What athletes can teach the world about surviving a pandemic

Yesterday’s news was dominated by the fact that the State of Florida broke the record for the most cases of Coronavirus in a single day. That outcome was the result of hundreds of thousands of people flooding back to beaches and crowding into other public places.

The pent up desire to break from protection measures related to the disease is responsible for much of the pandemic’s spread in Florida. People desperately want to get back to “normal” after a spring and early summer spent in austerity from Shelter At Home orders and a closed down economy.

There is also the move to resist wearing masks, the suggested method by which to prevent such rapid spread of the disease. But a significant segment of the population seems to be convinced that masks are both unnecessary and a symptom of government overreach. Proponents of that attitude refer to people wearing masks as “sheeple,” an insult intended to convey the idea that mask-wearers are unthinking denizens of a socialistic society.

Simple protection

A mask is a simple enough device. It’s a partial face covering to prevent potentially infected droplets of moisture from reaching other people. It’s also a way to help protect said droplets from reaching your own nose and mouth.

Wearing a face mask is not much different than wearing a bike helmet while cycling. The chances of having a crash may be slim, but in the event that you do get in an accident, bike helmets offer a measure of protection. They are not a perfect device in any way, but anyone that has crashed and bonked their head on the ground with a bike helmet on can testify, they do help. They can even save your life.

Athletes quite commonly take other protective measures during training and competition. The application of sun screen is highly recommended to block the harmful rays of the skin. That reduces the risk of skin cancer, a disease that can also kill you.

Healthy competition

When it comes to diet and nutrition, athletes at all levels learn that eating certain foods can help maintain a healthy body weight, prevent problems such as heart disease and diabetes, and fuel the ability to engage in endurance sports that build muscle, strengthen the heart and lungs and reduce ambient stress.

Yet healthy competition also introduces a type of stress that can strengthen the mind for other challenges in life. Competition helps people learn to manage their emotions. That’s a helpful tool in other aspects of life.

Engaging in all these types of preparation and prevention is an integral part of being an athlete in many sports. Even professional golfers in the last ten to fifteen years have transformed their bodies to perform better on the course. They have learned that playing at a higher caliber requires some sacrifice and training to sustain the rigors of a long season.

Refusal to sacrifice

By contrast, it appears that much of America is disgusted with the idea of having to sacrifice anything about their lifestyle in order to enjoy the supposed freedoms of life in this country. Anti-maskers call the obligation of wearing a mask an impingement on their personal freedoms. Meanwhile plain old irresponsible citizens of many ages pour into bars and other public places to gorge themselves on the fat of the land.

This is perhaps no surprise in a country known for its massive rate of overconsumption and obesity. The Center for Disease Control reports that “from 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.%” to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.”

These statistics tell us that there are a significant number of people out there who do not care about their health and who refuse to change their lifestyle to do anything about it. It also happens to be true that the segment of population affected by obesity are also those at greater risk of associated problems such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. These are the people at greatest risk of dire consequences from contracting Covid-19. That begs the question: Are the same people that refuse to take care of themselves in terms of body weight the same people protesting that wearing a mask is an infringement on their personal liberties?

Recently an ardent statistical Redditor produced a study that took a look at that potential correlation. And while it is not exact, it is a compelling perspective.

Obesity rates and Trump Approval Ratings

It is colloquially interesting that the percentage of those with obesity in America (40%) matches almost precisely with the average popularity rating of the current President of the United States of America (also 40%) who also happens to be obese, hates to exercise and claims that exertion can shorten one’s lifespan.

It is no mistake that these factors align so closely.

But there’s more. That 40% figure also generally lines up with the number of people in America whose biblically-literal worldview supports belief in creationism, the anti-science, anti-intellectual take on religion that denies fact in favor of ideology.

This isn’t about ‘fat-shaming or religious persecution or even political rivalry. This is about challenging ideas and habit that endanger the lives of others, and holding people accountable for the actions they take, or don’t take, in that regard.

A stubborn mindset

These aren’t precise alignments of course. But they are related indicators of a mindset that could lead one to refuse to wear a mask, or avoid exercise, or gather in crowded bars or on beaches out of stubborn refusal to believe that Coronavirus is a threat, or those who believe that it isn’t even real. This isn’t about ‘fat-shaming’ or religious persecution or political rivalry. This is about dealing with reality in good conscience and consideration for others. When the habits or belief systems of people dominating the culture dialect are causing others to get sick and die, we have every goddamned right to challenge them.

Wishful thinking

That brings us back to what athletes can teach the world about survival in a pandemic. There is nothing about participating in endurance sports that allows one to persist in the wish that something were true when it isn’t. Every workout is an exercise in profound reality. When an athlete goes out and runs ten miles, no amount of wishful thinking makes them go faster. One either works through the pain to make the gain, or gives up.

The same goes for cycling or swimming. The clock is empiric, and one only improves by putting in the preparation and work to improve.

Sacrifices to be made

That empiric reality includes all the things surrounding the effort as well. There are sacrifices to be made. Early mornings to face. Hot days. Cold, freezing weather. Giving up alcohol or sweets. All to focus on a health approach to performance, and to life.

Those willing to make such sacrifices are not “sheep” in the derogatory sense of the word. They are honest, hard-working people who care enough to take care of themselves. It should also be noted that a community of athletes is often grandly supportive of one another. That’s what being on a “team” is all about. Doing your best and encouraging others is the entire purpose of having a team in the first place.

Even ardent competitors hug after races because they know their rivals push them to go farther and faster. That is the nature of healthy competition.

