The Tar Bubble Chronicles

During my run today I looked down and saw a few small bubbles poking up from the surface of the tar at the edge of the road. I stopped and bent down to use the tip of my pointer finger to pop one of the bubbles. It didn’t exactly pop, but it did give a satisfying collapse in going from convex to concave.

Tar bubbles were a childhood fixation for me. I loved to pop them. So satisfying.

Pushing that tar bubble made me think back to those slow days as a kid when I’d wander back from the swimming pool with no real pressure to get home or do anything else that I didn’t want to do. The neighborhood that stood between the pool and home was safe enough for a kid of eight or nine years old to walk along with no worries. So I’d wrap a towel from swimming all day over my shoulders and walk back home on streets named after golf course terms. There was Niblick Avenue and Divot Court. We lived near a private country club you see. some developer must have thought it would be cute to use golf terms to name the asphalt streets lined with modest homes.

Our family wasn’t actually members of that country club. We just had an “associate” membership that allowed us to swim at the Meadia Heights pool. These days its just a crumbling old relic. But in those days it was a bright blue pool with low and high diving boards and a snack shop that had everything a kid could need to make it through the day.

But as afternoon waned and it was time to head home, I’d say goodbye to friends or walk with them until they turned off to head down their own street. Along the way we’d hunt for “Fool’s Gold” as we called it. All the local kids had collections of the stuff. It would show up with a bright golden glint in the gravel next to the asphalt. Usually it was in cubic form. Sometimes it would be embedded in the tar. If a chunk of pyrite was big enough we’d dig it out with our fingers or a stick and take it home to add to our collection. I also had a collection of golf balls from wandering the fairways of the country club, a butterfly collection carefully preserved in a set of cigar boxes and a baseball card collection that included many of the New York Yankees, then my favorite team. I had cards for Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Rocky Calavito, Joe Pepitone, Whitey Ford along with a host of other baseball players from the Orioles, Giants, Pirates (Roberto Clemente!) Red Sox and Cardinals. But even though we lived near Philadelphia, I never liked the Phillies.

The texture of the tar is like my aging skin in places. Was it a premonition of years to come?

Those were the small pleasures of youth, all those collections. It felt like I owned something precious. Yet I also recall a deep sense of peace walking those streets on the way home from the pool and feeling a sense of freedom in having so few obligations. My body would be relaxed from swimming all day. The sun kept me warm all the way home. I could walk along with my own thoughts, dreaming about this thing or that. The only thing missing (I suppose) was a group of imaginary friends the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore and Piglet. But I was never much into the imaginary friend thing. I studied the birds instead. That’s a hobby I still carry with me to this day. a

A band of bank swallows. Photo by Christopher Cudworth.

As for the journey home, my imagination was rich enough to fill in the gaps. In fact it has always been a little too rich for my own good. I struggled in classes at school that bored me. I abhorred boredom. So I’d draw instead.

Abiding those habits is probably why I’m not rich in the material sense of having lots of money. I find joy in creating things instead, especially writing and painting. Yes, I have made money at those things over time. But I don’t obsess over money perhaps the way I should. A few artists do. But most of us don’t.

Some tar bubbles would make an audible “pop” when the pressure was released from their heated core.

I’ve written extensively about those couple years I spent running and painting and writing for all that I was worth. Something in me knew that taking time to do those things at that point in life was a precious investment in my long term self. And learning to survive on little has at times come in handy over the years.

Yet during one of those summers in which I was training so much and writing all day, a friend at time once stood over me and said, “You know, self-indulgence is not the way to self-fulfillment.” He was basically accusing me of doing nothing more than popping tar bubbles on the road to life.

Perhaps he was right. But I say you have to pause to pop the tar bubbles along the road of life or you’ll find yourself looking back and realize it’s been one long tarsnake from one end to the other.

Posted in aging, Christopher Cudworth, competition, running, training, we run and ride | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A competitive take on 9/11

3942611: Smoke pours from the World Trade Center after it was hit by two hijacjked passenger planes September 11, 2001 in New York City in an alleged terrorist attack. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images) Time Magazine.

Thinking back to 9/11/2011, I well recall coming into the house after a run to find the television tuned to an image of a World Trade Center tower smoking and burning against a clear blue sky. At that time, America did not know that our President and Vice President had been briefed by the outgoing administration of Clinton and Gore that terrorists threats were real and imminent. All we knew in the moment is that bad things were happening and the skies above us had gone silent.

I was no fan of the Bush administration well before they swept into office on the backs of a legal decision by a conservative-led Supreme Court. I wasn’t a fan of the electoral shenanigans down in Florida that led to the need for that decision. I considered the entire Bush-Cheney debacle an example of an ideological coup on America.

