The adorable doggo tale of Max, Megan and Augie

Toward the end of my run through the woods and prairie at Dick Young Forest Preserve, I turned east on the last stretch of trail toward the parking lot and beheld a strange sight up ahead. At first I thought it was someone carrying an injured deer on their shoulders. But as I got closer the it became apparent there was a young man carrying his rather large dog.

Max holding his dog Augie on his shoulders

At first I assumed the dog had grown tired or was aged and needed to be carried during the last part of his walk. But the young couple smiled and his Doggie Mama Megan told me, “No, he just doesn’t want to come home. He likes it out here so much he just lies down or tries to crawl into the weeds when we turn around.”

Augie had the sweetest face in the world. I bent down to nuzzle his nose and he gave me a lick. He did not seem like a stubborn soul at all. Then Max and Megan said, “Maybe he’ll walk the rest of the way if you walk with us.”

Max and Megan pause for a photo but Augie looks suspicious.

So we started walking toward the parking lot. But Augie was having none of that. He wasn’t falling for such shallow tricks. Instead he plopped his butt down and would not move. He even attempted to pull on the leash for a dive into the weeds.

I thought to myself: “This is a dog that knows what he likes and there is little anyone can do to change his mind.”

Augie’s reticence to go back home meant that Max needed to get Augie back on his shoulders for the last one hundred yards to the parking lot. Megan helps position the pup…

Then Max gets his head under the belly of the dog.

Finally he can stand up with Augie on his shoulders.

Then it’s time to portage Augie to the parking lot. He’s calm once he’s up there. Doesn’t put up a fuss.

Something about this meetup just made my day. Such a sweet young couple who loves their dog. Perhaps the dog trainers out there will deem this behavior unacceptable on the part of Augie and his owners. But I prefer to think of this as a happily symbiotic relationship that will evolve over time.

At any rate, thank you Max and Megan and Augie for one of the nicest little conversations yesterday. And Augie, I suggest that you don’t start making them carry you out into the field as well. That’s what the leash is for, good buddy.

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Spending Father’s Day in a cloud

When they’re above the ground, it’s easy to forget that clouds are made up of water vapor.

There was no rain predicted in our area yesterday, which was Father’s Day. No green blobs on the radar. No threat of being bombarded on an early Sunday morning.

But the weather forecast was not entirely accurate. It wasn’t raining out, but it was wet. It was exactly like the thick mist of a cloud had descended on our county and was not going to evacuate the area anytime soon.

We rode through sheets and sheets of the stuff. To some that might have represented misery. To me, it was the perfect way to spend a Father’s Day.

I felt so alive. As we climbed a hill through a maple forest the air went silent except for the sound of rain on millions of leaves. It felt like some ethereally digital experiment in which every sound was magnified, but only to the level that it was pleasant.

We turned west and tore along Beith Road toward Maple Park at 22 mph into a crosswind. In aero position the rain flipped up from my front tire and off the back wheel of my wife’s Shiv when I got too close.

At the Casey’s we stopped for a bathroom break and took in some nutrition. Then it was time to cut back through the wind on our twenty-mile journey home.

It was fun spending Father’s Day in a cloud.

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Against the wind and blown away

This morning my schedule called for a bird census trip to a restored prairie at a local forest preserve. It was windy out today. I’m not a fan of birding in the open when a strong breeze is blowing because the birds tend to stay low and out of sight. Plus I can’t hear their calls as well.

But sometimes it’s best to carry on with a plan rather than hope you’ll find time to fit a scheduled activity into the calendar later on. So I drove out to the preserve and hiked out to the first GPS post and started the count.

During the first stop I looked up to find a meadowlark circling overhead. As it fanned its tail and circled I snapped photos of the bird. I could tell in the viewfinder that the images would turn out interesting.

A meadowlark soars over a restored prairie.

I’m always looking to salvage some kind of value from every experience I do. Sometimes on a long ride or run in the wind it’s all I can do to get through it. The sound of the wind while you’re riding can be so exhausting and the feeling of the wind rushing across your ears and pressing on your body is tiring as well.

Yet we ride on or keeping running because once you’re out there, what other choice do you have? Somewhere along the way there always seems to be a little break when the wind lets up and things get quiet enough to think. I do recall a ride many years back when the wind was so strong I stopped the bike and yelled an obscenity into the wind.