So much “winning”

But some people claim that denigrating the efforts of those who make sacrifices is the real focus of “winning.” When the President of the United States ridicules a Senator who once suffered through years of torture as a prisoner of war by saying, “I prefer the ones who didn’t get captured,” there is something radically wrong and out of whack with the values system of those who support him. That same President also hid or ignored the fact that Russia has been offering bounties on the lives of our soldiers. He also sold our our Kurdish allies by removing our troops to allow Syrian forces to move in and slaughter them. Clearly he is not on the same “team” as the rest of our military or our allies. Yet he’s our designated Commander In Chief. This is a devastating problem, and it all hearkens back to selfish motivations and blaming others for the problems he creates on his own.

That is the worse kind of team member to have “on your side.” We’ve all dealt with such selfish individuals, who want all the glory yet make none of the required sacrifices. We want nothing more than to be quietly rid of their influence. They ruin the team, poison the locker room atmosphere and drag other people down with them.

And it is that same President who wants America to send its children back to school despite cases of Coronavirus soaring all across the country. His cynical Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos lamely claims that children are less susceptible to the disease. “There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.” Yet even the data she cited would lead to perhaps 15,000 kids dying, an untold numbers of teachers, staff and administrators being put at risk of contracting the disease.

But what should we expect. Much of her wealth was gained through a company whose business model depends on exploiting people from a top-down perspective in a network-marketing scheme.

Sacrificing lives

In other words, the view of “winning” from the perspective of Trump and DeVos is to have people sacrifice their lives in order to give the appearance that everything is going according to their ideological plans. This is the opposite of winning in every respect of the word. It also encourages people already compromised by lack of concern for their own health to put the lives of others at risk. These are the anti-maskers, the stiff-necked religious zealots and the bloated worshippers of Trump that are literally killing America in every sense of the word.

Ridding the world of pet fantasies

A true patriot learns to sacrifice for the good of the nation. America could learn a few things from athletes in that regard. Giving up pleasures and indulgences and even pet fantasies of how to win is a crucial aspect of being both an athlete and a grownup in this world.

There is a sorry lack of both in America right now. The world recognizes it. Americans are banned from traveling to almost every country in the world because our fat-ass, disease-denying, golfing lard bowl of a President thinks he knows better than the rest of the world how to survive a pandemic.

And we’re losing that fight. Life by life, we’re losing it.

Posted in bike accidents, bike crash, competition, cycling, healthy senior, religious liberty, riding, swimming, training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Add Chris Johnson to the prolific runner list

Chris Johnson winning a 5k trail/cross country race with 850 entrants, placing 43rd overall and beating all men over 55.

I’ve known the runner in that photo since approximately 1983. That’s when we both were racing consistently on the Chicago area runner’s circuit. On many a weekend in all sorts of seasons, we’d step to the line together and give each other a knowing nod.

Chris has run nearly 80,000 miles in his career, often winning age group categories at distances from the 5K all the way up to the marathon, where his travels often took him out Kansas way.

He’s also an astute observer of nature, and once in a while we’ll cross paths while running or cycling and we’ll stop to share some rare or interesting bird we’ve seen. But Chris also knows plants well, and he’s good at sharing which species are blooming with particular verve in spring and summer.

Vegetation wipes

Recently I wrote a blog on the subject of dealing with gastrointestinal issues while out running. Most of the restrooms on our local trails are closed. So we’ve all been forced to squat and wipe with whatever material is available.

And obviously, if one feels the urge to “go” yet forgets to bring along toilet paper, it helps to know the local flora well enough to avoid wiping with something that can harm your hinterparts, or more.

Chris happens to be quite educated on the plant world. He caught up with me last Saturday during a run and explained that I’d missed a few good options among plants suitable for ass-wiping. Chris ass-ured me these are unisex alternatives.

This is burdock. It has big ass leaves as you can see. Their texture tends to be smooth, for the most part. That avoids the scratchy feeling that can give you the creeps. Plus you can see pretty well whether there are bugs on the leaves, which I’m sure you’d rather avoid.

As Chris noted on the photo above, “Common Burdock, which comes in two nearly identical varieties, is my first choice for body wiping. Slightly astringent and with a pleasant odor it is slightly rough to the touch. Burdock is especially good for wiping dirty and grimy hands.”

Here’s a photo of a single burdock leaf.

A single burdock leaf. Nature’s own toilet paper.

Chris also notes that Wild Grape has beneficial qualities for ass-wiping.

While beautiful in shape, wild grape leaves are also wide enough to avoid behind the back accidents.

Chris notes: Wild Grape leaves, or River Grape as it is known in our area, are a good choice for wiping or wrapping human skin. The grapes themselves have a very large seed and are barely worth the effort to eat. Here’s a closer look at the leaves.

The best thing about wild grape leaves is they are plentiful on the vine and thus easily accessible.

Wild lettuces are also an excellent source of ass wipeage material. Look at the height on that thing! You could toss a salad with that!

It doesn’t look that wild, but lettuce like this does appear in the woods.

Chris explains: “Among the many varieties of wild lettuces in our area Tall White Lettuce is a majestic plant growing up to eight feet tall. Take that Iceberg, Romaine, and Swiss Chard! While the leaves of this plant are bitter to the taste it can be used safely for wiping bloody scrapes, wrapping your onions and wild leeks, or for pit stop clean ups. Plants to be avoided for pit stops include poison ivy, poke weed, and everything in the milkweed family.

This is a form of milkweed. Monarch butterflies like to lay their eggs on it, so please don’t pluck the leaves and wipe your ass. Plus there is a sticky sap that looks like milk and sticks like Gorilla glue. Be warned.

To that last warning I can testify. Wiping with milkweed leaves a sticky residue on your buttocks. If left untended, that could permanently (not really) seal your butt cheeks together. Best avoid that problem. Here’s another wild lettuce picture to remind you of a much better alternative.