And I wasn’t wrong about those instincts. Because after 9/11 the Bush administration trumped up arguments to not only attack Afghanistan but to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to invade and devastate Iraq. The supposed weapons of mass destruction waiting to be used against the United States by Saddam Hussein were phantoms of political imagination. And after Osama bin Laden slipped away into Pakistan, the Bush administration sort of lost interest in the man. They had their hands full messing things up in Iraq with no plan and no exit strategy. Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld offered up the lamest example of military tomfoolery in American history: ““You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

That made me wonder out loud what in the ever-living-fuck America was doing with all the money American taxpayers pumped into the world’s largest, supposedly most powerful military? How could we not be competitively prepared to engage in war if we were spending more than the seven next nations combined?

What? No WMDs?

So Rumsfeld and Co. sent our soldiers into harms’ way with Humvees that lacked armor, vests that were insubstantial and even earplugs that were insufficient to protect the hearing of military personnel. If you don’t believe me on that last part, listen for the advertisements on Sirius radio now offering legal compensation for military personnel whose hearing was damaged in the Iraq debacle.

Mercenaries unleashed

Meanwhile the mercenary instincts of the Republican guard ––American style––were unleashed through military contractors turned loose in Iraq to run the show and make money hand over fist. This was war profiteering, plain and simple. And Vice President Dick Cheney could sit back and wait for the money to flow his way because his longterm interests in companies such as Halliburton would guarantee him a good return on investment. In the first Gulf War and the second, companies like that likely jumped for joy when the oil wells caught fire. Just an opportunity to make more money.

Oily interests

The Bush-family interests in oil were not neglected either. We had two massive conflicts of interest going on in Iraq and yet the political Right and Fox News cheerleaded our efforts even after they led to the heinous practice of torture and death of people in captivity. It was too ironic that we shipped those captives to a prison camp on the shore of Cuba, a country with whom our country had no formal political ties at the time. The ugliness of the entire enterprise was a disgusting stain on the character of our nation.

Restoration of sanity

The nation temporarily corrected with the election of Barack Obama, whose calm presidential guidance through the aftermath of a Republican-led recession restored America’s economy to global competitiveness. The Trump administration now in power owes its initial success to the momentum established by the Obama years. But rather than thank President Obama for the great job he did on the first three legs of that economic relay, Trump took that baton and waved it in Obama’s face while claiming he did all the work to get there.

Return to inanity

All these competitive issues are hampering America’s ability to sustain its economy and find its place in the peloton of world politics. With naively assumptive rubes like Bush, Cheney and Trump as captains of America’s team, we always squander the lead we’ve built up in any category of governance. Republicans always act like rookie track runners who want to burn up the first part of the race without concern for what comes after. Then the bear jumps on their back and they start to point fingers. “They made me run too fast! There’s no way we could see this coming!”

As a longtime competitive athlete, I have zero pity for people who keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. And when people additionally lie about their exploits and/or engage in “woulda-coulda-shoulda” claims about what might have happened “if only” people had supported them, it makes me want to barf on their shoes. I would so gladly do so on the shoes of Donald Trump. He is a sickening man at every level. He can’t compete on legitimate playing field, so he cheats and lies and commits fraud. Colludes and conspires, and hires those incompetent only to try to make himself look smart by firing them. He’s an overblown idiot and it’s only too bad Chris Farley is not alive to play him on SNL.

Here are the simple facts: The 9/11 attacks could well have been prevented if Americans had not been misled, deceived and possibly even purposely manipulated by an administration all too eager to capitalize on tragedy to execute its dark comedy on the world.

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Is it ever okay to be selfish?

Back in 1982, I was transferred by my employer from Chicago out to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a consolidation of the marketing department. That situation lasted about eight months before the EVP in charge of the division decided the VP of Marketing was not contributing much in the way of actionable return on investment. So they canned the whole bunch of us.

They gave me a severance check in April and I moved back to Chicago in May. The economy was not exactly booming three years into the reign of Reagan in 1983, so I used that summer to focus on getting better as a runner.

Circa 1983. Sycamore Pumpkin Run. Right before I earned sponsorship. Loved that NB kit.

That fall I won a race called Run for the Money. It earned me attention from a running store that was forming a sponsored team. They gave me racing and training shoes and equipment, and I started working part-time at the store. But otherwise I ran morning noon and night.

It was an admittedly self-indulgent period of life. Beyond the running, I chased girls in the city even while I was dating the woman that I would later marry. She lived out in the suburbs. I was also selfish about my interests and habits, spending entire days writing or painting in our two-flat Chicago apartment overlooking Lincoln Park. But I completed my first book and sold quite a few paintings. So it wasn’t wasted time. Mostly my hormones were the big distraction.

Winning ways

In 1984 I won a bunch of road races and that would turn out to be the peak of my career. By 1985 I was still running well but the obligations of life were staring me in the face, including the birth of our first child. I made a conscious decision that next October in 1986, the month he was born, to cease racing seriously and focus my energies on becoming a good father and provider.

I did not necessarily achieve those two goals in a perfect sense. There were times when I was distant emotionally. Mostly that was a product of my first awareness of anxiety and depression. Despite those vexing emotional hurdles, I did push into marketing and promotions. By the time I was 32 years old, along came a second child, a daughter this time. And from there life became a series of commitments to support their activities and education.

