Crown Town

Written by Bill Cleveland

Welcome to CrownTown -Or-
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bicycle

By: Bill the Thrill Cleveland
(aka Gustav D.B. Chiggens)

Crown TownAhoy-hoy, greetings, salutations, and other colloquial introductions, campers! Welcome to the adventure column, wherein we will be exploring the meaning of life and how to find it in your very own backyard. Sounds like a good time, right? I think so as well. Now, don’t go scratching your noodle with incredulity, negative Nancys of the world. This column is not a platform for getting preachy and telling you how to live your life; this is not that kind of soapbox. Swearsies. This is the kind of soapbox used for making derby cars. This is the kind of soapbox that, after the pomp and fanfare of the finish line, can be, SHOULD BE, torn down and used to finish a raft that allows us the ability to explore our inner Huckleberry Finn. Following me thus far? Wunderbar, let’s dance.

Crowfoot, a chief of the Siksika First Nation, said on his dying bed: "What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." Given, this nugget of wisdom can be interpreted many ways, but there is certainly a focus on the moment. The flash of bioluminescence in summer mating rituals, the condensation of moisture as it is assimilated into the biosphere only to return again as precious rain, the goodnight kiss of the engine of our solar system and it’s silent promise to return on the morrow. That is life, a fleeting instance of cognizance yet, in itself, constructed of myriad moments. Allow yourself to exist in the moment and you exist in life. Blammo, transitive property strikes again! Not convinced? Fiiiiiiiiiine. Harrumph harrumph harrumph; I am shaking my fist in the air, but fine. Allow me to relate the tale of the weekend of June 14-16, 2013 and together we will explore a handful of the moments that make this crazy ride worth the while.

Chapter One:
Friday, June 14, 2013. I was supposed to be at The Spoke Easy at 6pm to go over the game plan for the evening’s “Gold Rush Alley Cat”. For those new to the cycling world, The Spoke Easy is a wonderful bike shop in Southend [2923 S Tryon St #250]. An alley cat is a category of quasi-official bike race that grew out of pissing contests between professional couriers as to who is the fastest .slash. knows the city the best [re: knows the best shortcuts]. Cats riding through alleys = alley cats. In the case of the Gold Rush cat, the route is themed around Charlotte’s gilded history, but more on that later. I am running behind. I was supposed to be at the shop at six and it is nearly seven. Whoops. Fortunately, the weather gods shone upon Charlotte and it could not have been a nicer evening for a full out gallop from Midwood to Southend.

Maneuvering through neighborhood roads and larger thoroughfares, I was immersed in many of the things that make this city, our city of CrownTown, the wonderful burg it is. With the sun kissing my cheeks and the wind tussling my hair, I pedaled past countless smiling faces going about their leisurely pursuits. The weekend was upon us and everyone knew it. Despite my precipitance, every catcall and wave was met with a ring of the bell. There is always time to reciprocate joy; keep that in your pocket. As I cooked down 7th Street toward downtown, the deciduous canopy yielded to open air and the city skyline presented itself to me in full sunset regalia. Soft, delicate hues of pink, orange, blue, and violet danced along the reflective faces of human civilization and I am, still to this moment, lost in the beauty of our urban core. In my dreamlike awe I traversed the Monet-esque uptown and found myself at The Spoke Easy before my feet had a chance to touch the ground. As luck would have it, the crowd was only beginning to arrive and I no longer felt pressure to check my pocket watch and scurry down burrows.

After an hour, a couple of beers, several high fives, and a secret powwow about the race checkpoints, it was race time! Almost. The “Gold Rush : Alley Cat” began with a group ride at party pace, which is a far cry from race pace, to the corner of Mint Street and W. Summit. This served two purposes. Not only did it prevent S. Tryon from being inundated with fifty cyclists going for gold, duhduh tsk, but it also made the official start of the race next to the Rudisill mine, one of the earliest gold mines in the nation’s history. For those not in the know, the first American gold rush was in Charlotte, hence Mint Street and the Mint Museum and the UNCC mascot and den and den and den. The Randolph Road location of the museum was actually a federal mint for all of that sweet, delicious gold our ‘forebearers’ were hauling out of the earth. In fact, Summit Avenue was at one point named Gold Street. GOLD STREET. Why on earth would anyone want to change a street name to anything BUT Gold Street?! Let’s start a petition, folks; that stretch of road has not even connected to the rest of Summit ever since I-77 went in. The buzz is back now lets bring back the gold! I wanna know where the Gold [Street] at!

But I digress. The race is about to begin; one of my duties for the evening is that of emcee and there is pertinent information to be disseminated. The fun stuff was what I have just relayed to you, dear reader, and the nuts and bolts of the race are that everyone is given a gold nugget [gravel plus spray paint equals gold rush, obvs] that the rider must keep. In conjunction with safeguarding one’s stone, each rider is given a manifest of checkpoints [another echo of the race genre’s courier roots] and must complete the checkpoints in order because, as the race progresses, the stone will be transformed [traded] into a gold necklace.

