One of the World’s Most Traveled Bicyclists, and the School of the Americas (SOA)

george-to-SOA
George christensen rode his bike from Chicago to Columbus, Georgia to participate in the SOA-Watch demonstration. To read about George’s bicycling exploits, go to http://georgethecyclist.blogspot.com/

george-dw-soa
Every morning we rode around the historic and beautiful city of of Columbus, Georgia

There is not an official log for who has ridden the most miles on a bicycle ever in a lifetime. The only good logs are self-kept. One has to trust the integrity of the cyclist on this one.

#1. Freddie Hoffman has ridden his bicycle over 1 million miles, and he is still riding.
#2. Then there is Chris Davis, a 70-something Englishman who has ridden at least 960,000 mile.
#3. And then, George Christensen, who has perhaps 700,000 miles and still counting. Most of his miles were with a fully loaded bike. George carries 60 pounds of gear with him when he is touring. That is twice what I carry. He has done it by bicycle touring, by only traveling with a bike (no car) and by being a bicycle messenger.

I first met George in the late 80’s in Chicago. A mutual friend took us to dinner. George was mostly the silent one at the table. What he said was interesting, but he did not volunteer much. I was working heavy in high tech in down town Chicago at the time while he was, of all things, a bicycle messenger. It wasn’t like I thought we had a lot in common. But periodically, George would ride his bicycle out from downtown Chicago to my home in Skokie, about ten miles north of downtown Chicago, for a visit. At the time I thought, “Wow. A long way for city riding.” We had known each other for years before he thought it worthwhile to mention that he had ridden his bike from Chicago up to Alaska, down to the tip of South America, across Australia, the USA, Europe, and numerous other places. When the Chicago Bears was in the 1986 super bowl, George rode his bike from Chicago in 15 degree temperatures to New Orleans. Then he stood out front with a sign asking for a free ticket for the super bowl. He explained to Bears fans how he had gotten to New Orleans. He did not get one, but he enjoyed watching the game in a local bar.
“George, why didn’t you tell me that?”
“Well, you didn’t ask.”
???

And so began one of my most interesting acquaintances in my life. George only traveled Chicago day and night, summer and winter, by bike. As a movie buff and amateur critic, George had free passes to movie theaters in Chicago. I drove to his home and he loaned me one of his many bikes, a helmet, and lights, and we began night riding. I was immediately amazed at just how well his bikes rode. They felt like they had electric motors in them assisting me. I told this to George. He answered that that was the way bikes were supposed to ride. My problem was only that my bike was a ‘piece of shit’. Oh?
A local Cannondale bike dealership was having a one-day, ½ off sale on last year’s models. So I bought a new Cannondale H300 for $227. What a deal. I rode out of that store in 1997 on my first good bike in my life. It was to be my primary bike for the next 18 years.

george and dw on baracoa pass
After we had climbed Baracoa Pass in the eastern most point of Cuba, in 1998.

George kept asking me to tour with him. I spoke Spanish fluently and he wanted to go to Cuba. I kept making excuses until he called me on it. Ride with me across Cuba or fuck off. Then we boxed our bikes, drove my truck to Toronto, and flew with our bikes into Holguin, Cuba. For the next few weeks we rode in a dream trip across eastern Cuba. We pitched our tents sometimes, and sometimes stayed in guest houses and cheap hotels. Every day was a wonder. The beaches, the people, the music, the culture. Our only difficulty was finding enough food to eat. I was hooked on bicycle-touring for life. George started me on it, and I am grateful for it. I have done many tours since then, and they have always been the best of my vacations.

Sooooo, George msg’ed me telling me he would be riding his bicycle from Chicago to Columbus, Georgia for the annual demonstration against the School of the Americas (SOA). Would I want to meet him there? Sure. George was brought up as a Christian Scientist. I do not believe that he has ever had any vaccinations. Yet he is incredibly healthy. I have thought that he upholds and lives many of the beliefs that he was taught. I felt his bearing witness against the killings of so many people in Latin America were simply a reflection of his life.
So after I finished riding the Florida coast, I packed my bike onto my van and drove up to the School of the Americas, now called Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
A bit of SOA history: The SOA is located in fort Benning, in Columbus, Ga. The SOA assists in the training of police and the military of Central and South America. But it has been accused of doing much much more. The SOA Watch has documented that many of its graduates have been accused and convicted of human rights abuses including torture, rape, and mass murder. SOA Watch started when archbishop Romero of of El Salvador was murdered by SOA-trained death squads in 1980. The list of other SAO graduates murdering locals continued in Guatemala, Honduras, and many other Central and South American countries. This culminated in SOA-trained assassins murdering 6 Jesuit Priests in El Salvador in 1989.

soa-concert
Good music, and disturbing stories and lyrics

There I attended informative conferences, listened to horror stories of victims from Latin America and talked with many Catholic clergy on the current state of oppression in Central and South America. Hundred of thousands killed by death squads, terrorism of labor union activists, politicians, journalists — all executed with impunity. And there was a common denominator that so many had been trained at the SOA.

soa-crosses
I carried a cross for Evangelina Morales (as I recall). She was murdered in El Salvador in the 1980’s

The tone of the demonstrations was quite religious. There were many Catholic Workers there, Quakers, Christian pacifists, and such. And many many Latin Americans who were victims of SOA atrocities. Their documentation was overwhelming. This did not happen just under Reagan or Bush. In 2011, Hillary Clinton maneuvered a bloody military overthrow against the democratically elected government in Honduras. So this continues to this day. Hundreds of thousands of people killed by the military and their death squads in the last 40 years, and we have trained and supported them. It really does not matter that we in the USA deny it or not. Those in Central and South America know what has happened, and who was behind it.
So, how personal is this? My daughter Nyla’s grandfather and uncle were killed by Argentine-based assassins in 1978. Substantial evidence came out later that they were CIA-supported and SOA-trained. Throughout Latin America, there are thousands of tales like this.

But if you do not hear about it, then it never happened, right? That seems to be the SOA, the military, and the US media’s strategy on this.

girl in rain
In Columbus, a stunningly beautiful statue of a little girl so joyful in the rain

7 Responses to One of the World’s Most Traveled Bicyclists, and the School of the Americas (SOA)

  1. We’ve had some fine adventures over the years besides Cuba–canoeing the Boundary Waters with Jesse, a wedding in the Redwoods, an Earth First Rendezvous in the wilds of Virginia, the Atlanta Olympics to name just a few. You epitomize the German expression, “Someone I’d steal horses with.” May there be many more.

  2. dwight

    George, I have never heard that German expression, “someone I would steal horses with”, but I love it. I have just plagiarized it.

  3. Wout Daenen

    Strong story Dwight, seems not much changed the past decades with respect to SOA. There’s a Dutch guy, Frank van Rijn, that has cycled all over the world. I don’t think he has touched the million miles but I’m sure he’s more than half way. Anyhow, his books are great.

    • dwight

      Wout, I will check his books out. I am always reading. A big advantage of no TV. When I bicycle, most of the international bicyclists I meet are either from the Netherlands or Germany. Based solely upon how many Dutch cyclists I meet, one would think that the Netherlands has 200 million people!

  4. Dave dybas

    George has a worthwhile website himself, the aptly named georgethecyclist.blogspot.com

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