Posts Tagged ‘bicycling’

During the Tour de France, the routes are heavily decorated with a variety of decorations.  Of course, bicycles figure heavily and, as yellow is the color of the jersey, the “maillot jaune”,  worn by the winner at the end of each stage and, of course, at the end of the race, many yellow bikes are seen.  This one would be a bit uncomfortable, to say nothing of not having gears, and how long would the rider’s legs have to be to reach the pedals?  Odd, indeed.

© janet m. webb 2014

“Ashall Fossil Beds 7 miles.”  I hit the brakes as the sign flashes by and turn north.  The rolling, green hills hide a plethora of fossils, housed in an enormous building. In 1971, the skull of a juvenile rhinoceros was discovered in a cornfield.  Imagine being the person who found that!  Now the area is a Natural National Landmark, still being worked by University of Nebraska student interns as well as others.  Skeletons of rhinos, horses, and camels have been discovered.  Volcanic ash from a volcano in present-day Idaho caused lung failure in the animals who apparently gathered at the watering hole because of the heat and thirst.  Some died with fetuses inside, others with the contents of their stomachs still intact.

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These hills may contain more fossils as yet undiscovered.

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As soon as I get home from work on Thursday, we load the car and point it in the direction of Iowa. It’s time for a mini-adventure, mini to me being something that takes less than a week. My husband is an avid biker…as in bicycling, so this mini is going to be a two-day, 109-mile bike trip in SW South Dakota…for my husband. I’ll be driving the support vehicle, support in both the sense of emotional support but also for food, water, and so on.  It’s not the Tour de France, but it’s not a flat ride on the prairie, either. I plan on taking lots of photos and generally having fun and relaxing.

Relaxing will have to wait until after we get through Iowa! We lose between 1 ½ and 2 hours in two huge delays: the first caused by a detour for construction, the second for an accident that leaves the shell of a semi hauling fish shredded. When we choose a place along the highway to eat, the service is quite a lot below stellar, the food only average. Our motel is clean and adequate, but although I’m exhausted, I don’t sleep well.

Up until we’re almost at Council Bluffs, named for the Lewis and Clark confab with Indian chiefs, we are, outside of the huge delays, flying along on interstates, two lanes going each direction. But we elect this time to take the road less traveled by ditching the fast lanes for the two-lane, old-time road of Route 20 once we hit Sioux City, Iowa. Our GPS almost has a heart attack, continually trying to get us to turn around. “Recalculating” plays over and over as she strives to determine why we aren’t following her directions.  Bill finally shuts her off, leaving only the map.  I think that because most people travel on the interstates, there’s not much traffic on our chosen path.  When I was growing up, we went on vacation every year, driving all over the US on two-lane roads.  But at that time, that’s all what there was, so there were lots of vehicles and whoever was driving spent a lot of time trying to pass slower-moving vehicles.  I imagine it wasn’t nearly as much fun then as these mostly empty roads are today.

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Although I grew up in Nebraska, I’ve never been in this part of the state, a place that gives lie to the idea that Nebraska is flat and boring. Rollercoaster-like hills go on for green mile after green mile. We reach Plainview, Nebraska and are arrested by the sight of a gigantic clown outside the Klown Museum. Our younger daughter finds clowns creepy, so of course we have to stop for a photo. The owners are working outside and the museum isn’t open, but they insist that we come in, showing us the museum’s over 7,000 clowns, which vary from vintage Ronald McDonalds to porcelain clowns, a clown carved from Mt. St. Helen’s ash, and one made from coal. All the clowns were donated, with many of the owners coming personally prior to donation to see if the museum was suitable.

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No drought here. Everything is vivid green with water lying in many low spots. Then we see a sign for Ashfall Fossil Beds.  Bill becomes animated, insisting that we stop.  So, to the chagrin of our much-tried GPS (yes, she got turned off again), we turn north for the seven-mile drive to the fossil beds.

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To be continued…

Ever since my husband came home with a VHS (dating myself here) of the entire Tour de France for that year, announcing that we could all watch it together, I’ve been hooked, although at the time, the girls and I rolled our eyes and thought, “How boring!”  Once I began to learn about the strategies and saw what actually had to be accomplished to win an event that covered three weeks and thousands of kilometers, I loved it, scandal and doping aside. It’s also the only sport where a rider might not win a single stage yet win the entire race and a sport where the winner can’t win without his teammates taking him to the top of the podium.

So, much as I dislike the term “bucket list” (I prefer “Christmas list”, though not to use interchangeably), le Tour pushed its way into the top of that list and this year we had the chance to check the square in front of it.  We had planned a trip to France to visit my s-i-l and b-i-l and once we discovered that one stage would be very near where they lived, we bought our plane tickets accordingly.

We had only the smallest idea what awaited us.  How can you imagine being a part of something that consumes not only an entire country but many countries and millions of people?  True, the World Cup, which we watched as much as possible, does something similar…but only once every four years!  Le Tour has happened every single year since the initial 1903 race, except for the years of World Wars I and II.

With the help of my s-i-l, we did lots of enjoyable pre-race prep.  We drove over the area of the stage twice, part of the time on the actual course.  We saw the decorations and preparations, growing in number from one trip to the next. We marveled that what the riders would have to do to win the stage, or even finish.  But we hadn’t seen anything yet.

How the day appeared as we drove

How the day appeared as we drove

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Le Tour de France is a one-of-a-kind event.  According to the official site:

“Running from Saturday July 5th to Sunday July 27th 2014, the 101th Tour de France will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres.”

In all those days, there are 2 rest days.  Two!  Riders are pushed to the limits of their physical and mental endurance and when you begin to understand what has to be done to even finish, let alone claim a stage on the podium, you begin to also understand why cheating has always been a part of the Tour, from taking a bus or train in the early days to doping in more recent years.

But for those not actively riding in the race, this is time to decorate, time to take pride in villages, to root for hometown or country favorites, to have fun and party. Everywhere we went, we saw evidence of the hoopla that is the preparation for race day.  Since one of the riders, Thibaut Pinot, was born in Melisey, the closest village to where we were staying, we had a chance to see this fun up close.  Here’s some of what we saw (but only a tiny portion.)  Every town near the route had bicycles of all shapes, sizes and colors set or hung everywhere.  Each team has colorful jerseys but there are also colored jerseys awarded each day in yellow (leader of the Tour overall), green (leader of sprint points), white with red polka dots (King of the Mountain by total points) and white (best young rider.)  Prizes are awarded not only to the overall winner, although his prize is the highest, but to all jersey winners.  The winner of each stage is also given a prize by the people of the area where the stage is held.   Prizes have varied from diamonds to a prize pig!

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