My daughter Emily and son Evan Cudworth

Both our children popped out of high school and into college only to have their mother get sick with cancer. She achieved remission multiple times but eight years later she could not hold out any longer and passed away in 2013.

During those eight years I tried my best to be a selfless caregiver. Her illness often required absolute attention. We’d spend long hours sitting in chemo treatment centers, me writing while she either read or watched TV as the chemo dripped through one vein or another. They even pumped huge doses of controlled poison straight into her abdomen. Then it was like they said, “Go ahead, walk it off.” And we’d come back a few weeks later for another round.

It was stressful. I took Lorazepam to help me through the nights. Then I’d wean off it when she got well again.

Linda with our daughter Emily on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities.

But it was the side effects that hurt us the most. That required more attention than anything else. I tried my best to be a selfless husband to her then as well. At one point I was trying to help her down some awful liquid she had to drink for a barium test and she hissed at me and said, “Fuck you!” I deserved that.

That first year of her cancer my mother passed away from a combination of cancer and stroke as well. That meant I took over as caregiver for my father as well. That was my other duty all the way through 2015, just over ten years after my mother had died. His needs were many and he could be a demanding patient at times. Fortunately with the help of caregivers he lived a mostly fruitful life all the way through his passing.

Perspective

These days with the duties of caregiving behind me, I look back and wonder if life would have turned out any differently if all that had not happened. But honestly, I view much of those experiences as a benefit to my soul. I learned better patience, for one thing. And I learned to be less selfish about a ton of things.

But I’ll not say that all that caregiving did not have an emotional price. I’ve coped with the grief in a pretty healthy way. Going on long runs and rides to think it all through always helped. Yet there are moments when I feel the fatigue of caregiving (all those years) catch up with me. And I can’t help wonder what life might have been like without it.

Thinking back to all that supposed freedom in my early 20s doesn’t really help. The severance check they gave me ran out by autumn and I was living hand-to-mouth most of the next year, my big year in running. That’s actually a familiar story to many of us from back in those days. We were willing to sacrifice almost anything to run a little faster or a little longer. Running was an obsession.

My kids and I with my father Stewart Cudworth. And Chuck the Dog.

I once said to my mother while she was alive that I felt a little regret at being so self-indulgent during those years. Without hesitation she said, “I don’t think so. You burned brightly.” She’d seen me win races with that fiery look on my face and the early signs of balding creeping back my forehead. She knew that you have to take some selfish chances in life when the time is right. The drive to be so obsessed is no longer there.

The writer John Irving was one of my favorite reads back in those days. One of the lead characters in his book Hotel New Hampshire said, “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” He was talking about wrestling, in that context. But we all knew it was a statement about life as well.

It’s hard not to feel a little selfish about my time going forward. I’m sixty-two years old and trying to save my ass off to plan for retirement, but life is rocky sometimes and the ups and downs can trip you up. That said, I’m writing books because there are things I want to say, and I believe the world needs to hear them. Perhaps that is a selfish thing to assume, but that is the core mission of every writer and artist on this earth. Produce or die. Say what you have to say. Show your goddamned cards or shut the fuck up. No one ever said life as an artist or writer is easy. But it’s much harder for those of us with these penchants to not do anything at all. That is anathema.

Power to the pup

Sue and I with our new pup Lucy.

It’s even hard for me some days to not be resentful in my new duties as a dog owner. So much of the scheduled routine reminds me of all those caregiving years. Waking up every morning (and sometimes at night) to think, “What do they need today?” has been part of my psyche so long that it feels like a native anxiety. So part of me rebels at the thought of new obligations. I want to feel selfish and not feel guilty about it.

But that’s not really me. It never really has been. Not since I retired from competitive racing anyway. My selfish brain still has selfish thoughts, but then I see the light in the eyes of those I love and that all melts away. After all, it’s time to face another day. I always try to do it the right way. By putting others first.

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A crash course in human conscience

We traveled to Madison, Wisconsin this past Saturday to do some riding in the hills on the Ironman Wisconsin course. I rode 65 miles with 4,000 feet of climbing and my wife was on track to do 100 miles when her Specialized Shiv double-flatted on the railroad tracks in Cross Plaines.

The next morning we got up to watch friends and associates race in the Wisconsin Ironman. After spending an hour at the 18-mile point next to Rocket Bicycle Studio in Verona, we drove out to Mount Horeb and joined the folks from The Labs at the aid station leading into downtown.

We saw our buddies finishing the last few hundred feet of the long climb leading into Mt. Horeb. There were dozens of volunteers handing out water, orange Gatorade, gels and bananas. Feed zones are always a little sketchy with people starting and stopping, seldom looking behind to see what’s coming. We saw no incidents until one fellow parked his bike smack between the curb and the traffic cones at the start of the feed zone.

