Tour de France – Night of Terror

It’s July And We All Know What That Means, Don’t ‘We’?

Well I do!  It’s the one month in the year I’m glued to the television taking in the four to five hours of Tour de France coverage.  Yes, four to five hours a day of the greatest sporting event in the world…life can’t get much better.  Each ‘stage’ of the twenty one day event takes several hours to complete as the cyclists ride in excess of a hundred miles a day, sometimes over the high mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees. The usual comparison to other endurance competitions is that of running a marathon a day for twenty one days in a row….that would be unheard of.  Many of the athletes who compete in the ‘Tour’ (as it’s called by those who follow it) don’t look like athletes at all, more like anorexic bean poles barely able to walk up a flight of stairs.  But don’t let their twig-like appearance deceive you; these guys have unreal power and more stamina than any other athletes in the world.  On one stage of the Tour it’s not unusual for the cyclists to burn in excess of 10,000 calories, and though they consume huge quantities of food most wind up losing weight during the three week event.SU-PHOTO-JPEG

Athleticism aside, what makes the Tour even more amazing is that it’s attended by more spectators than any other sporting event in the world…..and it’s free to attend.  Some travel miles and miles, over oceans, to view mountain stages while some spectators walk out their front door as the Tour passes through their town or village.  The spectacle preceding the cyclists is similar to a rolling circus.  Many spectators dress like Americans on Halloween on the off chance they’ll get their five seconds of TV time.  On the big mountain stages fans camp out for days before the race buzzes by, a multi-day party waiting for a few seconds to see these amazing athletes.

But it’s not just the French that come out to view the Tour; fans from all over the world travel to France to see this amazing event.  And you know what….everyone gets along.  The Belgians (some of the most enthusiastic fans) get along with the French, and the French welcome the Americans, and the fans from Eastern Europe share a drink with fans from South America….and on and on.  Yes, there’s a shared interest, but more than that the Tour de France is similar to the Olympics; countries that were once enemies, or still may be, put aside their politics and peacefully compete in an athletic endeavor.

It’s in this spirit that makes the most recent terrorist attack in Nice, France that much more disturbing.  Amid the international background of the Tour this terrorist attack seems that much more unreal.  How do a group of people get to such a desperate place in their evolvement that they view the rest of the world as ‘the enemy’?  Why do holiday celebrants in Nice pose a threat to the daily lives of radical militants from ISIL?  How does a country of individuals let themselves be influenced by a government of terrorists and butchers?  We shouldn’t be surprised; it happened in Germany last century as it has happened before and no doubt will happen again, as is it now.

It’s so difficult to comprehend getting to a place in one’s life that blowing yourself up in an attempt to kill others is your best life option.  But that’s what happens when your life choices have become so limited.  Lack of education, food, medical care, equal rights and most importantly self esteem make people carry out unimaginable acts.  As we sit in our comfortable homes secure that even in the worst of circumstances we will be taken care of by family, friends or our government, those who don’t have that comfort become susceptible to powers who offer basic human needs to promote their ideology.

I have no answers.  So in the midst of all the terrorism these past years I take comfort that the world’s biggest sporting event has continued unchanged for over a hundred years.  Athletes show up and compete.  Fans show up and cheer.  People all over the world turn on their televisions to watch.  People have a shared interest and get along.  But evil powers still take advantage of the weak….when will the tide turn?

 

This Is What I Believe To Be True….Or Maybe Not

All weekend I was composing (in my mind) what would be the subject of my next blog.  I’ll assume it’s obvious to those who ‘got’ my Tour de France posting three weeks back.  The title would be something to the effect of “IN THE THROES OF WITHDRAWAL…MORE DIFFICULT THAN KICKING HEROIN”.  Of course people would think ‘Peter never kicked heroin’ or ‘what’s the joke’….haha.  Then I’d go into this spiel about watching the Tour de France every day for the last three weeks and how this was the most exciting tour in years and how was I to fill those empty hours now that the big race had completed the last day on the streets of Paris.  That would be really cute, but then something happened that I thought may be more meaningful.

122I try to follow the old time wisdom of not discussing religion or politics with friends (or acquaintances).  I’m pretty good at it….when the topic turns to those subjects I either steer the conversation in a different direction or bid a fond farewell for a pressing engagement.  I do this because I’m better at writing down my thoughts than at verbalizing them.  When I do have an encounter I spend the next several days thinking that I could have said this or that and how it would have stopped that blowhard in his/her tracks.  Plus I don’t really care that much about discussing those subjects….I know what I believe and feel, based on my own experiences, as does the other person, and minds are not easily changed so why try…..that’s just who I am, good, bad or otherwise.

