My name is Mike Fink and I’m currently a senior undergraduate History major at the University of Delaware. I decided last winter that I would give myself a graduation present: a cross-country cycling trip this upcoming spring to punctuate the move from undergraduate life to “the real world.” When I first conceived of the trip, it was intended as an escape from school and from responsibility. As time wore on, however, I found myself being pulled in the exact opposite direction. My years learning history at UD didn’t simply train me to memorize names and dates, they showed me how to look for patterns in those events and construct narratives accordingly. This skill spilled over into my post-grad plans and took the bike trip in an academic direction. My primary interests are American labor, industrial and vernacular music history, so I began to construct my route around the major places, people and events in those histories.
When I started planning, I didn’t know or didn’t think about the important anniversaries taking place this year. Lincoln sounded the beginning of the end of slavery one hundred fifty years ago; that same year, the Homestead and Pacific Railway Acts were signed into law. These pieces of legislation were responsible for opening up the frontier and connecting it to the east. There are also some lesser-known anniversaries this year including the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth. We could celebrate many other milestones (the bicentennial of Louisiana statehood and the fiftieth year since we first reached the Moon’s surface, to name a couple), but these four in particular popped out at me.
Woody Guthrie (d. 1967) was an iconic American folk singer, a wanderer whose life and legend are intimately connected to the story of the frontier and the railroad. He was also a vocal anti-racist who believed there was a long way to go on the road to equality. I spoke of seeing patterns earlier, and here’s one of those serendipities of history: the celebration of his birth and life coincides with the celebration of these other events, the impact of which shaped not only his destiny but that of America itself. When I finally saw this connection, I knew I had to use Woody’s story as a starting point and compass for my trip, a medium through which to relate the distant past to the immediate past, and the immediate past to the present.
No trip in honor his honor would be complete without the twin spirits of solidarity and charity. That is why I have decided to raise money for the Huntington's Disease Society of America (HDSA). This organization was founded by Woody's widow, Marjorie Guthrie, to eradicate the disease that took her husband’s life. Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disorder which causes certain parts of the brain to wither and die resulting in loss of motor function and coordination (including the ability to swallow), as well as changes in behavior and perception. It is autosomal dominant, so if one parent has HD their children have a 50% chance of inheriting it. No cure currently exists. As I pedal my way across the country I plan to stop at Centers of Excellence run by the HDSA and to meet with individuals and families who live with the realities of HD. By sharing their stories and bringing attention to this vastly under-recognized disease, I can do my part to help make it a thing of the past.
You can join me in this effort by donating to the HDSA through my FirstGiving page. 100% of donations go directly to the organization.
May you always find the wind at your back and the road under your feet,