Look at those ridges! Perfect for handling poop of any texture.

So there you have it. An Encyclopedia of Ass-Wiping Plants. Chris even provided the proper Latin names in his emails. If you want those for scientific reference and corroboration, you’ll have to write me a request. I was too lazy to copy and paste them all here.

Yes, Chris Johnson and I have covered some miles and years together. That’s why we’re both so great at sharing information like this for all of you. May you have merry trails ahead of you, but it you have to take a dump, may you find these plants readily available. You’re welcome.

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Dancing with the cranes

For the last four days a trio of sandhill cranes has been hanging out in our backyard. They are large birds equipped with a bill designed for a multitude of food options. The red on their forehead is distinctive, and within the species we often see gray birds and rust-colored birds.

A sandhill crane showing the distinctive rust colored plumage gained by preening with mud.

The reason for the difference in color within the species is the result of an interesting habit.

As a description accompanying a photo on the StarJournal.com, “A sandhill crane was strutting through a field in the Crescent Flats recently. This is a great example of how drastically these birds can literally change the color of their plumage. The reason for the change in color is that sandhill cranes preen themselves by rubbing mud on their feathers. The mud can be either brown or red but is usually red up here in the north. We have lots of iron rich soils in this region. The feathers soak up the mud’s color just like a sponge and it lasts for a long time. It is believed that the birds do this to camouflage themselves during the nesting season. As the summer goes by, the rusty red color eventually wears off and the bird turns back into it’s normal gray color.

Here’s my own photo showing a closeup of the bird’s rust-colored plumage.

These birds have exceptional eyesight, a product of their evolutionary need to watch for predators and find food. From our backyard, they study us carefully when we move around inside the house. For the most part, they recognize that we are not a threat unless some sudden movement startles them.

As you can see, their heads and necks are not rust-colored, because that long bill used to preen their other feathers cannot turn around and preen the head. Yet that distinctive red patch of feathers on their head is a distinctive field mark.

Like many species of cranes around the world, sandhills spend summers in northern climes and head south to escape snow and ice. Yet many linger on the edge of that climatic differential as long as they can find food.

For now, these birds are happy to nibble on seed at our bird feeder.

One of the fascinating behaviors of sandhill cranes is their bonding rituals. They will dance around each other in graceful ground flights, raising their wings and chasing across the ground. I captured a short video last night and did a screen capture to show one of the cranes racing across the grass.

Dancing with the cranes

That was an invitation that I could not resist. A little while later, I walked out on the lawn and began flapping my arms, dipping my head and acting like a crane. They did not run away.

My wife stood back at the house watching my displays. She’s as fascinated by these birds as I am. They’re not particularly afraid of human beings, but will move off when a person walks by with a dog. But last night a cyclist came rolling around the path where they stood preening themselves and all they did was trot aside.

All this still feels unusual to me. Forty years ago when I was birding the marshes near the place where I now live, it was a rare sight to find a sandhill crane. There were few breeding pairs in Kane County. Now there are dozens, each raising one or two young a year.

Spring Migration

In spring we hear them migrating north in March. Long ago, that was a rare treat. While out running, I’d hear their calls in the distance and stop to stare at their vee-shaped flocks approaching from the south.

One spring day a massive group of 400 birds came streaming overhead as my brother and I were out in the street playing catch with a baseball. The noise they made as they flew overhead was tremendous. Their calls are a richly guttaral sound forged over ten million years of evolution. To hear that sound is to be in touch with the origins of life itself. To dance with the cranes is a gift indeed.

Fall migration

Come fall, the flocks grow large again as the birds head south for the winter months. Usually it is in early November that they come through Illinois in great numbers. Typically they arrive at mid-day on the strength of some favorable wind. Their calls fall out of the cool, clear autumn sky or get carried across the landscape by brisk winter winds on gray November days. There is an urgency to their voices on those days.

All these natural facts align with my own sense of seasons. We run and ride through winter, spring, summer and fall. We sense the rhythms of time and opportunity. While we may not migrate, we do move with the seasons.


It is summer now, and I will keep trying to dance with the cranes. They seem to sense a kinship of some sort, or else think I’m plain nuts trying to dance them into action. At any rate, the effort makes me happy. The cranes don’t seem that offended, even if my wings appear stubby and bare. Perhaps it is my forehead, naked and red with summer sweat, that makes them wonder if I am the real thing.

But don’t you love the hairstyle on this crane? I’m envious.

Migration Marathon, Illustration by Christopher Cudworth
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The anatomy of a grandiose fail

Following an epic countryside ride in which I joined up with much younger cyclists to whip across the Illinois landscape, I was feeling frisky and proud. I got back home and wanted to take a photo for Instagram with my fluorescent cycling combo of bright yellow shoes, helmet, shirt, socks and an all-new yellow headsweat with pirate tails tied behind the head. Yeah, baby!

So I parked the bike by the garage door, set up the iPhone on Timer for three seconds, and stepped back to pose for the photo.

That first step turned into a grandiose fall––and an instant Instagram fail. My feet both flew out from under me and I wound up landing on my right backside in a saving roll. But that required pushing my body to the side with my left hand, which happened to be holding a set of Under Armor sunglasses that I’d picked up for $19 at our local Sierra Trading Post a few months back. Such a deal. But no more.

I wasn’t hurt, and did not lay there long, only a second or two. I saw the glasses were broken in two, right at the nose piece. I picked them up and considered whether it would be worth gluing them back together, but that never works. For all the claims made by the glue companies, they always break again.