But….you saw it coming….Sunday I was suckered into just such a conversation during brunch at a friend’s home.  Margaret and I were speaking with another guest  when the topic turned to traveling in parts of this country that have little ethnic diversity.  The protagonist stated it’s in these locals one still found true America…..by which she meant ‘white’ America.  Then she went on to say that big cities have become so ‘homogenized’ that it was no longer her America.  I just couldn’t let that comment slip by (even though I now feel she was baiting us). A heated argument ensued with each of us hurling barbs at the other.  She insisted that our government has systematically instructed all law ellisCover45enforcement to freely allow any potential immigrant into the country, unlike the era of Ellis Island when everyone came in legally and all were model citizens.  I said it was unlikely that our borders are that porous and I doubted every immigrant in the early twentieth century came in legally, blah, blah, blah.  It went back and forth expanding from illegal immigrants to other subjects that we would never agree on.  The piece de’ resistance came when I questioned whether she was in agreement with the comments Donald Trump had made in the past couple weeks; she responded; ‘at least he’s brave enough to say what many people are thinking’ (crazy people!).  I came away thinking  this woman was unaware that she’s a racist.  That’s where the conversation ended.

Margaret and I stayed after all had left the brunch and I told the host about the confrontation.  He and I are pretty much on the same page regarding many issues.  He said he’d made it a policy with this couple never to discuss politics or religion because of the experience I had just had.  We agreed that people that far right (or that far left) will in no way listen to other points of view.  These are the same people who believe all the rubbish spewed from the likes of  Hannity and Limbaugh on the right and Stephanie Miller and Bill Press on the left.  Whether these political pundits believe what they’re saying is not the point…the point is many listeners live by their words.

The truth is I don’t care what you believe just so your belief system doesn’t call for hurting anyone.  Republican, Democrat, Jew or Christian….it’s fine with me.  I have friends with views far different than mine but we remain friends based on character, not what our personal belief system may be.  I like to keep in mind that we’re each raised by people who had views that have influenced our own views.  If the protagonist at Sunday’s brunch just happened to be raised by my parents our conversation may have been very different (that’s right, she’d be my sister, duh!).  People change beliefs as they age, we become our own person with a foundation starting in childhood and developed by life experiences.  I promise that I’ll listen to your views with an open mind if you’ll listen, with an open mind, to mine.  But to be honest, I’d rather discuss this year’s awesome Tour de France….it was tres magnifique!

The Best Reason To Retire, Discovered!

Well that’s a bold statement….just over six months in and I’m boasting I’ve found the Holy Grail of retirement.  I should have predicted this would occur, guess I was overwhelmed with all the other retirement perks.  This discovery happened on July 4th, just last weekend , yet it had nothing to do with our country’s celebrated independence day.  In fact the event that stirred this discovery hasn’t, didn’t and never will take place in the U.S.   Those are enough hints….you should have figured it out by now.

Every year since 1903 the Tour de France has been run throughout the hills, vineyards, le-tour-de-france-2014-partira-d-angleterremountains, cities and towns of France (except for a couple years interrupted by world wars).  Many, including myself, feel this is the greatest sporting event in the world.  This one simple fact is proof; each day the individual physical exertion by the cyclists is equal to participating in the Super Bowl or running a marathon, but the athletes compete for 21 consecutive days with only two off days which they spend riding their bikes to keep the legs fresh.

You don’t have to be a bike rider to enjoy this event….how many of you play football? basketball? hockey? tennis?  All one need understand is the rider with the least accumulated time of the 21 days is the winner.  No need to understand the strategy within the race, what a domestique’s function is, what a team time trial is, what it’s like riding on ancient cobblestones, who dresses those podium girls, and on and on.  True, there are long stretches where the cyclists are just riding and riding over flat, boring roads….but wait a few minutes and something spectacular just may happen (that’s what happened Monday on stage 3).  And rest assured, every year the changing route will travel over beautiful mountain passes; forget the cyclists for a few minutes and take in the spectacular scenery. tour_defrance.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxHere’s why I love it:  the physical ability of these young athletes;  the incredible scenery throughout France (and this year the first three days in the Netherlands); the passionate fans (each day in the Netherlands there were more than a million spectators…and that’s in a country with a population of only 14 million); oh, how about the fact that spectators view the race for FREE (no $150 tickets) and can reach out and touch the athletes;  the view of castles, chateaus, historic ruins; the sprint finishes; the crashes and survival (imagine jumping out of a car in your underwear at 40 mph); the passion and knowledge of the commentators (Phil, Paul, Bob, Christian and the great Jens Voigt!!!); the parade of craziness that precedes the actual race….I could go on and on .

So why is the the Tour de France a great reason to retire…simple; I can, without guilt, sit in front of the television every day of the race for two, three, four hours and watch this great event.  I’d never consider watching that much TV, for any movie, sporting event or, or, or….anything!  If you’re a cyclist you may understand my passion, but I have many friends who don’t ride who can’t wait for these three weeks in July.  I’ve been to France on a couple occasions and cycled some of the same roads the tour frequents, but one day I hope to travel there to follow the tour for a few days and experience the craziness that ensues….until then here are some interesting facts about the tour and enjoy these photos of the passionate fans of the greatest race in the world!

Spectators with the British flag run alongside Richie Porte of Australia, Christopher Froome of Britain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain as they climb towards Alpe-d'Huez pass during the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 172.5 kilometers (107.8 miles) with start in Gap and finish in Alpe-d'Huez, France, Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Bernard Papon, Pool)

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Now that’s living!