“You boys ever had your heads examined for mental righteousness?”
“Beg your pardon?” Howard said.
“You know,” he said, “Common sense. Anyone in their right mind
wouldn’t ride a bicycle across the country.”
“Our Mom told us we were crazy to ride our bikes across America,”
Howard said. “But, so far, the craziness hasn’t killed us.”
The officer looked over our packs as if he might be looking for drugs.
Right then, I didn’t like this guy’s demeanor. My Dad always told us to be
polite and keep smiling at a police officer. We should always say “Yes, sir” or
“No, sir,” to a man with a badge. This was one of those times to be extra polite.
“Have you had a good time in Louisiana?” he asked in a stern voice.
“Yes, sir,” I said. “We’ve had a real fine time, and we’re looking forward to
“Right now, you’re in my jurisdiction,” he said. “When I drove by you, it
looked like you were having a lot of fun.”
“Yes, sir, you could say that,” Howard said, with a puzzled look sweeping
across his eyes.
“Would you say you’re having TOO much fun?” the trooper asked, straight
“TOO much fun?” I said. “Well, er, yes sir, we’re probably having too
much fun, right, Howard?”
“YES, SIR, that’s right, we’re having too much fun.”
The officer stepped closer. He looked serious. Maybe I had seen too
many movies depicting stereotypical redneck cops hassling people. Nonetheless,
I was concerned. He looked the part—thick neck, crew cut, short fat fingers,
belly hanging over his belt, and boots that hadn’t been polished in a coon’s age.
“I hate to say this boys, but there’s an ordinance in this county for having
too much fun. Because I’m an officer of the law, I’m sworn to uphold that
ordinance. I’m gonna’ have to write ya’ll a citation. May I see some form of
“Sure, officer,” we replied, giving him our driver’s licenses.
“A law against having too much fun?” Howard said, with a hint of
“That’s right, boys,” he said. “I see you’re brothers. You wait here while I
write you up.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“I’ll be right back in a few minutes,” he said, walking away.
“This is crazy,” Howard said. “This guy is out to lunch. He’s only got one
oar in the water. He’s 51 cards short of a full deck. This guy’s a lighthouse with
no light on!”
“Don’t say that too loud,” I muttered. “He’s got a badge and a gun.”
“He can’t give us a ticket for having too much fun,” Howard complained.
“That does it! I’m going right into the county courthouse and demand a jury trial
on this one. I mean, this is nuts! We can’t take this lying down. I’ll get the
ACLU if I have to. Too much fun, right!”
“I thought he was kidding,” I said. “But, he’s not kidding.”
While we waited, I drank a quart of water and switched my bottles on the
down tube to have a full one ready. It was warm water, but quenched my thirst.
Darned if I could figure out what we had done to get this cop upset. But I had
learned never to argue with a police officer. They commanded absolute
authority. Minutes later, he walked up to us with two tickets in hand.
“I know ya’ll think this is out of line,” he said. “But I don’t make the
laws…I just enforce them. By the way, I like riding bicycles, too. How come you
boys are riding mountain bikes with drop bars?”
“They’re more durable, and we don’t get many flat tires,” I said. “They
give a smoother ride. Plus, we have three positions for our hands with drop
bars. Straight bars fatigue our hands by keeping them in one position.”
“I’ll have to remember that,” he said. “By the way, I live in Vicksburg.
Are you boys hungry?”
“Yes, sir,” we replied, not understanding why he was so friendly when he
had just given us tickets.
“There’s a nice restaurant called ‘Aunt Dorothy’s’ with an all-you-can-eat
salad right after you cross the Mississippi River. You can’t miss it,” he said,
walking back to his car.
He drove toward Vicksburg. I stood there looking at Howard who was
just as incredulous as I was.
“What in the hell just happened to us?” I asked.
Howard looked down at his ticket and started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Read it,” Howard said, chuckling and slapping his thigh.
On the ticket in long hand, it read, “This is a citation to the Wooldridge
brothers for having too much fun on their bicycle trip across America. You can
either pay a large fine down at the county courthouse, or you can come over to
my house (directions below) and take showers plus eat my wife’s great cooking.
You’re welcome to stay overnight. My kids would love to hear about some of
your experiences. It would be an honor and a pleasure to have you visit us.”
“I’ll be hanged,” I muttered.
After riding into town that evening, we followed Officer Buford Jackson’s
directions to his house. We leaned our touring bikes against the white railing on
the front porch of a traditional Southern home where a couple of rockers awaited
the evening sunset and friendly conversation.
When the door opened, I had never seen a wider smile, a bigger grin, a
larger heart, nor a face so full of mirth and mischief as I saw on Buford Jackson
at that moment. Behind him, two girls and a boy must have been told that Ricky
Martin and Tom Cruise were coming to dinner, because their faces displayed a
youthful expectation that something special was about to happen in their lives.
Buford showed us the guest bedroom and hot showers. “Give me all your
dirty clothes,” he said. “Adeline will have them washed and dried by morning.”
“Ask the boys if they like summer squash, green beans and garden
tomatoes?” Adeline called from the kitchen.
“We like everything,” Howard said.