Bent and haggard

He was bent to his left and looked a little haggard, more like a guy that had just finished the race than a triathlete starting the first of two 40-mile loops in the steep hills west of Madison.

I walked down to see check on him because the young volunteers handing him Gatorade and hand-feeding him bananas seemed confused and a bit unsure of their role in that situation. As I approached I could see that his shoulder was dropping on one side. There were fresh new skin abrasions and what appeared to be a thin strip of black garbage bag around his shoulder like a bra strap.

“Don’t touch me. I broke my shoulder”

Drawing closer, I began to point at his shoulder to ask a question about his condition when he turned numbly and said, “Don’t touch me. I broke my shoulder.”

Indeed, the entire shoulder joint appeared to be three inches lower on his right side than his left. Then I glanced at his tri-bike and saw that his aero bars were askew. Clearly the crash he’d just taken was bad.

He seemed foggy and distant in conversation. Words tumbled out of his mouth slowly and without certainty. “He’s in shock,” I thought to myself. “I’ve been there.”

Crash experience

Back in 2012 I crashed my bike going 40 mph on a Wisconsin hill near the American Players Theater in Spring Green. That wreck shattered by collarbone in three places. The ambulance arrived and hauled me off to the hospital where they gave me Vicodin and my friends finally arrived to take me back to the campsite to recover for the day. A few weeks later a surgeon repaired the clavicle and a few weeks after that I was back riding my bike. Gingerly, mind you. But you do have to get back on the horse and ride it after it bucks you off.

Chip Seal sins

But this guy was fresh off an obviously violent crash. And given that I’d just ridden the hills on which he traveled the day before, I could well imagine the scene. Several of the roads were recently paved with Chip Seal, the dreaded pea gravel treatment favored by township governments across the country because the technique is apparently cheap and easy to do.

Loose gravel and tri-bikes are a literally deadly combination. As I stared at the guy’s condition I could imagine him speeding down the worst of the pea gravel hills as his bike tires slid out beneath him. Down he’d go. The body collapses into pain after that. But he got back on his bike to ride.

Was that a good decision? Only he can make that call in the moment. Surely he did not want to give up after all that training. But as I thought about the hills ahead of him, a vicarious fear for his life appeared in my brain. A man in possible shock who could not even start up riding his bike on his own accord did not belong on the roads ahead. The young volunteer helping him by pushing his bike back into motion was doing his best to be supportive, but as I watched the broken rider teeter up the hill with only one hand on the handlebar, I had second thoughts about whether he should be allowed to continue.

EMT conscience

Because I don’t think he’d been seen by a medical team associated with the race. There is no way that an EMT with any conscience would have allowed that fellow to continue. Too much liability, for one thing. But human nature and medical training would have demanded that he be extracted from the race.

So I walked up to the policeman directing traffic at the intersection and explained what I’d seen. “I think you should call ahead to the EMTs up the road and get that guy out of the race,” I told him.

That’s what the policeman did. Some might think that I ruined that man’s day by tattling on his ostensibly brave demeanor. But I might also have saved his life. He had more than 90 miles to ride that day just to reach the marathon start. There’s no way he could have run 26.2 miles with a broken shoulder.

Call me an ass for sticking my nose in where it perhaps didn’t belong. I’ll take the label proudly. I’d rather be an ass for caring than live with the sin of saying nothing.A

Posted in bike crash, bike wobble, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The thighs don’t have it easy these days

Running short fashions on display at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Walking through our local Dick’s Sporting Goods store, I noticed a display for running gear featuring shorts with three different inseam lengths: 5″, 7″ and 9″.

That might not mean much to most runners. But having emerged from the era when male runners mostly wore shorts with 1″ inseams, it spoke volumes.

Running short fashions in the 70s and early 80s were short, and fast.

I clearly recall when the running short culture began to change. I actually blame/credit basketball superstar Michael Jordan for causing shorts to lengthen. When he entered the NBA, basketball shorts were high enough to expose the entire thigh of the players. But for whatever reason, players like Jordan preferred longer shorts. And when Michael Jordan made a move in those days, people followed.

That had a cumulative effect on the entire fashion industry when it came to short lengths. Even the length of Bermuda shorts for casual wear evidenced what I’d call the Jordan Effect. They grew longer. Like, 1950s longer.

Just your average guy I guess.

That meant that running shorts started to cover the thighs as well. As the trend took hold, I found it absurd to see high school runners traipsing around the cross country course in what looked like abbreviated pajamas. At the height of my racing career, I wanted nothing on the legs that might restrict my stride, cause more weight or create more wind resistance. Running a half marathon in the wind was hard enough without having a pair of sails flapping around your thighs.

Getting longer…the longest seam shorts are 9″. If your wank sticks out at that length, truly blessed. LOL.

I know that fashions go back and forth. But it looks like there’s a middle-of-the-road compromise taking place in the running world. Men can now choose what length of running shorts they want to wear. To some degree, that’s true for women too. But mostly it seems that women are allowed (even encouraged) to expose their thighs while running. But the sight of a man’s thighs in public still causes some people to blanche.