In fact I did the same thing this morning during the bird census. “Fuck the wind!” I yelled out. Then I turned around to see that a man was walking his dog on the trail that cuts through the prairie. He stopped, clipped his dog back on its leash and turned around. Apparently he thought I was yelling at him.

But actually, all I was trying to do was let off some anxious energy on a morning when I wished it was quiet enough to hear the grasshopper sparrows singing their insect-like songs in the low vegetation.

Instead all I saw and heard were the obvious birds. The loudmouths and aggressive species like red-winged blackbirds that dive-bomb if you don’t stay alert and wave them off.

A red-winged blackbird soars up to prepare for a dive.

By the time I’d finished up the count this morning I was tired and ready to plop into the car and relax a few minutes. I’m no scientist by trade, but this much I can tell you. It takes patience and persistence to gather information about the rhythms of the wild.

That’s especially true when you’re performing your citizen science duties against the wind, or through the rain. It’s a test of commitment and belief in what you’re doing when you’re waist deep in grass and worried about ticks up your pant legs. But the two constants in my life have been endurance sports and getting out in nature. Sometimes the two mix and at other times, they are necessarily separate.

A bobolink brings food back to its young in the next.

But the hope common to both activities is that I’ll experience something out there that just blows me away. I’s always in pursuit of that sensation, those peak experiences where you feel a sense of wonder. Sometimes they come by in a flash, which means that in everything you do it always pays to be as alert and alive as you can.

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Nothing corny about this ride

At the corner of Beith Road and Route 47 north of Elburn, Illinois. One wonders what the test plot will tell the Kane County Corn Growers this year?

Twelve miles into my forty mile ride this morning I stopped in the little town of Kaneville to visit the Purple Store, a local hotspot where they grill out every Tuesday and Thursday and residents can socialize and talk about life in farm country.

This morning a gathering of three or four elders was seated in chairs facing the counter where the manager on duty was soaking up friendly teasing from the group of old boys trading quips. I recognized one of the visitors from my days as a Kaneland student, the regional high school four miles up the road. We exchanged greetings and then I joined the conversation in progress by repeating a question I’d just heard.

“Is anyone planting corn this year?”

The entire Midwest is an evaluation plot this year.

The weather in Illinois has been so wet and cool through mid-June it has been impossible to plant crops thus far this spring. If that sounds like the exact opposite effect one might expect from global warming, then you don’t really understand the concept or how climate change is actually expected to affect different regions of the world.

But here it is June 11th, 2019. Normally there would be corn sprouts casting a green haze across Kane County fields. This year there is nothing but a few bean fields planted. The remaining farmers are rushing to get seed into the ground before the next expected rain storm tomorrow. During my ride I saw farm implements coursing across fields and hustling down country roads to reach their next destination.

Too late to plant corn

“It’s too late to plant corn,” one of the elders observed quietly from his seat inside the Purple Store. He’s seen a few planting seasons in his time. Clearly this year’s situation is different than anything he’s seen in recent times. What’s a farmer to do when the weather flat-out refuses to cooperate?

Some might try to write off this year’s rainy season as a climatic aberration. But if the same thing happens next year, and the next, whats the story then? And what if the tables turn and drought takes over as it did long ago in the Dust Bowl when too much native soil was turned over and the rains refused to follow the plow?Let’s admit it agriculture will need to make big adjustments if climate change keeps messing with the systems to which we’re accustomed.

Tariffs and ripoffs

Already the ag industry has seen waves of losses brought on by Donald Trump’s trade snits toward China. To make up for the gaffe of blowing up the seed markets, Trump shunted billions to the agriculture industry to make up for the losses caused by sinking prices and piles of grain spilling out of stuffed silos across the Midwest.

Whoops.

Imbibing a meat cigar at the Casey’s General Store in Maple Park, Illinois. The heart of corn country.

There’s no such thing as perfect economic policy, that’s for sure. International trade policy is at best a set of standards against which countries seek to measure their output and intake. These measures are designed to protect a healthy economy for everyone involved. But trade wars act like a cancer eating away at economic systems from the inside out. Just like a cancer patient whose chemo doctor brings them close to death in order to save their lives, there is a tipping point at which the treatments become worse than the disease itself.