What ran through my mind was gratitude that nothing else was broken. Not a wrist or a collar bone. A hip or a bike helmet. I’ve known people that have busted some of those things simply by reaching down to adjust some part of their bike when their cleats slipped on the surface and down they went. It doesn’t matter what age you are or how well you handle a bike, stuff like this happens to just about everybody that rides a bike.

Even Chris Froome crashed into a wall during a training ride in the Tour de France. Busted his leg badly. It took him months to recover.

So while I wound up on my ass on a bright summer morning, that’s the least of my worries in this world right now. As it turned out, that photo was too good not to share. The fact that it was exactly three seconds into the grandiose fail is actually remarkable. The expression on my face…is part laughter and part anguish.

You really can’t trust cycling shoes on any surface. They’re meant for one thing, and it isn’t walking. Next time I try to take a selfie, it might pay to remember that.

Hopefully, and I mean this quite sincerely, that moment was the worst I’ll face this year. In summers past, I’ve had my share of weird moments, sudden crashes and bursts of inattention that led to other calamities. The price of being a distracted creative, I suppose.

I’ll leave you with the chagrined aftereffect of the photo taken following the ass crash. Do I look humbled enough for you? I hope so. I don’t want to have to do this all over again. But doesn’t my kit look great?

Posted in bike accidents, bike crash, Christopher Cudworth, cycling the midwest | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Put the mask on and stop complaining, America

This morning we drove to Crystal Lake for an Open Water swim. It felt great to get into the water. Unfortunately, my Garmin watch seems to think I can swim on land as well as in the lake. It went a little crazy tracking my distance this morning.

As you can see, at several points along the swim route, even though I freestyled by sighting from buoy to buoy, the Garmin thinks I swam onto Lake Avenue at several points.

Crazy Garmin

I swam for 40:00 and it credited me with a pace of 1:28 per hundred. Never in my life have a swum that fast. Sadly I’d been encouraged during the swim that I was clipping along at 1:42 per 100 pace. Even that would have been super fast for me.

In truth, I probably swam about 1600 meters, just as I did a few weeks ago when my goggles fogged up and I couldn’t sight for the life of me. I wandered all over the place and I was so embarrassed by the potential look of that swim route that I didn’t even save it. I didn’t want anyone to see how badly I’d swerved around.

Goggles on

Like most swimmers, I wear goggles every time I’m in the water. It’s what you do to be able to see clear and just as importantly, protect your eyes from either chlorine or contaminants found in lake or river water. You put goggles on because it is the safe, practical and smart thing to do.

There’s no guarantee the goggles won’t leak a bit if you don’t fit them right. And without a shot of anti-fog on them, it is surely possible for swim goggles to fog up and become a problem. Nothing in this world is perfect when it comes to protection.

Masks on

Which brings us to the topic of wearing face masks to protect ourselves and others from the spread of Coronavirus. Right now the infection rates are peaking all across the country. States like Illinois that imposed Stay At Home orders and have opened up in stages are remaining relatively stable. But states like Texas, Arizona and Florida, where governors at first refused to issue orders requiring people to wear masks are seeing huge spikes in their infection rates.

Too much, too soon

Some states like Wisconsin impetuously flung open the doors of bars and restaurants, but within days saw Covid-19 cases rise like an overheated thermometer. In some of those states, including California where Shelter In Place orders worked for weeks, the cases of Coronavirus and Covid-19 have risen again as people rush back to “normal” activities.

To make matters much worse, there is a movement afoot in America that resists wearing masks at all. Anti-Maskers claim their liberties are being infringed upon by government directives to wear masks in public.

Which seems stupid. Wearing a mask to protect yourself from an infectious, airborne disease is the same as wearing swim goggles to protect your eyes when swimming. Sure, you can swim without them, but the impact on your eyes can be quite deleterious, especially out in saltwater.

The Salty Water of Covid-19

When it comes to social conditions in America right now, we’re in extremely salty water when it comes to protecting our lungs and bodies from Covid-19 infection. All the government is asking people to do to protect themselves and others is to wear a mask in places where the “salt of the earth,” that’s other people, come in contact with each other.

The rest of the time people can do what the hell they want. You don’t need to wear a mask while driving around. It’s not even necessary in the parking lot of a grocery store, or sitting around in your backyard with people you know. The risks are only increased when you go swimming in the Public Sea of People that is America.

A spoiled and selfish populace

But too many Americans are acting like spoiled little brats when it comes to considerate living. They’ve banded together to whine and complain that being “forced” to wear a mask is a sign of tyranny by the government, or is unconstitutional. Such selfish, pathetic tactics of assuming victimhood to make some noxious claim of independence is not American in any sense of the word.

How do people even get this confused?

The interesting thing about the Anti-Maskers is that their perverse cogitations have unmasked the twisted notion of how they view freedom itself. It is likely that these people wearing tyranny masks are some of the same people Trumpeting the famous line that “freedom is not free” when referring to the sacrifices of our military in defending the nation. Our military has to wear all kinds of gear in all kinds of conditions. We don’t hear them whining to the public about their obligations, do we? Only when the equipment is insufficient do we hear our soldiers voice objections.

Lack of protection = blown up humvees

Such was the case during the last invasion of Iraq, when scrap metal had to be slapped on the bottom of Humvees. Then we did hear voices from the soldiers on the front, because their lives were at great risk from having underprotected equipment.

And what did Donald Rumsfeld tell them in reply? “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Where were all the concerned conservative voices when that cynical statement was made and that major debacle unfolded? Not a word was heard from the Right about any of that. They put their heads down and pretended that it never happened.

And now, when it comes to something as simple and easy as wearing a mask in public to protect against the spread of Coronavirus infection, these fake-ass patriots won’t do a single thing to protect their fellow citizens. They’re a massive pack of hypocrites, the Anti-Maskers. And now the truth about them is yet again unmasked.

