Jouer la domestique at Le Tour De GiGi’s

By Christopher Cudworth

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy — Tom Hanks

Riders no glassesLanguage is certainly a funny thing. Often the things we think we hear are not the things we’re really hearing. Or, others may hear them and take them to mean something other than what we are trying to communicate.

For example, on the drive to the start of the Tour de GiGi’s fundraising event to benefit a local Down’s Syndrome organization, it occurred to me that my water bottles filled with Accelerade were sitting at home in the fridge.

“I’ve got to stop here at 7/11,” I told Sue. “I’ll just buy some Gatorade or something.”

Heading into the store I saw one of several familiar faces working the counter. It was 7:40 a.m. on a Sunday.

“Good morning!” I chirped. They know me because I often stopy by for a Coke Slurpee on the way home from my companion’s house. Returning to the counter I attempted to make conversation but it came out like this.

“Fergot my waterbottles…”

“You want to play Lotto?” the man asked.

“No, my water bottles,” I clarified. “I forgot them.”

He stared at me. Then reached again for a roll of Lotto cards.

“No, no…” I countered. “Never mind…”

He rang me up and that was that. No more confusion. I’ve never played Lotto and never will. I’d rather win the Lotto, so to speak, through my own efforts.

Whether conditions

We rode to the start of the ride in a gathering wind. The bikes creaked on their Thule stands above us on the car. There was no doubt about it. This would not be an easy ride in the country no matter how fast or far we rode.

When we got there, a bunch of the riders were already talking about cutting down their efforts. “I’m only going 21,” I heard someone say. “It’s not worth it in this wind.”

I knew that Sue would want to ride at least 40. And so, seeking inspiration, I happened to glance at the giant dog’s head logo (perhaps it was a wolf) that served as the school mascot for Oswego East High School where the ride began.

“Look,” I said, trying to be funny. “They have an Angry Dachsund for a mascot.”

The rider one car over me looked up at me and then stared at the logo. She gave no reply. I guess I wasn’t getting through. Perhaps it was the wind. The Ill Humors of Autumn apparently obscured the Good Humor of my joke. Whatever. No one was in a laughing mood, it seemed.

Giving their time

At least the volunteers at check-in were cheery. Some volunteers really get it. They help you with whatever you need and show appreciation for your investment in their cause.

Of course the whole fundraising ride or run thing is sometimes lost on me. For example, why exactly do we pay money to ride dozens of miles when we could just give a check? It is a pretty silly concept.

“It’s the thought,” someone once told me.

“It’s an excuse,” I wanted to reply.

Out on the road

Anyway, admit it. Most of us don’t give another thought to the cause we’re helping once we’re out on the road. In a sponsored ride (that’s what we call them) all people care about is whether the blue or green or yellow arrows marking the course show up early enough to prevent you from riding straight into a corn field.

When the roads aren’t closed to traffic those kinds of things actually matter. The impatient drivers of cars and trucks and farm machinery don’t like waiting for cyclists as it is. That’s especially true when there are four or six or eight cyclist spread across the lane and weaving like a bunch of drunken French existentialists as they try to figure out whether to turn or not. They could just as well be arguing over the meaning and direction of life. So very French of us, you know.

One pissed off farmer

That must be what angered the farmer in his burnt red pickup and green cap with the hybrid corn logo on the front. He roared his engine as our little group of four cyclists neared a turn somewhere out in the corn desert. “Left turn!” one of us hollered over the roar of the wind as we neared the corner. Then we heard the honk of the truck horn as he roared between the group with his truck and pulled to a stop after making the turn.

“Uh oh,” someone muttered as the truck door opened.

So naturally I stopped to talk with the kind gentleman.

“Fuck you!” he roared over the idle of his engine. “I pay taxes for these roads.”

“So do I,” was my reply. “I drive a car too.”

He seemed momentarily dumbfounded by that. It’s like it was the first time he realized that cyclists actually might drive cars too. Or pay taxes. Or anything. We are simply The Other to a man who considers the roads his own. He owns them. Don’t you know that?

The wind was still roaring. It was a little hard to hear what he had to say next. But he launched into a diatribe about how cyclists ride four abreast and don’t let their farm equipment through. I had no doubt he was absolutely right. Cyclists can be a bunch of damned pricks on the road. I hate that about us too.

But there’s also the fact that the amount of time anyone is delayed by a group of cyclists usually amounts to about 30 seconds. Yet that 30 seconds seems to make the rest of the world absolutely crazy. That’s the problem. And it stems from a whole lot of deeper reasons.

The wheel world

It’s all about perception. Just a mile before the encounter with Mr. Green Cap I commented to our group that it was not surprising to see a sign for Republican gubernatorial candidate way out here in farm country.  “What, you mean the rest of the state gets to vote for governor too? Not just Chicago?” I was joking of course. But not really.

It’s true. There’s a political imbalance for sure in Illinois. We’ve got one fuqued up state, if you’ll pardon my French. All those upstate Chicago Democrats outnumber the downstate Republican farmers and suburban Tea Party angry bastards and as a result it means trouble when anyone who doesn’t look like they’re from farm country or “fully American” takes over the roads out west of megalopolis.

