Don’t mean to BRAG, but I learned some stuff
By Greg Sullivan
It was about the closest thing to Woodstock that I've ever seen in Madison, which still doesn't make it that much like Woodstock.
Tents were lined up in about all the grassy areas Heritage Park has to offer; except for one of the ball fields the middle school teams were using for their tournament on Saturday, April 20.
Granola bars and Coke Zeros for everybody--BRAG was in town.
In the past I've heard drivers say bikers displayed attitudes of entitlement on the local highways, and I've heard bikers say the same thing about drivers at times.
I wasn't out to figure out if anyone deserved fault in this universal struggle the Friday before last when I spent over four hours talking to bikers and scoping out the crowds. I wanted no part of that issue. Rather, I was out to figure out what these cyclist people were all about. What makes them tick? And, furthermore, what brings them to Madison?
Those who know me can attest to this, I'm not likely to strap on a helmet or wear any shiny uniform with sponsor names splashed across it. That's what made the scene so intriguing to me. Why would someone pitch a tent in Heritage Park and ride a bicycle all weekend?
Well, turns out people find it to be a pretty good idea. And they're pretty normal people, but I'm not saying some of them were not slightly more enthusiastic and passionate than your average person.
Or maybe they really are more like the average person than you might think?
"I hadn't ridden in three months," said Thomas Lash, who owns a health and life insurance company in Kennesaw. "It's not impossible for the average person to do it."
Lash talked about how important it was to be in shape. He wasn't, mind you, preaching to me about it. His tone was conversational.
Fitness talk, huh? Is that because he's in the insurance business, I asked?
"If you don't do something..." Lash shrugged.
Folks, he's right. It's hard to discredit the importance of fitness. We don't have to get it biking. But biking, as a fitness option, sure has it's good points.
"It's a good bang for the buck--fun and fitness-oriented," Lash said.
Tom Morris, another biker I'll discuss more shortly, brought up another benefit of biking. The fact that older people can do it. Not that Tom's old, but he said if he focuses on the sport of biking now he knows it won't wear down his body over the next few decades.
Back to Lash, he said he's biked in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Puerto Rico. So why would biking in Madison appeal to him?
See, he's originally from Tipp City, Ohio.
"It's like here...pretty little back roads," Lash said. He said he's now been doing BRAG for 10 years partly because of the rural nostalgia it conjures up.
His favorite part of the local ride, at least as of Friday, was downtown Rutledge.
"It was like something out of another time," he said.
You can tell Rutledge is small from a map, but you have to get up close to know why they say it's special, bikers would tell you.
So Morris, positioned under a blue tarp and selling cyclist uniforms while listening to harmonica-drenched music, introduced himself as a Fulton County government official. He said he's been doing BRAG for about 20 years and also working as a vendor to help finance his sometimes extensive travelling, although he's cut back a little lately with the vending side of things.
"I think this is one of the small gems," Morris said of the local route. "The rolling farmland, plus you have Madison. Everybody just takes their time. They really enjoy the ride."
"Cycling lets you go to different areas and explore them," he said. "A lot of people come down and visit and fall in love with the place."
After talking to him nearly an hour, Morris revealed the most important thing about himself to that point--he's from Cartersville. Credibility shoots up ten points.
So everything I've quoted him on thus far, add a little extra weight to it.
While talking to Morris, we bumped into Jerry Colley, BRAG's CEO, who was hustling to meet up with someone.
Colley, a friendly, down-to-earth guy, took a minute to fill me in on some things about his tune-up ride.
A few hundred, he said Friday, were participating in the event. "We'll have 800 before it's over with," Colley said.
He said he was happy with how things were going with the ride to that point.
"It's been a good one," he said. "It's beautiful weather."
The weather was a little gloomier for some of Saturday, but there wouldn't be anything torrential. Friday, though, folks couldn't be more upbeat.
Colley is a biker himself, a trait he said that all the event's organizers have in common. Even as a non-biker I could sense he had an itch to get some cycling in Friday.
"Somebody's got to work," he said.
Listening to him say that, "Somebody's got to work," I looked down at my cell phone to see that it was after 5 p.m. on a Friday. What was I still doing at Heritage Park? Looks like somebody else doesn't have to work.
As cyclists discussed whether they wanted ChopHouse or Icehouse, I clocked out and hit the highway; not on a bike, not that there'd be anything wrong with it if I were.