Recently the Iowa Gravel Series head honcho, Chris McQueen, wrote a post on the IGS site regarding an incident that occurred at one of his events. The events Chris puts on have signed turns. He uses "real estate" type signage, the sort you might see in front of a property for sale, to mark corners. So, these are valuable and he retrieves them after every one of his events.
While fetching signage after a recent event he discovered one sign missing and it had been replaced with a handmade sign bearing the visage of a penis riding a bicycle. The directional arrows were scrabbled on each of the four corners, so riders weren't misdirected. On the reverse side, Chris found the message "Tell Your Riders To Stop Being Dickheads To The People Who Live Here Or Find A Different Route!"
As the race director, he was, unsurprisingly, concerned and is seeking to get to the root of things. But as I contemplated this story, I was reminded of past negative, or potentially negative interactions with "locals" and also how the presence of bicycle riders can leave impacts on local residents. Those impacts can be positive or negative. In some cases, my preference would be that no impact was made at all.
|A potentially negative outcome with a local almost shut down this checkpoint location for T.I.v12|
Rural residents are people that are typically very insular and protective of "their" land, (whether or not they actually own said land is not material to the discussion), and suspicions arise whenever a rural person sees anything out of the ordinary when it comes to people, vehicles, or other oddities. Things stand out more in the wide open areas. It's easy to see that the sight of a cyclist is an odd occurrence for most rural residents.
Rural residents can also be very charming, helpful, and a fantastic resource to cyclists or those involved with putting on events in the cycling realm. Stories of kindness and help unlooked for abound with gravel cycling and I have personally witnessed things like that in my time as an RD and a rider. I recall riding the first DK200 in 2006 and finding a water jug on a card table alongside a dusty road with no farm house in sight. A sign was hastily made and taped to the table's edge that read "Free Water! Take what you need." This was not an outlier either. Folks still do this at many events all across the nation and I hear and see this from gravel events all the time. The kindness and concerns of rural residents is fantastic.
|We can all get along nicely if we try.|
But a warning to race directors and gravel event riders or rural riders in general: Ignore rural residents and their concerns at your own peril! Most rural residents will not suffer fools or acts of tomfoolery gently. Trespassing or taking of things is frowned upon and may be met with lethal force if you cross the wrong person.
Not that I am condoning the reactions rural residents may have, but this is the reality of rural areas. You'd best be aware and ready to be diplomatic, understanding, and willing to compromise. A little grace goes a long way with rural folks. In my experience, a direct explanation of your doings in a kindly tone will smooth over almost every encounter you may have, as long as you are not willfully breaking the law or engaging in other like activity. In fact, I haven't had to really give up anything when having such encounters except some of my time and patience. An inexpensive investment to make to keep the event or ride going.
Not that every interaction goes swimmingly. You can expect that not all of them will. But the majority of them will if you have the mind to be aware of rural residents concerns and "need to know". Remember, it doesn't help to get aggressive, angry, or combative. You'll only make matters worse.
|Racers that drop garbage chap my hide. (Image by Jon Duke of C.O.G. 100)|
The other thing I think is an impediment to racers or riders and rural residents getting along is how racers (especially racers, but regular riders as well) act during events. A few things that I have heard about or personally have witnessed really make me concerned and could be having a negative effect upon the relationship between residents and riders.
First up is a mostly unspoken concern that happens all the time at many gravel events: People relieving themselves along rural roads. Public urination is pretty much frowned upon almost everywhere you go, but it would seem that many, (mostly male) riders need a reminder that a little prudence goes a long way toward keeping rural residents from crying foul when it comes to your taking a piss. (Shouldn't that be leaving a piss? This never made sense to me....) Anyway... Get behind a tree, out of sight of homes, down in a ditch or something. Or wait till you reach a checkpoint. But don't stand alongside the road in sight of homes and do this. (I feel like I am speaking to children.)
And finally, why do we even tolerate gel packets, food wrappers, or other garbage being thrown on gravel roads? This is the one that really irks me. I've seen it more and more since "Pro" riders, sponsored riders, and those who think that they are one of those two, got into gravel racing. This needs to be addressed.
Riders will not do anything until race directors take a stand, or...... Race directors have to clean the course after the event. One or the other. The DK200 used to have a Klean Kanza event the week after the 200 where they not only cleaned up their mess, but they picked up ALL the garbage they could find. This was class-leading event operation there. Who does this anymore?
But if that is not possible, you would have to put the onus on the riders. And you'd have to have a no tolerance policy. In fact, all of the above mentioned issues in this post should be no-tolerance reasons for riders to be kicked out of events. But which race directors have the wherewithal to do that? I'd like to know.....
I'll tell ya what. If RD's did take a stance as I suggest, you'd see a lot less issues. And yes, you'd see a lot less riders at events in some cases. But does littering and acting a fool make their entry fees worth it? The answer to that says a lot about what is and what is not important in any gravel event.