Steeplechasing in logically short shorts in 1977.

That’s particularly true for men of a certain age or older. I suppose it’s not so pretty to see the often pale and wrinkly thighs of an aging runner out there on the streets. Those of us that have lived through forty years of fashion changes in running shorts will probably have to satisfy ourselves with memories of fast days speeding down the road in short shorts. I loved the Salazar line of running wear for that reason. Just a shiny tech layer of material to cover your crotch and buns and away you go.

Camping in Glacier National Park with my Salazar PR running shorts, circa 1984.

The thighs have it tough these days when it comes to what is appropriate wear for running. But maybe we’ve come far enough to live and let live. Thigh certainly hope so.

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The high value of red meat and bones

We adopted a dog from Safe Haven, the rescue group that brings abandoned pups from Tennessee and Kentucky up to Illinois to find homes for them. We named her Lucy, in part after triathlete Lucy Charles-Barclay, a person we both admire.

By breed Lucy is officially half Staffordshire terrier, otherwise known as a pit bull. But she’s also part beagle, boxer and border collie. All smart breeds, but stubborn and willful as well. So training is a top priority for her while she is a young pup. We hired a dog trainer to help us learn how to bring her along.

One of the things we learned early on is that pups like Lucy value certain types of food or objects higher than others. These “high value” items include larger rawhide bones but also the ground red meat we’ve introduced into her diet.

With items like those under her nose, Lucy can get defensive and even snarl at us. That is not behavior we want to abide, much less encourage. Some of her aggression likely stems from her earliest experiences in kennels or situations where other dogs were dominant over her.

But some of it is just dogs being dogs, and that’s not really good either. When animal instincts such as food aggression are allowed to continue, the pet is uncomfortable in many situations and can make people uncomfortable as well. She’s a sweet girl, but she needs to be trained out of these harsher animal instincts.

We’ve got her going to doggy day-care as well. That socializes her to other dogs, which is an important aspect of her overall training because the world is full of other dogs, and we want those encounters to be healthy for her too.

All this dog training makes me think about how humans behave as well. Dog training is probably 80% training humans and 20% actually training the dog.

Much like dogs, it is also true that people in this world also have “high value” objects and ideas that they will snarl and growl to protect. These are the red meat and bones of contemporary culture.

We can see much of this “high value” aggression going on in the political issues vexing the American populace right now. Try to take away someone’s guns and they’ll snarl and growl about their Second Amendment rights. Try to take away someone’s health care preferences and they’ll bark at you. All of these issues are the product of possession instincts versus fear of loss.

Fear of loss or even the perception that something of high value might be taken away drives it all. And when the head of a pack of dogs shows aggression, it puts every other dog on edge. Fights break out in redirected aggression. The red meat of human evolution bubbles to the surface.

During my peak competitive years as a runner, coming in first place in a race was something I valued quite highly. I cared about those results more than almost anything else in life. And while I was young and in peak physical condition, I was fortunate to win a number of races and do quite well in others.

Some of that competitive stuff was merely ego-driven. We all like to win. That is true. It makes us feel important. We hope that others take notice.

Yet some of that drive to win was also compensatory. It was the result of a powerful need for approval related to struggles with self-esteem, a critical father and a spectrum of sibling rivalry issues. Those influences caused troubles in some of my “high value” training as a child. Not all of that was well-managed. It left me with some anger issues that admittedly (ultimately) helped drive my competitive spirit. I guess I can be thankful for that in some ways. Those are some of the ironies in red meat achievement in life.

But anger and snarling at the world isn’t really a sustainable way to exist on this planet. Eventually I had to work through those anger issues and emerged with a more mature sense of what I truly value and how to go about getting or keeping it.

And with some things, I’ve just learned to let them go. Every dog has to learn its place in this world, and that is true of people too.

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The naked truth of green leaves and flowers

August is a great time of year to be outdoors. I’m planning a long run today at noon on the Great Western Trail, a former railroad bed that has been converted to a limestone path lined with fields and trees. I’ve run thousands of miles on that trail over the years.

We all gravitate to certain places for our running and riding. Most of us have a favorite or “trusted” route or place where we get in many of our workouts. But there comes a time when it feels best to “get out there” and run away from the routine. All my life I’ve wandered the woods and fields in one way or another. It just feels great to escape while the air is still warm and the summer breeze graces your skin.

Sometimes we even need to shed some clothes and be naked in this world. This week marks the start of Burning Man out in the American desert. People of many ages lose both their clothes and inhibitions in a festival designed specifically for that purpose. At the end of the week, a congregation of souls stands witness to the burning of a wood effigy that serves as means to release the spirit and torch any limitations within.

My son has been to Burning Man a number of times. He is an artfully uninhibited guy who craves an open world. We’re similar in that way. Hilariously my wife once saw a photo of his naked ass on an Instagram post and told me, “I can see where he got his butt.”