Tyranny my ass

Some of the most vocal idiots have shown up at public meetings to spout conspiracy theories and repeat the same verbal detritus they read on the Internet.

In many many cases, their faces contort into masks of anger and imagined fears.

Their hero on the Anti-Masking front is none other than President Donald Trump, who refuses to wear a mask at all. But in truth, he never really goes out in public without that mask of orange makeup and a massive combover to hide insecurities about his complexion and his age. He’s the Clown King to all these Anti-Maskers.

That’s who the spoiled populace in America worships, a fraud, and by no coincidence, their behavior is equally, fraudulently, unpatriotic. Wear the mask, you stubborn and stupid people. We can see who you really are with or without one.

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Just a swallow on a wire

There are so many things we fail to notice in this world. Some of this negligence is the product of being adults. Our minds are so consumed by things to do that we cease to pay attention to the diversity of life all around us. We grow numb to the passing hours. Even days slide by. Sometimes, years. All because we miss the simple shape of a swallow on a wire.

Those of us who run and ride and swim have more opportunities than most to avoid such ambivalence. Now that the pandemic has encouraged (forced?) more people to get outside and exercise, many are finding good reasons to continue.

Mostly people go outside to keep sane and stay healthy. That contact with nature rather than each other may be keeping us all safer while changing human minds and bodies. Fresh air helps. But so does getting a little dirty.

Nature speaks to us

I once gave a series of talks titled Nature: The Ultimate Stress Reliever, whose main point was I’m now finishing up writing a book titled Nature Is My Country Club. The point of both is that the world is waiting for us. Nature speaks to us if we watch and listen. We simply need to get out and encounter it.

A place to escape

That doesn’t mean all is peaceful and serene in the natural world. A swallow on a wire seems peaceful enough. Yet they are also caught up in the swirling winds of survival. They need to eat. To breed. To move. To migrate. Summer is no less consumed with flying about as any other season. They are like us in many ways. The point isn’t that we’re missing some kind of peaceful sphere of existence by ignoring nature. It’s that the drama we already have running through our heads needs a place to escape. As every rider on a bike knows, there is nothing like hammering the pedals to let off some steam. As every runner also knows, anger and frustration melt away under the miles. And as every swimmer knows, the water washes away your immediate concerns.


I was driving on a country road this week when the sound of an angry kingbird caught my attention. The bird was swooping and diving at a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole. (Do we still call it that?) Back and forth and up and down the kingbird went. The hawk seemed unperturbed. What an example of stolid disposition.

It’s funny how a simple scene like that can make you stop thinking about a lot of other things in life and go “Huh, that was interesting.”

When I ride my bike far west on country roads, it is the little things that start to stand out. The thin song of a meadowlark far out in a field. The tarsnakes twisting along the tarmac. The songs of chorus frogs in spring give way to grasshoppers in summer, then crickets and katydids. Suddenly it is fall again and the days grow shorter. Those rides flirt with darkness. A few blowing leaves mark the arrival of autumn.

Then come snow snakes in winter. The whirr of mountain bike tires and frost on your sunglass lenses. Nature keeps asking us questions. Begging our attention. Nothing works better to make us feel more alive.

If you’re not already taking in what nature has to offer, you should try it sometime. Being more alive is a ton more fun.

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Scandal on the Great Western Trail

I did the unthinkable today. I wore shorts that exposed the white skin on my upper thighs.

It didn’t used to work this way. As a young runner, back when running short fashions were high, my legs were tan from toes to crotch. But with fashion changes came more modest casual clothing, and thighs are now largely hidden. It has also turned out that cycling shorts now nearly reach the knees. So my tan lines stop about eight inches above the bend in my legs.

Unfortunately, that leaves a section of white man thigh exposed when I wear the lone pair of New Balance running shorts that I own. Granted, my lack of tan on the upper thighs isn’t as obvious as that sported by women runners switching from running shorts to competitive bun huggers.

But the world is still a bit hypocritical about the social acceptability of exposed tan lines among men and women. I just watched a Disney show about Olympians in Greece, and the male athletes competed naked. Guys were considered the height of beauty along with women. So we’re still working on closing the gap on tan lines in the modern age. How far we haven’t come?

Hot choices

But it was hot this morning, and humid, so I wore my shortest shorts and arrived at the Great Western Trailhead at 7:30. That’s right when most of the high school kids were heading home from their summer workouts. So I felt fairly safe that packs of high school girls would not be forced to avert their eyes at the sight of my white thighs.

And I was correct. Recreational traffic on the trail was fairly light. And yet…

One still gets the feeling that people just don’t want to see white man thigh. So I purposely avoided eye contact during my, except to wave hello to the people I already knew.

Country roads

So on the norm, I’ll go back to more modest shorts such runs, and save my short shorts for lonely country roads where it is unlikely to offend creatures such as the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. I do hate to scandalize thirty-something moms pushing strollers or mid-forties guys doing their morning 10k. EXCUSE my glaringly white thigh muscles please.

Real scandal

But I also figure…that if this is the worst way I scandalize the world when America’s soldiers are being bounty hunted and the President does nothing, and the number of Coronavirus cases continues to expand, and the President does nothing, and selfish zealots refuse to wear masks in a fit of political spite, then I’ve got nothing to worry about. My scandal will pass. The lives of people lost to greater scandals than mine are what I’m truly concerned about.

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No basket of regrets. Just buckets of fun.

I turn around to race back down court after scoring a basket.

The summer before my senior year in high school, I worked as a coach for the St. Charles Track Club, an organization originally managed by my coach cross country and track coach Trent Richards. When he stepped down a dedicated woman named Carol Rosene stepped up, and I would up one of the assistant coaches.

