Everything’s Grounded

Here’s my latest Outside column, in which I sort out this whole “Tour de France” thing once and for all:

Incidentally, I did find out just this morning that the organizers are in fact working on some sort of women’s tour after all, but unlike my solution it won’t be concurrent with the men’s race:

Prudhomme is quick to point out that the new women’s race will not be held at the same time as the men’s race. “Holding it before the men’s race is not possible,” he says. “The Tour has grown and the company is not at all the same. It’s not possible.” Prudhomme adds that while the women’s race will not be held during the Tour de France, it will be held during the summer, and August appears to be the most likely date.

“It’s not possible,” huh? Gotta love that can-do spirit.

While I’m on the subject of my Outside column, I have some unfortunate news: it will not continue after this month. As you may have noticed, the world economy has ground to a halt like a Saab with a seized engine, and you don’t have to be Warren Buffett to figure out what this means for publications, and in turn for people like me who write for publications. This is a real blow for me on a number of different levels, but I’m very proud of the columns I’ve written for them, and I hope we can pick up again when America puts the “Open” sign back in the window. I also hope my profound disappointment doesn’t register as self-pity, because I’m acutely aware of how much everyone out there is hurting.

Anyway, in the meantime there are still some columns to come, and I’ll continue to share them here.

Moving on, this past weekend we went on a family outing to an out-of-the-way seaside spot, where we came upon a seagull. Brilliantly white against the green grass, it simply sat there like an Easter egg in a basket as we approached it, seemingly unperturbed by our presence. At first glance it seemed perfectly healthy; however, it finally tried to move away from us, which is when my older son noticed it was all tangled up in string.

We wanted to help it, but if you’ve never been close to a seagull it’s hard to appreciate just how big they are. Furthermore, when they begin to raise their bills in self-defense as this one did, you start to realize that they could probably inflict some damage with those big bills. (When I say “big bills” I mean their beaks, and not that the seagull was armed with a stack of “hundos.”) Also, I’m a coward. Given this, I was not about to grab it bare-handed. My wife then suggested maybe immobilizing it in the reusable shopping bag we’d brought with us and then cutting it free, but stuffing a seagull into a bag struck me as the sort of thing that seems simple in theory but would prove difficult in practice, like trimming a cat’s claws or vacuuming the blades of your ceiling fan. (The key to trimming your cat’s claws is distracting it with treats, and the key to vacuuming your ceiling fan is to hold the blades in place with a Wiffle ball bat or similar device; neither seemed applicable here.) Also, being humans, we tend to think we’re “helping animals” when we’re in fact traumatizing them, and so it’s important to understand when it’s better to let nature take its course.

Still, it seemed like we had to do something, since otherwise the poor creature would just sit there until it starved to death–or, maybe if it was lucky, a coyote would make quick work of it come nightfall. Either way, both scenarios would cast a pall over our picnic. Therefore, it seemed incumbent upon us to act in order to improve both the bird’s situation and ours.

As I approached the bird, it attempted to run away. However, not only were both its legs bound together, but the twine also went up and over its right wing. This meant that with each pathetic step it also tugged cruelly at its own limb, and I could now see that the leading edge of that wing was rubbed raw, probably from its initial attempts at escape. No doubt the reason it had been sitting there on the grass was that it was already spent all its energy straining against its bonds and had finally resigned itself to its fate.

Even so, the seagull was now mustering up the strength to flounder away from me, and as it did I realized that if I moved quickly I could probably reach under it and at least snip the piece of string that was shackling its legs. Fortunately my son had his Swiss army knife on him, and with the scissors I did indeed manage to clip the string, at which point it ran into some scrub at the edge of the beach. Now, in addition to being tangled up in string, it was also stuck in a thicket like a plastic bag in a tree.

So into the thicket I went, and because the gull was sort of contorted in there I was able to reach under its wings with the tiny Swiss scissors and snip the other bit of string that was binding its wing. While it was still wrapped in the string, I figured I’d at least restored most of the bird’s mobility, and eventually I, my son, and another person who’d now joined us succeeded in flushing it out of the brush and onto the beach. From the looks of the bird its wing was too injured for it to fly, but now that it was ambulatory I hoped it would be able to feed itself in the meantime. Maybe it would heal, or maybe it would fall victim to a coyote anyway, but either way it was a seagull again and no longer a sitting duck. It was also an apt metaphor for the current state of the world: a beautiful entity rendered immobile by a predicament it is powerless to understand.

Finally, last Thursday I mentioned the new-to-me RapidRise rear derailleur Rivendell sent me, and this past weekend I installed it and took it for a ride:

So far I think low-normal and friction shifting is a winning combination:

I’ll share more details tomorrow.

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