Blisters in the Sun

Words by Alexa Daugherty

Images by Samuel J. Copeland and Luke Batten

However you want to put it, Tenspeed Hero is back on the road. Out of Idaho, closer to Chicago, eating at roadside cafés, 7-minute workouting on pine needle covered ground.

National High School Finals Rodeo

In this whirlwind wander of western sites, we’ve seen “the worlds largest jackalope” and biked up (and down) gravelly Idaho slopes. Among numerous hot springs, yet another spring cropped into our peak-covered horizon. Rock Springs, Wyoming. Home to we’re sure many things, among them one notable hometown tradition we were lucky to see: the National High School Finals Rodeo. On acres of dusty flatlands thousands of high school champions from Idaho, Arkansas, Colorado – we even spotted some North Carolinian competitors – were warming up, in preparation for the hardest trials put forth by their age division.

Upon arriving at the fairgrounds, we hopped out of the car, got our cowboy boots dirty, and met with one of the managing rodeo hands. Rather quickly into our cowboy-based conversation, he confusedly inquired, “Cycling? Well, why do you want to cover a rodeo?”

The answer (joking): The blood and boots.

Semi-surprisingly, this answer got us a map and entrance to the rodeo. Once in, we were privy to High School Rodeo Association election campaigns, trailer tours, and Old Fashioned Soda. Suddenly, $12 ropes we had seen discounted at roadway Western stores were put into context (at a rodeo, they’re worth an average price of $45). Men were sitting on saddles attached to horses, not saloons in Jackson Hole. Cowboy hats were near-mandatory apparel, not just fashionable sun-shades.

eight-seconds spent atop the bull

In this mass of devoted athletes, we saw parallels to our own love of cycling. This was especially true with one young competitor – not over fifteen – who we met gearing up for his practice atop a mechanical saddle bronc. His earnest eyes found contrast in crudely spat mucous; his polished rodeo garb reinforced by over eight-seconds spent atop the bronc.

Turquoise chaps waving, he was as much a rodeo-man as the cowboy pictured on Wyoming state plates. Still, his face had not even a whisper of a whisker.

In his determined youth, we were reminded of what its like to love a life-long sport. To be those kids on training wheels, excitedly looking back towards our parents crouched near the sidewalk, cheering us on. Or to dream of being that sixty-five year old triathalon competitor, gritting his teeth just to make it up one more half-kilometer on a steep gradient (authors note: this would refer to my grandfather, who also crouched near sidewalks and cheered on my training wheel days).

Why did we go to a rodeo?

Callouses are to cowboy hands what bruises are to Sidi-clad feet. Violence and Femmes are to rodeos what the Violent Femmes are to TSH car rides.

We may not be cowboys, but these bikes are our own saddles.

And so, Why did we go to a rodeo?

The answer (real): We don’t want the storied West; we want the real West.