As an illustration of this point, world-class cyclist and Lance Armstrong once turned to his oncologist and said, and I paraphrase, “Give me all you got, Doc. You can’t kill me.”

To which his doctor replied, “Oh, yes I can.”

Those who consider themselves too strong to fail or refuse to accept the reality of their actions when they do can turn out to be the death of us all. And if our climate reaches a point where it is stressed beyond its capacity to recover from the impact of manmade climate change, we can expect there will be politicians and religious zealots still claiming there is nothing human beings can do to affect the world that much.

That is ignorance. That is arrogance. That is cognitive dissonance. And no amount of farm subsidies is going to fix stupid.

Cycling in corn country in June usually offers a cast of new green corn shoots. This year: bare ground.

Just ask the farmers who couldn’t get their corn into the ground this spring, or whose properties are buried under floodwaters from the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. Might there just be something going on that’s bigger than “local weather?” The voices of those farmers might just be the canary in the coal mine that gets the attention of climate change deniers and their religious ilk so eager to deny the science that points to manmade impacts on our global atmosphere.

I know one thing: I just rode forty miles through mostly blank fields today. And having lived in farm country for all sixty-plus years of my life, I know an odd sign when I see one. There’s nothing corny about this situation we’re in. And I know from studying nature for those sixty years that one can never tell which seed of hope or piece of genetic drift is vital to sustaining this world for future generations.

I wonder if some people really get that. But it’s easy to see the people who really don’t. They’re the ones still claiming that nothing’s wrong with this picture.

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The trials and tribulations of a right hand man

This weekend my wife completed the Half Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. That’s no mean feat given a course that is hilly beyond belief. At several points the grade reaches 10% and a long steep stretch up a country road called Observatory Hill makes you want to stop and look at what you’re doing.

I know this because we rode the course together a few weeks back in anticipation of the race, When it comes to her training for the longer races, I’m her Right Hand Man. I may not do every mile with her but we cover large chunks of training together.

We’re fairly equal as athletes so it works pretty well. She’s the faster swimmer. I’m the faster runner. We’re about the same on the bike depending on the day and terrain.

Right Hand Oops

View of the swim warmup with City of Madison in the background.

As she was racing yesterday in Wisconsin, I got out for a 10K run along the Lake Loop that skirts downtown Madison. My running has been picking up in terms of pace and volume, so I was feeling peppy after a warmup and turned around ready to bring the last three miles home at 8:00 pace.

The asphalt trail is heavily traveled by cyclists and runners. One has to remain alert for other foot and bike traffic. But I like to run on the thin dirt path next to the actual trail. It is the product of the footprints of thousands of other runners.

As I rounded a slight left turn on the path that skirts a tree, my toe caught a root that sticks up out of the dirt. The thump of shoe rubber was followed closely by the awkward thud of my face literally hitting the ground. My right side also took a beating, especially my right hand. It was dirty and bloody and sweaty all at once.

Back at it

The outside right of my hand where I once busted a bone years ago playing soccer goalie.

After lying there cursing for a couple seconds, then looking around to see who’d witnessed my incredible fall from grace, I gathered myself into a vertical posture and brushed off the worst of the brown dirt covering me from knee to shoulder.

It’s been a long time since I hit my head on the actual ground. Growing up as a competitive kid, that happened quite a bit. But as an adult one tries to avoid that kind of casual trauma at pretty much any cost.

So I shook my head a little to gain my wits as I started back running. There was grit from the ground stuck in my eye and my vision initially seemed a little off. Within ten strides however, I was back on pace, a little shaken and worse for wear, but running at the original rate.

I looked down at my hand and lamented, “That’s gonna sting in the shower.” The whole hand ached.

Right hand redux

That worried me because my right hand is already messed up from another incident a couple weeks ago. I was cycling up a busy country road and approaching a vehicle parked by the side of the road. It was a tall white SUV and I was hustling along on the bike at about 20 mph while checking for traffic behind me when a man stepped out from behind the SUV and I had no time to stop. My front wheel nailed him in the left buttock and I flew off the bike in a heap on the road.