That’s as it should be as far as I can see. Genetics and the rolling spirit of evolution drive this world despite what hyperzealous creationists, biblical literalists and religious bigots would have us think. Their confined vision of God is nothing more than an attempt to control the narrative and own that authority for themselves. That’s the same tactic used by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, but a multitude of stubborn Christians––just like Adam and Eve––are too blind and forcefully ignorant to see how easily they are manipulated by words that sound like God but in fact conceal the motives of greed beneath them. These souls wind up being complicit with forces of evil that truly stand in opposition to God. They fall into the coils of perverse control and call it the embrace of providence.

These are the tarsnakes of existence.

If that’s hard to follow, well I’m sorry for you. Because it also sets up a scenario in which those same forces dictate control of your life in other ways. Even the intimation in the Book of Genesis that Adam and Eve grew “ashamed” of being naked is result of the repressive and fearful ideology favored by legalistic religious authorities. And taking that oral tradition literally has led to all shorts of shamefully repressive behaviors over the course of history.

Because shame about our bodies leads to repression of other completely natural and organic realities. These include beliefs about sexuality and orientation for which people have been shamed and ostracized for centuries.

I well recall a May morning that I spent running up the beach on Assateague Island, North Carolina. People were out cavorting in the waves as I was running through the sand. One young couple had shed their clothes and were splashing in the high surf. That inspired me to stash my running gear in a tussock of beach grass and take off running naked up the beach. The breeze blowing off the ocean was liberating. I ran and ran and ran. No one told me to stop. No one shamed me for being naked in the world.

It’s hard to find that kind of space in everyday life. This morning while out on my walk to photograph birds I felt the urge to be somewhere even wilder. We actually had plans for that this weekend that just aren’t going to work out.

But here on the edge of suburbia, it’s not legal and thus not wise to go for a naked romp anywhere. There are too incidents of people behaving badly to allow that sort of liberty in civilized society.

Yet I can’t help thinking that even after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, they still found time to wander around naked now and then. And maybe they even engaged in some wild lovemaking sessions in the fresh green grass outside the gates. And God probably didn’t mind. He may have been pissed at them for giving in to the deceptions of religious legalism by the Serpent, but I think God knows that nakedness can lead to an appreciation of the humanity that we all share.

We see the naked truth of green leaves and flowers and the bare feathers of a bird in the bush and are not offended or ashamed. We’re made of the same stuff as the rest of this world, and nothing that the religious zealots tell us will ever change that.

There’s still time to enjoy the naked truth in August. Go find a place and find yourself in the process.

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The yellow days of summer

This is the time of year that the color yellow begins to take over. From coneflowers and sunflowers to sprays of goldenrod burgeoning in the open fields, yellow demands its time before the chill of fall takes over.

I love the yellow of daffodils in the spring, of course. That burst of warm color after a winter of bland landscape is a thrill. And the smell. Daffodils smell like heaven to me.

But the yellows of summer are always a bit richer and more profuse. A little wilder and uncontrolled. A little sadder perhaps because they signify the end, not the beginning of a sweet season.

When I go out for runs in the early morning light of August, the yellows of late summer often stand silent in the mist. Some are laced with dewy spider webs. Others lean over from the same dew, baptized by the night.

Sooner or late the yellow petals of the tall flowers fall while goldenrod waves its thick fists of color in the blue sky. Then one morning the first September leaves land on the ground, tinged with red. Another season has indeed begun.

Yellow may yet arrive in round shape of glorious maples, but it looks different than the yellow glow of summer. For now we can only stare and try to absorb these moments as we move along in our lives, by foot or otherwise.

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Mixing it up at Medinah Country Club

Medinah Country Club is an exclusive, private course where members must invite you to play.

A few years back I had a friend who belonged to the Medinah Country Club, the posh set of courses perched in the west suburbs of Chicago. This past weekend the BMW Championships were held on the course I once played.

During one round the rain began to pour from the skies and the course became flooded within minutes. There were ponds on the fairways and water running in rivers down the hilly terrain.

As a child, it was on rainy days that I’d go out and play golf. We lived fifty yards from one of the fairways of Meadia Heights Golf Club south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When rain kept the country club members off the course, I’d take a three wood, a seven iron and a putter and couple golf balls and run the course in bare feet.

Of course I’d be careful to avoid the holes near the country club. Or occasionally I’d see a greenskeeper out driving the course in a cart and have to make a run for it. But I took it as a challenge that they’d never catch me. Perhaps that fueled my ultimate life as a distance runner.

They never chased me down. I was either too fast or they simply did not care that a local kid had the nerve to run around whacking golf balls while soaked to the skin and in bare feet. Admittedly, I once stepped on a honeybee during one of those rounds and got stung on the tender arch of my foot. It quickly swelled but I was not going to be deterred from my free round of golf. So I wound up hobbling around the course in pain. Again, that experience probably prepared me for life as a distance runner too.