So my attention was focused on that program, and that meant I didn’t attend the basketball camp run by the high school coach Ron Johnson. I liked Coach Johnson, and he had enormous success with a team on which my younger brother played, reaching the Super Sectionals. My brother went on the play college basketball on a full ride at Kent State University. He was a great player that had developed a 36″ vertical leap to go with his 6’6″ frame. He was a monster around the basket and had a nice left-handed jump shot to boot.

Launching a jump shot.

So my 6’1″, 137 lb. frame was not the raw material needed to play basketball in our conference. While I was quick as heck, an excellent ball-handler and shooter, and a starter all the up to my junior year when we moved from Kaneland High School to St. Charles, it was clear that basketball probably wasn’t my future.

Even so, I went out for hoops on a whim that winter after cross country season ended. For a couple days I was shunted to the side with another guy from my class that hadn’t attended basketball camp. Then Coach Richards came by and stood next to us. “You guys know you’re not going to play, right? You didn’t go to basketball camp.”

At some level that disappointed me. At another level it was a relief. My parents never did buy me contact lenses. I was sick of getting smacked in the face and having my glasses shatter all over the gym floor.

Blocking an opponent’s shot.

As a result I played little during my junior year. I remember being a bit jealous that our flashy forward Jeff Howard had contacts and it seemed to help his peripheral vision quite a bit. Then it happened that I got slammed by an elbow sending my wire rim glasses to the floor where they dissolved into a million pieces of glass. Practice had to stop, and I sensed the frustration of Coach Johnson at having to deal with that delay. Rather than contact lenses, my mother bought me a set of those hideously thick black horn-rimmed sports glasses that blocked peripheral vision even more.

Finally during a late-season game, with the clock ticking down to below a minute, I could see Coach Johnson looking down the bench to give some of us subs a chance to get in the game. I watched as the clock dipped down to 45 seconds, then 30. He called my named. “Cudworth, go on in.”

I sat there for a moment and thought, “This isn’t worth it. If I don’t have value during the actual game, it sure means nothing now.” So I shook my head no.

Number 34 at far right.

Years later our assistant coach Jim Parker saw me playing hoops at a local gym. I’d actually gotten even better as a player thanks to hours of open gym basketball. By then I understood the game better too, and had contact lenses to boot. He watched me for a while and came over after the contest and said, “Maybe we made a mistake with you.”

Maybe so. Or maybe not. I’d fashioned my game in high school years after the famous Pete Maravich. I liked the flashy stuff with behind-the-back and between-the-legs dribbling. But my grasp of the game conceptually at that age was a bit lacking. Plus losing out on the chance to play basketball that year was probably good. I struggled with some classes that I had to take, such as economics and government, and hated it all the more. Adding in one more sport to the fall cross country and spring track seasons might have sunk me for good.

But somehow I was given a contact sheet of basketball photos from that junior year of basketball. I remember the game quite well to this day. I scored a bunch of points, blocked a few shots and ran the offense. But the week after that, my friend Paul Morlock, also a member of the team, invited me to do a college visit out in Pennsylvania. We missed one practice as a result of the trip. But when we got back, the JV coach told me, “You’re not going to play next game. You missed a practice.”

Yes, those short pants were the fashion in those days. Normally I liked #44 for Pete Maravich.

It happened that game was against my former high school teammates. It was bitterly embarrassing to be sitting on the bench, and my heart was red with rage at the injustice. But the team turned out to need me that day, so coach tossed me into the game with a few minutes left in the first half. I played out of control with fouls and the like.

That was the same coach who years later made the statement, “Maybe we made a mistake with you.”

Again, no real regrets about any of this. Running turned out to be my thing. And I enjoyed playing basketball for decades after high school, and never felt like I’d missed any real opportunities by not finishing that scholastic career. It just wasn’t meant to be.

For those of us that ‘lived the game’ for so many years there really can’t be any regrets. Last year I met up with one of my gym rat friends and we reminisced about the all those Saturdays and evenings spent playing ball and agreed that it was living life to the fullest. And that’s what you need to fill your basket of recollections. No regrets. Just buckets of fun.

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Country roads are calling you

Country roads beckon

In the era of Covid-19, there aren’t as many group rides happening. But even if there were, one of my favorite things to do in early summer is to go for twilight rides on the country roads west of our home.

I started cycling fifteen years ago. Back then, proving myself worthy in group rides was a high priority. The ability to ride steady with twenty other cyclists was a prized skill to learn. One of the weekly group rides that I loved always averaged 20 mph for 37 miles each week. It was a sane and great way to build fitness. There were men and women riders, about twenty five in all, and everyone bought into the dynamic. But that ride finally fell apart when the bike shop that sponsored it switched resources to holding weekly criterium practice. That wasn’t a bad thing. Just different.

Both taught me to ride in a group because I was racing road cycling criteriums. That’s where the bunch whizzes along at 25-27 mph on short courses with tight turns and challenging pace changes. The more you ride in groups, the better you get at it. I don’t have as much appetite for that kind of racing anymore. I think you can kind of wear out on that stuff after a while. Plus I’m good enough at crashing all on my own.

Same roads, different sport

I did not ride that gravel to the south on my tri-bike. Saving that for another day.

Now that I ride more for triathlon racing, the ability to go cycling alone is more important than ever. With weekends reserved for hammering along with my wife in her Ironman training, I still get out for a few rides on weekdays. Sometimes these rides are still done on the road bike. But last night I took the tri-bike setup out for a long ride on country roads.