I was glad there was no traffic coming from close behind or I might have been run over. The guy that got struck with the wheel was cursing me right and left. It turned out his classic GTO was parked right in front of his SUV and he’d been looking under the chassis before stepping out into the road. He’d probably looked for traffic and seeing none, thought it safe to poke his butt out into the traffic lane.

Later the local police called me to follow up on the report. ‘Why was he standing in the traffic lane?” the officer asked. I gave my observations but honestly, it happened so fast that nobody had a chance to react.

I’d taken photos after the incident. There was no room for error and lots of potential for happenstance collision. My right hand took a beating when my bike struck the fellow. At this moment I’m not sure there is not a broken bone in that spot before my index finger there. I’ll find out Wednesday at a doctor’s appointment. It is still sore.

The right perspective

Some of this calamity stuff is the inevitable product of trying to go fast under all sorts of circumstances. That’s one of the tarsnakes of triathlon training and racing. It does come with some degree of risk. I’ve had enough incidents on the bike in particular to realize that short of riding like a tortoise, things are going to happen now and then.

Yet falling down while running was surely a surprise. But when I returned to the race tents at the Ironman after a shower and getting cleaned up, I learned that two people had succumbed during the swim portion of the event that morning. The cause was unknown, but one person unresponsive when the volunteer kayakers reached him and the other was taken to the hospital in critical condition. And as we later learned, another athlete had also died.

Several weeks ago following my collision with the guy tending to his car, one of my cycling buddies told me, “You should be glad. Things like that can go sideways in a hurry.”

It all makes me genuinely glad that things turned out alright, even if the right side of my body is a little sore.

Posted in 10K, 13.1, aging is not for the weak of heart, bike accidents, bike crash, blood on the highway, Christopher Cudworth, competition, cycling, cycling the midwest, cycling threats, death, I hate cyclists, race pace, trail running, training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Leave a comment

This journey with God

As a callow eighth grader in small-town Illinois, I joined other classmates at a congregation in Elburn, Illinois to be confirmed as a member of a Christian church. Up to that point in life all my decisions about faith and God had been made by circumstance, not choice.

Yet I largely appreciated Sunday mornings at the Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When I returned to visit that building after thirty years away, I was so moved by the sight of those blue-hued stained glass windows that tears welled up in my eyes.

In high school I joined Campus Life, the evangelical youth organization staffed mostly by Wheaton College kids looking to share their love for Christ with kids just a little younger than they. I was a difficult student for them because I kept asking questions they could not answer in anything other than the confessional language they’d been taught. Plus I learned they did not believe in the theory of evolution. I found that naive and disturbing, because I had no problem viewing God as a spiritual force in the universe without anchoring the testament of love to a literal translation of scripture.

I’ve always thought that love was real and strong enough on its own to stand up to all sorts of material scrutiny. Hell, even the rock songs I listened to in high school and college recognized the fact that love would stop at nothing. You can’t control the damn stuff. It just is.

I’m not sure that I’ve exactly felt love for God, per se. More like grace appreciated. I find this world a largely wondrous place. I’ve had moments of absolutely overwhelming wonder at certain points in my life. I’ve also prayed and had things happen that were inexplicably linked to my needs at that moment.

Even as a competitive person, I’ve never prayed to God to help me win a race or anything of that sort. That’s my business. I figure God could not give a shit whether I win or lose at sports. That goes for everyone as far as I can see. Those people pointing fingers at the sky to Thank God for their victory may have their reasons, but God helping them win is not one of them.

Because that would be a grand breach of free will. The universe is clearly a random and unrestricted place. Despite biblical claims to the contrary, I don’t see evidence of God intervening supernaturally to throw weather around or cause earthquakes because gay people are having sex. Instead I see the impact of love and the lack of it, all around us.

Thus I find it far more useful and in keeping with the Kingdom of God to turn to one another after a race or workout and look people in the eye while saying the words, “How are you doing?”

That is the real journey with God we’re all supposed to abide. The Lord’s Prayer says as much. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Compete hard. Appreciate the grace of being able to do it. Then appreciate that grace by giving it to someone else. It’s the best thing you can do today, and forever.

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The wrong and right ways to get out of a rut

Last night as darkness feel, a group of kids was back in the fields behind our house getting their cars stuck in the mud. They’ve been there before and gotten stuck, but they keep coming back. They should know better by now, but that’s probably not the problem.