Competing on the golf course

Years later I’d run cross country meets on golf courses in high school and college. That was an environment I knew well. Between races we’d sometimes do workouts on the smooth fairways of local golf course. But those days are long gone. These days that will most likely get you chased off the course. The game of golf is protective of its turf in both literal and metaphorical ways. Liability is one of the main reasons golf pros frown on anyone but golfers taking to the links. They don’t want the legal risk of someone being struck by a golf ball while out running on a golf course.

Rainy days and grownups

All those memories of golf in the rain and other half-approved activities on the golf course ran through my head that day at Medinah when our round of golf got rained out. In that moment the liabilities and risks were real. There was lightning and thunder rolling over the course so we jumped into our golf carts and humped our way back to the clubhouse to take part in the rest of the Camelback event to which we’d been invited. We shed our golf shoes and were ushered into a big banquet room where they shoved sandwiches at us and told us to get ready for the strippers to arrive.

That’s right. The entertainment during lunch at Medina was a phalanx of half-naked women wandering between tables with legs hanging out and boobs barely covered. They were dancing and distracting the crowd of men from their sack lunches. After twenty minutes of that manner of entertainment, an announcer stepped to the microphone and told us the girls would begin offering lap dances in five minutes.

I looked around the table at my fellow companions and said, “I don’t know about you guys. But I’m married.” I gathered up my ham sandwich, potato chips and a Coke and headed out the door.

In that departure I was not alone. There were a number of men in the room who felt the same way. We all exited by the same door and went to find a place to consume our lunches in peace.

We all make decisions during the course of life.

What happened back in the room was really not in my best interests as a person. And it did illustrate the difference between men committed to the ideals of respect for women––especially wives––and those willing to stretch those boundaries for their own entertainment.

I’m not a prude about the world. People can do what they want. Take off their clothes if they choose. Like many a manic twenty-something craving freedom, I used to like to run around golf courses naked at night. Run between the sprinklers and howl at the moon. We all need a release now and then.

I just think there are certain situations where you make choices that reflect your present values and character. I found the lunch entertainment at Medinah that day out of bounds relative to the reason I showed up. I was there to play golf. Mixing it up with other stuff just wasn’t that interesting to me.

Honor code

They say golf is a game that depends on a code of honor. You govern your own penalties out there on the course. Count your own strokes and mark them with honesty or it becomes something else. That’s an allegory for life itself. I’ve always preferred to land on the side of honesty when I can. In looking at the headlines these days (and always) it is obvious there are plenty of folks playing fast and loose in the game of life. It’s hardly even necessary to name names. You can tell who keeps an honest scorecard by the company people choose to keep.

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What sharing the roads means to American civility

I composed this meme this morning because I spent a couple hours studying the roads while on a 30 miles ride. I was noticing how many types of road shoulders cyclists need to navigate while riding. It also occurred to me as I used a short length of bike path along a busy street that most are typically rutted, bumpy, covered with glass or end abruptly with no warning.

This is one of the basic facts of cycling in America. The style of bicycle we call road bikes are not suited for most bike paths. This is especially true on heavily trafficked rails-to-trails bike paths where runners, pedestrians, dog-walkers, children and many other slower types of “traffic” try to use the same 12-foot-wide swath. It’s not safe for fast-moving bicycles to enter those busy zones. That same is true along the big lakefront paths in Chicago. But now efforts are being made to separate the various kinds of trail travelers into lanes. And in the busy parts of the city, designated bike lanes are playing important roles in overall bike safety.

Photo from an article in TimeOut! Chicago (link above)

The safest place for a road bike is generally on more open roads, where the faster pace of “skinny tire” bikes is complimentary with traffic moving in the same direction.

Traffic laws in the United States grant cyclists of all types the right to travel on most public roads. The exceptions are Interstate highways, and for good reason. The rate and volume of motorized vehicular traffic on those roads is not at all conducive to cyclists moving 15-25 mph. Even cars that are moving slower than 45 mph in the left lane can be ticketed for going too slowly and creating a traffic hazard in many states.

The typical margin on the side of a two lane road is less than a foot of additional asphalt.

On standard two-lane roads, bicyclists typically ride within a foot or two of the white line on the side of the road. In some circumstances where the asphalt ends within a few inches of the white line, there is no room for cyclists to ride outside the white line. That means cyclists are allowed to ride in the regular lane of traffic, and passing cars are required to allow three feet minimum as they seek to pass any bike or riders.

The reason for this law is simple. Most people are not adept at judging the span of their vehicle or its width while driving. By requiring three feet of passage on the right side of a vehicle when steering around a bicyclist, the law allows for a margin of error that still protects a degree of protection for both the cyclist and driver.

None of is perfect after all. Add in the factor that cyclists are much more at risk from poor road conditions. The Three Feet law allows for the need of cyclists to swerve around ruts, pavement cracks, tarsnakes or road debris. Unless you’ve ridden a bike on a public road, you may not be familiar with how common these conditions occur. Cyclists are always grateful for “good road,” and most of them drive cars and pay taxes like the general population.

