Paradise by the Dashboard Light

It was a busy week for me.  But in good way.  I was vacationing in St. Maarten, on the Dutch side with my family during an odd time when our relatives from the East coast had their spring break weeks after we did in Indiana.  Being that you can’t pick your relatives I had no choice but to attend this far away gathering. But there was one catch; we would be returning on Saturday evening, well after  Little 500 would have been completed.  

I was deeply concerned about this scheduling SNAFU and just a little desperate as several of my teammates race in the event and I have watched the Quals, ITT and Miss and Out this year as well as attending numerous training races and practices.   Fortunately, one of my daughters had to meet the North HS band in Atlanta on Thursday evening for a competition.  She, so it was planned, was going to fly alone to Charlotte, go through Customs, and catch a plan to Atlanta, then get on a shuttle from the airport and travel to a hotel some 20 miles away to meet the band.  All of this after an 11 pm arrival.  I had the wheel that I wanted from which to launch my desperate attack!

“Honey, sweetie,” I said from the shade of a beach umbrella early on our first day, the hot sun condensing water on the outside of my Mojito.  “I am not sure that Abby should be traveling alone through Atlanta.”  For three days I would mention such things to my wife, in different, but concerned ways.  Finally, she relented and agreed to let me travel with her.  “It’s all for the best.” I would say, nodding in sad approval that I would have to leave paradise for Bloomington.  We quickly switched my flight, added me to Abby’s itinerary and left Thursday afternoon.  We arrived in Charlotte, got hung up in Customs, nearly missed our connection, got a one-way rental car and drove to the hotel.  I stayed there for the night, wishing Abby good luck.  I asked for a wake-up call at 4:30am and departed, in the car, for Bloomington in the dark at 5:00am.   It’s about 9 hours of driving and my plan was to make it in time for the Women’s race.

When I first moved to Bloomington in 2005, the Little 500 was a mystery to me.  I had seen Breaking Away, which was, like many outside the community, my only point of reference of the event.  The myth of the race was an amalgam of part 6 day race on a velodrome, part Indy car race, part carnival- all weekend long.   As it turns out, I was mostly right on all accounts.  It would have been easy for me to have dismissed Little 500 as an oddity, a step-child of bicycle racing.  Instead, I embraced it for what it is, in all of it’s crazy rules and strange events.  I remember having a short conversation with Pam Loebig years ago when we shared the Wilcox House for team meetings.  The IUSF allowed me to hold Team Tortuga meetings there and we would occasionally bump up against a Little 500 committee meeting.  We talked about the race and the riders, most never having raced a road event.  I let her know how I wanted to help them take their Little 500 fitness and keep it going throughout the season with some additional, disciplined training.  It was a good idea then and it has materialized now with the Scholars Inn Bakehouse team, with over 30 riders also competing in the Little 500 programs.

We do this because the Little 500 matters.  It’s not about statistics or dynasties, personalities or luck.  It’s about racing a bike.  Pure and simple.  It’s about how fast you can race your bike, how deep you can suffer and how well you can put it all together with your team.  It’s about victory, or racing on the same track as the winner.  It’s about being in the company of gracious champions that makes us all just a little bit better.  Paradise is what you make it.  For me, this weekend, it’s a dirty cinder track in Bloomington, Indiana.