Riding west the wind was straight in my face. I considered going north and south to deal with it more like a crosswind, but then reconsidered. It’s good practice and a great strength-builder to ride into a steady wind.

I did that for twenty-three miles west to the corner of two country roads well into DeKalb County. There I climbed a small hill and turned south toward Perry, the smooth way back toward civilization. I figured out that I’d ridden 16 mph into that 15mph wind, not too bad for starters.

Whip it good

Coming around the east side of a county forest preserve where shade covered the road.

Coming back on Perry, the first few miles of road were a little rough. On a tri bike in aero, you have to be careful and smart not to catch a patch or real gravel and go skidding sideways or down on the road. Bridges are a danger spot too, so I’d sit up briefly to bumpity-bump over those, just in case.

But then I got rolling. And looking down, I saw that the cyclometer was clocking me at 26 mph. It always impresses me that the riders in the Tour de France average about that pace for 2000+ miles.

But for my purposes, it is good practice to dial it up to 23-26 mph and hold it. Granted, with a wind at my back it is a lot easier. But it’s also a mental game we’re playing out there on the bike. Getting used to the cadence and relaxing on the bike at a good speed is excellent practice for those days when you jump on the bike after a swim.

Sunlight serenade

It felt so good to go fast and take in the scenery along the way. The clouds all perched at a ceiling that was definable and clear. It felt like if I rode far enough, it would eventually be possible to reach up and touch them. But despite that fantasy, clouds aren’t all that fond of sinking toward the earth, lest we call them fog.

Instead, I watched my long shadow dipping and slipping along beside me. On the downhills my bike and I topped 30 mph. That’s such a fun speed to ride on smooth roads.

Humming along at 25 mph

Sunset simplicity

I’d timed the trip perfectly to coincide with the sun setting in the west. Before the final turn toward home, that bright orb dipped behind a pale purple cloud. The air cooled ever so slightly. I was freewheeling now, my legs hardly feeling the effort. But there were still two hills to climb, and I was at mile 43.

It’s possible, even healthy, to be your own hero at times. I told my wife while having dinner after the ride that it’s important to do these solo rides because they ask you to manage your own reserves while demanding your full attention to ride well.

Plus the feeling of having fully used the twilight of a summer day is a satisfaction that makes the season all that more meaningful. Country roads are calling you too, if you can find them. Reach them. Ride them. Here’s hoping you get the chance this summer.

Posted in bike accidents, bike crash, Christopher Cudworth, climbing, cycling, cycling the midwest, doing pulls in cycling, it never gets easier you just go faster, training, tri-bikes, triathlete, triathlon, triathlons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aren’t you sick of all this garbage?

The dumping site where people unloaded their crap at the end of an underused industrial drive.

I went for an odd run yesterday. It was windy as heck, for one thing. So my early pace of 10:00 per mile did not increase much over the first two miles. Then I turned into a neighborhood where a path through the woods leads to a forest preserve.

From there, I turned south onto the loose crushed limestone paths and kept following them into the fields beyond the preserve proper. The land is still owned by the county, but it’s nothing more than mowed scrub at this point.

I could have turned around and run back the route I normally take that loops toward home. Instead the path I followed met a dead-end and I hopped some tall grass and kept running toward the Interstate in the distance. When that field ran out I turned east and crept through even more tall grass toward the array of giant satellite disks next to the TBN production studios.

The Bullshit Network

Those satellite dishes drive at least part of the TBN network, whose network boasts,

” TBN is also a leader in using cutting-edge technology to reach more viewers around the world with programming that entertains, inspires, and changes lives through God’s message of hope and grace. From its online archive giving viewers access to tens of thousands of life-impacting programs, to its mobile app that brings more than a dozen global TBN networks to smart phones, iPads, and tablets anywhere in the world — TBN continues to be the standard bearer for faith-and-family broadcasting across the earth.”

You may not know my perspectives on most of what TBN pumps out. They’re the type of network whose supposedly grace-filled programming fuels much of what evangelical Christianity embraces as wholesome and religiously biblical content. But as we’re witnessing in real time these days, evangelical support for the prince of all garbage hawkers, Donald Trump, is fueling an authoritarian takeover of constitutional rights for millions of Americans. TBN, like so many other so-called Christian outlets are nothing more than bullshit networks designed to reap profits and control people politically and religiously. While they claim to be on God’s side, they are more like the religious authorities whom Jesus challenged for clinging so feverishly to tradition that they legalistically destroyed the lives of people rather than lifting them up.


I’m reading a book titled Unholy (Rachel Posner) that traces the direct link between racism, segregation, and the tax status of Christian schools with the launching of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The typical narrative says that Jerry Falwell jump-started evangelical political activity around the abortion issue. But that came much later. At the beginning, it was so-called Christian objections to governmental guidelines for integration that set off waves of angry protest among the prejudiced purveyors of garbage religion at the time. It was all cloaked behind claims that their “religious freedoms” were being breached. But that’s garbage too.

Pretty much, it was Christian schools trying to block black kids from attending private institutions that started the so-called Moral Majority.

That racist core of true believers never left the movement. In fact, they’ve only increased their grip on evangelicalism, all while mastering the sophistication of technology and media promotion to propagate the poison worldview of fear and hatred for minorities and anyone else judged to be “biblically unworthy” of normal societal function.

These people excel at claiming to preach God’s love while sending religious programming around the world that baldly preach intolerance (and even death) to gay people, resistance to immigration around fears of losing a “Christian majority” (to Muslims, it is said) and of course, the fatuous obsession with banning abortion because “it kills babies.” Never mind that an organization such as Planned Parenthood tries to help women prevent unplanned pregnancies. That’s far too practical for religious zealots that hate the idea of anyone having sex other than by their approved method or at their approved time.