Once the race was underway I bid temporary farewell to the event organizers, grabbed a tall oat soda, and moseyed to the checkpoint at which I was stationed, Latta Park. My checkpoint was fourth, so, to kill some time before the riders begin arriving.  How’s abouts we go over the race manifest? From the start at [Gold] Street and Mint, the riders had a straight-shot sprint to the corner of Mint and Trade streets. At this first checkpoint riders had their manifest signed then boogied onward to the, aforementioned, Mint Museum on Randolph Road. At which point the ‘gold nugget’ was traded for a ‘gold coin,’ in this instance played by a spray painted washer [truly an Oscar worthy performance]. Freshly minted coin in hand, riders pedaled to, the ever gorgeous, Freedom Park, where participants again had their manifest signed as proof of presence. Which brings us to my checkpoint at Latta Park. However, there is still time to wait before the first of the riders arrived. Not that I am complaining, not at all. This spring has been particularly wonderful outside and this evening was no exception.

I locked my bike to one of the racks throughout the park [truly an excellent and easy infrastructure upgrade], sat down with my tallboy [protip: t-shirts make excellent coozies; “MacGuyver that” muss, y’all], and watched day give way to night. The gossamer tones of the evening sky transformed to the stark contrasts of dusk and the insect kingdom went through shift change. The bees, butterflies, and other alliterative arthropods found roost while the lightning bugs began strutting their butts. It’s what they do. Billions of years of evolution have brought us a creature that generates a chemical cocktail that, when combined, initiates a reaction that releases energy in the form of photons. And it drives the ladies wild. Seriously, google it. Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

After my wordless heart to heart with nature, riders began to roll through the checkpoint. The manifest called only for a signature before sending racers along their way to Heist Brewery in NoDa. Uh-buuuuutttttt, I am always an advocate of good, clean fun so I decided to throw everyone a curve ball; before I would sign off on anyone’s manifest they had to first sing, “I’m a Little Tea Pot,” complete with pantomime. This brings me to a very surprising revelation; most people do not know the words to “I’m a Little Tea Pot.” I assumed everyone had, like me, sung it so many times that it was burned into their very soul for all eternity. Swamp leaches! No one else got hit, what’s the deal? For serious though, I thought it was going to be a gimme. Anyhue, coaching a series of adults through the song and dance of ‘tea pot’ was, as you should be imagining, rather entertaining. There are pictures of everyone dredging up their infancy, which I am sure will be posted somewhere online.

Before we advance with the race I am compelled to acknowledge and thank the handful of people that helped us ‘stone soup’ a repair for a flat tube. One rider caught a flat shortly after leaving my checkpoint and, while no one person had a full flat repair kit, with a little help from a few people we turned one racer’s bummer into an enjoyable tangent of the evening, new pals, and allowed him to continue the voyage. Humans helping humans; be excellent to each other, that’s all it takes.

Back to the race, after completing their chorus line I shooed the ducklings to Heist Brewery. Collecting a signature and a breath, the race then continued to Park Road shopping center, where the ‘gold coins’ acquired at the Mint Museum were given a golden cord and assembled a necklace proper. Jewelry acquired, the final dash was back to The Spoke Easy where an assortment of beverages, awards, and food [by way of numnum A GoGo food truck] awaited the victorious ride warriors.

There is certainly a magical quality to the social dynamic of a bike race after-party. Regardless of the race’s outcome, every rider is coursing with adrenaline and endorphins by the end of the route. Add ice-cold beer to this natural cocktail and one has made a beautiful day even more euphoric [as long as one is of legal drinking age, which the shop did an excellent job of regulating by checking ID’s and issuing wrist bands]. Real talk, it is one of my favorite experiences in this world; bikes, buddies, and brews. Bulletproof combination.

Before we go drifting to cloud nine, however, there is an award ceremony and after-after-party to chronicle. The Spoke Easy knows how to throw a proper shindig, and that included myriad prizes from several bike-related brands the shop carries. This, in turn, translated to an honest bushel of prizes to give away. Categories ranged from the traditional first, second, third places for both genders to a raffle, first out of town, dead ‘freaking’ last, and best costume. Did I mention the costumes? There were a swarm of people bedecked in various strata of gilded accoutrement, and you better believe there was plenty of gold body paint. Shine on you crazy [golden] diamonds. The icing on the gold theme of the evening, however, was certainly the trophy for first place: a bottle of Goldschlager. Once presented to the day’s champion a victory glug was obligatory, as was sharing the spoils of war with the day’s compatriots. With a waterfall of viscous spirit and gilded flake, the bike shop transformed into a veritable high five factory. Apparently it is difficult to be in a bad mood, even marginally, when having fun. Who knew, right? [Wink]

The celebration began to taper after the awards ceremony, which is to be expected, but there was still a vibrant throng of merry makers well into the wee hours of the night. I told myself, and others, I was going to leave and meet people at a bar several times. Alas, the party was so much fun that I could not make myself depart for party pastures unknown. True story, The Spoke Easy killed it. They filmed the whole day and the polished output is viewable on their facebook page. I highly recommend scoping the video if you have a few minutes to burn; very well-edited and absolutely captured the spirit of the event. When I finally pedaled across town and back to my bed, the city mirrored my elation, as I was aglow with the afterbuzz of adventure and giddy for Saturday’s bike field day, “Endless Bummer“.

That’s it for this chapter. Cow the bunga and be excellent to each other. Stay tuned and I’ll see you where the buffalo roam for the next installment of ‘Welcome to CrownTown.’


James Lee Walker II   Bill "The Thrill" Cleveland

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