Some people simply love to create their own ruts and then fight their way out of them. You probably know a few folks like that. You hear them bragging about some inane situation they’ve just conquered and eventually you realize they were the cause of their own problem in the first place.

Athletes do this all the time. We go through these periods in life when overtraining or training too much the same way becomes a problem. We get tired or can’t snap out of it. So what do we do? We go out and run or ride or swim some more, usually in the same old way expecting different results. That’s insanity, of course. Yet somehow we keep thinking more work will add up to less fatigue.

That’s a rut of your own making for sure. Cyclists are probably the worst about all this. They join the group rides every damned week and tear around the 35-mile loop at 23 mph. Then the next day they go out and try to ride all out on their own and wonder why their body can’t respond. Even when they gun the engine the tires feel like they’re spinning in place. That’s call a training rut. Runners get them too. And swimmers. And triathletes? The dig triple ruts. Then they rut around for someone to console them. There’s a rut and wrong way to go about this you know…

The better approach is to slow down a bit. Think things through. Give your body and mind a chance to actually recover for once. Allow a slow swim, ride or run now and then. Who the fuck really cares if you rode thirty miles at 17.1 or 19.1? Really?

Once you’ve done that, you can think more clearly about how deep you’ve driven yourself into a rut and how to get back out.

Those kids that tore up the mudflats around the wetland eventually did find a way to get their little white sedan up and over the hill. Concerned for the sensitive plants at the edge of the water, I’d called the police to come take a gander at what was going on. The young policeman asked, “Why would they take a sedan down there? Even a Jeep would have a hard time getting out.”

Indeed. But the kids were quite obviously restless and bored the way kids get when summer hits and it feels like there is not enough to do or life doesn’t offer much interest. So they stood their waving their hands at the mosquitoes biting their necks as one of their buddies ground out the engine of the sedan trying to spin their way out of the mud.

It was all a classic case of creating problems of their own to fix. It may not be a phenomenon unique to American culture, but we seem to have perfected it. That’s how street vandals and desperate patriots both go about keeping themselves busy. They screw something up on purpose just to prove to themselves they can fix it on their own. There’s a little bit of backwards hillbilly instinct woven into the fabric of America.

Eventually they all whoop and holler and drive over the hills leaving the ruts of their supposed adventures behind. The entire continent of North America is covered with tracks like that. From swampland to desert, oceanside to mountaintops, the ruts of restless souls are testaments to the deadly boredom and false heroics of generations come and gone. Those are the skid marks of the American Dream.

Don’t you be one of them. Be one of you. Don’t try to flail your way out of whatever rut you might find yourself in, even if it is of your own making. Remember that you can’t swim your way out of quicksand. Neither can you spin your way out of mud or snow. Just easy does it. Don’t make the rut worse than it already is.

It’s the only way to catch back up with the American Dream, or one of your own making.

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What do we want from summer?

In two days it will be June. That is the official start of summer in my mind. Which meant it felt a little bittersweet to stumble upon this photo taken in August of last year. Summer often goes too fast…

None of us wants summer to slip by unappreciated. But life has a tendency to shove us through these three months no matter how we try to take stock, slow down and appreciate these summer days.

What do we want from summer?

I do know what I’d like to get from this year’s summer months. Perhaps you can relate. I want a number of long, unpressured bike rides that wind up at twilight with the air cooling down and the feeling of those miles in my legs.

But I also want those hard, fast nights when the air is warm and I’m cycling for all I’m worth, legs screaming as I rip along at 26+mph trying to break my record on a Strava segment.

That’s summer too.

It will be a great summer if there are also many long runs on grassy paths and gravel trails. It would even be nice to get lost in a deep, thick woods and have to figure my way back home on sandy trails in the north woods.

If there’s a cool, dark lake in which to swim at the end of some of those runs, that would be wonderful too.

Riding nowhere to get somewhere

Every summer a group of us gather to ride from St. Charles, Illinois up to Fontana, Wisconsin where we go for a refreshing swim in Lake Geneva. Then we retreat to the shady confines of Chuck’s, a bar overlooking the lake shore and all the boats. We drink beers and have burgers without worrying about getting a bit ripped because the designated driver with our bikes on the back of her car will usher us back home.