Buford smiled, “These boys can eat a whole hog and a bucket of mashed
potatoes with coleslaw.”
“Don’t forget the pumpkin pie,” Howard said, laughing.
“She just made fresh blueberry pie for tonight,” Buford said.
“Break my heart,” I said, my mouth already watering at the thought of my
Before we could protest about his washing our clothes, Buford gathered
our sweaty shorts, shirts and other dirty clothes and walked off to the laundry
That evening, we ate a dinner fit for kings. Adeline Jackson, in a long
cotton dress and just a touch of make-up, couldn’t have been kinder.
At the table, she sat Howard between the two girls and Zac next to me. I
hate to admit this but my brother is good looking which left the two girls giddy
Buford grasped his son’s and daughter’s hands. Howard and I completed
the circle when Buford spoke, “Dear Lord, bless this food….”
After grace, we plowed into the food dishes being passed around the
table. Howard struck up the conversation with our starting and finishing point of
Shirley, nearly 14 with a blond ponytail, asked the first question, “What
does San Francisco look like?” Later, Paula, 12 with pigtails, asked, “How many
miles do you ride in one day?” Zac, all of eight years old with a crewcut, asked,
“Where do you go number ‘2’ if you live in a tent?”
Once they heard about the basics of bicycle adventure, they asked about
our favorite moments on the tour. Howard described crossing the Golden Gate
Bridge with the sparkling blue waters below and watching the two-masted
sailboats plying the waters of the bay. He spoke about our ride into Yosemite
where we watched a ‘moonbow’ (rainbow caused by moonlight) at the base of
Bridal Veil Falls. I talked about our ride through Death Valley with 116 degrees
heat that felt like riding inside an oven. Later, we pedaled our way to the rim of
the Grand Canyon and looked down a mile below to the Colorado River.
Zac’s eyes grew wide with wonder as Howard described the Painted
Desert and the Petrified Forest. Paula and Shirley could hardly contain
themselves before asking the next question.
“You know,” Howard said, after answering the last question. “It’s not the
adventures that count as much as it is the friends we’ve made along the way.
Your daddy and mama are the best story of this trip and you kids are the best,
ever! My brother and I are so thankful we ran into your dad.”
Howard glanced with a sly smile over at Buford. I added my own ‘look’.
We weren’t THAT amused when he had given us the tickets for having ‘too much
Buford shrugged innocently. Then he asked with a grin, “What’d you
fellers think after I handed you those tickets?”
“Would ‘bewildered’ seem to fit?” Howard said. “At first, you were so
serious, we didn’t know what to think. After you walked back to your cruiser, I
was ready to….”
“You don’t want to hear Howard’s words,” I said. “Needless to say, we
thought we might be in a Hitchcock movie.”
“Just thought I’d put a little humor into your day,” Buford said.
“He’s a good cop,” Adeline said, “but he’s a practical joker, too, and he
has a heart of gold. We’re real glad you boys came over for dinner. Aren’t we
At that moment, Shirley, Paula and Zac’s faces lit up. They nodded.
“What made you think up giving us tickets?” I asked.
“You know,” he said, “it came out of the blue. I guess I wanted my kids
to see a bit of the world through some strangers’ eyes.”
“We have more stories,” Howard said.
“They’ve heard enough. It’s time for bed.”
“No, daddy, please…” they pleaded.
“You heard me,” Buford said.
“This dinner conversation has been great for our kids,” Adeline said. “You
boys have given them an appreciation for geography, highways, mountains,
camping, and most of all, a sense of what’s out there.”
“Have any of you read ‘THE HOBBIT’?” Howard asked Shirley.
She nodded and said her teacher had read it to the class.
“Well,” Howard spoke. “Bilbo Baggins said, ‘There’s a whole lot of
adventure outside your door. That’s why I named my bike after him.’”
“That’s right,” I said. “It’s out there waiting for you when you choose to
Shirley gleamed and followed her siblings to the bathroom to brush her
teeth. Who knows what kind of adventure path her life would take? It might be
on a bicycle.
The next morning, as we pedaled onto the highway, I was reminded
again, as I had been hundreds of times in the past, that people are full of
In the case of Buford and Adeline, my world became richer thanks to their
unexpected hospitality. Shirley, Paula and Zac bring a smile to my heart and
mind whenever I think back on the magic of that evening.
Bless the Jackson’s for their love, generosity, sense of humor, and their
children with big, bright eyes filled with expectation. I am thankful that most of
the world is filled with Buford’s and Adeline’s, and because it is, we are all
blessed with joy at surprising moments in our lives.
In my lifetime, I hope to get arrested many more times for having too
Excerpt from: Bicycling Around the World: Tire Tracks for Your Imagination, copies available 1 888 280 7715
Frosty Wooldridge, Michigan State University, has bicycled across six continents – from the Arctic to the South Pole – as well as six times across the USA, coast to coast and border to border. In 2005, he bicycled from the Arctic Circle, Norway to Athens, Greece. He presents “The Coming Population Crisis in America: and what you can do about it” to civic clubs, church groups, high schools and colleges. He works to bring about sensible world population balance at www.frostywooldridge.com He is the author of: America on the Brink: The Next Added 100 Million Americans.