As assistant preparator for the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Michael Reynolds spends his days matting and framing art or preparing for new installations. He also serves as the museum’s unofficial caretaker for all of the light bulbs that illuminate exhibitions.
“Each morning I walk the museum galleries and replace any burned out light bulbs for exhibitions,” says Reynolds. “The last time I counted there were 467 bulbs. Sometimes I tell people that I am the curator of the bulbs.”
But when he’s not tending to the museum, Reynolds spends time planning his next adventure.
“Over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten really interested in doing self-propelled, long distance trips,” says Reynolds. “I’ve hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.”
When Reynolds began working full time at the museum in 2011, his time became scarce. “Suddenly I had a limited amount of vacation time, so I switched from long-distance hiking to long-distance cycling. This way I can still cover great distances but in a shorter amount of time.”
Reynolds is no stranger to long-haul bike rides. In 2015, he cycled the southern half of a path called the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that runs from Alberta, Canada, to New Mexico. But in 2016, when deciding which cycle path to choose, he drew some inspiration from the current cultural and political climate.
Reynolds was troubled by what he had been hearing about Mexico from some media sources, and he was particularly concerned by the negative portrayal of the Mexican people. “They are being portrayed as criminals and rapists,” says Reynolds.
So he decided he would do something about it. In the fall of 2016, he planned a cycling trip through Mexico so he could document his journey and make a film about the people he met.
“The biggest reason I wanted to cycle and document it was to share my experience [interacting] with Mexican people,” says Reynolds. “I have good friends here who are from Mexico, and they are the friendliest, hardest working people I know. I expected that the people in Mexico would be kind to me. I wanted to show this in my film.”
Reynolds began his journey in El Paso, Texas, on October 6, 2016, with the mission to demonstrate that Mexico is not the dangerous place that it is often depicted to be. Along the way, he recorded his trip using an iPhone and a GoPro camera mounted to his handlebars. He logged more than 1,000 miles through Mexico and its states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz, cycling for 19 days in 85-degree weather, ending in the city of Veracruz, Mexico.
And, as no surprise to him, Reynolds returned from his cross country trip safely. “No people gave me any trouble. They were kind and helpful.”
He did, however, admit some trouble acclimating to the rules of the road. “It took me a little while to learn that the lines on the road were not necessarily observed like they are [in the United States]. I can remember riding on a two-lane road with a very small, one-foot shoulder and seeing a string of vehicles coming toward me. Coming out to pass was another truck, moving straight at me at 60 miles per hour. I could have reached out and touched it!”
However, Reynolds says motorists were courteous. “People had a lot of patience. If I was riding but had to move out into traffic to go around something that was in my path, people were very patient. No one honked at me. But when it was time to go—people were gone! That’s just the way it worked. I had to put my life in the hands of the drivers, just as I have to do here.”
But if there’s one thing that the avid cyclist hopes that his documentary conveys, it’s the character of the Mexican people. “I want folks to know how kind the people are.”
The documentary film, Tex-Mex Joyride, will be screened at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, in the meeting house at First Church in Oberlin. It is free to attend.