Racing triathlons

It will be a stupendous summer if a few races also plop into the schedule. For me that means a couple Sprint Tris and an Olympic (or two.) We may even do a crazy fun new race called the Loop Pursuit up in Verona, Wisconsin. Here are the raw details.

Sunday, August 4th, 2019
Total Distance:  50 miles
Swim: .8 miles
Bike: 39.2 miles
Run: 10 miles

It bills itself this way (from the Rocket Bicycle Studio website:

THE EVENT TO REMIND YOU WHY YOU LOVE TRIATHLON

“Making its debut in 2019, The Loop Pursuit is the triathlon experience you’ve been longing for. We’re focusing on what you love about the sport — camaraderie, challenge, attaining a personal best — and leaving behind those things you don’t.The Loop Pursuit Triathlon gives participants a “right distance” race opportunity to use for long course triathlon training and a challenge for those wanting a bit more than a sprint distance triathlon.”

Get out there and ride until its twilight.

In other words, while all these summer sensations are great to pursue, it might be fun for all of us to break out of our training and racing routines this summer. I might even look for an Xterra Tri or some nutty thing like that.

Because the one thing that I want from this summer is to feel like I am truly alive. And so should you.

 

Posted in Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, training, training for a marathon, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Leave a comment

Ugly ducklings of one kind or another

The photo above shows the goslings that come to our backyard bird feeder every day. They’re not ducklings, per se, but they are rather “ugly” as birds go. They’re still in their coating of down feathers. Soon they’ll be pushing out “real” feathers and taking on the general pattern of their parents with the black necks and distinctive white cheek patch of grown Canada geese.

We all go through awkward phases in life. Middle school is the worst stage for most people. That gawky era with bad glasses and seemingly malformed bodies is the worst. I adore the show Big Mouth for its honesty about the horrific transition through pubescence and its ensuing sexual curiosity and embarrassment.

My middle school years were split between a 7th grade in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and eighth grade in Elburn, Illinois. When our family moved I left behind close friendships built through elementary school and had to start all over again in the cornfields of Illinois. I was relatively popular and one of the top athletes back East, invited to the Kiss the Bottle parties and middle school betrothed to a girlfriend named Lisa who worse short skirts and made out with me in the dark with stacks of 45 rpm records playing in the background.

For the most part we were competing to look as hip and sophisticated as possible in late 1960s parlance with our longer hair and bellbottom jeans. When I moved my girlfriend gave me a photo of her and handwritten lyrics to the Carpenters song Close to You. Given my burgeoning interest in ornithology at that age, the lyrics turned out to be prescient in my lifetime:

Why do birds suddenly appear 
Every time you are near? 
Just like me, they long to be 
Close to you

Even as partly fledged human beings we were fully aware of tits and asses even in 7th grade. The girls back east wore miniskirts with fishnet stockings. We felt like we knew so much and yet we knew so little. At least I did. Once I moved away, I heard through a letter from a friend back home that one of our classmates got pregnant in eighth grade and had an abortion.

The summer before my eighth grade year I met all new friends and started forming a new life because that’s all you can do when you’re thirteen years old and trying to make sense of the mysteries of the world. I played basketball all winter and ran track that spring, and was pretty sure I’d go out for football in the fall because I’d won the Punt, Pass and Kick contest and advanced to districts because I was so competitive I refused to lose.

My father over ruled those instincts and sent me out for the cross country team as a freshman. Running cross country didn’t seem to impress the girls as much as playing football might have done. But running did provide a temporary release for all my anxieties. It also assuaged my teenage angst and anger and provided a healthy release of teenage hormones. For the most part anyway.

I was still an ugly ducking with a pile of thick hair on top of my head and a close-mouthed smirk in every photo because my teeth were crooked. There were times when I felt like I was truly flying out there on the cross country course, and I made the Varsity as a freshman. Yet there were also times when I felt like a flailing ugly duckling making it up as I went along.

Once in a while I go cycling past Kaneland High School out in the cornfields west of Elburn, Illinois. By my sophomore year we moved again and I was forced to leave behind the friends and status I’d worked so hard to earn through those ugly duckling years. The lessons learned from all that change still run through me to this day. No matter how successful people become, it often takes a daily dose of wing flapping to keep those ugly duckling beliefs about yourself at bay.