Garbage ideology

These three topics along with resistance to science and denial of climate change are essentially the entire platform of the Trump regime. It’s a load of politically bigoted garbage filled with hate for secular knowledge and frankly, common sense. That is Trumpism in a nutshell.

That is why I found it symbolic that not long after passing the TBN studios I turned to see the scene depicted at the top of this blog, and captured again here in closeup. Because there, at the end of an underutilized industrial drive, was a pile of garbage tossed there by irresponsible citizens refusing to pay for the right to properly dispose of their refuse. That’s a capsulized image of American wastefulness and selfishness.

What is garbage?

What is garbage anyway? It’s the outcome of anything that human beings judge to be useless to them in any way. That’s exactly how Trump and his evangelical supporters view anything that disagrees with their purported values. These of course differ from actual values of conscience and consideration, because the Trump version is ultimately subject to some aspect of prejudice on the part of those claiming insight. While hiding behind the veils of tradition and heritage, true conscience and consideration are qualities that too many evangelicals and conservatives decidedly lack.

Because here’s how it works. Trump brands immigrants garbage, and his supporters go along because it feeds their fearful narrative that a Christian white majority is at risk of being upended. He’s called entire country “shitholes,” and his supporters go along because he equates human worth and value by skin color and transactional value to his personal prejudices. And his supporters go along because “the economy is good” and therefore “shithole people” should not be allowed to affect it.

It keeps going. His administration, the Republican Party and the evangelicals who drive it clearly view gay and transgender people as garbage unworthy of basic civil rights, much less the right to marry. And his supporters love to claim that their right to discriminate against LBQBT should be protected by their religious beliefs. What a load of garbage that is. Certainly Jesus Christ never spoke against people of any sexual orientation, at least according to the Bible.

But it was stated by Paul, the former persecutors of Jews who experienced a dramatic conversation to a worshipper of Jesus who held to the legalism of his prior tradition and branded relations between two men an abomination. All that proves is that Paul never relinquished himself completely to Jesus. He remained a bigot just as Martin Luther remained an Anti-Semitic while he launched the Reformation. None of these people is perfect. Some of their views should be dumped into the garbage pit of religious ideology.

Earth as a garbage pit

It doesn’t stop with ideology. Trump and his administration view the natural resources of this country as their personal property from which they can extract whatever they like and trash the rest without penalty. Meanwhile Trump distracts the citizens of this nation by pitting them against each other over trivial issues like wearing masks to combat the Covid19 pandemic. I get so angry at times I wish there were a hell for Trump to face when he’s done with this world. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Staring at that garbage pile I was angry at our nation for allowing this trashy jerk of a con man to do this to our country. I despise what his supporters have done to enable him, because they are contributors to the trash heap of history to which I pray that Trump is soon consigned. They care not whether people’s lives are destroyed by Trump’s feckless denial of the Coronavirus threat. They don’t give a shit if Trump’s fascist support of white supremacists and dog-whistle encouragement of police brutality winds up killing people right and left.

To Trump supporters all those lives are disposable. They are collateral damage to the supposed higher purpose of Making America Great Again.

MAGA is a pile of garbage

So let’s be blunt. MAGA is the biggest pile of garbage that America has ever been fed. And I do blame religious hucksters like the soft-spoken zealots at TBN and the Moody Bible Institute and the entire spectrum of garbage theologians preaching biblical literalism and creationism. All this is designed to gain and maintain political control while real problems like climate change threaten the entire human civilization, and we’re not doing a damned thing about it. Because Jesus is coming back to fix it all. What a garbage claim for anyone to make.

Jesus himself would tell these jerks they’re the purveyors of garbage and creating a hell on earth. The original definition of “hell” was the town garbage pit where everything from human waste to dead bodies was tossed into a pit and left to rot in the sun. I quote from a Medium.com blog by Ali Kellogg explaining what the notion of hell was all about:

Gehenna was a real garbage pit. Hell on earth.

(Gehenna) was originally used by the ancient Israelites who sacrificed children and burnt their bodies to appease the pagan Canaanite god Molech. In Leviticus 18:20, God expressed his hatred of the false god Molech, and deemed the place unclean. Gehenna was eventually used as a landfill by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, where people took their trash to be burned. The place began to wreak havoc on daily life in Jerusalem. The smell of burning sewage, flesh, maggots and garbage wreaked absolute havoc on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, causing documented medical problems like nausea and breathing difficulty. Clearly, the place was unpleasant — frightening even — and thus it’s no surprise that Gehenna was used, and still is today, as a metaphor for the final place of punishment for the wicked. It was first used as a symbolic depiction of Hell in Mark 9:47. Gehenna was translated to Hell later, around 1200AD.

Yes, I’m angry as hell at Trump’s supporters. They voted in a garbage president and are trying to tell us that he’s a messenger of God. But their version of Make America Great Again is actually a reincarnation of Gehenna. A garbage pit for the terminally selfish hoping only to discard whatever they find unworthy of their own heinous worldview.

Finally I turned away from the ad hoc garbage pit at the end of the abandoned industrial drive and started my run toward home. Along the way there were other piles of junk tossed from the trunk of cars. One almost has to be on foot to notice it all. Driving past in a vehicle, it all mixes in with the landscape.

But I noticed it. I’ve been watching stuff like this accrue in the landscape for years. And it’s not the way to Make America Great Again. Far from it.

Aren’t you sick of all this garbage? I bet you are. So it’s incumbent on those of us that vote for conscience and consideration to show up at the polls in November and vote this garbage purveyor out of office. And if he won’t leave, we’ll have to send in an armored backhoe, scoop up his orange highness and dump him in whatever Gehenna we can find.

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