Of course the fact of the matter is that the Republicans haven’t behaved much better when they’ve run the state either. The last Republican governor wound up in jail just like our famous horse-trader Blago, who spends his days wearing orange in a Colorado penitentiary. Governor Ryan traded favors for trucking licenses and that led to a family dying in a blazing minivan because some truck driver didn’t know how to actually handle his rig. The roads aren’t safe for anyone, it seems.

Low ideals

You’d think we’d see all that corruption coming given the fact that our state is generally flat. You can see for miles if you stand up on your pedals and crane your neck over top of the 8-foot tall corn stalks now bending in the autumn wind. Before long the combines will rape the fields yet again, tossing all that yellow corn spunk into massive storage bins and then shipped out to ADM Corn Sweeteners out in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Or somesuch.

Our seedy past

The land here used to be prairie, you might recall. Most of the productivity of the earth was shunted underground where roots 15 feet deep turned into soil so rich the farmers who settled this state 200 years ago could not believe their good fortune. Now only 1/10th of one percent of the original prairie remains. There has been a cost to that conversion.

You can see how much soil has been lost or blown away when you study an old fence line. On either side the soil is at least one to two feet lower. That’s how we roll here in the prairie state and all across the corn crib we call the Midwest. Churn and burn.

So the farmers may claim they “own” the land but really, they don’t. They just borrow it like the rest of us, and much of it has been wasted.

Finally we’ve come to realize our folly in some respects and farm practices have changed to protect the soil. Yet governmental farm policies alternately seem to punish then reward farmers for abusing the land.

At the trough

No one dares cut off the farm subsidies upon which modern agriculture loves to feed, and that’s killing us too. We pump money into the land and extract high fructose corn syrup that makes us fatter, slower and perhaps a bit more stupid, hence my comments back at the 7/11. More than half the water consumed in the United States is used to raise beef. And other things we eat, pet and ranch.

Our habits and cravings are a perverse sort of gamble with health and fate. We grow corn to make ethanol that drives our cars that shoot out carbon dioxide that traps heat in the atmosphere, cooks the planet and causes global warming.

{Pardon my French}

So hey there, Mister Farmer. You’re actually a big part of an essentially fucked up system. We’re eating ourselves to death.

So shut the fuck up about paying your taxes to drive on the roads. Your fucking truck is also what’s killing us, dimwit. And those precious Republicans who vote to protect your farm subsidies every few years? They are the same political dorks who deny that human beings can have any effect change on the climate. Throw in the religious fanatics on the right who deny evolution, science and anything that questions grotesque American consumerism and you’ve got a pretty clear formula for the wrong kind of American exceptionalism.

This situation blows

These winds now blowing down to Illinois from the arctic in a Polar Vortex? They are very likely the product of massive climatological shifts occurring as a result of our heads-down policies on extracting and burning up fossil fuels and otherwise.

So at least those of us who ride are trying to stay ahead of the curve and ride through the wind when it comes to the slogging effects on our bodies rife with corn syrup, beef and other farm products coursing through our veins. If we hog the road perhaps that’s why. We simply behaving like animals, Mr. Farmer. Perhaps you can relate to that?

Le Domestiques

And of course none of this changes the fact that the roads cutting through all these billions of stalks of future corn syrup and ethanol make for a boring trip unless you have company with whom to share the ride. Our little band of four struggled through 25 miles of insane September wind until we finally turned south and east. But the break didn’t last for long. And by that time our 13-year-old fellow rider Grant was starting to feel the effects of high winds and some rough roads.

So we made the choice to serve as domestiques to our General Category rider. “This is how they protect the top rider in the Tour de France,” I explained to Grant, whose fair complexion and braces were the only things that gave away his young age. Otherwise his cycling prowess seemed spot on. When asked earlier that morning what he liked to do, his answer was simple.

“Ride,” he said.

And so we did. But when we turned north back into the wind for the final 10 mile stretch back home those young legs had a little trouble with the cadence. For good reason. The winds were gusting over 25mph.

This 50+ year old rider with a summer full of long rides in his legs was feeling the effects of the ride as well. So we talked about that with Grant, and how cycling is great as a lifelong activity even if a single ride in a stiff can feel like a lifetime. It still makes sense to get out there. He seems to get that.

That made it all the more fun when our young GC rider came cruising back up to us with half a mile to go after fading a bit in the last couple miles. Seeing my companion Sue riding up ahead on her Scott tri-bike, young Grant took off in a competitive sprint into the wind. The forty miles in his legs did not slow him down now. He chased down and nipped Sue at the finish as she chuckled at the competitor in him.

His father Todd has real reason to be proud of the kid. 40 miles in the wind with no complaint is a sign of great character in a child of 13. His riding skills were obvious with a good quick cadence, a low-slung profile and a growing awareness of the value of the draft.

Jouer la domestique was an honor to do for the kid. The ride was more interesting and it’s funny how much better you can ride into the wind when you’re doing it for someone else, not just yourself.

Perhaps that was the greater reason for the ride as a whole. We’re all domestiques for the causes we choose to support. Ride on.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @gofast and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and at 3CCreativemarketing.com. Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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