Man travels an original Underground Railroad route on a bike

Photos courtesy of Erick Cedeño

Samantha Davis/Staff Writer

I haven’t met many people who don’t want to travel at some point in their lives. Most people talk about how they want to travel the country and the world. They dream of road trips across the U.S. with their friends and flying around the globe. Some are able to travel to various countries by volunteering, working, interning, studying or backpacking. But a guy by the name of Erick Cedeño travels in a different way: by means of pedaling. If you haven’t heard much about him, he’s sure to become a familiar face in the future.

This cyclist has biked from Miami to Key West, Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico, and San Augustine, Fla. to New York City. Cedeño has turned his love of cycling into a lifestyle, as he only commutes by bike. During his bike ride from Vancouver to Tijuana, he was immersed in rich scenery. “About 85 to 90 percent of the time I had the Pacific Coast to my right,” Cedeño recalled. “I would be riding and all of the sudden I’d see a whale. I would see dolphins and I would always see sea lions. It was just amazing.”

03-03-14 Railroad 4Cedeño was born in Panama City, Panama and came to Miami when he was 14. His love for traveling came from his mother, who pulled him out of school for almost three weeks when he was in middle school to see the Mayan Pyramids in Mexico. Cedeño remembers his father asking his mother why she did that and her response was, “He’s learning more here than he does in school.”

“I’m a wanderer, and ever since I was a little kid I loved exploring and seeing new places. I was born to the perfect mother because I don’t think any other mom would have been able to handle me.”

Cedeño’s mother traveled a lot and she inspired him to be adventurous and explore new territory. She did it by plane and he does it by bike. He’s biked through mountains in the Pacific and the Appalachian Mountains as well. When he bikes, he doesn’t stop. Not even when he’s going through mountains or up a steep hill. “Bicycle riding has taught me how to stay in the moment and that’s what keeps me going. I don’t think about my destination. I only think about the next 10 or 15 miles. I don’t think about 2300 miles because that’s too overwhelming.”

His most recent endeavor is remarkable. On Oct. 27, 2013 he embarked on a 32-day bike ride from Congo Square in New Orleans to Niagara Falls, Ontario along one of the historical Underground Railroad routes.

Cedeño wanted to experience what it was like for enslaved people to follow The Drinking Gourd to freedom, sleep in an Underground Railroad safe house and gain an intimate understanding of what runaway enslaved persons had to endure in order to find freedom. “I love traveling through history. I did the Underground Railroad journey because I was able to see what I learned in high school and college. I was able to see it in life. Some of the cabins, some of the history of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman. I was able to really see it with my own eyes.”

He talked about how he was amazed by the complex system of tunnels and the way that people navigated by foot. Cedeño explored underground tunnels that slaves passed through and got an intimate look at historical sites such as The Harriet Beecher Stowe House, The Ripley House and the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln–a cabin in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Cedeño talked about the joys and challenges of his journey on Feb. 13, at an event hosted by the African and African Diaspora Studies Program called “Retracing the Underground Railroad, a Lecture by Erick Cedeño” on the second floor in the Graham Center.

03-03-14 Railroad 3He explained how it took him months to plan such a large-scale trip. One of his tasks was researching different routes, most of which he did online. He discovered the Adventure Cycling Association, a website based in Montana that has different routes in the United States. He also got on YouTube and found Peg Leg Joe’s song “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and used the lyrics to this song as his route.

Cedeño also had to spend time figuring out where he would stay and plan as carefully as he could what he would eat. Out of the 32 days, he only stayed at a house twice because he wanted to experience the hardships of runaway slaves, rather than the convenience of a hotel.

Just two days into his trip he ran out of water and it got to the point that he was drinking his own saliva. Fortunately, a lady driving by stopped and gave him water. “I learned that there’s some beautiful people out there,” Cedeño said. He encountered many people who helped him out and had great conversations with him.

Out of all the challenges on his trip, he faced one of the toughest just 15 miles away from his destination. Someone stole his bike along with his camera and some of his SD cards while he was inside a Walgreens store. Cedeño didn’t let this setback stop him though: he was able to finish the journey on a bike given to him by the host family he had stayed with in Niagara Falls.

03-03-14 Railroad 2Cedeño’s story is a true testament of his self-discipline and determination. After having successfully biked along one of the original Underground Railroad routes, what’s next for him? I had the pleasure of meeting with Cedeño one-on-one after his talk at FIU and he told me about what he’s planning on doing next. “One of my dreams is to bike from here to my home country, Panama. That’s about a four month trip.” He’s also planning on biking across Africa, starting from the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt and ending in Cape Town, South Africa which is roughly a four month trip as well.

Cedeño has learned quite a bit about people, places and life in general from all the biking he’s done. His advice to travelers is to “be open to all possibilities. Food, culture, lodging. Just be open because what travel does is open your mind and your horizons to different things and it also builds character.” Cedeño also sees travel as more than just having fun and sightseeing. “Travel is more than just seeing different things. It’s what we need to evolve as human beings and it teaches us things that classes and books can’t.” Keep an eye out for Erick Cedeño because he has many more amazing biking trips ahead. And even if biking across the country’s not your thing, find ways to challenge yourself and get out there and travel when you have the chance.

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