That fishy character named Dory originally depicted in the movie Finding Nemo always advises “Just keep swimming…” as the means to get through life’s challenges and absent-minded mistakes. I prefer to think of myself as a bird, an ugly duckling with full feathers and the need to molt now and then.

“Just keeping flapping…” is more my mantra when I feel like flying.

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I never made the state track meet, but still scored

The events I’m about to share happened quite a long time ago. But like a good Bob Seger song, some things never quite fade from memory.

It was May of 1975. As a senior in high school I was gunning to make the state meet in the mile run and had reached the qualifying time five times leading up to the state meet trials. I lined up for the race feeling confident that I could make the top six places, but wound up flailing down the home stretch in seventh place and did not advance to the state meet after all. I’d reach the time, but not the place.

It was disappointing. All that running in high school and I never did make it to a single state track meet. The same was true in cross country, where our sectional meet featured teams such as York and the Glenbard schools along with a host of individual competitors able to crack 15:00 with ease for the three-mile distance. So I never advanced from sectionals in cross country either.

Consolation

All the same, a few buddies and I decided to drive to Charleston, Illinois to cheer on the guys that we knew that were competing from our school and others as well.

Perhaps I’d have had better luck qualifying for state if our family had remained in that little town where I’d attended a Class A school through my sophomore year. The transfer to a Class AA school put me in a more competitive bracket and tougher qualifying times than the single A level. That said, my former teammates would win the state Class A track title that year. That made my own experience bittersweet. But I cheered hard for them just the same. It proved to be a long day sitting in the heat and sun, full of thirst and just wanting to go back home.

When the meet was over, my buddies and I piled back into the ’67 Chevy owned by my best friend and we heading up the long road home home. About 3/4 of the way back from Charleston I looked over and noticed that we were passing a vehicle filled with girls from my former high school. I said to my buddies, “Let’s moon them.”

Letting it all hang out

And so it began. Two carloads of bored and sunburned kids flashing each other as we took turns roaring past with our nakedness showing. “Let’s give ’em a fruit basket,” one of my buddies chortled. We soared past with his nuts pinched between his legs and ass.

The girls came back past us with breasts and butts and everything else smashed against the rear windows. The driver sat behind the wheel smirking. I couldn’t believe I was seeing the boobs of gals with home I’d gone to school since eighth grade. None of us were complaining.

Pastel by Christopher Cudworth (2018)

Somehow during all this nakedness with genitals and breasts and balls and dicks flying around I scored the phone number of one of the prettiest girls in the car. The next day I called to invite her out to a movie, and she said yes. That surprised me because I’d never dated her during my time attending the other school. But again, I wasn’t going to complain.

Shampoo

As luck would have it, the movie Shampoo starring Warren Beatty was showing at the theaters. The whole flick was about having sex. I sat next to my date trying not to look too eager about the whole affair.

And then just like the Bob Seger song Night Moves we drove out into the cornfields to go parking on a remote road and had fun like teenagers do.

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants points hardly reknown
She was a black haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own sitting way up high
Way up firm and high

Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy
Workin’ on mysteries without any clues
Workin’ on our night moves
Trying’ to make some front page drive-in news
Workin’ on our night moves in the summertime
In the sweet summertime

That time with her almost made me glad to have missing qualifying for the state meet. And had I actually learned something from that encounter, such as the fact that women are frequently just as eager for dalliances and adventures as men, I’d have likely had even more success in that field of endeavor.

But you know, fear and lack of confidence crept back in. Those two traits have killed more ambitions than any two things in history.

Sunset wisdom

Eventually I overcame those limitations as well. And every year when the state track meet comes around, I think of that race where I didn’t qualify in the mile and the swift part of that memory flashes through my mind. I remember many times thinking that being an athletic star would get me girlfriends. But then I realized it’s more about having the confidence and wit to just go up and talk to them. And perhaps be a little dangerous or interesting in whatever way you can muster. Women genuinely seem to like that.

Who can blame them? Don’t we all have the right to make life more interesting?

That said, I never saw that girl again. Years later I was told by one of our mutual friends, and one of the gals that was in the car that day… that she married a rich guy and is quite happy with him. Then her friend said, “She was one of the prettiest girls I ever knew.”

So I guess I qualified after all.

We run and ride

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