Road conditions and shoulder widths can change suddenly, forcing cyclists out into the lane of traffic.

But the infrastructure of America being what it is these days, underfunded and oft-neglected, the condition of roads in this nation is not always good. It is common in an open country ride to find massive variations in road conditions as one travels through several townships during a typical thirty-mile ride. One learns quite a bit about how tax dollars are applied when rubber literally meets the road. And when it meets the fateful “chip and seal” solution to road repair, cyclists curse and mumble as they rumble down the road with teeth chattering inside their heads. It may be cheaper to use, but chip and seal is a disaster to ride upon.

Traversing a chip and seal roadway is risky when loose gravel suddenly shows up under the wheels.

One also learns quite a bit about public attitude and awareness of cyclist during every ride in every circumstance. Be it urban streets or lonely country roads, cyclists must be aware of automobiles and protect themselves by obeying traffic laws in every way possible. Some riders are better at this than others. But all riders are protected by the Three Feet law where it is required by state jurisdiction.

And where it is not a law, it is still a courteous gesture to give cyclists plenty of room while passing. The same holds true for motorcycles, farm machinery, Amish buggies or plain old Aunt Matilda guiding her supercruiser 1966 Buick on the way to the local supermarket. Public roads are thoroughfares that bear all types of traffic. Some of it is predictable. But much of it is not.

Bike traffic is often considered dangerous even on designated trails. But those Heavy Pedestrians…

Which is why the basic lessons of Driver’s Education need to come into play during every trip by automobile. We all have limited attention spans, but you’ve made it this far in this blog about bike and driver safety, so here’s a link to a set of flash cards that cover terms related to “separating hazards while driving.”

The point here is that separating hazards is a good basic practice in which to engage while driving. But forty years of running on the side of public roads, and close to 20 years of active cycling on those same roads has taught me that a fair number of people don’t know much about either the importance or methods of separating hazards. They either speed up in an attempt to beat the approaching traffic or simply squeeze next to any cyclist on the road and give a roar of the engine to get away from the situation as quickly as possible. Neither of these is a good idea.

But people do these things because they are either incapable of judging traffic situations or too impatient and selfish to care. The former is excusable at some level. But people need to wise up. Cycling deaths are on the rise, and habits like texting while driving are only making things more deadly.

Roads with this much shoulder for cyclists to use are rare indeed.

But the latter habit of aggressively refusing to make room for cyclists is truly deplorable behavior by any driver. People that are so selfish they are eager to threaten cyclists by buzzing close to them on the roads are the true losers in society. Their road rage and dismissive attitude toward people riding bikes is inexcusable. The patterns of behavior are so familiar to cyclists it is often taken for granted there will be a close call or scary incident every ride. First comes the gun of the engine, then the rush of air closes in as a truck or car surges past. Then comes another roar of the engine and a blast of engine smoke as they tear off.

But sometimes, we catch up to these aggressive types at the stoplight. Then one of two things typically happens. If they see you riding up from behind, they’ll either refuse to make eye contact or else bark something out the window. “Get on the bike path!” is a familiar refrain. When there are no bike paths around for miles, this makes absolutely no sense. But then again, neither does the way they were driving.

How would most drivers react in this situation when there are cyclists moving in both directions?

It’s not always pickup trucks. There are sedans and minivans that shove riders off the road. But even when traveling in groups, it is rarely a motorcyclist who intimidates or threatens a group of cyclists. That’s because motorized bikers have enough trouble being seen on the highway. They understand what it’s like to be put into situations that threaten their lives. Their love for the open road and lifestyle may be entirely different than bicyclists, but the one thing these seemingly disparate groups of people have in common is an appreciation for respect shown and given between the two white lines.

We’re all souls traveling the roads of time together. Why can’t we get along?

I’ve written about the fleet of massive trucks that daily floods out of a gravel mine in tiny Kaneville, Illinois. Those drivers encounter loads of cyclists on Main Street, the country road that leads east toward Chicago. That’s where the trucks are headed, and they’re on a schedule for sure. But every truck that I’ve ever encountered coming or going out of that gravel mine has been courteous and safe, often waiting patiently to steer around a single rider or an entire group of cyclists, and there are many out that way.

And I say that if a 20-ton truck can manage to give a minimum three feet of leeway, and often more, then it is also possible for everyday drivers to spend a few moments looking for the safest avenue around a cyclist or a group of riders.

If people are impatient or grow angry because they have to wait a few moments to steer their vehicle around cyclists in order to pass, then those are selfish instincts that need to be addressed at both a personal and societal level. Because while separating hazards on the road while driving is not a cure-all for what ails America roads, it is a starting point for showing greater respect between differing factions of culture. Rather than driving Americans farther apart, that space between the two white lines actually represents an opportunity to find and share common ground. It could be the start of true American civility.

That’s the kind of populism that actually makes America great.

Posted in bike accidents, bike crash, blood on the highway, Christopher Cudworth, cycling, cycling the midwest, cycling threats, death, I hate cyclists | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment